If you’ve ever read a “day in the life” article following a top CEO, the odds are high that said CEO wakes up at a ridiculously early hour. Waking up at five, four or even three in the morning is a staple amongst successful leaders, but does it actually affect your success?
As someone who both wants to be successful and is consistently looking for more time in her day, I decided to wake up at 4 a.m. for a month. The multitude of “day in the life” articles on the internet had made me curious; would waking up early give me more peace of mind? Would I have time to complete those side projects that had forever been on my to-do list? Would this be the magical key to success I had been missing?
Yes and no. The experiment didn’t provide me the specific answers that I had been hoping for, but I did learn a lot. Not just about myself, but about the myths of waking up early and why it may/may not be good for you. Curious? Here’s what you need to know before you follow in my footsteps.
1. This works best if you’re already an early riser.
As somebody who prefers to get up early than stay up late, this experiment was a lot easier for me than it would be for night owls. I know that I’m more productive in the mornings and that it’s easier for me to be focused right after I wake up than right before I go to bed.
If you’re looking for more time in your day but know that you’re most productive in the evenings, it’s okay to stay up late to get work done instead of waking up early. What matters most is the extra time and focus you’re putting into your day-to-day, not when you’re doing it. Early morning hours are a good place to test out how you benefit from that extra hour of focus, but if you want that time to be in the evenings down the road, do that instead.
2. You need a to-do list.
The need for a to-do list became imperative once I saw what waking up early was like without it. One morning, my partner decided to join me in getting up at 4 a.m. I woke up and proceeded to get right to work; he woke up and, well, went back to sleep. He hadn’t planned to do anything once he woke up and realized that his time would be better spent sleeping.
A to-do list helps you focus on what’s important. Do you need to exercise in the mornings per a doctor’s orders? Will you spend your morning finishing that presentation for your boss? Do you need to clean the rest of the dishes? Pick three or four things to focus on each morning and make sure to manage your expectations — deciding you’re going to spend the morning writing a chapter for your book when you only have an hour is an unrealistic expectation to set for yourself.
3. Individually set your alarm.
While automatic reminders are all the rage, taking the time to set my next-day alarm every evening helped me focus on my goal: getting up early. By setting the alarm each day, my decision to wake up early was intentional. It was an active reminder that I was getting up early to accomplish x, y and z. It didn’t take long for me to look forward to setting my alarm (yes, really!) so I could plan for the day ahead.
4. You’ll have to adjust your entire day.
The downside of this early morning experiment? I couldn’t schedule social outings on weeknights. When all of my friends were ready to go to Tuesday Night bar trivia, I was yawning and ready to go to bed. I tried to fight this urge a few times (with coffee, naps and 5-hour Energy shots), but the physical exhaustion wasn’t worth it.
Shifting my schedule to account for an earlier wake up time was a good reminder that “having it all” wasn’t worth it. Yes, there were days where I was able to wake up at 4 a.m., have a productive workday and then go out at night — but without the recovery time my body needed, my performance suffered the next day. I started to see early nights as a form of self-care; by giving my body and mind what it needed, I was setting myself up for success the next day.
5. Getting up early will not make you successful.
It’s safe to say that completing this experiment didn’t make me successful and that it probably won’t make you “successful” either. Rather, this experiment proved the importance of time management. Giving yourself an extra hour in the day isn’t enough, it’s what you do with it that matters. By waking up early, I was able to accomplish a lot. Once I had gotten certain tasks out of the way in the early morning, I had a renewed focus during the workday and didn’t get as overwhelmed. If you’re looking for a similar feeling, this experiment might be for you.
I won’t regularly set my alarm for 4 a.m. from here on, but I’ll definitely do so from time to time. I was willing to give this experiment my time, and now I’m ready to make that time work for me.