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Waking up early is hard. It’s even harder when you’re not a morning person.

If you’re like me, you’re a night owl. You get in the zone at night and that’s where you do your best work. You hate waking up early and it totally doesn’t feel like you.

I hear you. That was me. I’m a night owl at heart and I always did my best work at night, but that’s because I never truly gave mornings a chance.

I decided to compare my output when working early vs. working late. I was blown away by the results. On days that I woke up early, I accomplished twice as much. It was insane.

I don’t wake up early because I enjoy it. I do it because I like who I am when I do. I’m an objective person and I could not argue with the results. Could I be successful as a night owl? Yes. But could I be MORE successful as an early bird? Without a doubt.

In this episode, we’ll give you some practical tips for making the transition to waking up early and why it will completely revolutionize your day.

Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
  • You’ll notice your time is much better used in the morning—it’s more effective and focused.
  • You can be successful as a night owl, but you can be more successful as a morning person.
  • The incredible energy you get in the morning translates to really good writing, and writing will supercharge your business.
  • Be as consistent with your morning routine as possible.
  • Use the charge of sleep to do your most important work at the beginning of your day.
  • A successful morning routine starts the night before.
  • If you don’t schedule things out, everything feels like a top priority and that can be paralyzing.
  • In the evening, write down the top three things you want to accomplish tomorrow.
  • If you want to keep a morning routine sustainable, you have to allow for exceptions once in a while.
  • In the morning, make the first thing be production, not consumption.
Show Notes
  • 02:24 Sean: The 6am club started when I decided to return to my Early Wake Daily Write routine that I started at the beginning of 2014, where I wake up early and I write as the first thing that I do (Related: e039 It All Starts With Writing, e139 It All Starts With Writing (Again)). When I realized that everything started with writing, whether it was a conference talk, podcast, or blog, I thought, “If everything starts with writing, why don’t I start my day with writing?” That was when I started doing Early Wake Daily Write, pairing those two things together—waking up early and writing as the first thing that I did.
  • 03:08 This was something I was doing for a long time, and then I kind of fell out of it. I let things slip and I started going back into more of a nighttime working routine. I would still wake up and work, it would just be more like 8am or 8:30am; that’s when I would start working. I’m more of a night owl—that’s what I default to. If I were to just go on a long vacation and go to bed when I want and wake up when I want, I would tend to do late nights.
  • 03:41 Ben: You know that feeling you get now when you think of the possibility of waking up at 2am or 3am? That sounds ridiculous. You get a feeling in your chest. I used to get that feeling about any time before 8am, even when I was in high school. My senior year, I took on a class where we were supposed to go sign in at the high school and then drive over to another campus and assist a teacher for that period at an elementary school or something. I would wake up and drive to the high school in my pajamas so that I didn’t have to wake up before a certain time. I would sign in, go home and get ready, and then I would go to the other school.

Early Wake Daily Write

  • 04:39 Sean: When I stopped getting up early, I was still writing thousands of words a day, but it wasn’t Early Wake Daily Write. A lot of people struggle with waking up early. They think, “Do I really need to wake up early? I find myself getting into the groove in the evening. I get in the creative zone, I get things done.” I’m the same way; that’s what I default to. Why would I, as a night owl, wake up early? What’s the point? I saw that my output was twice as much when I woke up early. I could do so much more. We’re not even talking about working more, but just shifting that schedule. I wasn’t going to bed at 12am, 1am, or 2am. I was shifting that back to 11pm, 10:30pm, maybe even 10pm.
  • 05:33 Now we like to go to bed about 10:30 to get enough sleep. We all need different amounts of sleep. The 6am club wasn’t supposed to be a thing, but I ended up sharing it on the podcast. Aaron was waking up early as well and he was interested in sticking to that routine, keeping each other accountable. When I was trying to relaunch Learn Lettering in 55 days, I had to be dedicated so we started texting each other at 6am in the morning. One person would say, “Feet on the floor?” The only acceptable response from the other person was, “Feet on the floor.” We would take turns every day. If you didn’t ask the question yesterday, it’s time for you to ask it today. It was a little accountability, and we called it #6amclub.
  • 06:42 Ben: I got in on that with you guys. Before that, I was waking up at 6:30am at the earliest, maybe 7am. This was during the summer break, so the kids were sleeping longer and they didn’t have a normal routine. The summer break and any time the kids are home is when it’s most challenging for me to maintain a morning schedule because it’s so much looser. The school schedule forces me to get up early if I want to get ahead of the kids, get stuff ready for them, and help them get out the door. The 6am club came at a good time for me, because I was really feeling the loss of that time. I’m a night owl, but I’m not nearly as productive at night. I’m already starting to get sleepy, and when I get sleepy I start to seek out distractions.

