I really love ‘life hacking’ articles, specifically how they are based on sample sizes of one, often from people who have literally never tried anything else. (e.g. “I was born a vegan and that’s why I am amazing”, “Rich parents and how you can to”) And one of my favorite tropes is ‘rise early’. Why should you rise early? Because that person did it, started months ago actually, and shit has never been better? Is that really the object of desire? Are we so bad at being humans that the vast majority of people just don’t realize that all you need to do to make your wildest dreams come true, is to wake up before everyone else? But what happens when everyone starts waking up at 5am, then do I need to wake up at 4am? Why even sleep?
Allow me to add my anecdotal evidence of one to the mix.
I’ve Done It
Prior to 2009, I woke up as late as I could, typically around 7:30am, and I had no issues with waking, I just liked to stay up late. This meant I needed more sleep. Then, from 2009 to 2012 I woke up everyday at 5:30am and started the powerhouse which is this website by pushing through darkness and blurred vision to write and be an early riser. Like someone who just became gluten-free, I told everyone I could how great this is.
I started waking up earlier because I wanted to spend time in the evenings with my wife, had a job during the rest of the day, and a 45 minute (each way) commute — rising early was the only way to seamlessly add time to my day. And it’s true what people say — it’s eerily quiet in the early morning. Perhaps, though I am guessing, because most of the population realizes that sleep is kind of awesome.
It’s Not Always Worth It
I stopped waking up early because we had our first kid, then our second, and for those first 2-3 years sleep is at a premium and you really lose most of your ‘schedule’. What pisses me off about the blanket advice of waking up early is that it ignores all other factors and is often perfectly encapsulated in a sphere which is not the reality for the vast majority of the world. (One could say that’s the best summary of Medium posts ever written, but I am biased.)
The truth is that it is not usually worth waking up early, of course that makes for shitty ‘how to be amazing’ fodder, but it is the truth.
There’s a very simple reason why it is not usually worth it to wake up super early: sleep is more valuable than “crushing it before everyone else wakes up”. There’s very good reasons for waking up early, but if your singular reason is because you think this is what it takes to be successful, then you are going to be very disappointed. The truth is that in order to be successful you need to be able to function at your highest mental capacity, get extremely lucky, and usually some of both.
If you are waking up early, you are going to bed early. You aren’t gaining any hours in the day, you are just shifting those hours from one side to the other. If you wake up two hours early, you typically go to bed two hours earlier. If you don’t, you typically take a mid-day nap (as oh so many recommend) and then you’re just fracturing your sleep — and there’s plenty of studies which will prove out the stupidity of that mindset. And if you don’t nap, and don’t go to bed earlier, then you are simply not getting enough sleep for that routine to be both sustainable, and allow you to think at your best capacity.
When I mentioned still wanting to hang out with my wife above as a reason for my waking early, what I failed to mention (on purpose, because that’s how you blog about this stuff) is that I went to bed at 10pm every night, instead of 11pm or later. I didn’t actually achieve anything by way of gaining more hours in the day, all I did was shifted my schedule to the early morning for the later nights.
It is true that it was quiet in those early hours, and that I was able to write without distraction in those hours — more so than at any other time in my life. However, it’s also true that you can create that environment for yourself quite easily without waking up before the rest of the world. Try staying up to 12am, it too is almost as quiet. Or the library, those are fantastically quiet places to work. Or just don’t work next to people — a lot of this seems like more of a rebuke of open office spaces, right?
Habit not Motivation
There are legitimate reasons to wake up early. I know for many parents its one of the few reliable times you can have without the kids pestering you, but where you are reasonably fresh to deal with things. (Because at the end of the day, you’ve usually got nothing left.) So my advice, if you want to make the change (based on my many changes of my schedule and helping my wife adjust things too):
- Realize that there is no such thing as motivation. It’s a myth designed to sell stump speeches. There’s a reason you want to do it, so call that good enough. Focus on the reason.
- Build a habit. It will suck the first few times, but if you stay consistent, it’ll become easy. That means if you want to rise early, you do so 7 days a week, not 5.
- Get enough sleep. It’s not cool if you only sleep 4 hours, you need at least 7 — science tells us so. You aren’t that fucking unique. You’re human, budget at least 7 hours, but if you are bad ass, budget 8.
It’s pretty much that simple, but that makes for a generally shitty Medium post. Maybe I should find a gif or something…
I’ve done the early riser thing, and I don’t any more. My goal is to have enough time in the morning to do what I need to do, nothing more. I get up at 6:30am. That’s not early, that’s not late. It’s just a time that works for me. I do this by setting an alarm for everyday of the week at 6:30am.
But again, that’d make a shitty Medium post, so yeah…