Some of the most successful leaders live by the Chinese proverb that an hour in the morning is worth two in the evening.
Morning habits and routines are a big part of how they tackle the challenges of the role. These senior executives share a raft of common habits and routines that help them achieve strategic impact throughout the rest of the day.
They tend to wake up between 6am and 7am and often exercise before starting work, research by management consultants and recruiters suggests. Instead of checking their email first thing in the morning, they might practice about ten minutes of mindful meditation. Neuroscience studies suggest meditation can improve creative thinking.
Move your body
“Each morning, I’m up by 6 for a five-kilometre run around my neighbourhood,” said Richard Outram, CPA, CGMA, the CFO of Florida-based Cinch, a home services company. “During this time, I typically listen to a motivational or business-themed podcast. After that, depending on the day, I’ll do a workout focused on either strengthening or toning. Once I’m done exercising, I shower and prepare for the day, which includes making a mental list of top priorities, a mindful download after self-reflecting the night before.”
The days starts at 6.30am for Hong Kong-based Louis Lin, ACMA, CGMA, an associate vice-president and finance manager of global auctioneering company Christie’s. After waking, he takes 15 minutes to scan emails and his calendar to prioritise tasks and visualise the day ahead.
After the morning review, Lin wakes his son and the pair do a 30-minute morning exercise together before Lin makes a one-hour trip to the Christie’s office. “I usually get off at Causeway Bay station and take a 30-minute walk on the Central Promenade along the Victoria Harbour, where I can breathe freely and enjoy the best view of Hong Kong. And this is when I can think about the difficult problems encountered at work — whether and how to break them down and delegate to my colleagues, how to communicate and present to different stakeholders.”
Own your time
Erin Koss, CPA, is the CEO and CFO of Oregon-based Syte Consulting Group in the US. For her, slowing down, taking space, and what she calls “being incredibly intentional with how I spend my time” has been one of the best leadership decisions she says she has made in 25 years in management consulting.
Koss says intentionally parsing out the day ensures she uses her brainpower effectively. “I’ve learned to do strategic thinking and slow work in the morning when I’m the freshest,” she said. “Creating the pace and space during the first half of the day allows for this to be very fruitful work. My best ideas and innovations are developed during this time.”
Ganesh Prabhu, FCMA, CGMA, CPA (Canada), head of finance at law firm Stephenson Harwood in Dubai, takes time in the morning to get a sense of what kind of a day may lie ahead.
Before he drops his children at school, Prabhu catches up quickly on international news headlines. “This is usually five to six websites, covering news in the US, UK, Middle East, and Asia, followed by FT.com and finally a local newspaper,” he said. “Being abreast of political, economic, and social events helps me understand current affairs, opportunities, and challenges that would affect me personally and professionally and the business I work for.”
Koss’s morning begins with a combination of exercise, coffee, and prioritisation — and meditation is among the first things she does each day. “Meditating helps ground me and ensures when I’m done I can more clearly and easily set priorities, focus on what matters most in each category I am responsible for, rather than chasing squirrels all day,” she said.
Outram, too, does a 15-minute meditation before his first meeting of the day, usually around 8am — the first ten minutes alone, in the quiet of his back patio, followed by a final five minutes of guided meditation with his wife.
“Meditation is key in our over-stimulated world,” Outram said. “This constant practice enables clarity of thought, focus, and concentration to perform at a high level. Meditation also creates a space to reduce stress and anxiety as well as an opportunity for self-awareness and reflection on your impact on others, whether that’s in your work, family, or community life.”
— Luke O’Neill is a freelance writer based in Australia. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Sabine Vollmer, an FM magazine senior editor, at Sabine.Vollmer@aicpa-cima.com.