My life as a late riser
I used to be a late riser. In How To Be On Time, I mentioned that one of the reasons I used to be late in the past was from oversleeping. The only times I ever woke up early were when I absolutely had to: for school, work, and appointments. Even then, I’d wake up at the very last minute, scamper around the house to get ready, rush out in disarray, get a cab, and barely make it in time.
On a work day, my sleeping hours would be 2-9am (my previous workplace had flexible work hours). During the weekend, I would wake up somewhere between 12pm and 2pm.
I never once thought to wake up early as a habit. Why should you wake up early? I never understood why people would want to do that. If I ever met someone who was an early riser by choice, I would look at them in bewilderment. I saw waking up early as an act of self-deprivation. If we can sleep in late, why not just let our bodies rest rather than force ourselves to wake up at a certain fixed time? It felt like a borderline masochistic act to me.
How I got interested in waking up early
Until I came across testimonials in favor of waking up early. Overwhelming testimonials, in fact, from different places. I would read self-help articles that promote the habit of waking up early. Then self-help books where the authors proclaimed that waking up early as the single best habit one can ever develop (along with meditation). Then I came cross interviews with very successful people who mentioned that they wake up early (like 5am) and how it has helped them become much more effective.
The first time I read that, I thought it was just specific to that person. The second time, it piqued my curiosity. The third, forth, fifth, sixth time… … it was clear that there was a trend. It seems that there is a connection between waking up early and one’s own success.
I could have just brushed this off and say, “Nah, waking up early doesn’t work for me. I’m not a morning type of person – I work better at night.” Or, “It’s just all in the mind.”
But I knew that until I really test this out for an extended period (such as with a 21-day trial) and give this my best shot, I couldn’t conclude anything. I had to try to know. Just because my previous attempts to wake up early failed miserably didn’t mean anything — it doesn’t mean that waking up early doesn’t work. Those attempts were always done without a serious intent anyway, which largely explained their failure.
Trial to wake up early
So in 2009, I did a 21-day trial to wake up early at 5am. I figured that if it worked, I’d cultivate an incredible habit that would aid me tremendously. If it didn’t, I could just discard it and return to waking late.
The trial wasn’t easy. I realized that waking up early is so difficult for many because it’s a holistic lifestyle change that goes beyond just changing your waking time. Many times, my attempts would be thwarted because I slept in late the day before, which happened because I was either up late doing my work, came home late, was on the phone with a friend, or was exercising at night. It was like going up against a rushing current – I kept getting pushed back down every time.
But I never stopped trying. Whenever my plans to wake up early were shredded, I would improvise. While I could have given up, I knew that until I really lived out this habit, I wouldn’t know whether it was really good or not. So I would look at what led me to wake up late, then make changes to my lifestyle. Gradually, waking early became easier and easier. It became a natural act.
So after experiencing what it’s like to wake up early, I’m ready to make a conclusion on this trial.
I find that waking up early is a far more superior habit than waking up late for me. Here are 9 reasons why.
1. Get a head start
When you wake up at 5am, you start your day earlier than 99.9% of the world — hence giving you a head start in your day. This creates a feel-good factor, which, while psychological, creates a host of positive effects (especially for reasons #2 and #3 in this list). After all, a good start is half the battle won. It will motivate you to stay ahead so that you can maintain or even widen the lead.
For example, my modus operandi when I wake up early is to work on my high-impact tasks right away, as opposed to the small, easy, but unimportant tasks. I will also think and work effectively, and strive to end my day earlier so that I can have an early sleep, wake up early the next day, and continue my “head start.” On the whole, I’m more proactive and forward thinking in managing my tasks — since I have a head start, I naturally think about how I can be ahead in my work too.
On the other hand, when I wake up late, I usually prioritize the urgent but not-so-important tasks. Because I’ve woken up late, I will have the mindset that I need to spend more time on work to make up for lost time, hence working till wee hours in the morning. My behavior throughout the day can be best described as “reactive” as I think about how to catch up on my work (which I’m behind time on since I woke up late) and how to meet my immediate deadlines.
Working till the wee hours of the morning then causes me to sleep late and wake up late the next day. This cycle of waking up late and sleeping late will then continue the next day, creating a long-term negative pattern where I work late into the night, sacrifice quality rest, and wake up late the next day. Needless to say, having such a sleeping pattern over the long run isn’t good for my health.
Of course, one can argue that this is very subjective and in the mind. It doesn’t mean that waking up early will guarantee an increased productivity! It also doesn’t mean that waking up late will lead to reduced productivity.