You’ll notice your time is much better used when it’s shifted to the morning—it’s more effective and focused.

  • 07:52 Sean: For me, it was hard to see that. I was really productive at night. I do believe that you can be successful as a night owl, but you can be more successful as a morning person. I’m all about that more successful. For me, it was a matter of comparing output. My challenge to the night owl is this: do your thing and log your output. What are you producing on a daily basis? Then, try waking up early for a few weeks and log your output. Look at the objective results. In which case are you doing more? We’re not talking about working more but when you do it, shifting that schedule, to where when you wake up, the very first thing you’re doing is writing.
  • 08:45 It all starts with writing. You can do so much with writing. You can share the writing as it is or turn it into other things. Writing is powerful, and you have that charge of sleep. I don’t want people to get confused, because this doesn’t mean that you’re magically not groggy. The first 15 minutes, you’re waking up. That’s normal and it’s okay. You might have to blink a few times to be able to be able to see your screen or wherever you’re writing.

The incredible energy you get in the morning translates to really good writing.

That writing will supercharge your business.

  • 09:42 Ben: This past week, I’ve actually not been doing the 6am club because I have found myself in an interesting position. It’s a good one it some ways. I have a lot of work, a lot more than I’m used to having at one time. Because of that, I have have some pretty hard deadlines I have to keep up with. I didn’t schedule my time very well, so I ended up being in a situation where I felt the need to stay up late and work on stuff in order to keep up with deadlines. I justified it by saying, “If I get up early, I can’t guarantee that the amount of time between when I wake up and when I go to my next meeting is going to be enough to get this thing done. I have a general idea of how long it’s going to take me, but I just don’t know.”
  • 10:38 Staying up at night, I thought, I could work as long as I needed to, however long that ends up being. Then I could go to bed and I would still have the constraint of getting up and going to these meetings. The problem with that is that I’m letting the work dictate my time instead of the other way around. I should be in charge. When you put constraints on your work, you tend to work more efficiently, and it’s a lot easier to put constraints on your work when it’s in the morning than in the evening, because the evening feels like an open-ended thing, even if you say, “I’m not going to work past midnight.”
  • 11:22 Sean: You think, “All I’m eating into is my sleep,” and then you’re not just eating into our sleep. More than likely, you’re going to push that sleep and end up waking up later and later and later. The next thing you know, you go to bed at 4am, and you’ve pretty much inverted your sleep schedule. If you’re doing your work first thing, you’ve got the rest of your day ahead of you. You’ve got other things going on, so you think, “I only have this much time,” and you hyper-focus.
  • 6am Club Rules:
    1. Find a buddy in your local time zone. The Community is a great place to do that; that’s where a lot of people find accountability partners.
    2. Take turns being the one to text.
    3. When it’s your turn, text the other person at 6am saying, “Feet on the floor?”
    4. The other person replies: “Feet on the floor.”
    5. Switch roles the next day.
    6. You’re in the 6am club.
  • 12:24 Ben: Some people are doing their own spinoff versions like 5:30am or 5am club. I have one; it’s called the 5am workout club. Cory Miller is an accountability partner of mine. The rule that we’re not really following is that we’re not in the same time zone. He’s two hours earlier than I am. If I texted him at 5am my time, he would be getting a text at 3am his time, and that’s not very nice. The point is, we make the time to work out. I have that specific time set aside. His and mine is less about the timing and more about working out regularly. We’re accountability partners in that sense.
  • 13:19 What I love about 5am is getting that out of the way. If I wait to do it later in the day, the later it gets, the easier it is to make excuses not to work out. The easier it is for something to interfere with that. It’s an important piece for me. When I work out, I have so much more energy throughout my day, I’ve got more focus, I feel better, and once I get over the achey muscles and stuff, it’s really wonderful. I don’t want to jeopardize that, so putting it at the very beginning of my day helps me out a lot. When I write, I do it after the workout. Ideally, I would have the 5am workout club, and then I would also have the 6am club, where once I’m done and cooled off, I sit down and write. I see the benefit of writing to my business, my thought process, and the way I work through emotions. Writing helps you in a lot of different areas.
  • 15:03 Sean: We’ve talked about waking up and productivity before, but we’re breathing new life into it by talking about the 6am club (Related: e75 Why Early Birds Beat Night Owls).

