December 5, 2016
There is a substantial group of elite achievers who wake up at ungodly hours: Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used to get up at 4:30 am. Virgin Group founder Richard Branson at 5 am.
There is a substantial group of elite achievers who wake up at ungodly hours:
The list goes on. A lot has been written about their motivations. The most common reason cited is not being distracted by others during those early morning hours. Some also say the crack of dawn is the perfect moment to get some “me” time: hit the gym, meditate, read, spend some time with the kids. It’s clear the wake-up-ridiculously-early-habit adds some valuable hours to your day, but the general consensus remains that this is pretty insane. Unless you have to catch an early flight, soothe a colicky infant, or are about to give birth, most people never lay eyes on the clock before 6 am. When talking about their early rising habits, the elite achievers often add "heroic" boasts most of us would classify as workaholism. Let’s take this article titled “27 Executives Who Wake Up Really Early" as an example, where wake up times are accompanied with such such claims (emphasis in bold added):
Whether these boasts are worthy of glory or a bit sad you can decide for yourself. But this also brings up another question: is waking up extremely early only possible for workaholics? Those who do it tend to possess iron man skills as well. Does that mean anyone who does not aspire to a life of ceaseless work is out of luck if they want to get up earlier and be more productive?
Last year I wrote a guest post for the Buffer blog titled "A Startup Founder’s Secret Confession: I’m Not So Busy." I described how I tend to take lots of breaks, walk almost everywhere I go, and often take naps in the afternoon. While I don’t have proof, it’s certainly hard to imagine any of the people mentioned earlier engage in such behavior.
Put another way, I clearly don’t fit the definition of a workaholic (at least not anymore; been there, done that). Yet I have started to appreciate waking up early. There’s something unique about those early hours of the day. Pristine is probably the best term to capture the feeling: the day lies ahead of you with a clean slate. Everything is quiet. The sun rises. The city wakes up around you. You get a head start on whatever it is you want to accomplish that day.
Since the start of this year I’ve regularly been getting up at 5 am. Two effects stand out:
It’s not easy. You need a lot of willpower to get yourself out of bed at 5 am. In addition, your environment needs to be accommodating. I certainly require seven to eight hours of sleep per night, and since my girlfriend likes to go to bed at 11 pm or later, I hardly ever wake at 5 am when we’re both home. But when she’s traveling or I’m on the road by myself, I immediately gravitate back towards 5 am rising (because I can go to sleep at around 8 or 9 pm).
This leads us back to the workaholic CEOs at the start of this article: you need to have a very strong drive (passion) to get yourself out of bed at such early hours. Often, this goes hand in hand with extreme ambition. Both these traits are found in the corner offices at Fortune 500 companies; you don’t catapult yourself to such heights overnight, nor could you keep it up for years on end if money was your only motivator. Therefore, it’s not strange to see a willingness and ability to get up so early among these high achievers, yet it doesn’t mean getting up early is only suitable for overambitious CEOs. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing or you feel normal office hours are too distracting, early rising might be the thing for you. Even if you consider yourself not much of an early bird, you might be underestimating your own capabilities; when I was in video production and the music business, I used to go to bed regularly at 6 am and wake up at noon or later -- not quite the early riser, yet now I am one. So in my own experience and from seeing others around me, it is not an innate trait you’re born with, but more like a habit you can cultivate with dedication.
"Early Birds or Night Owls Are Not Born, They Are Made."
- Farnoosh Brock, Prolific Living
As with any habit, different approaches work for different people. Some people, like myself, prefer abrupt change, others like to work towards their habit in small increments (whether that’s quitting smoking or getting up early). Whether you change your wake up time tomorrow morning, or arrive there in small steps — as suggested by Dan Luca of 5AM Coaching — is a matter of personal preference and hence trial and error. Here are a few other tips to help you try and perhaps cultivate your early rising habit:
Waking up super-early is certainly not for everyone, but it does have enormous benefits. It opens a whole new world you perhaps didn’t know existed. If you give it a try, you don’t necessarily have to do this every day for the rest of your life. I find it has now turned into a skill I possess and can turn on at will. And one more added benefit: waking up at 6, 7 or 8 am suddenly seems like sleeping in!