When we are born, our primary needs set the tone of our morning routines. We eat, get changed, and sleep based on our circadian rhythm. As we grow up and we embark on a journey of responsibility – for ourselves, the others, and the world, our schedules evolve. Routines become our roots and they grow and expand until we have a roadmap for a higher quality of life.
Routines are made up of a sequence of habits. Habits make us who we are or want to become. Some will contest that talent is also essential, but what is talent without the effort put in to build the skill?
The importance of morning routines
Adults develop habits to turn them into successful professionals. And although there is still a cult of trying to achieve too much in just 24h, the pandemic has shifted the way people view morning routines.
These have the power to ground us when the wind is changing, they promote self-care, both physically and mentally, so we can tackle any challenge that comes our way. Routines instill focus and they can help productivity long-term.
From waking up early to read, meditate, or work out, to making time for close ones or furry friends, many of the successful entrepreneurs in SEE favor a work-life balance before they go about their days.
Today we have interviewed tech startup founders from Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and North Macedonia about their morning habits, what tech tools they use to get organized, and what inspires them day by day. Curious to know how they do it? Here are 9 morning habits of successful entrepreneurs.
#1 “Eat the frog” first for motivation
Romanian Alin Dobra, a co-founder of Bunnyshell, shares with us that when it comes to working, he likes to “eat the frog” first. This means he tackles the priorities, or the hard tasks, in the first work slot to keep the motivation up during the day.
“There are two states during the day, and both are important. One is about being flexible, connecting with the team, answering things quickly, and the second is staying focused with blocked time to understand, think, and discuss problems and solutions that keep the organization going further,” Alin Dobra adds.
He attributes his daily successes to a good night’s rest, which was inspired by Arianna Huffington’s routine, the co-founder of The Huffington Post; but also to reducing unnecessary meetings based on Elon Musk’s routine.
#2 Mindful mornings lead to productive afternoons
Romanian Madalina Seghete, a co-founder of US-based Branch, shared with us that she didn’t use to have a morning routine before the pandemic. But now she dedicates this time to herself as she is more productive in the afternoon.
“I find that days with a mix of meetings and open time work best for me. Apps I use every day include Audible or a podcast app. I like to listen to books while I walk my dog or work out. I use email and Zoom apps daily. And the NYT crossword app – it’s the one thing I do every day before I go to bed,” Madalina Seghete says.
When it comes to inspiration sources, Madalina shares that her two co-founders, Alex Austin and Mike Molinet, come first to mind. Their productivity inspires her, while creativity gets a boost from her friends, social media, and museum explorations.
#3 Zero Inbox strategy leads to deep work
Romanian Adrian Cighi, a co-founder of Pago, likes to begin his work at home to beat the morning traffic. But once he reaches the office he keeps up with the zero inbox habit that he learned when he used to have a corporate badge.
He flags emails with red when waiting for a reply, blue when he has to act, and yellow if it’s urgent. His latest strategy is to balance emails and messages with deep work, at least 10-15 minutes each hour.
“We use Slack to communicate in the team, so I try to go through all the unread messages and reminders there every few hours – this is a useful tool in Slack, setting reminders for later when something cannot be done on the spot. I also keep a list of tasks in the Reminders app on macOS, which is my to-do list,” Adrian Cighi shares.
The Pago team is his daily motivator, followed by the new shareholders from Mozaik Investments. While at home he likes to listen to podcasts and audiobooks, like the Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman, for inspiration.
#4 Async-first remote work leads to mornings in a good mood
For Romanian Andrei Cretu, a co-founder of Pluria, who now lives in sunny Spain, flexible work arrangements mean that he can prioritize time spent with the family and working out in the morning. This way he can be more creative and productive afterward.
“My go-to tools for the new work reality are Notion and Airtbale for collaboration and keeping track of things, Slack for communication, experimenting with Loom for video recordings, Miro for visual stuff, and Hubspot for our acquisition flow. I also use Clockwise to try to get as much quiet time as possible for focused work,” Andrei Cretu explains.
He is firm when it comes to motivators in his life, as family, spending time in nature, especially in the mountains, and meaningful work are his priorities. He gets disconnected from work to reconnect with the basics of who he is. For him, work is supposed to be part of who you are and a reflection of the change you want to see in the world.
