What do Warren Buffet, Tim Cook, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Jack Dorsey have in common? They are all highly successful people with a penchant for rising early. Two additional people I find incredibly motivating, Jocko Willink and Eric Thomas, are also early risers. Jocko infamously posts inspirational photos of his wristwatch to social media at 3:30 AM.
As I became more interested in my productivity, the concept of rising early came up repeatedly. It’s no surprise that some titans in emergency medicine are also early risers with a morning routine.
“I plan to go to bed early the nights I have work early in the morning. For example, for a 6 AM shift, I will be up at 3:30 AM, which means I am in bed by 8 PM at the latest. I place my phone across the room, so I have to get out of bed to turn it off. I find the biggest sticking points are getting out of bed and working out. So I place my phone across the room, get in bed early, and set up a workout plan the night before all to ensure I overcome the biggest obstacles to starting the day early.”
“I don’t wake up early to do work anymore cause I’m doing more kid stuff. But, I do wake up early to get in my workout. I’m often up at 4:15 AM to go for a run, and then I have my day set out in front of me.”
Many of you are thinking, “I’m not a morning person,” and I was undoubtedly one of those people. But as life gets more complicated, there’s often less time to work out, accomplish goals, or pursue dreams. My wife and I are parents of triplet daughters; balancing careers, parenting, and personal hobbies can be challenging. I became an early riser 2 years ago. Before that, I would set aside time in the evening. But, I was often easily distracted and unproductive at this time. Many times it was difficult to find the energy. On evenings when I was productive, I sometimes struggled to sleep.
Rising early has changed the trajectory of my life. There’s a tremendous sense of accomplishment when you have put in 2-3 hours of work before the whole planet is awake. I find it easier to eliminate distractions and remain focused at this time. It has also increased my bandwidth, and I’m able to pursue more goals.
Rising early starts with preparation the night before, and usually, there’s some weekly planning. As an EM physician, my schedule changes often. The rotation of days, evenings, and nights can present a challenge. I have learned to keep days after a night shift completely free. Additionally, early mornings after an evening shift are also off-limits. Depending on my clinical calendar, I will typically schedule 4 early mornings per week. I have my alarm set for 3:30 AM and start deep work at 4:00 AM. Pre-pandemic, I would work out at this time. But since I’m working out at home now and I have kids, it’s no longer feasible. The key is to stay organized and to be flexible. This is a process and I’ve made many adjustments along the way. If your rigid and inflexible, you’re not likely to keep your new habit.
I am a perpetual snoozer. Much to the chagrin of my wife, I can snooze for 2-3 hours. In James Clear’s “Atomic Habits,” we learn to increase the friction of bad habits, or in my case, make it hard to snooze. I moved the alarm clock off the night table and into the bathroom. Now, I must get out of bed and navigate to the bathroom to stop the alarm. Previously, I used Alarmy, which requires you to perform tasks (like difficult math problems) to stop the alarm.
After a weekly review, I noticed another barrier was turning on the lights. If I did not turn on the lights immediately, there was a good chance I would go back to bed. So, I purchased a smart lamp and placed it in the bathroom next to the alarm. Many inexpensive smart lamps, light switches, and bulbs allow you to create schedules. I set the lamp to illuminate with my alarm and almost immediately eliminated the habit.
Clear also tells us to decrease friction and make it easy to perform good habits. So, I developed a nighttime routine. I plan out the date, time, location, and what I wish to achieve. I find it empowering to know why I am waking up and what I plan to accomplish. I tell myself: “I will wake up at 3:30 AM on Tuesday and work in the office, and I will work on a productivity blogpost.” I also set clothes out in the bathroom next to the alarm and set the timer on the coffee machine.
It is crucial to be accountable. I keep a habit tracker (Productive), which serves as a scoreboard. During my weekly review, I analyze progress and commitments and determine if a change is needed.
Take these steps to set off your day and wake up in beast mode.
- Make it easy to wake up early.
- Clarify the date(s), time, and location where you plan to work.
- Plan what you will work on and what you hope to achieve.
- Develop a nighttime routine.
- Prepare your clothes for the next day.
- Set out any task-specific material you plan to use.
- Set the coffee maker.
- Make it challenging to snooze.
- Go to bed early.
- Take your alarm off the night table.
- If necessary, download an alarm like Alarmy.
- The alarm will not stop until you perform a task like math problems or take a photo of a barcode in the pantry.
- Use a smart light and schedule it to illuminate with the alarm
- Be accountable and keep a compelling scoreboard.
- Use a habit tracker to monitor your success.
- What’s going right?
- What’s going wrong?
- Make adjustments as needed.
- Eric Thomas speaks to Wolfpack football. You Owe You. Youtube.com. Published 2014. Accessed January 3, 2021. [Link is HERE]
- Clear, J. Atomic habits: An easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones. Penguin. 2018. [Link is HERE]
- Delight Room Co., Ltd. – Alarmy. Published 2021. Accessed January 3, 2021. [Link is HERE]
- Productive – Daily Habit Tracker. Productiveapp.io. Published 2021. Accessed January 3, 2021. [Link is HERE]