The spirit behind the 6am club is using your charge of sleep to do your most important work at the beginning of your day.

  • 15:20 I found that writing is the most important thing for me. I think it’s awesome to go on a run or do a workout.

What NOT to Do in the Morning

  • 15:30 The main thing is, do something productive rather than consuming. When you consume first thing, you kill your early morning energy. When you wake up and start browsing feeds, you lose that charge. That’s why I encourage people to schedule their Do Not Disturb Mode and not to check email in the morning (Related: e187 3 Reasons to Stop Checking Your Inbox in the Morning). It puts you in reactive mode; it’s living other people’s schedule and agenda for your life.
  • 16:13 Ben: This is a much bigger issue than a lot of people admit to themselves. I’m still in this certain habit: I’m sleeping and the alarm goes off on my phone, so I reach over and grab my phone. I turn the alarm off, I check my messages, I check Facebook. Before I’m even fully awake, I’m browsing through feeds. Sean is absolutely right; it’s not just the energy it takes away from you or the five or ten minutes of lost time, but it puts you in a reactive mindset. Now, you’re going to be living out the rest of your day looking for things to react to instead of establishing your own schedule and being the one in charge of what you are going to do.
  • 17:26 Sean: You’re living out your proactive day. Amy is asking, “Do you guys use the early am for the same thing every day, or do you switch it up on certain days and use it for writing, others for creating, others for fitness?”

Try to be as consistent with your morning routine as possible.

  • 17:53 Assign a focus. One way to do that is to assign a focus to a certain time (Related: e203 Level Up Your Business (Part 1 of 4): Focus). What happens at this time every day? What happens in this place? What happens on this device? Assign these focuses. Say, “Okay, it’s 6am. This is what I do.”
  • 18:18 Ben: Sean and I got together on Monday, and I had to plug in my camera battery charger. I said, “Your only job, Sean, is to make sure I don’t forget that.” He draped the handle of his bag over the charger.
  • 18:35 Sean: Ben had his camera charger plugged into the wall at the coffee shop, so I grabbed my bag and put the handle on top of the charger so that I couldn’t possibly leave, grab my bag, and miss it. It’s an analogy I heard from Merlin Mann originally, the “briefcase in front of the door” trick. If you forget your briefcase going to work, the trick is to put it in front of the door, because you’d have to stumble over it when you open the door.
  • 19:20 Ben: Similarly, when I know that I have to grab some checks to deposit at the bank, I’ll make a mental note and create associations that are amazingly powerful. You use the same kind of thing when you’re trying to remember somebody’s name. You might find a strange way to tie their name to some other association so that, when you see them, that association makes that memory even stronger. The power of those associations can’t be underscored enough. When you have something important to you that you want to make a point to do, associations can ease the struggle of having to discipline yourself to do them. Those associations are so strong that it feels natural to do that thing.
  • 20:20 Sean: On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, we do live shows, so I’m writing for the shows I’m doing ahead of time. On Mondays and Fridays, I’m writing for seanwes TV, which we’re relaunching seven days a week on October 5th. We batch produce those on Mondays and Fridays, so on those mornings, I’m writing for those shows. Since my goal is to finish my book The Overlap Technique over the winter, I’m going to use the first part of my Early Wake Daily Write working on the book. I’ll wake up even earlier, work on the book, and then, depending on the day, I write for a podcast or I write for seanwes TV.
  • 21:11 That way, it’s still consistent. Every day, I wake up and I write on the book. That will be the goal, so it’s always a certain thing. Maybe for you it might be, “Everyday I wake up at 5am and run, and then from 5:45am to 6:15am I write.”

Have something for your morning routine set, because then you can associate things that change with the thing that always happens.

