Are you an early riser?
By early I mean 5 AM early. In most locales and times of the year, this is before the sun rises. As I write this article, in January in Golden, Colorado, it’s pitch black at 5 AM. It’s also cold. When I wake up this early, the first thing I do is turn up the heater!
For the past several years I’ve taken to waking up early. I’ve aspired to join the 5 AM club, but more often end up waking in the 6 AM range. No alarm clock needed. I’ve been going to sleep earlier than normal and moderating my caffeine use. Both of these habits help. The result is a natural 6 AM wake up.
For the past week, I’ve made it a primary goal to focus on waking at 5 AM. I tell myself that this is what I want to do, and make sure I’m in bed a little earlier than normal. The result is that I’ve been getting up without any alarms at 5 AM or earlier! Here are my daily wake up times over the past week (January 29 – February 4):
- 5:00 Sunday
- 5:00 Monday
- 5:00 Tuesday
- 4:55 Wednesday
- 4:57 Thursday
- 4:45 Friday
- 4:25 Saturday
This post is about what I’ve noticed in the past week of waking up at 5 AM. There are a lot of articles out there telling you that you should be an early riser. It is more useful to share my experience and let you decide for yourself.
1) Productivity Boost
“The difference between rising at five and seven o’clock in the morning, for forty years, supposing a man to go to bed at the same hour at night, is nearly equivalent to the addition of ten years to a man’s life.”
My focus in the morning is strong but diffuse. My awareness is intense and slow to shift between tasks. I stick with things longer without feeling the pull to check social media. Given that multi-tasking is a myth, this is a good thing. I’m also less apt to self-censor my thoughts. As long as I start myself down the path of doing something meaningful, I’ll stick to it for a while out of sheer inertia.
The first thing I do when I wake up is a quick 10-minute meditation. Then, I make a cup of coffee (my only cup of the day) and start writing. I crack open Evernote and let my fingers glide across the keyboard. I write on career and personal development topics that my audience cares about. I’ve learned that it takes, on average less than 3 hours to brainstorm, research, write, edit and publish a blog post. By waking up early, I can create at least one high-quality blog post per week with only 30 minutes a day of writing. In December and January, I didn’t wake up at 5 AM every day. I did, yet, wake up between 5:30-6AM. As a result, I published over 2 posts per week!
After writing for a bit, I take care of whatever administrative tasks are pending for my business. I respond to emails. I take the time to clean out my inbox and get ready for the day. In the morning, I move through emails like a hot knife through cheese. Later in the day, I find more resistance to taking care of various tasks and mental friction is higher. In the morning everything is so much easier.
By the time 7 AM rolls around, I’m ready for breakfast and feel good about what I’ve accomplished. I’ve also noticed that my focus translates over to how I approach the rest of my day. After I begin client meetings at 8 AM, I find that I’m more calm and productive. By the time I take a break for lunch, I’ve done twice as much as usual.
2) Creativity Boost
“The early morning has gold in its mouth.”
I joke with my friends and clients that if you want to get anything useful from me, we should meet before noon! I’ve always been most creative and intelligent in the morning. The later in the day it gets, the more useless my brain becomes. Waking up at 5 AM maximizes and enhances this creative time. Writing is much easier and free-flowing. I’m less critical about my work.
When I coach, I also notice that my active listening is more in tune early in the day. I am able to see and pick up on subtle cues from others that help with the coaching process. My problem solving and creative skills amp up in the morning.
Neuroscientists agree. Research shows that the creative parts of the brain are more active following sleep. The parts of the brain responsible for “editing” are not booted up. This makes it easy to flow with ideas instead of laboring over details.
3) Health Boost
“Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle… when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
~ Author Unknown
This week my diet has been exceptional. I’ve been following a vegetarian version of the “slow-carb diet” most of the time. I am eating a ton of bean and low-starch vegetables, beans, salads and veggie burgers. I’ve cut out vegan ice cream. Removed all added sugars. Avoided overt starches outside of meals immediately after my workouts.
After a tough first few days (I almost fainted a few times as my blood sugar stabilized), my body adjusted. I now have stable energy levels and feel pounds melting off. I’ll know for sure when I weigh myself in a few more days. What does waking up early have to do with my healthier diet? A lot.
I notice that I am now famished and ready for breakfast when 7 AM rolls around. I’m also not tempted to eat toast and peanut butter or a sweet smoothie. I go for my slow-carb beans and veggies. Getting the day started off with nutrient dense foods has a carry over affect to what I eat later in the day. Lunch is usually two veggie burgers with no bun and a ton of steamed broccoli. Dinner is lentil soup or salad.
Also, I have a mental calm and a greater feeling of being on top of things. I’m on top of my blog post for the week (this one). I clean out my inbox and answer pending requests. I’m ready for the day and prepped for whatever coaching calls I have to do without fail. I’ve eaten a healthy breakfast and am ready to go. I am calm as my day starts and progresses. All before 8 AM!
I sleep well. When I worked in the corporate world, I would go to bed around midnight and wake up around 7 AM. Now, I find myself going to bed at 8 PM and falling asleep before 9 PM. I read for about 20 minutes and that makes me drowsy enough to slumber. Being early to bed is the key to waking up early. I have been waking up at 5 AM this week without using an alarm. I set the alarm but woke up before it for a couple days. On Wednesday, I stopped setting the alarm altogether. I don’t feel drowsy, and it takes only the slightest amount of willpower to get up. If I didn’t go to sleep early, I wouldn’t be able to do this. I find that my sleep is deeper as well.
4) Downside = Guilt!
There is one downside to waking up at 5 AM. By the time the early afternoon rolls around, I’ve done everything that I’ve needed to do for the day! I’ve completed all my one-on-one coaching meetings. I’ve answered all emails. I’ve written a blog (or am well on the way to having it completed). I’ve checked my social media accounts and done whatever marketing I need to do for my business. I’ve snuck in a yoga practice or short run. I’ve eaten a few healthy meals. I’ve meditated.
I have the slightest tinge of guilt that I’m done with my work for the day, but it’s hardly quitting time for everyone else. I have several hours of daylight left to enjoy an evening left with nothing I “have to do” weighing on my mind. As strange as it is, this creates a bit of guilt that I should be doing more.
“Life is too short,” she panicked, “I want more.” He nodded slowly, “Wake up earlier.”
Some people have the opinion that it’s not what time you wake up, but what you do when you’re awake that matters. I disagree. The world is full of high performers that thrive on an early wake-up routine. In fact, I have yet to find a successful person over the long-term who doesn’t have an early wake-up habit.
When the rest of the world is asleep, it’s easier to focus on what matters to you in the morning. If you think you are born a night owl, ask yourself if this is true or if it’s a bad habit that’s ready to change!
As humans, we are adaptive. Why not experiment with waking up early and seeing what it does for you?