The New Habit Challenge: Wake Up Insanely Early

Suggesting you rise before the sun is even up may seem a little mean. So we'll wake our groggy selves up, too, for some extra motivation.

There are so many proponents out there for starting your day early, it’s kind of hard to ignore this advice--though for my entire life I’ve always preferred shrugging the idea off and hitting the snooze button more times than I can count.

“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Yeah, okay Ben Franklin, I’ll take that under advisement.

But it seems like almost any successful person you can think of starts their morning insanely early: Square CEO Jack Dorsey rises at 5:30 a.m., Virgin Group founder Richard Branson wakes around 5:45 a.m., and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz gets up at 4:30 a.m. every morning--good thing he has an infinite supply of coffee at his disposal.

Advocates for rising early aren’t suggesting that you can create more time in the day--surely if you rise early you would also go to bed early.

But when you rise before everyone else, it creates a time in the day that no one can force their expectations onto you, says Paul DeJoe, CEO of software company Ecquire. He rises at 4 a.m. every day and says his early-morning routine leaves him better able to appreciate the tasks at hand and think creatively.

Others suggest waking just a half hour earlier than usual to jot down your thoughts and ideas before even getting out of bed. The idea behind this is that in the first moments after waking, your mind is less inhibited and restricting, making it easier to come up with creative ideas.

For the next week, I plan to put our advice to the test, and I hope you'll join me.

I intend to wake at 6:30 a.m. instead of my normal rising time, 8:30 a.m., so I can get in a morning workout and arrive at the office by 8:30, well before the masses start pouring in.

But what you define as “insanely early” is up to you. If you usually wake up at 8 a.m., then perhaps 6 a.m. may seem like an ungodly hour to try and get anything done. Or maybe even a half hour early seems an impossible task.

Challenge yourself to wake up what you consider insanely early and tell us what you loved and hated about it, if it worked or totally bombed, and we may feature your response in an upcoming Fast Company story. Responses must be submitted to habits@fastcompany.com by end of day Thursday, August 7, 2014.

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[Image: Flickr user Susanne Nilsson]

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22 Comments

  • Sara Holoubek

    This is great advice for anyone who doesn't get up early. Would you be interested in writing a piece on how a working mother would do this?

  • Sunho Lee

    Once or twice a month I get up super-early to go mountain climbing...maybe like 4 am. While it absolutely allows me to accomplish more (i.e. get to the summit) I always hit a wall around 2 or 3pm and become a zombie. If I'm already back home by then, I often sleep for 4 or 5 hours. Sometimes I get so tired I will lay down along the trail and nap for even 2 or 3 hours...even on the summit of the mountain. I don't know what the solution for this is, but for me, if I don't get a total of 8-10 hours per day, I become a basket case, and worse, even a potential death trap driving down the road falling asleep. I know there are people out there who sleep like 3, 4, 5 hours every night and are fine, but that's not me.

    It's not the climbing that wipes me out...regardless of what i'm doing its usually the same.

  • Steve Tla MacRae

    Ever since I read a blog post by Paul DeJoe http://www.fastcompany.com/3013856/how-to-be-a-success-at-everything/why-productive-people-get-up-insanely-early I've been up at 5 a.m. or earlier.

    I gave up watching late night TV and that made the difference... I go to bed insanely early so that I can get up insanely early and interact with my colleagues who also get up early. I'm writing this before the sun rises... and it helps to have more friends who use the procedure. I'm delighted to see this article, which I'll share with my students. Steve McCrea, high school teacher VisualAndActive@gmail.com Skype SteveEnglishTeacher mobile (954) 646 8246 I want to interact with other insanely early people and find mentors for my students (to get them to adopt the procedure)

  • Saransh Sharma

    I wake up at 5am everyday. Make a cup of coffee half asleep, walk over to my desk to read industry related news and books. It keeps me motivated and switched on throughout the work day. It was tough to get into this routine, but it was totally worth it!

  • le.shakedown

    so true. i started gettin to work at 9 instead of my usual 8 or 8:30 for a few months and felt the stress rise. By 9 my boss was in the office, as well as most people. You have a full email before being able to get to start knocking certain tasks out the way. Next thing you know you have 2 impromptu meeting throughout the day because the CEO was feeling super lively and wanted to get everyone PUMPED for the company's mission. I've began coming back in at 8 because that 1 hour of no one needing to ask you anything or your input, really gets your momentum going for the rest of the day.

