Growing up in a noisy house with a dozen people, nighttimes were my time. When everyone else was in bed, I was really productive. I got used to this pattern and stayed up late for many years. I liked staying up and I liked sleeping in. I hated getting up early.
I’d heard stories of successful people waking up early, and I’d read books talking about the importance of waking up early, but I wanted nothing to do with that. I convinced myself it wasn’t true. Instead, I found articles online that confirmed what I wanted to believe to make myself feel better. I found countering studies that said you can work whenever you want, and you should work whenever you feel like it. This made me feel good because waking up early is hard and I didn’t like doing it.
I work for myself, which means I can adopt whatever schedule I want. I’m a night owl at heart, so that’s what I defaulted to. Even if I had to wake up early one week for some reason, whenever the weekend came I would always revert to staying up late and sleeping in.
A lot of people feel the same way and prefer to “burn the midnight oil.” You get past dinner and the nightly routine and you get into a late-night groove. It’s quiet, everything’s silent, and you’re thinking, “All right, I can really get some stuff done!” I know the feeling well. That’s the feeling people are operating out of when they say, “It’s too hard for me to wake up early. I’m not a morning person.”
Habitually staying up late is an emotional decision. You have an emotional connection to this pattern you’ve set for yourself. When you get out of your normal routine and are forced to wake up early, you still have that memory. You want to go back to your default.
I can show you studies and tell you stories, but you will believe only the studies you want to believe. Those studies will almost always be the ones that align with your preexisting preference. I’m here instead to convince you to test this out and see for yourself. Perform a couple of experiments, log your output, and assess the data so you can prove to yourself when you’re most productive.
First, you must decide: Do you want to be successful or do you want to be right?
I have no interest in being right over being successful. If you do, you might as well stop consuming this book, because my goal is never to help you reinforce your sense of rightness over what is best. My goal is only ever to maximize your productivity, efficiency, happiness, wealth, and the amount of success you can achieve.
Early Wake Daily Write
For me, rising early began when I realized that no matter what I wanted to work on in my business, everything started with writing. Whether I wanted to produce an article, newsletter, course, speech, or even a video, it all started with writing. I thought, “If everything starts with writing, why not start my day with writing?”
I’d always stayed up late whenever possible, so this was a big change for me. I called my experiment “Early Wake Daily Write.” Very simply, I’d wake up at 5:30 a.m. and write for my very first task. Sometimes I had an intended purpose for this writing and other times I just wrote whatever was on my mind. My goal was to build the muscle and the habit of writing.
I used to write before that experiment, but I’d write during the evenings. I didn’t know it at the time, but there’s a huge difference between writing at night and writing first thing in the morning. What you’re exposed to during the day will cloud your thinking. Those things will weigh on your mind. In the morning, you don’t have that extra baggage. Yes, you’ll be groggy at first, but right when you wake up is the best time to do the most important work of your day. Your mind is doing a lot of work for you while you’re sleeping. It’s processing things for you. You can make the most of this by using the charge of sleep on the most important work of your day right when you wake up.
As a night owl, I occasionally wrote a few hundred words here and there. Sometimes I might have broken a thousand words in a day. But when I decided to start “Early Wake Daily Write,” I took a moment the night before to write out my topic for the next day. I did this for a couple of reasons:
- You always end up wasting a ton of time trying to figure out what to write about.
- Your brain will process your topic for you while you sleep.
When you wake up in the morning, you’re coming off the charge of sleep. Not only do you have fresh energy in a physical sense, but if you made the effort to write down your topic the night before, your subconscious has already been mulling over it for you. You have a head start.
I actually started writing in the morning just to prove to myself that it wasn’t any different. I wanted to prove that I was just as effective as a night owl. I kept a log of my daily output for a few weeks. The difference was staggering. My output went through the roof! I more than doubled the number of words I used to write when I wrote at night. I was twice as productive when I woke up early, and I simply got more done in a day—it was like finding free time! I was awake for the same number of hours in a day, but those hours had shifted.
