How to Create a Meaningful Morning Routine

Author and CEO Nellie Akalp discusses her morning routine:

Setting the right morning routine provides the energy to tackle whatever comes in the day.

For entrepreneurs, there’s never enough time in the day — which is why we need to be mindful of how we spend every moment. There are countless ways to craft your morning: some of us go for a run, read the paper, dive into email or Facebook, get the kids ready or just hit the snooze button a few times. But, setting the right morning routine provides the physical and emotional energy to help you tackle whatever comes in the day ahead.

Running a growing business and managing a household with four kids (along with a supportive husband/business partner), I’ve adjusted my own routine in the hopes of being happier, healthier and more productive — for both my business and my family.

Since we’re all individuals, there’s no right or wrong routine — and what works for me may not work for other entrepreneurs. But here’s a snapshot of my morning routine and some of the thinking that has gone into the planning.

My typical morning:

  • 5:00 am: Wake up, meditate, focus, practice gratitude and a morning prayer
  • 5:30 am: Check emails/voicemails
  • 6:00 am: Shower, drink coffee and make breakfast for the kids
  • 6:30 am: Wake up kids
  • 7:00 am: Feed kids
  • 7:20 am: Take first set of kids to school (9th grade and 7th grade boys)
  • 7:45 am: Take second of kids to school (9th grade and Kindergarten girls)
  • 8:00 am: Get to gym, work out and stretch
  • 9:30 am: Get to the office

Be the first up in the household.

I’ve learned that if I want any time to myself in the morning in order to meditate and respond to business matters, I need to get up one-and-a-half hours before the rest of the family. I’m not alone. Business leaders like Jack Dorsey (Twitter, Square), Jeff Immelt (General Electric), Ursula Burns (Xerox), Indra Nooyi (Pepsi), Richard Branson (Virgin), and Tim Cook (Apple) are all known for being early risers.

When I carve out this time for myself in the morning, I can set the tone for a better and more productive day. If you’ve ever slept through your alarm clock and raced to get you or your family out the door, you understand how just a little stress snowballs throughout the day. I wake up a little earlier to get the positive energy moving and everything else follows suit.


As an entrepreneur, mom, and Type A individual, I typically have hundreds of ideas and tasks rushing around in my head at any given time. Dedicating a few minutes to meditation in the morning allows me to start the day with more clarity and a calmer mindset. You don’t need to meditate for a long time; for example, I typically meditate for about 10 to 15 minutes. This isn’t the time to be reviewing your to-do list; it’s all about stillness and silence in the mind. To block out distractions, you can focus on your breathing or peaceful image (like the ocean).


I’ve got a beautiful family, great friends and a career that I still love after nearly 20 years. But, when I leave the football team’s snacks on the kitchen counter, am rushing to get to a media interview and sitting in traffic, it’s really easy to forget these blessings and get bogged down in the daily stress of life. That’s where gratitude practices come in.

Positive psychology studies have shown that gratitude is associated with greater happiness and health. In one study, participants were asked to write a few sentences each week. One group was instructed to write about the things they were grateful for; the other group was asked to write about things that irritated or displeased them; and the last group wrote about events that affected them (not stressing a positive or negative).

After 10 weeks, the group who wrote about gratitude was more optimistic and felt better about their lives. The group who wrote about irritations exercised less and had more visits to the doctor. This is why I dedicate a few minutes each morning to focus on all the blessings (big and small) that I am grateful for.

Check email.

I know that many well-respected entrepreneurs and business leaders make it a point to avoid email until later in the day. Bestselling author, Julie Morgenstern wrote an entire book on the subject: “Never Check E-mail in the Morning.” The basic idea is that email is a reactive, not proactive task. By checking email, you’re basically letting your inbox hijack your morning and set your agenda.

While I appreciate the sentiment, it hasn’t worked for me. As CEO of a small, but growing, company, I’ve found it better to check in digitally and see if there are any pressing matters. Reading and responding to emails first thing in the morning ensures I’m not holding anyone else up and allows me to focus on more important tasks later in the day. I’m CEO, but I also consider myself in the customer service business — my main priorities are to keep my employees and customers happy.


After all the kids are off to school, I hit the gym for some cardio and stretching. Getting the blood circulating with daily exercise is critical for a clear mind and healthy body. Research shows that exercising for as little as 10 minutes releases a neurotransmitter that helps soothe the brain and boost the mood. And regular exercise can increase energy levels. Not everyone wants to work out in the morning (and that’s fine), but for me dedicating time in the morning ensures I’ll have time for exercise and it won’t get pushed aside so I can take care of a work or family matter.

Time with family.

Lastly, the most important priority in my morning routine is making time for my family…this includes making breakfast for my kids and driving them to school. I try to slow things down (which admittedly isn’t easy) to make it quality time, rather than just another task to cross off the list. I figure that if Barack Obama can have breakfast with his family each morning, I should be able to find time too. My husband and I are working so that our kids have a better life and understand the importance of hard work. However, I never want work to get in the way of family.

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