  • frisbee

    It can't work for us folks with delayed sleep phase syndrome. Quiet time can found past midnight too. There are other good times to workout during the day as well. It is possible to have a successful life on a different schedule. Ask any rock star.

  • sksingh

    The point to get up early to have the time to yourself and not driven by others around you. To achieve results, focus on one or two important things you want to tackle before your rest of your world starts grabbing your time. So pick the time which suits you.

  • Maria Cristina Rios

    I put this into practice over a 3-day period when I was dog sitting for a friend in New Jersey. The commute to Manhattan was an hour and fifteen minutes and catching the right train determined whether I was in the office at 9am or 9:30am. The routine of waking up at 5:45am, feeding the dogs, eating breakfast, preparing my coffee to go and making sure the dogs were ready for the day before 7am gave me focus and forced me to be organized with my time in the morning. During the commute I was able to listen to podcasts, read--I even planned out a summer's worth of workouts accounting for planned trips and events in my schedule (I'm a runner). Being in the hustle and bustle of Manhattan--my home, I'm trying to find a way to replicate that peace and quiet in the morning.

  • Melissa Rolfes

    I'm a bartender (which can lead to unhealthy lifestyles in its own right), and I have to be at work at 3:30 pm, and sometimes don't get home until 2 am. Waking up at 5:30 am isn't very feasible. I would be interested to know if the benefits of waking up early are contigent on the actual time we wake up relative to the sunrise and our internal clocks and bodily functions, or if just merely having time to chill before work is the reason early rising is important.

  • A great tip that probably should have been mentioned in the article is that most successful people that get up insanely early still have to go to events incredibly late so, they take "power naps". Not sure how healthy this tactic is but, it's pretty common.

  • My grandfather was very successful in his field, and not only got the 9 hours everyone in my family seems to need to be a functioning human (sigh), he took very short naps throughout the day, every day. Even in his 40s, all the way through his mid-90s, you'd see him taking a quick snooze in his chair or room, or on a plane. It worked--and he lived a long, healthy, and extremely sharp-brained life.

  • I'm someone who likes to sleep--a lot. This summer, however, I've been waking up around 3:30 a.m. / 4:00--not on purpose. Summer is the only time I have to work on my own writing projects. In addition to my blog, I have a novel in the works and it's on my mind. Last Friday, I wrote a complex blog post by 6:00 a.m. incorporating multiple data sources and finally figured out what bugged me about a recent education news story. Another night, I researched literary agents. This morning, I did my plyometrics work out. Today, I'll edit a couple of chapters, get new tires on the car, and buy new sunglasses. I feared some days that I'd be passed out on the couch by noon. I'm glad to say I haven't taken naps (haven't felt like I needed them) and I still feel rested. Maybe my nights of long slumber are over.

  • Jenny Dillon

    Love this article! I wake up at 4:30 am everyday to run and meditate, and I can vouch to say it makes your life so much better. Waking up early helps me clear my mind and sets me up for success the rest of the day. I encourage everyone to try this. You'll find your life will be more productive and happier.

  • It's good to have more time to fix your breakfast and chill out before stepping on the streets but you feel more tired by noon and you arrive home so tired you won't even think about exercising. That's why I loved it when I lived in Madrid. The Spaniards take a nap or "siesta" after 12:00 pm until 2 or 3. It gives you fresh legs to finish up the day. But the american way is to tough it up until you finish, which ends up in poor health and lots of stress.

  • I have kids and I'm constantly awake at 3:50am every morning... but I'm a zombie by around 9pm and generally can't make it through a movie.

    The reason I get up so early (and have for a few years now) is because it's the only peace and quiet I get before I go to work. I use the time to make breakfast for the wife and kiddos, make lunch for me and do some form of meditation (read: enjoy a cup of coffee in silence before the crazy day).

    I like it, but it's certainly not for everyone and if I have a sleepless night (happens sometimes) I'm hosed for days trying to recover the sleep debt.