Disprove Your Deep-Night Disposition
In the morning, you have clarity. Remember what we talked about with focus? You must prevent even the possibility of interruptions. If there’s a small, nagging possibility you might be interrupted, it will prevent you from entering deep focus. Even the tiniest, base-level distractions will make a tremendous difference in your productivity.
This is the problem with nighttime work. You don’t have clarity; you have mental baggage. All the events of your day are bouncing around your head. You have to fight those thoughts to remain focused. This happens at a subconscious level, and you don’t even realize you’re doing it. That’s why you believe it’s not any different: you haven’t experienced the alternative of performing work with a clear mind and logging your output.
I don’t expect I’ll convince you to wake up early. I know I wasn’t convinced until I saw results. I just want you to prove it to yourself. If you truly care more about being successful than being right, then for the next three weeks, commit to waking up at 6:00 a.m. If you’re already waking up at six, wake up an hour earlier at 5:00 a.m. I recommend writing as the first thing you do because writing every day will change your life.
Log Your Early Morning Output
I have a course at 30DaysToBetterWriting.com that will walk you through a thirty-minute exercise every day for a month to help you create and maintain a writing habit. You’ll get a short lesson each day followed by a writing prompt. This way, you don’t have to think about what you need to do. You can just do it.
You can use this course if it helps, or you can work on whatever you like. It doesn’t necessarily have to be writing. Just log your output for whatever metric matters to you. If you’re an artist, work on your paintings. This is your time. The night before, write down the three things you want to accomplish the next day. That could be topics for your writing, concepts to draw, a project—whatever you like. Focus on this for a ninety-minute block of time. At 7:30 a.m., log your output. Write down the number of words you wrote, how many drawings you did, the number of measures of a song you composed, etc. Do this for three weeks:
- Wake up at 6:00 a.m.
- Focus for a ninety-minute block of time.
- Log your output.
- Write down when you went to bed, when you got up, and what you accomplished.
Change Your Late-Night Schedule
A productive morning routine starts the night before. If you want to wake up early, you have to start thinking about it when you go to sleep. You may be thinking, “I really want to wake up early, but it’s so hard in the morning because I’m tired.” You’re tired because you went to bed late, and you went to bed late because you got your work done late, and all that is because you slept in—because you worked late the day before! You’ve trapped yourself in a perpetual cycle, and your productivity suffers as a result. At some point, you have to change something—and it’s not something you change at 6:00 a.m. It’s not just setting your alarm for 6:00 a.m.; it’s preparing the night before.
The hardest part of making the shift for me was stopping my work when there was more work to be done. When you have more work to do, you feel like you can’t stop, and that never ends. If you buy into that narrative, you’re just going to cement the pattern. You have to stop and say, “There’s more work to do, but I’ll do it tomorrow. I’m going to wake up early, I’m going to get it done, and I’m going to get ahead of this thing.”
Early-morning success starts with going to bed earlier so you’re not tired. Yes, it will take a while longer to fall asleep at first. The next night, go to bed early again. It will still take you a while longer to fall asleep, but not as long. Gradually, you’ll develop a pattern. Slowly, you’ll start to adjust. Preparing the night before might look like minimizing screen time, stopping work sooner, spending time with your family earlier, setting a reasonable bedtime, or starting your nighttime routine sooner. It can be a simple thing.
First, define success by when you go to bed. For instance, I have a routine where I wake up at 4:30 a.m., run, shower, and sit down to start writing by 6:00 a.m. When I first started developing this habit, as long as I shut things down by 9 p.m. and got in bed by 10 p.m., I defined it as a success. It didn’t matter if I woke up early. At first I didn’t. It’s hard when you’re not used to waking up early.
If you try to define success as this big, huge thing where you go to bed early, wake up early, and have a super-successful, focused block of ninety-minutes and get everything done, you’re going to be disappointed. It will not all happen at once. You have to start small and define success by accomplishing one thing at a time. After you solidify one habit, chain other habits to it.
