Betsy Kauffman, CEO/Founder of Cross Impact Coaching, shares how she created a thoughtful morning practice that ensures she has a productive day.
Like many in leadership roles, my days used to begin frantically. I was conditioned to hear my alarm clock, careen out of bed, and jump full-bore right into my workday, checking emails and feeds before jumping from call to call, often without any thought of integrating exercise or other forms of self-care into my morning.
As a leadership consultant, I’d spent years coaching my corporate clients to adopt best practices that went beyond their workplace habits, to incorporate what they did before work to help them stay centered. I shared what I knew about how taking steps to safeguard your mental and physical health can catapult your productivity, happiness, and career success. But until recently, I never took my own advice, nor did I even consider that the way I was approaching my initial hours awake could be leading me down a path to burnout.
During the pandemic, working from home helped me recognize the toll that flinging myself into my day had been taking on me. Without the same responsibilities and distractions of office life, I became more acutely aware that my early AM choices led me astray in ways that derailed my efforts hours later in the afternoon when I most needed my focus and energy. Allowing myself no time to ease into my day through a more mindful practice resulted in feeling fatigued and disengaged by mid-day, bogged down by my mental load when I should have been entering my peak performance level.
So I decided to replace my previous mindless day-starter with something much more effective and motivating. Here’s what my morning routine looks like today:
6:00 a.m. Alarm Goes Off (this part hasn’t changed!)
6:30-7:30 a.m.: Create Family Connection Points
My old approach to the morning meant going heads down into my devices from the second my head left the pillow, cutting me off from those I love most and leaving my (now teenage) kids with minimal attention from me—attention that, when offered, was always distracted.
I’ve since switched out this unfulfilling choice, instead prioritizing spending time with my teens and getting them off to school feeling seen and valued. The time that I now devote to talking to them and being present together before our days take us in separate directions has become precious, particularly as they get older, recognizing that I don’t have many years left to take advantage of this opportunity to wake up in the same house.
7:30-8 a.m.: Get in Some Physical Activity
Feeling fulfilled from connecting with my kids, it’s now time to focus solely on me. When I first started my morning exercise ritual, I admit that carving out a full half-hour for a workout that served no business purpose—when I knew that unread emails were beckoning—felt decadent and self-absorbed. How could I justify channeling this vital 30 minutes to an activity that was “unproductive” in forwarding my work agenda?
Fortunately, I quickly overcame this limited way of thinking—especially when I realized how amazing I feel after getting in a good sweat. While I used to think that a shorter workout or one of lower intensity wasn’t worth trying for, I now accept that when it comes to physical activity, something is always better than nothing—and a regular, scheduled something is the best thing yet. Making my exercise time a predictable morning event ensures it gets done. Whether it’s a Peloton class, strength training, or yoga, I wouldn’t skip this part of my morning routine for anything now.
8-8:30 a.m.: Walk the Dog While Listening to an Audiobook
To keep the momentum going after my workout, I take my dog for a 20- to 30-minute walk around my neighborhood. While enjoying some outdoor time, I create a win-win through the mental stimulation of listening to an audiobook. Sometimes I’ll choose topics that help me think through a business challenge or discover a new way to guide a client. This routine helps focus my mind on ideas and concepts I wouldn’t usually get to ponder during the workday.
8:30-9 a.m.: Get Ready for the day
I’ve been up for two and a half hours before I begin shifting gears to prepare myself physically and mentally for the workday ahead. To do this, even though I’m continuing to work virtually, I still ready myself in much the same way I would if I were heading into the office, dressing in casual business attire, and enjoying a cup (or two) of coffee. This readying step is the one that eases me out of my personal time in the morning and into professional go-time.
9 a.m.-12 p.m.: Heads Down Work
With my new morning routine leading the way, I now start my workday from a clearer and more inspired mindset. I hit the ground running at 9 a.m., fueled emotionally, physically, and mentally as I dive into my projects and commitments, whether writing and creating podcasts, focusing on business development initiatives, or connecting with clients and colleagues for virtual coffees.
The key point I’ve learned through this shift is this: a schedule of self-care set first thing in the morning is far from a luxury or indulgence. Instead, I now realize that launching my day in a conscious way that prioritizes my own wellness and well-being is an essential part of what makes everything that follows—from conference calls to client connections to content creation—go smoothly. What’s more, I’ve now fully committed to practicing this morning ritual myself, rather than just preaching that others should try it.