Man reading in bed
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They’ll also help you sleep better.

By Mike Steib
May 17, 2017

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “What’s your morning routine before going to work?” is written by Mike Steib, CEO of XO Group Inc.

Being a good leader requires stamina. The rigors of countless back-to-back meetings, exhaustion of travel, and grind of 12-plus hour days demand every ounce of your physical and emotional reserves. Leadership also requires focus and good judgment, as you constantly make the difficult choices that will determine your organization’s success. The hours before your workday begins will determine how much energy and focus you have to win the day.

There are three pillars to a successful pre-office routine.

First, you need to sleep. Anyone who tells you they do not need seven to eight hours of sleep a night is delusional. In one study, people who slept six hours a night for two weeks performed in cognitive tests comparably to people who had pulled two consecutive all-nighters. Sleep deprivation also inhibits the hippocampus—the part of the brain responsible for positive memories—which is why when you are tired, you usually act negatively.

Second, you have to exercise. Exercising to start your day pumps up your energy, builds your confidence, and improves your cognitive and emotional function. Every hour you exercise has a very high return on investment, adding nine hours to your life. And it gets your head right when you are stressed out: As famous runner Monte Davis once said, “It’s hard to run and feel sorry for yourself at the same time.” And third, you have to set a clear, focused plan for the day ahead.

Unfortunately, most morning routines are undermined the night before. You come home tired, promising yourself that tonight, finally, you are going to get a good night’s sleep. The next thing you know, it is midnight and you are both emailing and clicking on links that promise to tell you which celebrities have gotten hair plugs. To counter this, I have a recurring bedtime alarm. When it goes off, I have to leave the computer to turn off the alarm on my phone.

As I get ready for bed, I look at the calendar for the next day and mentally set three big goals for the day ahead. To reduce friction the next morning, I put water next to the bed, lay out my gym clothes, and note what I will need to wear for work. I plug in my phone away from my bed so I am not tempted to start clicking again, and hit the sack.

In bed, I do three things. First, I mentally take stock of the day: Did I achieve my three big goals? Did I live up to my expectations of myself as a dad, husband, and leader? What can I do better? Second, I express gratitude for the things I have: Gratitude makes you happier, more productive, and engenders longer-term thinking. Third, I read, tending to rotate through a balance of nonfiction related to my work or personal development, and fiction that helps to broaden my perspective. The first two take 60 seconds each. The third one lasts until I fall asleep.

The next morning I wake up super early. This is the only time of the day that you can truly own; there are no texts, no calls, no distractions. I got a solid night’s sleep, so I feel ready to take on the day. I drink my water, put on my gym clothes, stretch out, pour coffee, and begin to attack the most important three things I want to achieve. Once the kids wake up, I get a few minutes of quality time with my family. Then I run to the gym, shower up, and head to the office.

When I arrive at my desk, I feel energized, have a clear focus on my big three important items for the day, and have already made significant progress on them, thanks to a strong morning routine.

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