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Work Smart

What I Learned From A Week Of Waking Up Early

For years I've written about productive people who accomplish big things before breakfast, but I'm not a morning person myself. What happens when I take my own advice for a week?

What I Learned From A Week Of Waking Up Early

[Image: Flickr user alexkerhead]

You know the advice: If you want to get more done, try going to bed earlier and getting up earlier. You turn wasted evening TV time into productive morning hours. You can accomplish big things before most people eat breakfast.

I’ve written about many productive people who use this strategy. I’ve also found it hard to implement in my own life. I am not a morning person. I also have three small children who, until about six months ago, woke me up so early that the thought of getting up any earlier just made me want to hide under the covers. However, as I started looking ahead to the deadline for a book I’m writing, and realized that I would need to be more productive and focused, I decided to try waking up early for a week to work, in the hopes that I would get more done.

I spent the past week doing just that. The results have been positive, though not so overwhelmingly positive that I’m going to wake up before dawn for the rest of my life. I am, however, willing to keep trying it from time to time.

Before my new morning ritual, I was waking up between 7 and 7:30 (yes, this is one of the upsides of having no commute). I got up, got the kids breakfast, and started working around 8.

This past week, I set my alarm to 6. I showered the night before, so all I had to do was go downstairs, turn up the heat, start my coffee, and head into my office. I’d be working by 6:03. I spent 90 minutes each morning plowing through the data analysis necessary for my book project. Then I’d start the old morning routine after that.

I found I quite liked the quiet time. I got a lot of focused work done. I enjoyed seeing the sun come up, illuminating the trees outside my window. I enjoyed sipping my coffee with no interruptions.

You can't create more hours in the day.

But the new routine didn’t exactly work miracles. For starters, I didn’t succeed in generating any additional hours in the day. In order to be up at 6, instead of 7, I needed to go to bed at 10:30 or 11 instead of 11:30 or midnight. That meant I no longer had 2 hours to work at night after my kids went to bed.

Some nights during my week of waking up early, I managed to put in another hour, but by the end of that hour, I was pretty much gone. I log my time, and when I added up my work hours, I saw that I was putting in 10 to 11 hour days instead of 9.5 to 10.5 hour days. In other words, I didn’t get 90 more minutes of work. I got maybe half an hour.

The mid-afternoon slump

My 3-4 p.m. slump was also twice as hard as usual. While I’ve always found myself mildly unfocused at that time, responding like Pavlov’s dog to emails in whatever order they came in, in this new world, 3 p.m. felt like quitting time. I had to be more disciplined about going outside for a break, or changing locations. By heading over to the library one afternoon, I was able to rescue the rest of the day, but it wasn’t easy.

The family impact

Then there was the question of how my schedule affected the rest of the family. The kids slept through my wake-up, though my husband wasn’t so thrilled about the daily 6 a.m. alarm (I sleep with ear plugs, so my "alarm" consisted of him nudging me, at which point I pulled out my ear plugs and heard the real alarm. Sorry sweetie!). My earlier bedtime also meant we didn’t get to spend much time together at night.

All in all, though, I do feel like it was a productive week—probably in the 90th percentile, as far as weeks go. While I won’t continue this schedule indefinitely, it’s helped me feel more like my workload is manageable. That’s never a bad thing.

Do you wake up earlier than you need to in order to get things done?

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