Joshua Keel

Should you get up really freakin’ early? 😴🤷🏻‍♂️

November 3, 2019

I can’t count the number of videos and articles I’ve seen espousing the benefits of waking up early. Suggestions for what counts as early rising range from 4:30-6am, but 5am is one of the most recommended times I’ve seen.

What are these people smoking?! 5am, seriously? What time do you have to go to bed to make that workable? I have to wonder if a lot of these people are only getting 6-7 hours of sleep.

For some that might work, but without a good 7.5-8 hours of sleep per night, I’d be a zombie. Sacrificing sleep has never made sense as a productivity strategy to me. Not many people my age (I’m 33) go to bed at 8 or 9pm, so if you want to socialize after work or have dinner with friends, it’s pretty tough to say your goodbyes at 8:30 so you can be in bed by 9.

Much of the great conversation to be had in life occurs after 9pm. It’s a fact. Look it up.

Still, there are benefits to early rising. When I was in high school and had a summer job, I woke up at 6:30am every morning. I would hop in the shower, eat breakfast, and be at work by 8:00. I liked that routine. It was comforting.

In the years since, I’ve tried all sorts of morning routines, in the hope that optimizing my morning would result in some massive life change. That “miracle morning” hasn’t materialized yet. What I found was that it’s tough to get up really early.

It was hard for me to go to bed or get up at a dramatically different hour from my wife. Socializing and any event that involved being out at night started to get dropped in the name of getting to bed on time. I was exhausted at the end of the workday. In short, the early rising lifestyle wasn’t enjoyable for me.

I often do wake up early now (without an alarm clock, since I rarely use one), but my early is more like 6 or 6:30 than 5. There is something great about getting up when the world is quiet and no one else is awake. That’s your time. Time to do something that makes your life better. One of my favorite things to do on mornings like that is to read quietly, or even just sit and think.

A morning where you have no time, you just get up, brush your teeth, grab something to eat, scarf it down, and head out the door (or in my case, head down the hall to my home office)—it’s awful! It makes me feel as if I’m at the mercy of someone else’s schedule, that I have no time for myself, and that I’m constantly in a hurry for no good reason.

We all need time for ourselves. Time for silence and reflection, for personal strategy. If Socrates was right about the unexamined life, maybe we should take some time for examining it.

Taking the time to establish a morning routine that supports our happiness and personal success is important. You don’t have to wake up at 5 to do that, though. 6 or 7 works just as well, as long as you are intentional about setting aside the time to do things that enhance your well-being.

One of those things is exercise, which has to be one of the most common reasons people wake up early. Any time I have been working out consistently in the last few years, it’s been in the morning. I would get up, immediately put on my workout gear, and walk or drive to the gym.

I would work out in the mornings because it never seemed practical to go after work. Apart from the fact that the gym is mobbed, that’s the time people want to hang out, get dinner, etc. My social calendar dictated my workout schedule. It’s also just easier to get the workout done in the morning: nothing can come up during the rest of the day to derail your good intentions.

I can’t say I’ve loved morning workouts, though. I always appreciated the feeling of accomplishment I had after moving some iron in the gym, but my body was never fully awake and ready for strenuous effort first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, work schedules and family obligations often dictate what time slots we have available.

Site note: I’m actually considering lunchtime workouts for the first time ever. I think it could be a really nice way to take a mental break and get some blood flowing in preparation for the afternoon’s work. Another idea is mini-workouts: My friend David does 20-minute workouts several times a day, with great success.

Over time, I’ve become more open-minded about what my schedule looks like. I’ve realized that it’s not so important when something gets done, but that it gets done. My most important priorities need to be reflected in how I use my time, no matter what time of day. If I spent the evening on a Netflix binge instead of reading, that determines what my life will look like next year, or next decade.

If I want my life to be something different, I need to actually do the things that will make it different now. I used to think I had to get everything I wanted to do for myself done in the morning. Now I realize that evenings, lunch breaks, and 5-10 minutes here and there are just as good. It’s easy to fall into a perfectionistic mindset about when things can be done, but it’s ultimately self-defeating.

I may be more physically tired in the evening, but if I put my mind to it, it’s amazing what I can get accomplished. We don’t necessarily need an amazing morning routine that has us getting up at 5am. We just need to make time in our lives for the things that truly matter.

Weave your projects and priorities into your life. You don’t have to squeeze them all into a 4-hour morning routine that starts at 4am. Don’t feel guilty if you’re not rising at 5am like all productive people supposedly do. Getting up early is no panacea.

I’d love to hear from you about your mornings, evenings, and anything you’re working on to make your life (or someone else’s) better. Got any tips or tricks for making the days go smoothly? Let me know in the comments!