Benjamin Franklin — the original guru of self-control and productivity — once said, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Fast forward to today and rising early is still considered a common quality of highly successful people.
Much has been made of the benefits of being an early riser — we’re told that morning people are more proactive and get better grades, and that many of the most powerful CEOs wake up by 6 a.m. Early-risers, the experts claim, might also sleep better and feel happier.
Of course, it’s important to note that waking up early shouldn’t come at the expense of getting enough sleep: Adequate shuteye is also an important component of success. (Don’t believe us? Check out these famous nappers.) Missing out on sleep has been linked to decreased productivity and problems focusing, among other effects.
We took a look at what some of the world’s most successful people — past and present — do first-thing when they get up in the morning. Not everyone on the list is an early bird (Simone de Beauvoir said she “dislike[d] starting the day”), but they all know how to leverage their mornings to start working on a positive and productive note.
1. Barack Obama
Obama is a self-proclaimed night owl — but he wakes up early to squeeze in a workout before getting in to the office at 8:30 a.m. or 9 a.m.
“Health is obviously important to Obama,” writes Robert Pagliarini of CBS News. “So much so that it’s the first thing he does in the morning. He doesn’t hope to squeeze in a workout if he has time, he ensures he has time by doing it first thing.”
2. Anna Wintour
Before her daily blow-out at a quarter til seven to perfect that famous coif, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour reportedly starts her day with a rousing 5:45 a.m. tennis match, according to The Guardian.
3. Margaret Thatcher
The Iron Lady — who famously ran on around four hours of sleep — would stay up until two or three in the morning with her officials working on speeches, according to the BBC. But she would still be up by 5 a.m. to listen to “Farming Today,” a popular broadcast program on BBC Radio 4. (While Thatcher is a suspected “short sleeper,”skimping on sleep isn’t healthy for the vast majority of people.)
4. Vladimir Nabokov
Like many writers, the prolific Russian novelist said that he liked to start his work first thing in the morning. He described his writing habits at his home on Lake Geneva in an interview with The New York Times in 1968:
“After waking up between six and seven in the morning, I write till 10:30, generally at a lectern which faces a bright corner of the room instead of the bright audiences of my professorial days,” Nabokov told the Times (looks like someone was ahead of thestanding desk trend). “The first half-hour of relaxation is breakfast with my wife around 8:30.”
5. Tim Armstrong
The AOL CEO told The Guardian that he gets out of bed immediately when he wakes up at 5 or 5:15 in the morning, either to answer emails or sneak in a workout.
“Historically, I would start sending emails when I got up,” he told The Guardian in April. “But not everyone is on my time schedule, so I have tried to wait until 7 a.m. Before I email, I work out, read and use our products.”
6. Gwyneth Paltrow
Health comes first for actress-turned-wellness guru Gwyneth Paltrow, who wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to practice her asanas.
”I’m really not a morning person at all,” Paltrow told In Style. ”It’s just sheer determination. I’m very strict with myself. When I practice six days a week and eat clean food, I feel much better.”
7. Frank Lloyd Wright
The genre-defining architect came up with his best ideas between four and seven in the morning, according to Daily Rituals, Mason Curry’s blog-turned-book about the routines of famous artists.
“I go to sleep promptly when I go to bed,” Lloyd Wright explained to a friend, as documented in Daily Rituals. “Then I wake up around 4 a.m. and can’t sleep. But my mind’s clear, so I get up and work for three or four hours. Then I go to bed for another nap.”
8. Michelle Obama
Like her husband, Mrs. Obama puts exercise at the top of her morning to-do list. The First Lady told Oprah that she wants her daughters to see her as a woman who takes care of herself, even if it means waking up at 4:30 a.m. to do it.
“I just started thinking, if I had to get up to go to work, I’d get up and go to work,”Michelle said in an interview for O Magazine in 2009. “If I had to get up to take care of my kids, I’d get up to do that. But when it comes to yourself, then it’s suddenly, ‘Oh, I can’t get up at 4:30.’ So I had to change that. If I don’t exercise, I won’t feel good. I’ll get depressed.”
9. Simone de Beauvoir
“The Second Sex” author and feminist thinker Simone de Beauvoir — who professed to not being a morning person — said she always started her day with a cup of tea before diving into writing.
“I’m always in a hurry to get going,” she told The Paris Review in 1965. I first have tea and then, at about 10, I get under way and work until one.”
10. Robert Iger
Disney CEO Robert Iger is also part of the 4:30 a.m. club, waking up bright and early to enjoy a little quiet time to himself.
“It’s a time I can recharge my batteries a bit,” Igor told The New York Times in 2009. “I exercise and I clear my head and I catch up on the world. I read papers. I look at e-mail. I surf the Web. I watch a little TV, all at the same time.”