Activities Forbidden Before the Morning Prayers
It is forbidden for one to become involved with his personal matters before praying Shemoneh Esrei in the morning. (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 89:3)
The above prohibition begins at dawn. It is thus permitted to attend to one’s own needs before this time (Mishneh Berurah in the name of Shelah and Cheshek Shlomo). However, the Eliya Rabba states that one should not do anything before at least saying the morning blessings (including the blessings on the Torah (Halacha Berurah). According to the Mishneh Berurah this requirement to say morning blessings only applies within a half-hour before dawn, but before that time one is allowed begin with his personal affairs without reciting the morning blessings.
The Piskei Teshuvot writes that simple things, such as making a bed (Pe’er HaDor in the name of the Chazon Ish), taking out the garbage, and even placing dirty clothes in the washing machine and the like (Halichot Shlomo in the name of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach) are permitted.
Only engaging in personal affairs before prayers is forbidden. However, one is allowed to engage in a mitzvah (that cannot be delayed) before praying, like collecting charity. It is even permitted to prepare for Shabbat and Yom Tov before prayers (Aruch HaShulchan in the name of the Pri Chadash and Sha’arei Teshuvah). One must make sure not to miss saying Kri’at Shema and praying Shacharit at the proper time. Others only permit preparing and buying food for Shabbat before prayers if there is a concern that by praying first there may not be food available afterwards (Seder HaYom, brought in Magen Avraham). Others rule that one should also make sure not to cancel praying with a minyan (Ben Ish Chi).
It is also forbidden to set forth on a trip before praying Shacharit (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 89:3)
One is permitted to travel before praying in a pressing situation. A classic example given is if the caravan will not wait. Today this would translate to someone dependent on public transportation, with the only option being to travel at dawn, such as a flight requiring him to be at the airport before he can pray. There are many other examples which require clarification and a ruling by a qualified halachic rabbinical authority).