Late last year, I began waking up at 5:30 AM to write for an hour then drive to work at an engineering firm. It was the hardest fucking thing I had done in a long time. But I did it.
And you know what?
I bet you could too.
Imagine how much better your day would be if you accomplished your hardest, most important work first thing in the morning. The rest of your day would be a breeze. You could relax in the evening without feeling like a bum or stressing because you let another day slip by without doing what you planned.
My story of waking up early consists of a 50/30/10/10 split of determination, preparation, execution, and luck.
Let me explain…
The 50% Determination
For most of the population, 5:30 AM is not a normal time to be awake. There’s no switch you can flip to make yourself consistently wake up that early, especially if doing it for your own reasons (i.e. not doing it to avoid being fired).
Basically, it’s going to take some effort.
It sounds extremely cheesy, but if you want to wake up earlier, you’ve got to really want it.
Several years ago, I tried waking up earlier to write for my blog before work. I did it once and it felt amazing — then I never did it again.
I didn’t want it bad enough.
It’s hard to wake up early when you have a 7 to 5 PM day job in engineering. It’s much easier to skip writing, go to work, consider the day a success, and not work on your own dreams.
At some point, you’ve got to become obsessed with whatever your dream is. For me, that was writing.
Currently, I wake up at 5:30 AM every weekday morning (I give myself an extra hour or two to rest on the weekends). I write, then head to work. This article is a product of my early rising habit.
I realized I wanted to be a writer.
I was no longer satisfied being some mook trying to make money online and half-assing it.
I love engineering, but I don’t want to do it forever. I want to be a writer. I still suck at writing, but I want to get better. I need to get better. I’m obsessed with getting better.
I knew if I wanted to be a better writer and change my life, I had to make it a priority. That became my determination for waking up earlier.
If I didn’t wake up earlier, I couldn’t write.
If I couldn’t write, I wasn’t a writer.
If I wasn’t a writer, I wasn’t chasing my dream.
Until you get to this obsession, until you have this revelation, you’ll keep convincing yourself waking up early isn’t worth it. You’ll press the snooze and stay in bed.
How bad do you want it? That’s what comes first.
The 30% Preparation
Determination alone brought me about halfway to waking up early consistently. The rest was preparation, execution, and luck.
There were precisely five things I started doing that helped prepare me for waking up early.
1. Going to bed earlier
Most people function best on a set amount of sleep. For some lucky few, that’s 6 hours. I tend to function better on at least 7–8 hours. I’m guessing maybe you do, too.
I realized that if I planned to wake up 2 hours earlier than normal, and I normally sleep 8 hours, I better get to bed 2 hours earlier to keep the status quo and my body functioning properly.
2. “Winding down” before bed
It’s hard to convince your body it’s time to fall asleep if you’re operating full throttle until you hit the sack. I created a wind-down routine for myself that lets my body know it’s time to start preparing for sleep.
About an hour before bed, I stop using any tech devices. On the rare occasion I break my routine, I always make sure to dim my phone or laptop screen.
Then, I’ll make myself a hot cup of tea, meditate for about 10 minutes, and get into bed.
Once there, I’ll read from a dimly lit Kindle until I reach a good stopping place or my eyes can’t keep themselves open.
At this point, it’s night-night for Jason.
3. Planning my morning the day before
When I first tried waking up early, I’d find myself procrastinating — checking social media and fumbling to do something useful. This led to many unsuccessful attempts at waking up early.
Planning my mornings the day before, so that I knew exactly what to work on, helped tremendously. I get right to work and don’t waste any time or energy.
Operating this way, my mornings feel like a success, and I want to keep waking up early.
4. No more drinking caffeine after 2pm
This is a rule I implemented for myself after reading about the effects of caffeine on sleep. I’m sure this is slightly different for everybody, but it works for me.
5. Exercising during the day
It’s proven that those who exercise sleep better on a consistent basis. I always try to tire myself out with a good workout at some point in the day. Add in all the other stuff above, and when it’s time for bed, I have no troubles conking out.
I’m not saying you must do these five things if you want to wake up early, but they helped me significantly. At the very least, some sort of plan for waking up early is essential. Incorporate some of my preparation ideas above along with your own.
The 10% Execution
Now, when the time comes to finally wake up, most of the work has already been done for me. The execution piece is straight-forward. Here’s how mine looks:
I set an alarm the night before and say to myself…
“I have to get up at five-thirty tomorrow to write.”
Don’t skip this step. It might seem silly, but trust me, the mental pep-talk helps.
Then, in the morning upon hearing my alarm, I get up and immediately leave the bedroom. No snoozing for this guy. From the moment I reach for my alarm, I keep myself in motion and roll out of bed.
*Don’t *lay in bed checking social media, email, or whatever. Just get up and leave the bed.
*Do *give yourself something to look forward to after waking up. For me, that’s a hot cup of coffee before getting down to business.
*Try *setting your alarm across the room if you struggle with snoozing. I used to do this but don’t anymore. For some strange reason, it actually didn’t work for me, though I’ve heard others who do it with success. I found it to be a fun game running to the alarm and seeing how fast I could dive back into bed. My brain is weird sometimes.
The 10% Luck
As much as I’d like to contribute my success entirely to my own actions, I’d be lying.
About a month after consistently waking up early, I felt a dip in motivation. Not everything was going my way:
I was working longer hours at my day job.
I bought and moved into a new home.
Things were hectic.
Things were stressful.
I wanted to sleep in.
For most, these would be viable excuses to give up. But, then my wife and I decided to adopt a new puppy. I’ll be damned if that little guy didn’t help me through my short slump to stay on habit.
Every morning without fail, our new puppy, Mose, would wake up between 4:30 AM and 5:30 AM having to relieve himself. Not wanting the dog to think it was OK to shit on the carpet, I made sure to wake up and let him outside. Once I was up, I figured I might as well continue with my writing habit.
Sometimes, a little bit of luck goes a long way.
Though, maybe luck isn’t the right way to phrase this. Maybe “accountability” would be better.
Having a partner to keep you accountable can make a world of difference. For me, that happened to be Mose.
Even the obsessed and highly disciplined can fall victim to the perfect storm of life’s problems. Prepare for this by having a back-up: an accountability partner to carry you through those tough times.
Create your own luck, so-to-speak.
And now, it’s bedtime for this guy. Will you be joining me? See you tomorrow bright and early.
Before you go…
I’m Jason Gutierrez. I try to write things that change peoples’ lives for the better. If you enjoyed this article, you might love my free 7-day mindfulness email course to reduce stress, improve happiness, and learn the foundation for creating change. Get started here.
Note: Thanks to Jason for the contribution. Originally published on Medium.