True and true. However, I believe that this psychological effect of having a head start has more far-reaching effects than people give it credit for. I’ve experienced it myself, not to mention that being a late riser often results in late sleeping and reduced sleep as you catch up on work, which isn’t really good for health.
2. Increased productivity
My productivity soars on the days I wake up early. It’s a benefit that comes from getting a head start — you feel motivated to continue your lead, resulting in (a) more things done and (b) things getting completed faster. This applies even if I’m awake for the same number of hours during days I wake up early, and the days when I don’t. When I wake up late, I spend more time getting the same stuff done. Weird, huh? I think it’s very much linked to reason #1 on getting a head start, which puts you in the right frame of mind to get big tasks done quickly. This difference is clear if you’re someone who has your to-do lists mapped out for the day. It’s something you have to try to know what I’m talking about.
In addition, morning creates the perfect environment to work due to the peace and quietness (see reason #5).
Have you ever woken up late before and had to make a mad rush for your appointments? Being on time is important to create a good impression, and as a form of respect to the other party. When it comes to work, being timely is essential. Rather than rush around every morning which can be very tiring, waking up early gives you more time to prepare and be timely.
Putting a cut off on your sleeping and waking time also gives you structure to your days and makes you more aware of how you spend your time. This goes a long way in improving your timeliness.
Waking up early is about self-mastery. As I mentioned above, there used to be many reasons that would thwart my waking early plans in the past. Reasons like working late, being out late, delaying my exercise till late at night, being on the phone… these reasons were a result of my lack of self-mastery. To wake up early, I had to learn to have a hold over these activities, which would mean becoming more organized and disciplined.
Let’s take working late as an example. If you often work late, have you ever wondered why that keeps happening? At first sight you may think that it’s because you had too much work in the day or there were a lot of urgent tasks that prevented you from getting your work done.
But if you really look into the issue, you’ll realize it boils down to task management and self-management. After all, everyone is given the same amount of time a day, and we need to learn to manage our tasks within this time, rather than relying on late nights and tomorrow’s to get things done. When you need to wake up early, with a work cut-off in the evening, you start to look for ways to manage your tasks better, to say no, and to be productive. You gain mastery over your tasks and yourself rather than looking for the easy way out.
5. Peace and quiet
The tranquility you get in the morning is indescribable. This tranquility comes in two levels. First, there’s the physical quietness. You are alone with no disturbance. No one’s out on the streets, there’s no traffic on the road, and the birds haven’t even broken into song yet! No texts or phone calls either to take away your attention.
Then there’s quietness on the mental level. Ever walked into an exam hall or an interview waiting room where you can immediately feel the tension? Even though no one is speaking, you can feel the tension from the energy vibes. The same principle applies here. In the early hours of the morning when everyone is still at rest, you are free from the chatter in their minds. Not only that, because you process mental clutter when you sleep, the chatter in your own mind is lesser when you wake up. While physical peace is something you get by sleeping late, mental peace only comes from waking up early.
This tranquility gives you the space to get a fast start on whatever you want to do.
6. Faster commute
If you travel to work/school, you can travel during non-peak hours and skip the traffic jams. This cuts down on the time spent on commuting, giving you more time for other things.
It’s common for people to skip breakfast because they woke up late and didn’t have time. However as they say, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Having slept the whole night without eating, it’s important to have your breakfast. One of my friends used this interesting analogy to describe the importance of breakfast: “Eating breakfast is like starting your engine. If you don’t have breakfast, your engine has not started.” When I wake up early, I get time to prepare my breakfast (like fruit salads, veggie smoothies, and whole-wheat bread) and enjoy it.
Do you defer your exercise to the end of the day? Does your exercise plan happen according to plan or does it sometimes get rescheduled due to last minute changes? Waking up early gives you time to exercise in the morning. There’s nothing like a great workout to boost your day too! 😀
9. Seeing the world wake up
I love my morning jogs where I literally see the whole city wake up before me. I start my jog at about 6ish in the morning — when the sky is dark and there are few people on the streets and few cars on the road. As I jog, I witness the whole place coming alive. The human traffic increases and the traffic becomes heavier, steadily. The sky starts to lit up in different shades – first dark blue, then in gradients of purple, red, orange, and yellow, before sunlight starts to envelop the whole place. It’s a very beautiful experience. It’s amazing being an observer to the whole scene.
Start Waking Early
If you are not yet an early riser, try it for yourself and see how it works out — I’m sure you’ll find it a life-changing habit, one that’ll jumpstart your productivity and help you live a better life. 🙂