It’s not supposed to be like this. The whole point of quitting my job was to give myself the freedom and the time to do all the things I want – without the overburdening pressure and stress of the 9-5.
Oh and the hatred too. Let’s not forget about that.
But two and a half years on, my life doesn’t revolve around the 9-5… it appears as though I’m living in some weird parallel dimension where time stands still, but strangely, seems to pass by a little too quickly – like an ‘all you can eat’ buffet, where you find can find yourself lost in the moment of perpetual pizza scoffing and gross self-negligence – only to suddenly realise you’ve cleared your plate and there’s nothing left to grab.
See, I’m quite good at finding the time. Not that you’d believe me.
The day is full of hidden opportunities – in plain sight, of course. You just have to know where to look.
Several weeks ago I had an epiphany. At least, I think I did. I’m not sure if an epiphany is supposed to be accompanied by an angelic chorus of audible enlightenment and discovery, or merely a ‘ping’ of a light bulb going off (or on?). Sadly, I experienced neither. But nevertheless – the idea was there.
I chose to wake up at 4.30am the following morning. You know – to see what it was like.
Yeh, that didn’t last. But 5am? The extra 30 minutes makes a world of difference. If you have any doubts – try watching an extended cut of any movie, ever; except Lord of the Rings. That’s about 15 hours too long.
I’ve pretty much sustained that wakeup time to this day. I’ve had little deviations here and there when needed. A 6am here – a 5.30am there. But the difference to my life has been amazing.
I generally use those crazy morning hours to play guitar. It’s inspiring when it hits 9am and I’ve already put in 3 to 4 hours of solid practice. This gives me a huge boost and I’m able to spend the next few hours studying for my degree, without feeling that dreaded internal misery like I’m sacrificing something.
My cake is being well and truly devoured.
Then it’s the afternoon, and post workout, it’s time for some extra study/practice before I start teaching.
A jack Bauer inspired day of awesome (and not a ‘dammit’ in sight).
I know you all think I’m insane. But if you’re pushed for time, feel like you’re sacrificing your hobbies and passions or just want to add more to your day – you must give 5am starts a try.
If you still have doubts. Here are 5 great reasons why waking up at 5am will improve your life.
1. The most obvious – you’ll have more time
Time is a bitch. No, scrap that. We’re time’s bitch. It tells us what to do, when to do it and how often. It’s the great leveller. Rich and successful, old and frail, young and poor – we’re all bound by its arbitrary rules and society will frown upon anyone who doesn’t quite… fit in.
Time is a man-made concept. It doesn’t exist in the grand scheme of things. It’s just a trigger for your boss to moan at your inability to meet a deadline. It’s the fuel to your flames of regret and missed opportunities. It’s the incredibly annoying and insanely loud ticking noise when you’re trying to get to sleep.
Time is just a word. It has no power over you.
Choosing to wake up at 5am gives you back that power.
2. The earlier you start, the more you will accomplish
There are three types of people in this world – those who can count… and those who can’t.
Actually, you’re probably aware there are mainly two types of people – those of us who are more productive in the morning, and those who prefer working at night.
Night owls have an unfair advantage over everyone else because they get to have a running start towards their prime working hours. They’re already awake and prepared. Morning people have a limited amount of time. The average person will wake up about 7am and that leaves them with only 5 hours until their productivity clock takes the high noon bullet.
What if you oversleep? What if you have a job to go to? What if you start your day without getting anything worthwhile done? It’s game over.
Years ago, I used to work Sunday overtime shifts at a supermarket, and I could (within reason) pick and choose my hours on that particular day. My goal each week was to work from 6am to 6pm. Overtime rate was time and a half for Sunday’s and I thrived on milking every penny from the laughter factory (irony). If I began my shift at 6am – I could almost always last until 6pm. It was inspiring to think about how much I had already earned by lunchtime. This spurred me on and I revelled in the greed.
If I rolled in at 10am – perhaps following a late night on the town. I barely lasted 6 hours. I spent too much time reflecting on the money I missed out on and my enthusiasm dropped significantly.
Starting your day at 5am will give you a tremendous sense of accomplishment and the knowledge you’ve done a ton of work before breakfast will kick you on for the rest of the day.