  • 21:42 Ben: That’s nice, too, because one thing that makes it difficult to stick with the Early Wake Daily Write is not being sure what to write about. When you already have that made up, it doesn’t take as much effort to get going on a new topic when you’ve already been writing. If you have something preset that you know you’re going to start with, there isn’t much resistance to get going into that topic. You’ve already go momentum going into the next thing. I like that a lot.
  • 22:22 Sean: If you are trying to find something to write because you don’t know what to write about, I have an episode and a pdf download, 62 Topic Ideas So You Never Run Out of Things to Write About, with a bunch of ideas you can write on.

Making the Shift

  • 22:39 This is for someone who is trying to work towards waking up early. Scott says, “I can get up around 4am without an alarm, but it’s because I’ve trained my body to do so. It does start with making sure you get enough sleep, but also maintaining consistency. You can’t go to bed at 9pm one night, and 11pm another, then 10pm the next day. Create a schedule and stick to it.” Laci and I used to go to bed at 2am sometimes pretty habitually. That was just what we did; it was our routine. Over time, we made a point to shift that sleep schedule, and now that we’ve done that, we start to get tired around 10pm and we’re able to wind down. We try to get to sleep by 10:30pm, and this is coming from night owls. We stayed up till 2am all the time; that was a normal night. Once you do this for a while, it sounds crazy to think that you could get tired at 10pm, but you totally can and you will if you start waking up at 5am and 6am.
  • 23:59 Ben: When I started having kids, I started feeling tired all the time. It’s not as much of an issue now. I remember before kids how 11pm or 12am would roll around and I wouldn’t feel tired yet. I really am tired all the time now, but I feel more tired earlier when I’m waking up earlier. In regards to sleep and screens, there is a relevant In the Boat With Ben episode were we talked about nighttime routine, and how science has shown that using screens after a certain time causes the brain to stop the absorption of melatonin (Related: e003 The Seven Stages of a Successful Nighttime Routine).
  • 27:15 Melatonin is what you need to start feeling sleepy; it’s the body’s natural way of getting you to wind down so you get enough sleep. When you disrupt the absorption of melatonin, where your body should be falling asleep, you miss that cycle. Your body naturally cycles down with the absorption of melatonin, so as you get more melatonin, you start to feel sleepy. It’s a gradual decrease that brings you into sleep. When you mess with that, your body follows the same timeline, but once you pass that window and you’re exposed to too much light, your body cycles back up again. You’re not going to feel sleepy until the next cycle.

Avoid using your iPhone or iPad immediately before you try to go to sleep, because you will be fighting your natural sleep pattern.

  • 28:48 Ben: There’s tons of research on this out there. Within the past few years, people have gotten way more educated and there have been a lot more studies on sleep and the effects of screens on sleep because we have unprecedented access to screens. It’s a part of our daily lives. That has many benefits, but a drawback has been the way it affects our sleep. People are being more purposeful about that now. There are apps and programs you can download to shift the color temperature of your screen to reduce the affects for when you’re trying to fall asleep. Learn about it. As a rule, I try to avoid screens past 8pm, which is about an hour and a half before I go to bed.
  • 29:53 Sean: This is very important because it highlights the fact that a successful morning routine starts the night before. We all tend to forget that, but it takes a lot of planning. Why wake up early? To get more work done and be more productive. That way, you don’t have to work late. You know that you can be done by 5pm, or whenever you want to be done with your work, which means you can be with your family sooner and go to bed earlier. The reverse is also true. If you sleep in late, you start your work late, get your work done late, get home late, spend time with family until late, wind down yourself until super late, and then you go to bed late and you don’t want to wake up early.
  • 30:44 You say, “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 of all these things we’re talking about. At some point, you have to change something, and it’s not something at 6am that you change. It’s not just setting your alarm for 6am, it’s preparing the night before. Maybe it’s not using screens or stopping your work 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. That never ends. That’s just going to cement the pattern.
  • 31:30 I had to stop and say, “There’s more work to do, but I’ll do it tomorrow.” I stopped and I went to bed earlier when I wasn’t tired. It took me a little while to fall asleep. The next night, I went to bed early again. It still took me a little while to fall asleep, but not as long. Gradually, you start to develop a pattern because you’re waking up early, you get tired earlier, you go to bed earlier, and you feel better in the morning. Preparing the night before might look like minimizing screen time, stopping work sooner, spending time with your family earlier and more purposefully, setting a reasonable bed time, or starting that nighttime wind-down routine sooner. It can be a simple thing.

In the evening, write down the top three things you want to accomplish tomorrow.

