Michelle Gass, a president and recognized innovator at Starbucks, wakes up every morning at exactly 4:30 and goes running. When she travels, she brings her running shoes. She’s started her day like this throughout her 15-year tenure at the coffeemaker, rising from a team of just three to today managing 33 foreign countries. Her up-and-at-‘em routine, she believes, boosts her personal happiness and business success. “When I’m at my best, it’s because I’m taking care of myself,” Gass told me. “Morning runs clear my mind.”
As many of the world’s most powerful women have discovered, rising before the sun is more than just a personal bonus—it’s an edge in a cutthroat corporate environment. Avon chief Andrea Jung wakes up at 5 a.m., hits the gym and is at her desk by 8. Newswoman Ann Curry is out of bed at 3:45, and longtime Vogue editor Anna Wintour is on the tennis court by 6.
In fact, research shows that early birds really do get the worm. A 2008 study at the University of North Texas found that students who identified as morning people earned significantly higher grades. Similarly, biologist Christoph Randler found last year that early risers are more likely to anticipate problems and be proactive, which multiple studies have linked with better job performance, greater career success and higher wages.
Studies have also correlated early-rising larks with character traits like optimism, stability and conscientiousness. And while night owls are associated with greater levels of creativity and intelligence, they are also more likely to exhibit pessimism, depression and neurotic behavior.
“If success is determined by high engagement, arousal and getting a lot done, larks have an advantage,” says Glenn Brassington, a psychology professor at Stanford and Sonoma State universities. He adds that waking up early may provide some practical business benefits as well: standardized tests and job interviews are often scheduled in the morning; West Coasters are more alert for the East Coast stock exchanges; and American businesspeople are better able to coordinate with European clients that are hours ahead.
Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University, says being the first one in the office everyday is her “secret weapon.” Not only does she gain an hour advantage over colleagues, she says that quiet time is the most productive in her day. “Without interruptions, I am able to plan and spend some quality time on my top priorities,” says Sarikas. “On days where the meetings stack up back-to-back it is important to have that initial think-time to prepare and organize for the day ahead.”
Early rising also means a built-in block of exercise time, which pays dividends in the boardroom. Besides fitness, regular exercise boosts mood, focus and energy levels. When asked about her before-dawn gym habits, Avon’s Jung told The Sunday Times: “I try to be disciplined. If I don’t do it early, it falls off the schedule.”
Perhaps ironically, getting up earlier also creates healthier sleep patterns. According to psychiatrist Tracey Marks, author of Master Your Sleep, going to sleep early and waking early—while getting the suggested seven to nine hours—syncs the body clock with the earth’s natural circadian rhythms, which is more restorative than trying to sleep while the sun’s up. And if you’re getting out of bed to exercise, that’s even better for sleep. Marks says physical activity helps create “efficient sleep” that is deeper and uninterrupted.
Of course the danger in setting the alarm for 5 o’clock, warns Marks, is that you won’t get the minimum seven hours that you need. “In my experience, the [early-rising] executives are just sleeping less,” she says.
That’s certainly true of MaryAnne Gilmartin, a real estate developer leading the $4 billion Atlantic Yards project in New York, who also managed construction of the New York Times new 1.6 million-square-foot headquarters. She wakes at 6 a.m. “to get an hour before everybody else pops out of bed,” but she also admits, “I do my best work after 11 p.m.” Why? “There aren't enough hours in the day.”
Gilmartin explains, “I put in a full day, and then I come home and I am a mother to my three children—and really, that's my finest work. For me, the heavy thinking and processing comes in the quiet hours after the kids have gone to bed.”
According to psychiatrist Marks, female executives are especially susceptible to “responsibility overload,” or feeling they need to do the heavy lifting both at work and at home. Her advice is to outsource as much work as possible—via delegation at the office or hired help at home—and to go to bed early if you plan on waking early.
Readers: Are you an early bird or a night owl? How does it affect your work performance?
By Jenna Goudreau , Forbes staff