Book Review: What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast

I recently finished a second reading/listening of Laura Vanderkam’s What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. I had listened to this audiobook once before and chose it again because it’s a short selection of advice and suggestions for not only a better morning, but a better anything.

Mornings at our house have gotten to be pretty smooth. I’ve borrowed from Jeffery Gitomer, who says that the day really begins the night before and our daughters lay their clothes, breakfasts, and bags out before going to bed. I’ve also borrowed from Bruce Feiler, who suggests to give kids autonomy for getting their own things done. I’ve also discovered good ideas from Vanderkam’s other book, 168 Hours, and thought about how my time is spent in the mornings and what I really want to get done.

Here are the four takeaways from this book:

1. Repetition (takes time) for betters mornings (or anything else).

When you start ‘redoing’ your mornings, afternoons, work schedules or whatever, it’s going to take time. We are like machines, rolling through the well-worn grooves of life, and your excitement is not going to be enough to bounce you from those tracks. Recognize this. Know it will take time. Vanderkam suggests that you channel your energies into one change at a time – choose a habit your are excited about first. Don’t start with reading the Bible, running, and journaling. Pick your favorite one of those three and then do that. Then do it again.

2. Make priorities and work for 90 minutes or more.

One of the ways Vanderkam found that people spend their mornings is working on their careers. This is a good place for her to start because later in the day I became more easily distracted. Not only was I tempted to click over to email or surf the web, but things started piling up that I had to answer. Mornings give us a clean start to launch off of. In the olympics you see divers drying the end of the board, removing any trace amounts of water that will influence the position of their point of contact. That’s what Vanderkam says mornings can be.

We only get the right stuff done if we know what to do. Personally I’ve found the Storyline method has worked quite well (in fact, this post was planned there).

3. Switch from choices to habits

Our willpower depletes with each choice we make during the day. Should you ‘eat that donut’ or ‘go for a run’ or ‘start a project’ are little drains on the willpower we all have. “When you make choices, you are temporarily using up what you need for self control,” writes Vanderkam.

Lifehacker featured Alexa von Tobel, who said the following:

“I try to automate all tasks that truly do not require energy. For instance, I basically eat the same breakfast and lunch every day (dinner is my fun meal). Why waste time on figuring out what I want to pick up for lunch?”

Alexa isn’t just saving time, she’s saving mental choice power.

4. Find things that fit mornings well

Meetings don’t work at six in the morning, but journaling does. Workouts also work well, and there’s no reason the family meal can’t be family breakfast. Wouldn’t your kids love bacon, waffles, and peanut butter banana smoothies in the morning? Vanderkam isn’t suggesting doing all of these things, but she does encourage you to consider them.

Vanderkam’s suggestion is to find the puzzle piece that can fit in the mornings. I try to write for twenty minutes, no matter how good or what that means. Those twenty minutes have been easy for me to find.

How to makeover your mornings

The book concludes with five steps for making over your mornings:

  1. Track your time, like a food journal. We don’t know how to fix our time if we don’t know how we are spending it. Writers shouldn’t be watching television, and maybe it’s the same thing for you. Maybe you stay up late watching Jon Stewart when you could record it and watch it the next morning while on the treadmill.
  2. Picture the perfect morning: What is it that you want to happen in the morning? For me it’s been twenty minutes to write and a smooth transition to school. I had to identify the goal before I could…
  3. Think through the logistics for your better morning. Vanderkam says, “It’s easy to believe our own excuses, particularly if they’re good ones.” What can you do that will get you to a better morning? Founder of SETT, Tynan gets stuck with computer bugs quite often. He suggests breaking things down to their smallest parts until you get something solvable. with that in mind, what are the smallest parts for a better morning?
  4. Build the habit. “This is the most important step,” says Vanderkam. Monitor your energy. Once it gets going things will be easier.
  5. Tune up as necessary. You’re going to have sick kids, growing kids, and summer vacations. When we travel I try to write each day, but not blog. Any blogging I do should be pictures, short posts, or scheduled posts.

For more of Laura Vanderkam’s work, check out her interview with Erik Fisher at Beyond the To Do List where she talks about the compilation of Before Breakfast, On the Weekends, and At Work.