Waking early is good for you
Waking early is a great first step in taking control of your life. Developing the waking early habit allows you to have more time and energy to focus on things you might not have the time for now. Some other benefits to waking early include:
You are not as rushed in the morning
This means you can make a nice breakfast, and you won't be running around trying to get everyone off to school and work in a panic. You can have time to do those things you never seem to have the time or energy for.
You are better rested
This allows you to hit your stride earlier in the morning. You'll be more productive (and pleasant to be around) at an earlier time. It's easier to go to bed early when you know you're going to have time when you wake up. Often we stay up late because we are trying to finish some task we don't have the energy for.
It is good alone time
If you are doing the waking early habit by yourself, early morning is a great time to have some quiet space for yourself.
It is nice to see the sunrise in the morning
Don't underestimate the power of watching the sunrise every morning. It can be very rejuvenating and uplifting.
The evening energy suck
Evening time for me, and for many others, is a productivity hole. We are tired, but not sleepy. We have this feeling that we need to be doing something productive with this time, dishes, exercise, writing blog articles, etc. However, we end up sitting around, watching television, reading or even just talking with our loved ones. These things are not bad, but they make us feel guilty for not doing what we think we should be doing. Guilt is never a great motivator, it usually demotivates and saps your energy even further.
Waking early combats that. Knowing that you are going to have time in the morning allows you to relax and night; it keeps you from feeling guilty for watching television or reading or talking. It can be motivating to get yourself set up for the morning, knowing that it will be a productive time for you.
Take back that energy by being productive in the morning.
Forming the habit takes commitment
Waking early one day is simple. Doing it everyday is difficult without some good strategies. Take the evil snooze alarm as an example. It makes it simple to say, "Oh, I'll just sleep a little while longer." Nine minutes becomes 18 which then becomes 27... and before you know it you've blown your morning and end up rushing.
Living with others can make waking early more difficult as well. They may not appreciate your new lifestyle, and in fact it may annoy them to hear you up and about while they're trying to get that extra sleep that you now know they don't really need. You'll need to make a compromise with them, you'll try to keep things quiet (no using the bandsaw at 6am) and keep the lights low or the bedroom doors closed if they promise not to sabotage your efforts. You can also use the morning time to make them a nice packed lunch or even a good breakfast. Changing your morning routine may mean changing your evening routine. But, as I said above, oftentimes that can be a good thing. As a general rule, you don't have to go to bed two hours earlier in order to wake two hours earlier. It just means you need to commit to going to bed when you are sleepy. If you can't consistently go to bed when you are tired, that's where this habit will break down. Try to get others in your household to respect your new timing.
Waking early is a habit that needs to be formed. Research shows that it takes 21 days of applied effort to form a new habit or break an old one. At some point in the formation of this habit you'll be tired and cranky in the morning. This is where you need to have some form of reward for yourself for waking early. For much of the time, the feeling of accomplishment and the extra productivity are a good reward, but there are times that it won't be enough. We respond well to rewards, as they can give us that extra little boost we need to stick with a newly forming habit.
What would you do with the extra time?
What would you do with an extra half hour? extra hour? extra two hours?
Extra half hour
An extra half hour is just enough to make you less rushed in the morning. It means you have time to sit down and enjoy a good cup of coffee or tea. Or you can have time for a luxurious shower/shave. Maybe it gives you the extra time needed to pack your lunch instead of grabbing fast food while at work.
An extra hour gives you time to actually do something in the morning.
- Make a nice breakfast
- Throw meat and veggies into the slow cooker for dinner that night
- Read the newspaper or catch up on RSS feeds
- Practice something - juggling, piano (quietly!), meditation, knife throwing
- Work on a project you don't normally have time for
- Do dishes laundry or some other chore (I always loved the morning time in summer for gardening)
- Exercise - morning is a great time to exercise
Two hours of extra morning time means you've moved into the realm of having the time to do multiple things. You can do dishes, make breakfast and still have time to read the paper. Exercise, have a nice breakfast and have a nice luxurious shower/shave. Bake some bread and write your next blog post. Basically you can take everything you can think of for one hour and do two of them and still not feel rushed.
You should also break things up, don't do the exact same thing every morning, break up the tasks so it doesn't feel monotonous and boring. Just make sure that there is always something fun in there, something that will feel like a reward. It helps you to get up in the morning is you have an inkling of what you want to do with the extra time. So start thinking now about what you'll do with that extra time.
"I'm convinced! Now how do I really do it?"
There are lots of pointers for establishing this habit, some are simple and some are strange. Use the ones you like and ignore the ones that don't work for you.
Use an alarm and get up the same time every day
This is the most effective way to generate the habit... make it a regular habit!
Never, ever hit the snooze button
Snooze alarms are the worst invention ever made. If you set the alarm for 6:30 and you hit the snooze until 7:00... you've not only cheated yourself out of half an hour of awake time, but half an hour of sleep time. Nine minutes is almost enough time to get you into stage two sleep, but not enough time to benefit form the extra rest. Set the alarm for 7:00 and resolve to get up when the alarm first goes off.
