Feb
12
2011

Getting things done at 6am

Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows that I’m not a morning person. For as long as I can remember, I’ve done my best work between 10pm and 2am. Nobody calls you, few people e-mail you — you can just focus and get a whole day’s work done in a few hours.

Mornings? Not so much. I’m pretty much useless before 8 o’clock, and whenever possible, I prefer sleeping ’till 9.

So it may come as a surprise when I tell you that I’ve been up at 6 every day this year.*

Why? Well, the short answer is Ashley. She’s always been more of a morning person than I have been, but 6 is early for her, too. She’s been reading a lot about productivity, though, and decided she wanted to give it a chance. We both committed to trying it every day (Saturdays and Sundays included!) in January to see how it would work.

February 1 came, and we liked it well enough to continue, at least for now.

But, the long answer is a lot, um, longer. I read about highly-efficient, productive, and successful people in magazines, books, and blogs. Almost all of them get up early. I’m talking about CEOs that get up at 4:30 so they can exercise and log a couple of hours of work before having breakfast with their families and being at the office by 8,  best-selling authors that get 4 hours of writing done by 9am, and entrepreneurs that have 6:30 meetings. Very rarely do I encounter people like this that work late and get up late. Another interesting fact: I’ve heard of night people becoming morning people (and liking it), but never the other way around.

So, that was one factor. Another was the revelation that getting up consistently at the same time every day (weekends included) could establish a habit, making it easier to get up in the morning. For most of my life, I’ve gotten up basically as late as possible. If I had an 8am class, I got up at 7:30. If I had a 9am meeting, I got up at 8:30. And on Saturdays, I often slept ’til 9 or 10 or even later, depending on how late I worked the night before. No matter what time it was, I always hated getting up. But, I’ve read from multiple sources (here’s one) that getting up at the same time every day can set your biological clock, making it a lot easier to get up. Based on 6 weeks’ experience, I agree — it’s much easier now than it used to be.

I also did a lot of research in sunrise clocks — alarm clocks that simulate sunrise with bright lights. We settled on the Philips Wake-up Light, which begins coming on 15 minutes before the alarm time. By the time your alarm goes off, the room is brightly lit. Also, instead of the jarring “BEEP BEEP BEEP” of your typical alarm clock, this one is birds chirping merrily. I won’t say it has revolutionized mornings, but it sure does make it easier to get up.

Finally, I read that getting up right when your alarm goes off (as opposed to hitting “snooze” repeatedly) is not so much a matter of discipline as it is a matter of habit. This author suggest what sounds funny at first, but really works:  When you have a few minutes, go to bed with all the lights off, simulating night conditions, and set your alarm for a minute or two away. Pretend to sleep. When the alarm goes off, shut it off as quickly as possible, smile, and get up. Right away. Rinse. Repeat. Keep doing this until the whole thing becomes very automatic, and you’re not thinking about it anymore. The next morning, when the alarm goes off, you just shut it off, smile, and get up — because it is a habit.

All of these combined have made getting up at 6 every day a reality for both of us (a seemingly-impossible feat for me 2 months ago).

Do I like it? Well, I do think I’m getting more done. But that could be a consequence of a lot of the other productivity-related hacks I’ve been trying. Another benefit is that I’m now on a schedule with the rest of the world, so early-morning meeting request no longer bother me, and phone calls before 8:00 don’t wake me up. And, I’ve demonstrated to myself that I can break a long-standing habit (working late) and establish a new one, and I think that’s valuable.

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*Ok, so it hasn’t been every day. I’ve slept ’till 6:30 or 7 on a couple of days following very late nights, and today (a Saturday), I slept ’till 8, which was the latest I’ve slept all year. But, of the ~40 days I’ve attempted it, I’ve succeeded on about 37 of them.

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