3. You immediately gain an advantage over everyone else
There are countless ways to gain an unfair advantage. Athletes can take performance enhancing drugs. Students can copy, cheat and plagiarise their way through a degree. Businesses can undercut their competitors to increase their client base.
You… I tell you what you can do.
You can wake up earlier and use that time to squeeze in whatever extra work, learning or practice you need to either catch up with or dominate your competition.
But is this unfair?
Of course it isn’t, but it sure feels like it. It’s just so simple. You might even wonder why no one else has thought of it. Oh wait, they have…
British Olympic swimming gold medallist Rebecca Adlington honed her craft by waking up at 5am and fitting in a couple hours training before school.
I mentioned in a previous article about NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his infamous 3:30am training sessions.
In fact; many successful people wake up extremely early just to squeeze in a workout before they hit the office. Richard Branson, George Bush and Apple CEO Tim Cook can always be found working up a sweat before 6am.
4. It’s healthier to wake up early
Obviously, sleep is incredibly important. It’s the charger for the inner battery. Without sufficient (quality) sleep – our physical and mental state will start breaking down. It’s also worth realising how our body works. We live on a circadian rhythm – a 24 hour cycle (or near enough) whereby we are naturally inclined to wake up with the sun and go to sleep when it’s dark.
Following this inner rhythm will provide numerous health benefits – both physical and mental.
- A 2008 study by Harvard biologist Christoph Randler, revealed that early risers are more proactive. They were more likely to agree with statements like “I spend time identifying long-range goals for myself” and “I feel in charge of making things happen.”
- He also discovered that early risers are more likely to anticipate potential problems and are able to handle them more effectively – reducing the likelihood of stress.
- As we saw above – early starts are perfect for hitting the gym. Exercise will give everything a boost and it will help promote deeper and more efficient sleep cycles.
The naysayers may point to the link between waking up early and depression, but both Stalin and Hitler wore ridiculous top lip fuzz – and no one in their right mind would suggest a moustache is a precursor to plotting world domination and genocide.
You could argue in return that people with depression tend to stay up later than normal – something which scientists agree is more likely to interfere with your body’s restorative abilities than rising at the crack of dawn.
5. Discipline vs motivation – there is only one winner
What do all early risers have in common? (Aside from being totally insane)
They all have discipline.
If you can wake up before the rest of the world it’s likely you’re also going to maintain these standards throughout the day. It’s a cumulative effect of success building on success. Think of getting out of bed at 5am and accomplishing your first task of the day as a foundation. Every structure needs one. If you want to build something impressive then it’s going to need a strong base, otherwise there will be weakness and eventually everything will come crashing down.
Motivation can go and stand with time in the naughty corner. It’s useless. It’s mischievous. It does nothing but fill you with false promise and just when you thought you’ve built up a solid relationship… it runs away, straight into the arms of the next gullible fool.
Motivation comes and goes. Discipline is a habit, and habits stick around.
Do you want to wake up at 5am? Here’s how…
- Don’t make any decision the night before
In the weirdest piece of counter intuitive advice you’ll read all day – don’t try and convince yourself you’ll spring out of bed at 5am with smile on your face and a new found enthusiasm for life.
The ‘you’ at bedtime is not the ‘you’ that wakes up in the morning. The brain isn’t totally convinced the future version of you is the same person. The brain also has a hard time believing it made those stupid decisions the previous night – without alcohol.
It sees past and present versions of itself as separate entities – and this is the main reason why we fail with future plans.
You wouldn’t tell another person to wake up early and expect them to follow through with it… treat your brain the same way.
- But don’t leave it until the morning either
Now I’ve confused you.
If you leave it until the morning to decide… you’re going to go with the easy option. That’s just the way it is. The alarm clock will be lucky to survive your hammer fisted blows of wrath. So… what should you do?
You have to really want to wake up early. I mean, really.
Change only occurs if you already believe you are the person you see in your mind’s eye. Wishing, hoping and dreaming, is a recipe for failure.
‘I’ll try and wake up earlier’ is not going to cut it.
If you need those extra hours like you need oxygen – you’ll make it happen.
- The first few days are going to be hard. Accept and embrace it.
