A self imposed handicap most people aren’t even aware of: Majority of our waking hours are spent on demands that other people have placed on our time.
It’s 7 AM. The alarm rings. You roll over bleary eyed, hands fumbling for the phone. Apps opened. Content digested.
This is how most people start the day.
It hasn’t been 5 minutes since waking, and they’ve already put themselves at a significant disadvantage.
From the 100’s of interviews I’ve conducted and books I’ve read over the last several years, I’ve had a front row seat to just how powerful it can be to take advantage of the early morning hours.
In my own life, the morning sets the tone for the rest of the day. This is why I protect it like a hawk, say no to everything but my essential priorities, and do deep work when I wake up in the morning. I don’t turn on my devices when I wake up and spend the first hour on activities that add meaning to my life. It’s a big part of how I get shit done despite having ADD.
For the last few weeks our content strategist Kingshuk Mukherjee and I have been filming content for a new project we’ve been working on. He’s witnessed my daily routine and made an interesting observation. All of my highest value work is done in about 90 minutes every morning.
And he’s right.
My most valuable creative output from the last 5 years has all been produced in the first 3 hours of the day.
I get a disproportionate amount of value from these hours, and it’s not a coincidence.
So let’s talk about the benefits of waking up early.
1. Your Willpower is at its Highest
Throughout our day we make 100’s of decisions which reduce our willpower. When we wake up in the morning we usually haven’t made any decisions, so our willpower is the highest it will be at any point in the day.
It’s an ideal time to do deep work because you’re less likely to give into distractions. Willpower is a valuable commodity which you don’t want to waste on pointless shit you don’t care about. Treat it accordingly.
2. Your Mind is Less Scattered
By the time most of us get through a day we’ve read emails, clicked links on the internet, and received a half a dozen text messages. Our minds become quite scattered after all that. This kind of excessive consumption limits our creativity and makes it difficult to focus.
But when we wake up in the morning, our minds are calm. We haven’t taken in a firehose of information, which makes it easier to consume less and create more. An added benefit- I’m able to hack flow states more easily.
3. You’re Less Likely to Be Interrupted
There’s a great deal of power to uninterrupted creation time. But as any day progresses the likelihood that your work will be interrupted by meetings, phone calls, or screaming kids goes up significantly. When you’re up at the crack of dawn, you’re far less likely to be interrupted by a thousand things.
4. You Increase The Availability of Time
Time is the most valuable asset at our disposal. While we can’t add more than 24 hours to a day, we can add to the hours we get value from. Let’s say you wake up an hour earlier than you normally would each day. That means you’d get 7 hours a week and 364 hours a year just from waking up an hour earlier.
5. You Start Your Day With a Sense of Accomplishment
Imagine getting to the end of the day and realizing you didn’t do a damn thing that made your life better. It sucks. If you’ve ever spent an entire day swiping on Tinder, messaging people on Facebook, checking email, and wasting time online, you know how shitty you feel at the end of it. Waking up early allows you to start the day with a sense of accomplishment. When I start a day by reading 50 pages and writing 1000 words, that carries into the rest of my day and creates momentum.
Short side note- if you aren’t sure what activities to start your day with, you’ll love this swipe file I’ve put together. You’ll find my best tips on honing your productivity & creativity, and finding the courage to carve your own path, rather than following someone else’s footsteps. Get it here.
You might have just read all that and thought “this is great, but I’m not a morning person.” So let’s talk about how you actually become a morning person. Each of these steps individually will seem really simple. But when you combine them they become very effective.
Make it Easy for Yourself to Succeed
It’s tempting to say you’re going to wake up at 5 am, write 1000 words, kick ass and take names. You might even manage to do it for a day or two. But this isn’t sustainable.
The biggest mistake people make when attempting to change a behavior is not making the new behavior sustainable.
Make it easy for yourself to succeed by having your only goal be setting an alarm that goes off early in the morning. Yes, it will be annoying for those of you who are used to sleeping in. You’ll probably roll over and push the snooze button. But if you do this for enough days in a row, your body will eventually adjust.
Use Incentives To Eliminate Decisions
Our content strategist Kingshuk is building the habit of waking up earlier. His routine is as simple as it gets- 1. Get out of bed and 2. Kill drowsiness. His goal is to do this routine 15 minutes earlier every week. What’s really interesting is how he has set up his alarm clock.
He uses an app called alarmy that forces him to scan a bar-code in order to shut off the shrieking alarm. You can’t turn the phone off, you can’t silence it.
But the bar-code he scans is found on a tub of protein powder. This means the only way he can turn off the alarm is if he walks downstairs and scans the barcode, or breaks his phone in half. A ruthless, but incredibly strong incentive to get out of bed.
While his methods sound barbaric and horrible to me, he’s now waking up at 6:35 instead of 8:30, and often finishes what used to take until 6pm, by noon. The workload hasn’t changed. The quality of attention and focus available to him early in the day however, has changed everything.
Don’t Worry About the Morning Routine Just Yet
If waking up earlier is a new habit, routines will just bog you down. It’s going to feel like a chore. Maybe the first thing you need to do is simply get out of bed. Or you’ve already done that, and now need to shake off your drowsiness- experiment often to find what works for you.
Tea, coffee, going for a walk, cold showers- the method doesn’t really matter. As long as it leads to you being up and alert before the rest of the world, it’s worth it.
On its own, waking up early isn’t a superpower or anything special.
It’s real power is that you gain access to the highest quality hours of the day.
Quiet, uninterrupted time you can carve out exclusively for yourself, when you’re at your sharpest. It’s a powerful and exceedingly rare combination.
With the rest of your time spoken for, why not use the first hours of the day exclusively for what matters to you?
If you enjoyed reading this article, please share it and recommend so others can enjoy it!
If the article resonated, you’ll love this swipe file, where I’ve compiled my best work on honing your productivity & creativity. You’ll also find a guide on finding the courage to carve your own path, rather than following in someone else’s footsteps. Get it here.