morning_habitsBenjamin Franklin, one of America’s earliest entrepreneurs and an unwavering man of action, had a high opinion of early morning rituals. Among his wisest (and most quotable) proverbs, Franklin wrote, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” The Founding Father also professed, “The early morning has gold in its mouth.”

More than 200 years later, entrepreneurial advisors and productivity experts still support Franklin’s sage advice. Laura Vanderkam, author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, advises, “If it has to happen, then it has to happen first.” Robin Sharma, leadership expert and writer, dubbed the productive practice as mind over mattress, encouraging entrepreneurs to, “join The 5 O’Clock Club. Win The Battle of The Bed. Put mind over mattress. Get up early. And as Benjamin Franklin once noted: ‘there will be plenty of time to sleep when you are dead.’ Smart guy.”

Any way you slice it, there’s a collective conclusion that early rising is a common trait of productive people. But an early hour alone doesn’t create success: it’s what you do with your morning that really counts. Here are seven rituals and habits to get your day off to a successful start:

1. Exercise

The busier you are, the easier it is to put off exercise “until you have time.” Studies show that for most successful people, that “time” is in the early morning, before the day has a chance to get so full, there’s no time left for a daily run or pilates session. If it helps, your predawn workout buddies-in-spirit include Robert Iger (CEO of Disney), Tim Armstrong (CEO of AOL), and Michelle and Barack Obama.

2. Get Some Quality Family Time

Everyone talks about the family dinner, but a family breakfast can be just as enjoyable – and can actually boost your mood and carry you through a challenging day. Family time doesn’t have to come first thing in the morning, either: if your spouse and/or children rise several hours after you, take a break for a second cup of coffee, an art project, or a full breakfast. (And if you’re in the mood, know that a little morning hanky panky might boost your mental performance!)

3. Meditate

Before you skip over this habit, know that meditation doesn’t have to incorporate oms or downward dog. Meditation is anything that helps clear your mind. If it’s reading, then read; if it’s taking a brisk walk, then walk; if it’s prayer, then pray; and if it’s yoga, then by all means, assume downward dog. The idea is to disconnect from your to-do list, push away any anxiety, and focus on your mental and emotional wellbeing.

4. Strategize

Planning out your hour, day, week and month goes a long, long way to getting organized and promoting productivity. When you map out a project (or projects), dividing each into different stages over the course of weeks or months, you have a much better understanding of what needs done when. Strategizing each day helps you mentally prepare for optimal productivity, while eliminating the multitasking time-suck that, while seemingly a way to optimize your time, actually wastes the day and jeopardizes your final product. A ‘check-in’ session with your virtual assistant first thing, can be a great way to coordinate all the tasks that need to be done, and offload things to your assistant.

5. Front-load the Day

Pack your morning with the day’s most energy-intensive activities, like proposal writing or meetings. Leave the lighter, more enjoyable tasks – whatever they are for you – until later in the day, when attention wanes and productivity goes down. Likewise, if there’s something you’re absolutely dreading, get it done early. The rest of the day will feel like a breeze.

6. Network

Swap evening cocktails for morning coffee, and you may find that your networking is more successful. Networking breakfasts can be very productive, and they’re less disruptive than lunch, drinks or dinner. Bonus: Hobnobbing with other morning people (a.k.a. productive entrepreneurs) is a great way to brainstorm, bounce ideas, and build professional relationships with other go-getters.

7. Answer Email. Or Don’t.

Many time-management gurus will tell you to save email for later. That’s good advice, except when it’s not. Some small business-owners prefer to save email for late in the day, while others find it helpful to clear their inbox first thing. Figure out what type of emailer you are, and create a morning routine that either eschews or embraces your inbox. Better still—have your virtual assistant manage your email!