Before you start assuming that I am a morning person, I used to wake up around 9–10 AM regularly and worked until 3 AM during university. Getting up early has never been innate to me, it is a skill that I practice with a strong sense of duty. I owe it to myself to get out of bed early, and so should you.
How did I get started? With a clever use of my Mirror Neurons. From Wikipedia: “A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another.”
This is probably the skill I strive to develop the most, looking at other successful people and mimicking their traits, finding what makes them so productive and simply doing the same thing. It seems easy but I have found over time that not that many people are willing to constantly benchmark themselves against the best (do you?).
In the case of waking up early, it started with the person I consider the most successful in my family, my grandfather. He always wakes up between 3:30 and 4:30 AM, rain or shine, weekday or weekend. Fortunately, he happened to work in Montréal after my graduation. I had the pleasure to share an apartment with him for a year post-graduation. Hearing the coffeemaker at 4:00 AM was definitely a wake-up call for me (hehe). I had to try it.
I have been practicing the skill of waking up early for over 5 years now and here are the biggest 5 benefits to it (there are even more).
1. No one assumes you’re up
Unless your boss is also a high performer in the likes of Tim Cook, CEO of Apple who is famous for sending his first emails at 4:30AM or you are working on your Instagram following by posting in the wee hours of the day like me, absolutely no one expects you to be up this early — no one.
This makes it a great time to do whatever you want. Here are a few examples of how I have used this free time over the years and depending on my workload:
- Working out: although I now practice Krav Maga (great article about it here) and lessons are at night, I used to work out as soon as my gym opened (6AM). I was already wide awake by that time and could pump more iron that the people that were still digesting their morning coffee;
- Reading/Studying: the incredible focus in the early morning is a wonderful time to acquire new skills. Your brain is running at full speed and your memory has been cleared over night and ready to receive new information;
- Writing: it is currently 5AM and I’m already halfway through writing this article;
- Working: I believe a good day consists of 10 to 18 hours of work. By starting at 4–5 AM, I make sure that I still have some time at end of day for personal development;
- Afternoon golfing: during the least busy of the summer days, I can easily finish work by 3:00 PM and enjoy a quick round before sunset.
No one assumes you are up, take advantage of that and do what you want to do.
2. There are little distractions
This goes hand in hand with #1. You are most focused and there is less to take away from your amazing morning drive — the icing on the cake, the cherry on top. Call it whatever you like.
I keep my phone in sleep mode until 7 AM and disable audible notifications on my computer as well. If something is really urgent, I will start seeing the notifications pile up in red in my task bar and still perform a quick check of my phone every 30 to 45 minutes. The big difference here is that I look at them when I choose to, they don’t interrupt my thought process. It is tremendously easier to stay in control of external events before dawn. You can pick when the information reaches you, not the opposite.
If you live with your partner/roommates/children, these are additional reasons to wake up early. As much as you probably enjoy spending time with them, as the day goes by, they will make it harder for you to focus. It is even worse in the evening when everyone is exhausted and frantically going about coming back from work/school.
When the regular 9 to 5 work day starts, it gets even worse. Suddenly, not only your personal social networks are ringing, but your professional ones are chiming in as well. LinkedIn, Slack, Skype for Business, calls, texts, calendars, alarms… All of these start eating at your attention from multiple directions like a metastatic cancer. Wouldn’t it be great if you could avoid all of them, just a few hours a day?
Mornings are great, no cars honking, no kids screaming, no coworkers yelling.
3. You’re ahead of everyone else
Only 8% of people wake up before 5 AM on weekdays according to a 2015 study. This puts you instantly ahead of 92% of the population, just by doing this “one weird trick” — not too bad is it?
Now, it gets even better. What most people don’t understand is that extra work and productivity does not increase linearly — it is exponential. If you work one hour more than your peers or have been twice as efficient in the first hour of the day, it does not represent just a mere 10% to 15% increase in achievement. The extra work you put in yesterday compounds with the work you are doing today. If you took one hour in the morning to practice a new monetizable skill, you will earn more for the rest of your life. That is the power of compounding, ask Warren Buffet about it.
We are not talking about earning an extra 15% compared to your peers and staying at that plain income level (which could still compound if you invest!). If you do just a paltry one percent more today, which in turns allows you to do one percent more on top of it tomorrow, a simple compound daily interest calculator tells me that you will end up the year at 3778% compared to someone who would stay at his 100% baseline.
You are not only getting ahead, you just strapped yourself to a rocket ship on its way to the moon.
4. You feel better about yourself and reduce stress levels
Guess what happens when you’re already halfway through a traditional 8-hour day by 9 AM, as your coworkers are just reaching the office, still grumpy and drowsy? You feel like a million bucks. For years you did not understand why your mornings were so hard while others had it easy. You always resented your colleague that had the freshest of smiles at 8 AM while your brain was still half asleep.
You are now firing on all cylinders, as others’ engines are still shivering from their later cold start. You feel like you can run circles around these people, and you do. Whether you are competing for a promotion, planning to win a sports competition or want to get more business for your company, you are much more likely to reach your objectives because your mind has reached a positive state and has taken an aggressive stance towards success.
Because you are now so much more ahead and in control of your day, you will also notice your bad stress levels dropping. I do believe good stress can be positive as I stash my agenda with as many tasks as I can cram in there, rushing through the day to complete everything. On the other hand, bad stress will eat you alive and crush any hope you might have of enjoying your day of hard work.
By taking ownership of your day right from the get go, you can foresee 90% of what will happen and plan accordingly. No longer will you be late for work because you hit snooze one too many times or because the weather suddenly decided to jam all traffic. No longer will you miss deadlines. No longer will you be paralyzed during moments of adversity.
No longer will you experience bad stress.
5. You waste less time at night
After having a hell of a productive day, the last think you will want to do is to sabotage all your progress by mindlessly tuning out in front of Netflix or scrolling your Facebook/Instagram/Reddit feed, whatever your poison is, endlessly.
By the end of an early day, you should feel tired and accomplished. You understand that if you want to do the same all over again tomorrow, you will have to go to bed early and will avoid anything that may interfere with that. It becomes your mission to get to sleep and regenerate as quickly as possible, what is not to like about that?
Sure, your friends and relatives might start calling you “Grandpa” or “Grandma”, but then again, my grandfather being the most successful person in my family, I am 100% fine with that. Most criticism tends to be a reflection of their own shortcomings anyways.
You will not be going out as late on the weekends anymore that is for sure. You will not want to break your routine for that one “good” night out. By now you realize that 99% of the things you do at night are a huge time-waste. Going to a bar until 3 AM, emptying pints in a loud environment is not socializing — even less so networking. You may feel the need for it, but be honest with yourself, you are wasting time.
You will waste less time, during weekdays but also during weekends.
Are you ready for a change? What time do you wake up at?