Start easy, then dial it back
Once you've broken the snooze habit and you can get up consistently at the same time, start dialing back the alarm in 15 minute increments. After a couple of days of success with the new time, dial it back again. How many days of acclimation you need is a personal thing. You'll know it's time to dial it back when you find yourself wishing for more time in the morning or if you find your self consistently getting up just before the alarm goes off. If you really want to short circuit the process, make one big leap at the transition from daylight savings to standard time in the fall (sorry Arizona.)
Establish a wake up routine
My wake up routine is to get up out of bed, turn off the alarm, do my bathroom business, and then I walk through the rest of the house opening all of the blinds. By the time I get back to the kitchen I'm fully awake and ready to start the tea kettle heating. Having a routine like this makes the habit go into autopilot. Having a habit that is on autopilot means you'll do the habit without thinking about it.
Practice your wake up routine when you're awake
Steve Pavlina has a great article on this. Basically, in the middle of the day when you are awake and unlikely to hit the snooze, darken your room, set the alarm for a few minutes from now and get in bed. When the alarm goes off, very consciously do your routine. By practicing when you are awake, it becomes easier to train the habit. Getting up and performing your routine when the alarm goes off becomes a Pavlovian response.
Make sure you find a way to reward yourself. It can be something that you are doing with the extra time in the morning, or it can be a treat you allow yourself later in the day.
One habit at a time
If you are looking at waking early as a way to start exercising, don't. First focus on the waking early habit for at least 21 days, so it becomes habit. Feel free to exercise every once in a while with your extra time, just don't try and use habit forming strategies to make it regular. If you add the exercise habit while still trying to do the waking early habit, you now have two stressors - either of which can keep you in bed. When the alarm goes off, you'll think, "It's nice and warm in here. And I'm too sore from yesterday to workout today, so do I really need to get up? I need the extra sleep." And next thing you know you've hit the snooze 4 times. Once you've established waking early as a habit, adding the exercise habit should be much simpler. You're awake anyways, might as well exercise.
Allow yourself cheat days
Cheat days are those days that you decide that you've done your 21 days and have the habit well established, and you deserve a day to sleep in a little. Some people have scheduled cheat days. Mine is Friday mornings, as I play hockey Thursday nights and can get home pretty late from that. Only allow yourself to cheat if you've decided on it the night before. Your just awoken by the alarm brain is not the best judge of when you need a cheat day. Having the option for cheat days is important as it keeps you from resenting your new habit when an opportunity for late night fun presents itself. You don't want to feel guilty for staying out late or you'll resent the whole waking early lifestyle. Just be careful that cheating doesn't become the new habit.
Drink lots of water before bed
If you do this just right, your bladder and your alarm will work together to get you out of bed.
Have an idea of what you'll do with the extra time before you go to bed
This does not mean you need to completely plan out your morning the night before, but you should have an idea of what you might like to do with the extra time. It acts as an extra motivator for getting up.
Be willing to nap
I know that not everyone has the luxury of being able to take a nap. However, if you can afford 20 minutes to put your head down on your desk and you're willing to do it if needed, you'll feel more comfortable about waking early. If I'm really tired in the morning, knowing that I can take a nap if I get too tired later really helps get me out of bed. I've found that when I'm tired during the day, my productivity goes way down. If I can take a 20 minute power nap, just resting my head in my hands and drifting off, I can greatly increase my productivity for the rest of my day.
No plan is foolproof, and it is likely you'll be halfway into setting your habit when you find yourself hitting the snooze a couple of days in a row. Don't get angry with yourself, just take the steps necessary to get back on track.
Go to sleep when you're tired
This, along with getting up consistently at the same time are the most effective ways of training this habit.
Waking early has lots of benefits, many of which only become apparent once you made it a habit. You'll find you have more energy throughout the day and that your daily productivity really soars. I was able to write this article by devoting some extra time every morning to getting it done. Other benefits that don't seem as obvious at first are: it gives you good alone time, being up and able to watch the sun rise, and that you hit your stride much earlier in the day. Knowing what you are going to do in the morning can make your evenings much more relaxed. Regain that "wasted" evening time. Having a reward and knowing what you are going to do in the morning means there is a reason to wake up early.
By following a plan for achieving your habit, you'll reduce the likelihood of failure. Practicing that plan for 21 days straight will make that practice into a habit.
- Steve Pavlina's 30 day challenge
- Good advice on creating good habits
- Google answers info on 30 days vs 21 days
- More on the 21 day habit forming science
- Generic article on waking early from Steve Pavlina
- Part 2 of Steve Pavlina's waking early article
- Using midday practice to build the habit
- ZenHabits article on rising early
- Reasons to wake early
- Motivation for waking early
- Making your morning easier by being productive in the evening
- Article on power naps
- Wikipedia article on power naps
- Snooze alarms are bad
- Bed shaking alarm clock
- This alarm clock requires you to get out of bed to turn it off
- Another variation on the mobile alarm clock