“A to-do list that isn’t properly prioritized is just a disorganized mess of things that either won’t get done or will get done poorly.” – Brent Gleeson Share this quote on Twitter

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Brent Gleeson

What is your morning routine?

My morning routine has evolved significantly over the years as I have gone from Navy SEAL operator to entrepreneur to husband and father of three. As one can imagine, the priorities of my morning activities have shifted.

For example, years ago during graduate school and the evolution of my first company, the routine was simple. I would wake up at 5:00am, make the bed, drive twenty minutes to La Jolla (San Diego), and swim one or two miles. At 6:30am, I would get coffee and a light snack at the usual spot and then head to the office, strapping in at 7:00am for a long day of work.

When I got married and the children started flowing, things evolved. Adaptation and prioritization are key—that is, if you want to be happily married! I awake at 6:00am largely because my children dictate my routine. Our three-year-old comes into the room promptly at 6:00am (as if she has a perfect internal alarm clock) and crawls into bed with us, followed shortly after by her one-year-old brother (although he has to be retrieved from his crib).

We cuddle and play with the youngest kids for twenty minutes or so before getting up to start the day. This involves making sure our eleven-year-old is ready for school, answering a few emails, and making my to-do list. This part is critical. A to-do list that isn’t properly prioritized is just a disorganized mess of things that either won’t get done or will get done poorly.

After taking our oldest son to school, it’s execution time.

How long have you stuck with this routine so far?

The most recent routine has been in place for several years, but it has evolved over time. I sold my last company a year and a half ago, and when I’m not traveling I have a home office. I make it a priority to drop my kids off at school in the morning as often as I can before focusing on work at 8:00am. I can then work relatively uninterrupted throughout the day with an hour-long workout during my lunch break.

Working out at lunchtime is a great way to break up the day and get energized for the afternoon. My workout could involve distance running, swimming, strength training, or a combination. Fitness takes a back seat only to family because it’s critical for maintaining a healthy mind and body, mitigating stress, and staying energized.

How has your morning routine changed over recent years?

As mentioned above, the morning portion of my daily routine has evolved with the businesses I’ve run, my marriage, and the growth of our family. Fitness now resides in the midday portion of my routine.

The main transformation of my morning routine has been largely dictated by how often I travel. Being adaptable while not sacrificing the important pieces is key.

What time do you go to sleep?

As much as I would like to maintain a rigid sleep schedule, it is difficult while traveling. When I am at home, I try to be in bed by 9:00pm. I know—it’s not very cool, but that’s when my wife and I can have uninterrupted time to read, watch TV, or catch up. I’m asleep by 10:00pm. When traveling, I try to maintain a similar schedule as I navigate multiple time zones.

Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?

When I haven’t already done it, I re-prioritize my to-do list before going to bed. I turn to a new page and list any lesser-prioritized items that I didn’t accomplish on the following day’s list (in order of priority, of course). I then review it again first thing in the morning depending on what I think of in the middle of the night.

When the next day is a travel day, everything is packed and my clothes laid out the night before. Scrambling in the morning always leads to disaster.

Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?

I use an alarm only when traveling as I usually have to get up earlier than the 6:00am Parker Rose (my daughter) wake-up call. And no, I never hit snooze.

How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?

I usually eat something very light for breakfast, which comes about twenty minutes after waking up. It consists of fruit and yogurt or a light protein of some kind—for example, egg whites and ground turkey.

Do you have a morning workout routine?

Many years ago I transitioned my workout to lunchtime. I used to love a rigorous workout in the morning. There is no better feeling than starting your day—when it’s still dark outside and most people are hitting snooze—with a long run or ocean swim. However, you can sometimes lose steam mid-afternoon. Midday workouts allow me to spend time with the family before work and stay energized during the second half of the day.

Do you have a morning meditation routine?

I do on the mornings I have a speaking engagement. On these days I shift my exercise routine to first thing in the morning, which is my form of meditation. I do this for three reasons:

  1. I’m in a hotel and away from my morning routine with my family.
  2. The rest of the day will consist mostly of travel.
  3. Exercising before speaking publicly is a great way to get focused and decrease stress.

After a rigorous workout, I come back to the room and stretch while rehearsing my presentation in my head.

Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?

I answer email in the morning. I prioritize the most important emails that require a timely response and mark the others to respond to later in the morning. I add to my to-do list as I filter through each email making important notes and updates.

How soon do you check your phone in the morning?

Only after making the bed, getting dressed, and ensuring I have what I need ready for the day. I find that checking email too soon or too haphazardly can lead to things falling through the cracks. I like to either be at my desk or in a car (not driving of course) with my notepad ready to go. Answering email on the fly while the day is getting started means you’re multitasking, which means you’re doing several things poorly all at once.

What and when is your first drink in the morning?

Water. Always water. As soon as I wake up.

How does your partner fit into your morning routine?

My wife and family are prioritized elements in my current morning routine.

Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?

I never sleep in on weekends. Studies show that the most successful people who achieve their goals usually maintain the same or similar routine on the weekends (with some exceptions while on vacation or holidays). The most fulfilling weekends for me are the ones where I accomplish projects while spending time with the family and having fun. But I also keep up with email and take care of a few work items so Monday is a smooth transition into the week. I work for about an hour on Saturday and 2-3 hours on Sunday.

On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?

As a professional speaker and leadership/management consultant, I travel every week during key months of the year.

On travel days, I usually wake up at 4:30am or 5:00am, get picked up thirty minutes later, and answer emails and prioritize my to-do list on the way to the airport (when I haven’t done that the night before). Once the plane is in the air, the laptop comes out and I dive into work for the duration of the flight. That could include anything from working on my new book, TakingPoint (when I was writing it), to answering emails and fielding new speaking opportunities, to writing for my weekly Forbes and Inc. columns, to preparing for the week’s events.

What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?

I never fail to follow the routine; rather, I plan for contingencies and adapt as things arise.

Anything else you would like to add?

Like anything in life, discipline allows you to fulfill your goals and get things done. Discipline of mind and body. Discipline in work and family. Discipline in faith and wellness. Distractions and competing priorities that don’t align with your life’s vision and values must go.

And remember, always make the bed before doing anything else, unless your spouse and kids are still in it! It’s a perfect microcosm for life. It’s about getting the simple things—organization and discipline—right.

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