This is my story of getting up earlier every day. It is also the story of incremental learning and how we can sabotage ourselves by trying to bite off too much in one go.
I never thought of myself as an early riser.
Early mornings are great. Everything is quiet, the phone isn’t ringing, the world is quiet and if you’re awake and alert you can get more done in the early morning than during any other time of day.
In the first part of my life I was a software developer. Before I had family my favourite work schedule was 18 hours on and 12 off; I worked at a research institute at a university and my work environment allowed me to indulge in this crazy schedule. The 18-hour stints in the depths of assembler code and software development were highly productive; or at least I thought so.
But over the last year or so I’ve been writing a blog article every week, and since 10 April I’ve been writing an article every weekday. To get this done – and get all my other stuff done during the day – I had to find a way to not only speed up my writing, but also get it done regularly.
The answer for me has been to get up early enough to get it done so that I can still have a full workday.
I’ve read that successful people are early risers
But I never knew which came first; the success or the early rising. Did you rise early because you were so excited about the day ahead of you, or did you rise early as one way to get you to success faster?
Now that I’ve been getting up earlier I realise that getting up earlier in the morning allows me to get more done. I don’t regard myself as hyper-productive (maybe I’ll get there one day) but I am definitely getting more done.
But getting up early is not the only key to getting more done; there are other things like routine that play a big role as well. But I can now vouch from personal experience that getting up early makes a big difference in how much you get done – which is one thing you need to be successful.
But getting up early is not easy. So how do you get there?
The power of incremental learning
I was working with one of my coaching clients this week and the topic of getting up early came up. He told me how he had tried it, but it just didn’t work. His usual time for getting up is 7:30 am and he had tried to set his alarm for 6:30 am – but he didn’t manage to make this a new habit.
And right there is the problem.
Shifting your alarm clock an hour earlier is a big bite. It’s like deciding to go to the gym and start lifting weights. Rather than start off with something you can comfortably manage you overload the weights to the point where you can barely lift it, and pretty soon you give up because this is way too much too handle.
Creating a new habit does not happen in big leaps.
It happens one small bit at a time. Here’s how I got to the point where I’m close to getting up at 5:00 am.
One small step at a time
My usual rising time was around 6:15 am. At least that’s when the first alarm went off. I had another alarm set for 6:25 which – if the first didn’t work – would hopefully get me out of bed.
Rather than shifting my alarm earlier by an hour, I set it back just 5 minutes. The first alarm would go off at 6:10 am and the second at 6:20. This is a small step and not really noticeable when you get up in the morning.
But here’s the key: stick to the new time for a week. Don’t try to shift your alarm by 5 minutes every day; chances are you will fail. Stick to the new time for a week, then move it back another 5 minutes.
I shift my alarm back so that I get up 5 minutes earlier every Monday. That sets a rhythm to my wake and sleep cycle, and usually I’m rested after the weekend so the 5 minutes on the Monday morning is not really a problem.
I’ve been doing this for about 3 months now, and my alarm now goes off at 5:10 am every weekday. I feel great and I get a lot more done.
But you can sabotage yourself
Not everyone is an early riser. If you’re happy getting up later and get the work done that you feel you should, you may be better off just sticking to your schedule.
The point of getting up earlier is to get more done; not to be able to brag about how early you get up.
But if you want to get up earlier because you want to get more done, you can still sabotage yourself.
Your body and your mind needs a certain amount of rest. It varies from one person to the next but typically it is around 8 hours per night.
If you’re getting up earlier every day you’re cutting back on the time that you have to sleep, so logically you have to go to bed earlier. And yes – I do. I’m usually in bed by 9:30 pm and fall asleep pretty quickly.
This can play havoc with your social life. If you are used to going out and having late evenings with friends or family on a regular basis you won’t get enough sleep. You will find it more difficult to get up early and you will be more tired during the day.
So something has to give.
I think I’ve found a balance
I get up early every weekday, but weekends there are no limits, no alarms and I can stay up or sleep in as much as I want to. So social life is limited to weekends, but that works for me.
I used to sleep in until 9:00 am on weekends, but the new rhythm has me waking up earlier on weekends as well. Still later than 5:00 am but not as late as I used to.
This works for me.
It’s not about getting up earlier
There’s a purpose to getting up earlier: it’s about getting more done. If you’re getting up earlier but not getting more done you are either not getting enough sleep or you are a real night owl.
Do what works for you – but do it with a purpose rather than just being able to say you get up early.
Getting up early is how I get to write an article every day (or every weekday, that is). I’m still working on getting more efficient with writing, but like shifting my alarm in small increments every week I am getting better with writing every day. Slowly but surely.