Getting out of bed at ridiculous o’clock is difficult. When your eyes are straining to prise themselves open amidst the unrelenting darkness, when the bitterly cold air finds its way under your duvet and when you suddenly realise you’ve been awake too long to instantly fall back asleep without a single guilty thought – that’s when it starts to suck. It sucks hard. It sucks like a horny vacuum cleaner, brought out from under the stairs with an empty bag and a craving for dirt.
Let out a moan. Use foul language. Cry if you must, but get it out of your system.
Your day is about to get a whole lot better.
- Your morning schedule is important. Get it right.
Grab a pen, a laptop, anything that is a conduit for the mighty word.
If you chose a pen, then it’s also a good idea to find something to write on.
Forget the plan from last night. This is the now. This is what counts.
Write a list of everything you want to accomplish TODAY. Not tomorrow. Not yesterday.
Start with something easy. There is a high probability you’re still weeping uncontrollably and your brain has no idea what the fuck is happening. This isn’t the time for resistance.
Everyone knows it’s easier to keep going once you’ve started, so pick something simple and get it out of the way. Hurrah – one thing checked off. What’s next? Now tackle the most important item on the list. You know; the whole reason for this stupid idea in the first place. Get that done. Now you’re on a roll.
Go through your list in descending order of importance.
Finally – reward yourself with something easy (and fun) to finish things off.
Here’s an example of how I would start my day if I planned on squeezing in some extra guitar practice.
- 5am – watch guitar instructional videos on YouTube while running through finger exercises and tricky patterns on the guitar (the easy task… I’m still half asleep)
- 6am – practise sweep picking (the main, difficult task)
- 7am – go through a song I’m learning (second most important task)
- 8am – Play some songs, jam to backing tracks or generally mess around with ideas (the easy and fun task to finish with)
- The day always starts at night
Early starts are unforgiving.
It’s the bottle of wine from the night before. It’s the night of wild passion minus the logic. It’s the cash filled envelope, sneakily passed to you beneath the table from the shady looking loan shark – sniggering as he relays a few cautionary words and a reminder of what happens to those who fail to notice the finer details.
Waking up at 5am will set forth a chain of events that must be dealt with. There is a debt of sorts. A debt you will have to honour if this is to become a regular part of your life. I know this is hard to take, and I know your inner child is already pleading for leniency.
‘Please, just a little longer…’
But there is no getting around it.
You now have a bed time.
The key to a successful early riser is getting enough sleep the previous night. If you’re shaving two hours from your dribbling, foghorn like slumber and you’re not adding them back on later that day – you may as well audition for The Walking Dead.
Nap – get to bed early, smash yourself over the head – whatever it takes to wake up fresh, energetic and full of beans.
If you’re gonna get a head start – you gotta do it right. Preparation is the key to success.
Some extra tips and advice
- Get out of bed immediately. Put the alarm on the other side of the room. Set your TV to turn on to some god-awful music channel. Buy one of those rolling/flying alarm clocks that are a pain to find. Anything to get you out of bed sharpish.
- Drink a glass of water immediately upon waking up. You can also drink coffee or tea to give you a boost (but not until you’ve had water).
- Also, have a glass of water before you go to sleep. Hydration is essential to cognitive function (and a full bladder will help you wake up early).
- Don’t eat until your normal breakfast time – or even better; skip food altogether until later in the day. It will waste time and slow down your momentum.
- Just like a diet – allow yourself one ‘cheat day’ a week where you can have a lazy morning. A day off is always an essential part of any routine.
- If you’re usually a night person – this may not work. But don’t use that as an excuse just because early starts are challenging. If you function better at night – make sure you’re actually productive at that time.
- Keep a log. Write down what time you are waking up, how long you are working/studying/training, and the details of what you are doing. Those who keep track of their progress tend to be the most consistent.
Everyone feels as though they are running out of time. We have so much we want to fit in, so much to accomplish, so much ground to cover.
What is it you really want to do? What do you keep putting off because of a lack of time? What tasks are you procrastinating over right now, that could be completed and banished forever, if you only had that little window of opportunity?
Create it for yourself.
Before the end of the week – wake up at 5am and see what happens.
…You can always go back to bed.
Are you a night owl or an early riser? Have you experimented with stupidly early starts? Am I insane? Let me know in the comments.
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Sunrise images courtesy of the awesome Kerrie Ann Gardner.