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What Happened When I Redesigned My Workday To Start At 5 A.M.

The main upside, says one Buffer employee, isn't about early birds catching worms—it's about the power of choice.

What Happened When I Redesigned My Workday To Start At 5 A.M.

[Photo: mikeinlondon/iStock]

I work for an incredible company, with teammates scattered around the globe. Most of us tend to work nine to five–ish hours, and up until a few months ago, I did, too. My schedule was pretty standard:

  • Start work at 8 a.m.
  • Lunch at 12:30 p.m., then head home to eat and put my three boys down for their nap
  • Back at work for 1:30 p.m.
  • Finish at 4:30 p.m.

But a few weeks ago, this all changed. I’m part of a three-person team, and recently we got the chance to build a new online product. But before we could begin, we first needed to complete a five-day design sprint to validate the idea.

The other guys on my team live in Europe (I’m just outside Toronto) so I woke up early for those five days so we could spend as much time as possible together. It was a stellar experience to have Zoom (a video-call tool) running for the entire day as we brainstormed, built prototypes, and gathered user feedback.

As the project advanced past the sprint, I no longer needed to be up early but felt an urge to keep doing it. I’d stumbled upon a remarkable discovery: I love starting work at 5 a.m.!

My New Daily Rhythm

Here’s what my day looks like with this new schedule:

  • Wake up at 4:30 a.m.
  • Team sync at 5 a.m.
  • Work until 11 a.m.
  • Break from 11 a.m.–3 p.m.
  • Work 3–4:30 p.m

The key part of this new rhythm is the middle section: From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., I’m free to do whatever I want! During this break, I typically hang out with my wife and kids until 1 p.m., put my two older boys down for their nap, then head to the gym for an hour. I’m back by around 2:30 p.m., at which time I grab a quick shower and meal, then jump back in to work. It’s so trippy to take a four-hour midday break but still smash out a full day of work.

The other added benefit is how this schedule affects my evenings. I need to be sleeping by about 9:30 p.m. to feel fresh in the morning. Generally, I’m not doing anything super valuable late at night, so I find that most of my time awake is spent on activities that mean a lot to me (hanging out with my family and friends, fitness, reading, work).

Of course, I will stay up late if we have people over or if there’s something I want to watch live on TV, but I’m usually in bed a little after 9 p.m.

The Power Of Choice

I’m aware that most people don’t enjoy the same freedoms as I do at my company—the choice to work where and when I want. However, my newfound love for 4:30 a.m. wake-ups isn’t just about when I start my day. Reflecting on why this new rhythm makes me feel so great, I realize that it's something deeper, something beneath the long midday break and the pride of waking up early: It’s about the ability to choose.

In her book The Art of Choosing, Sheena Iyengar describes an experiment where people were given chips to use at a casino. They were presented with two options for where to use their chips:

  1. At a roulette table with one wheel
  2. At a roulette table with two wheels

All the wheels were identical. So which table did people prefer? The table with two wheels. Why? Because on that table, they could pick the wheel they wanted to play on, and that allowed them to feel more in control of their bets. This experiment illustrates what many people really want—to feel like they’re in control of what they’re doing.

I’m incredibly grateful to enjoy the same sort of privilege—the right to choose.

A version of this article originally appeared on Buffer. It is adapted and reprinted with permission.

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