#5 Workouts are also for mental health
Bulgarian Georgi Natchev, a co-founder of Digiburn, admits off the bat that he is a “productivity junkie”. What’s more, he relishes technology, switches up routines, and picks up new hobbies every six months, which he attributes to his Millennial DNA.
Georgi has a mindful morning routine that begins with a cold shower, launching the Waking up by Sam Harris meditation app, and practicing Alkaline breathing. He also swears by physical activity which keeps him sane and productive.
His mornings are for focused work and his afternoons for meetings. He assigns slots of 30 minutes for important deliverables and reserves 60-minute ones for mid-day runs, evening salsa, and friends’ meetups.
“I focus on my internal world, values, and thinking patterns. No clutter allowed, notifications and ringer are on silent, merely 3~4 productivity Apps in daily use – calendar, email, chat, and professional networking; Pomodoro timer for focusing and regular breaks; and Calend.ly for easier agenda management, ” Georgi Natchev shares.
His approach to mid-day routines is also inspiring. He begins them with a run, a cold shower, a nap, a HIIT workout, or meditation. Mindful breathing throughout the day keeps his mind fresh and all these challenges to his comfort zone boost his creativity.
#6 Great connections and ideas come outside of work
Bulgarian Elitza Stoilova, a co-founder of Umni.bg, adopted a street puppy during the pandemic, which has improved her life considerably. She puts her mind together during morning strolls in the park, then she catches up with work without distractions.
“My Outlook calendar, my public calendar scheduler, and our company ERP run my day. I block time blocks on a 2-weeks basis for projects and put reminders and time slots for calls, meetings, and follow-ups. There is time left almost every workday for customers and partners to book online meetings with me at their convenience and automatically (thanks to Zoom integration),” Elitza Stoilova admits.
She attributes her inspiration to the challenges she has to solve daily, which help her learn something new often, and to the newsletters on various topics that she reads in the comfort of her inbox.
#7 Feeding the brain and the body before meetings are essential
Another point on our list of habits of successful entrepreneurs is shared by Bulgarian founder Georgi Kadrev, who is behind the AI-based Medtech Kelvin Health. Georgi makes sure he feeds both his mind with meditation and quality time spent with his family, as well as his body through morning workouts, before focusing on the workday ahead. He practices fasting until lunch, then he is set up to face meetings. Late evenings are reserved for light work, like answering emails and checking his calendar.
“I like lists, so I’m using Trello and Google Calendar a lot. From an execution perspective – I prefer to group tasks by theme, which makes me efficient. At the company level, Slack is used as our knowledge base so I log the most important outcomes from activities there, keeping the team in sync. Being a bit of an overhead pays off big time later on,” admits Georgi Kadrev.
Georgi enjoys Audible when driving or walking to keep his education top-notch. He is inspired by his team, which strives to push their mission further, as well as his family, which expects him to be a productive entrepreneur at work and a fun dad at home.
#8 Daily humor ties team members together
Greek Vasilis Zoupas, a co-founder of Woli, likes his mornings fresh and his jokes daily. He is quite particular about his coffee, it has to be a special Freddo cold coffee to kick-start his day in Athens, and he follows it with a walk around the neighborhood before reaching the office.
The team meetups begin right as everybody joins the zip code, and once the tasks are done and the jokes are cracked, he puts his headset on and jumps into work. He likes his music electronic, and his work technological, with spreadsheets involved.
Vasilis tells us that he is inspired by people. Those that think differently, who assume responsibility, are courageous enough to dream big, and fail fast.
#9 Time optimization is the key to living long and prosperous lives
Time optimization couldn’t miss from a list of winning habits of successful entrepreneurs. Dime Galapchev is the founder of North Macedonia-based FinqUp, and he likes his mornings to begin bright and early, before 6 AM. Once his early routine is done, he researches news online, then he dives into priority tasks.
The second part of the day is focused on optimizing and iterating the product he is developing. To do so, he uses Google Calendar to manage meetings and tasks, but also to set up reminders with brainstorming notes even nine months in advance, when he predicts he will need it.