Don’t Snooze, Don’t Lose
Fast forward a week or two. Now that you’re consistently going to bed early, it’s time to move forward a step and redefine success. The second step is to define success by when you wake up. The single greatest method I have for getting out of bed is what I call “No Snooze.” As soon as your alarm goes off, turn it off and put your feet on the floor. There’s nothing in between; it’s an instant reaction.
Feet on the floor.
Tell yourself the night before that you’re going to do this. You must train your subconscious. There are no excuses. The reason you hit snooze eight times is that you tell yourself that you don’t remember hitting snooze and it just happens. You’re actually creating that reality for yourself by speaking it. Your words and your subconscious are powerful.
I once heard a speaker say, “Never take advice from a quitter.”
Yeah! That’s right! I thought.
But then he said, “How many of you have quit a thousand things in your life?”
I raised an eyebrow.
“You quit every day,” he continued.
“If you snooze the alarms you set, you just quit on your goals and your plans. You just quit on yourself.”
He got me. I was on board with his approach of never taking advice from a quitter, but then he called me out and told me I was quitting every day when I snoozed. I didn’t want to believe I was a quitter, but what’s the definition of a quitter? Someone who quits a lot. A quitter is someone who habitually quits. Snoozing was part of my routine, which meant I was a quitter.
Once I realized I was being a quitter, I decided not to snooze anymore. I set my alarm for 6:00 a.m. The night before, I told myself over and over, “I am not a quitter.” I told my wife the story. “I am not a quitter,” I said. The next morning, I woke up without my alarm at 5:00 a.m. and bolted out of bed. I didn’t even look at the clock. I didn’t realize until five minutes later that I’d been so scared of being a quitter I’d jumped out of bed an hour earlier than my alarm had been set for. That is the power of your subconscious and the power of your words.
It also helps to set the “Do Not Disturb” mode on your phone until 7:30 a.m. This way, when you wake up, there are no notifications. Don’t go looking for notifications either. It’s critical that you keep yourself from consuming before you produce. Producing must be the first thing you do. It sets the tone for the entire day. You’re establishing the fact that you’re in charge and you are the maker today. You’re not going to squander the charge of sleep by consuming what someone else has produced. Premature consumption kills production. This includes your inbox, feeds, subscriptions, and notifications of any kind. Do not look at your messages. The inbox is a list of other people’s agendas for you. If you start your day with what other people want, you’ll be a slave to their agenda. This is your day. Take charge of it and begin with production rather than consumption.
This Is Where Your Life Could Change
I challenged myself to write one thousand words a day. I’d wake up and write as the first thing I did. When I look back on my life and my business, that was the point where everything changed for me. When I look at my revenue, my audience growth, and my output, waking up early and writing every day was the inflection point. The next year, I wrote one million words. The year after that, I wrote a book in two weeks, and the result is what you’re now consuming.
I believed I could be successful as a night owl, and I wasn’t wrong: you can be successful as a night owl. But there’s good, better, and best. When I quantifiably proved to myself that I was twice as productive when I woke up early, I was sold. You can be successful as a night owl, but you can be more successful if you adopt an early-wake schedule. Only settle for the best. Care more about being successful than about being right.
You don’t have to be a “morning person” to wake up early. It’s not about enjoyment; it’s about results. I don’t like waking up early and leaving a warm, cozy bed—no one does. I don’t do it because I enjoy it. I do it because I like who I am when I do.
- Start every day with writing. Writing every day will change your life.
- Start your day with production rather than consumption. Don’t waste the charge of sleep by consuming what someone else has produced as the first thing you do in the morning.
- Your email inbox is a list of other people’s agendas for you. This is your day; start it with writing.
- If you want to wake up early, you must go to bed early.
- For the next three weeks, commit to waking up at 6:00 a.m. Write about what happens in a notebook or journal. See if you’re more productive in the mornings.