I’m a morning person. I like to get up early, have a cup of coffee, and read. By the time I’ve read for about 20 minutes, I’ve usually shaken the last bit of sleepiness, and I work a bit on my personal growth and other goals for the day. Getting up before the rest of the world keeps me from being distracted from my work, and it’s my favorite way to prioritize personal goals by literally putting them first.
I’ve been an early riser for about a decade now, since about the time I started high school. My wife, on the other hand, is not. She’s more of a mid-morning riser, usually waking up naturally around 9 or 10 am if there’s nothing pressing that needs to be done. Lately, though, she’s become interested in waking up earlier and making more of her mornings.
To help her, and any of you who are curious about becoming early risers as well, I think the time has come to do a post on why and how to be an early riser. With the proper motivation and practice, anyone can get up an hour or two earlier and use that time to become happier and more productive.
Why Wake Up Early
There are a whole host of benefits to waking up early. Today, I want to draw your attention to the five that I have found to be most important for my happiness and productivity.
1. Solitude and quiet are beautiful, and they’re abundant in the early hours of the morning. Dedicated alone-time is important in my life for finding focus and balance throughout the day. Early in the morning, the world has no demands for me, it does not distract me, and it does not disturb me. For me, that means I can take time in the morning to sip coffee and just be still. Quiet reflection allows me to start the day calmly, and it’s also a great time to savor the good things in my life.
2. Wake up slowly. When you wake up early, there’s no need to rush around so you can get out the door, get to the office, or wake up the kids on time. Instead, waking up early creates space that you’re free to use as you please without worrying about what else needs to be done. Go for a walk or watch the sun rise with your extra time, and never worry that you’re running late.
3. Breakfast is always one of the first victims when we’re under a time crunch. That’s a big mistake. You need some sort of breakfast to keep you full until your afternoon meal, and a healthy breakfast will help you stay focused and sharp until lunch. On top of that, it’s much nicer to have a relaxing, quiet breakfast at your own pace than trying to eat as quickly as possible before heading out the door.
4. Morning exercise is a great way to start the day on a healthy footing. Exercising in the morning sets the standard that your health and well-being are important. I often lift weights in the morning, and I start every school day by commuting on my bike to the university. This gets me energized for when I get to school. Exercising in the morning will also prevent you from procrastinating or cancelling your exercise plans. You can’t procrastinate what’s already done!
5. Reviewing your goals each morning is a useful way to make sure you have a productive day. Planning is important to productivity because of the focus it provides to your day. I review my daily plan and my goals each morning and try to take steps toward achieving them before the rest of life’s demands can distract me.
By the way, if you’re a night owl, and you have no plans to change, that’s okay. In fact, you can still take advantage of many of these benefits. Reviewing your goals, exercising, and quiet reflection can easily become part of your evening routine. And if you don’t have commitments in the morning, waking up slowly and getting breakfast shouldn’t be a problem. So don’t stress if you’re not a morning person.
On the other hand, most work schedules require getting up early in the morning, so for most people, an early morning schedule conforms better to their daily routine. I’ve also found with myself that I like to use the evening to wind down, so I’m hardly ever productive at night. That makes getting up early much better for me than staying up late. You’ll have to make your own judgement as to what’s best for you.
How to wake up early
For those of you who are on board and want to be morning people, let’s turn to some practical steps to help you get up earlier! Here are the six rules that I followed to become an early riser.
1. Go to bed sooner. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to do it. Just make it happen. If you want to wake up early, you have to go to bed at a reasonable time. If you’re not getting a full night’s sleep, it’s going to be that much more difficult to wake up, and being tired all day won’t be good for your productivity or your health. So go to bed early enough that you can get plenty of sleep. I usually aim for at least 7 hours, which leaves me feeling plenty rested, though this will vary slightly from person to person.
2. Wake up a bit earlier each day until you’ve reached your target time. Don’t push yourself to become an early riser overnight (pun intended). Instead, wake up just a few minutes earlier each day. All other things equal, it’s not usually hard to wake up 15 – 30 minutes earlier than you would normally, so stick to small increments like this once every few days or so. Each time you get used to the new time, wake up just a bit sooner the next morning. This will prevent you from being completely overwhelmed because your body is used to waking up much later than your target time.
3. Find a reason to wake up early. Don’t get out of bed early because other people you know do it. Get out of bed early because you want to do something. If you don’t have a reason to get up early, you’ll lose motivation and you won’t stick to it. Turn to your mission statement for ideas on what to do in your extra time. You can get a great deal of purposeful work done in the one, two, or more additional hours you create for yourself in the morning.
4. Create a morning ritual. You’re more likely to stay motivated and resist going back to bed if you have a morning ritual. When I get out of bed, I always start a pot of coffee and go straight to the shower while it brews. Once I’m dressed and ready for the day, I pour myself a cup of coffee and sip it while I read or practice Spanish. Your routine doesn’t have to look anything like mine, but you should have one that you practice. Over time, it will become completely automatic, and the urge to stay in bed or return to bed after you’ve gotten up will vanish.
5. Read a book before going to bed. Reading is a great bedtime activity because it’s relaxing and quiet. Using brightly-lit screens, on the other hand, can make it more difficult to fall asleep because of our biology, and laptops and smartphones can be so engrossing that you forget that you were even trying to sleep. I suggest avoiding these things as much as possible once you’re getting ready to sleep.
6. Exercise your willpower in other ways. Waking up early is all about willpower. Getting out of bed when you’re sleepy or groggy is hard. It takes a concentrated force of will to do. You can make it easier by exercising your willpower. Practice delaying gratification regularly and you’ll find that it becomes easier to do in all sorts of situations over time. After all, that’s what getting out of bed really is. You’re denying yourself the immediate pleasure of sleep so that you can do the things you want to do.
Each of the steps in this section will help you get closer to your target waking time, and if you do them all together, you’ll develop an early morning habit very quickly. Apply these rules for at least two weeks, and you’ll get into the routine of an early riser and be able to wake up at least an hour earlier than when you began. Once you establish the habit, waking up slightly earlier each day until you reach your target time will become easy.
If you have strategies or benefits that you’ve used, please take the time to share in the comments, and if you decide to apply my strategies to become an early riser, let me know how it works for you!