Five successful Irish women on the secrets of the early risers

It pays to have a strong start to your day. Five successful women share their morning routines with Esther McCarthy

MEET the successful Irish women who have learned the secret of managing a busy day — to be up with the lark.

Establishing a great morning routine can be a challenge for many women. From stepping away from the snooze button to organising make-up, hair, and clothes, mornings can be a stressful time — and that’s before you bring family into the mix.

For some of our most successful female high-flyers, being a morning person and front-loading their day is the key — whether that routine comes naturally or not.

But it makes a difference. A comprehensive 2010 study by biologist Christoph Randler found that people whose performance peaks in the morning tend to be more proactive and therefore better positioned for career success. A University of Toronto survey even found that morning people had higher rates of happiness, cheerfulness, and alertness.

We spoke with some of Ireland’s most successful women about their morning routines — and how they start their day in the best possible way.

Rachael English broadcaster and novelist

Rachael English: “I set the alarm for 4.20am.” Picture: Nick Bradshaw

The Morning Ireland presenter understands better than most the importance of being structured and planning ahead in the mornings.

“I do think, and even from people who work similar hours, you tend to have to have everything set by a certain time. I set the alarm for 4.20am, two presses on the snooze, and I do get up immediately then at 4.30am. If I’m not having my cereal by the time the news headlines on BBC World Service comes on at 5, I’m in a heap.

“Everything’s out from the night before and then I’m out the door. The first thing I do when I get into work is have a cup of tea. At work we tend to have a routine that’s almost unspoken: You get the papers, you make a cup of tea, and read the running order, then the day starts from there.”

Does she eat anything healthy to kick-start her day?

“I wish! I do have a bowl of cereal before I go in. To be honest, to eat anything at all at that hour of the day is an achievement.” When she’s writing (her latest novel, The American Girl, is out now) her hours are more typical. “I tend to get up at a normal time, and I don’t tend to start writing until about 10 in the morning. I do try and write most days.

“For all the drawbacks of being up early, there are benefits as well, and the big one is you do get to see a part of the day that’s usually the most beautiful part of the day. In the summer, very early morning is spectacular. You get all those pink and yellow colours.”

Pamela Flood broadcaster and businesswoman

Pamela Flood at home with her daughter Elsie: “A good start to the day, it sets the tone for the rest of the day.” Picture: Nick Bradshaw

Pamela runs Counter Culture, a healthy-eating restaurant and catering business, with husband Ronan Ryan. The couple have three young children, Elsie, 7, Harrison, 5, and Gracie, 20 months, who love breakfast as much as Pamela did as a child.

“I would always go with porridge and throw some fresh fruit into it. And a cup of tea is an Irish requirement. With the kids, I have a selection of stuff. Some is very healthy, like the porridge or sugar-free muesli, and others maybe not-so-healthy cereals. I like to give them choices because I used to have choices as a kid, and I loved breakfast as a kid. Breakfast for me was a lovely meal. They love their breakfast too, I’ve kind of instilled that in them.

“We eat breakfast before we dress because we’re inclined to wear our food and I’m as bad as they are. There’s plenty of time to get dressed after brekkie, rather than wearing your cereal down your school jumper.

“The baby’s still at home with me, so then it’s entertainment time while trying to clean up the kitchen and get the clothes washing on. It’s just so busy. There’s very little sitting down, that’s for sure.”

Pamela feels that having time and structure in the morning is hugely beneficial. “Oh definitely, and if you’re not someone who likes to move too fast in the morning, and I’m really not, it’s great to give yourself time. A good start to the day, it sets the tone for the rest of the day.”

Sinead Kane endurance athlete

Sinéad Kane: “I don’t like leaving the house knowing the bed’s unmade.” Picture: Dan Linehan

Despite being born legally blind with just 5% vision, Sinead, from Youghal, has been achieving all of her life. She qualified as Ireland’s first legally blind solicitor and in recent years turned her ambitions to endurance running, becoming the first ever blind person to run seven marathons in seven continents in seven days. She is currently studying for a PhD.

A typical day starts at 7am. “When you wake up early, you have more time for planning, strategic thinking, and getting organised.”

Her breakfast varies depending on her training strategy. “One day it could be a cup of green tea, brown toast, and cherry tomatoes. Other days might be two eggs. Or it might be blueberries. It depends what I’m doing that day.

“I’m vegetarian — no meat, no fish. Pre-run, I like to keep things light. Post run, I will eat more.”

By 8.30am Sinead will be at the gym and by 11.30am studying for her PhD. Her weekends are more relaxed but she tries to be up by 9.30am. She says she’s not a great sleeper and finds it hard to get to sleep.

There are two absolute musts first thing: Make the bed and stay away from social media. “I don’t like leaving the house or being in my room too long knowing the bed’s unmade. I like knowing that my room is neat and tidy for when I come back to it. Also, when my bed is made it signals to me the day has begun and there is no getting back into it.

“ I check my phone to see if I have any texts/calls but I don’t check social media. I find Facebook and Twitter can distract me if I have tasks to do.”

Julie Ryan, film/TV producer

Julie Ryan: “I ease myself into talking.” Picture: Denis Scannell

Julie, from Lisgoold, Co Cork, is one of our most successful film producers, bringing smash hit The Young Offenders to the big screen. She recently set up her own production company, MK1 Productions, and is filming a TV project in St Lucia.

Her work could involve getting up as early as 5am during filming. “I don’t find it easy to get up early so I’ve had to trick myself into making it work over the years. I ease myself into talking, starting off with some gentle humming — normally a top 30 Christmas song that everyone hates. By the time I get to set or work, though, I’m ready to take on the world.”

She likes to start the day with the healthy habit of drinking water. “I wake up and drink a pint of water. I drink an obnoxious amount of water but I love it. I don’t drink coffee. I once did, and near hallucinated, but then again it was my first time making coffee and I might have taken too much.”

She describes her morning non-negotiable as “a shower and a showtune” and watches movie trailers to motivate herself. Her worst morning habit is checking her emails in bed. “I think it’s always wise to plan something you enjoy for first thing in the morning. I go through phases where I sometimes go to the gym in the morning but I don’t necessarily enjoy the process of working out. I go there to listen to podcasts and there’s the added bonus that I’m attempting to work out as well. This is all massively expedited on a day I’m filming.”

Evelyn Cusack, meteorologist

Evelyn Cusack: “I never have breakfast until between 11am and noon.” Picture: Dave Meehan

As one of Ireland’s best-known and loved weather forecasters, Evelyn understands the value of a morning routine, especially given much of her work is shift based.

“When Rachael English introduces me at 7.55 on Morning Ireland I am just coming to the end of a long night shift which started at 8pm the previous evening. When I am on TV my shift starts at noon and ends at 10pm.

“So there is great variety from day to day and, like most working mothers — and some fathers, of course — I try to squeeze in the housework/gardening/cooking/shopping into the gaps between shifts. Or not.”

A mum of one (daughter, Fleur, 17, sits the Leaving Cert next year) it is she who organises the school run.

“I hop out of bed at 7am (if I wake earlier, maybe I’ll catch up on reading) and have the first black coffee of the day and make my to-do- list. Have a shower and to truly wake up gradually turn the dial to cold. To help keep the weight down I never have breakfast until between 11am and noon. The hint is in the ‘break-fast’. If I eat at seven or eight I am still starving by 11.”

After dropping her daughter to school, she aims to have some exercise. “If it is a sunny day now is the time I must cycle/walk Dun Laoghaire pier or I will never fit it in. Or cycle to work.”

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