  • 32:33 Ben: If I do that or anything that’s logistical or about business stuff too late, it makes it difficult for me to fall asleep because I’ve got that stuff churning in my mind. I would suggest taking 30 minutes or an hour earlier in the evening or at the very tail end of your work day to plan those things. That way, it’s not the first thing on your mind when your head hits the pillow.
  • 33:19 Sean: So many of us aren’t defining what a successful day looks like for us. What does a successful day look like for you tomorrow, and have you written that down today? Otherwise, how do you know if tomorrow’s good? That’s why you get to the end of your day and you feel like you haven’t done anything, or like you’ve done stuff but you don’t feel accomplished. Maybe you feel like you did work today, but you can’t remember what you did or whether it was important. If you’re writing these things down the night before, you know the next day: “I want to write write for 90 minutes tomorrow. I want to respond to ten emails. I want to get a blog post done. I want to put in four hours of work on this client project.” Write those things down, and when you wake up, you can focus on those things.
  • 34:06 You might even be able to get those things done in the first half of your day before lunch because you have focus. Most people don’t have focus, so they work eight hours but they’re not getting much done. You could get done what you need to early, and then you could either enjoy the day or get even more done and feel accomplished.
  • 34:25 Ben: I’ve gotten into this habit of writing down all of the stuff I need to do for the next few weeks. I’ll write down the client’s name and then whatever tasks I have under that, and that’s been really helpful in some ways, because when I take that list of things and schedule it out, I get to my day and I don’t feel pulled in a million different directions. I know what I need to do and what I need to focus on.

If you don’t schedule things out, everything feels like a top priority, and that can be paralyzing.

  • 35:05 As much as you can, schedule those things out. Write down what you’re going to do and experiment with it; you may be a bad estimator of your time, or you may be a bad estimator of how long it takes to do a certain kind of project. There are always going to be unforeseen things, but if you have a plan, you’re going to get a lot more accomplished than if you don’t.

Make Mornings Easier

  • 35:36 Sean: Sarah says, “I’m a mess in the morning. Even when I go to sleep early, it takes a lot of time for me to feel clear, even with coffee. Any tips to get started quicker?” My biggest tip is time. Brian says, “A new habit takes about 66 days to stick. Keep that in mind if you’re thinking about starting a new morning routine. It may be a struggle for most of those first two months, especially for the first few weeks.” You are going to feel that burn and it is going to be a struggle. You may not feel clear in the morning when you are used to going to bed at 12am or 2am and you try to go to bed at 10pm, but it takes you two hours to fall asleep. You look at your phone and you really only get a few hours of good sleep, so you’re not going to feel good at 6am. It’s going to take a while, but you have to stick with it. Keep doing it.
  • 36:39 Start with water and get more sleep than you think you need. You’re probably not actually sleeping all the hours from when you get in bed to getting out of bed, especially when you’re starting. You may not be able to fall asleep as easily, so get more sleep than you think you need. If you think you can get six hours and be fine, try seven and a half. Try some more sleep if you can, and start with water. Bring the coffee in later; your body is already helping you wake up naturally. If you add coffee to that, you’re amplifying the wake up, but you’re also amplifying the crash. If you time it right, you can let your body wake you up naturally and then bring in the coffee at 8am, 9am, 10am, or even 11am, and try to offset what would have been a natural crash.
  • 37:44 Ben: Sleep cycles are a big part of this. If you wake up in the wrong time in your sleep cycle, you’re going to feel more groggy. Even throughout the day, if you wake up at the right time in your sleep cycle, it’s going to be a lot easier to wake up. Exercise also helps.

Regular exercise improves sleep and gives you more energy when you’re awake.

  • 38:11 Sean: It sounds counterintuitive, but I’ve observed it to be true. I need to get back into exercising and work that into my morning routine, but I’ve definitely experienced that. If you don’t exercise, you think, “That’s just going to spend my energy and I’ll be more tired.”
  • 38:34 Ben: Exercise is a form of stress. It’s a healthy kind of stress because it’s acute and concentrated, and the body adjusts to that by providing more energy to you throughout your day. It takes that hard hit when you exercise, but then you get all the benefits of that. Another thing is meditation, and this influences your emotional health. Sometimes, we’re dealing with stuff and we’re carrying baggage we don’t notice. Even minor depressions can make it difficult to get started in the morning.
  • 39:14 I’ll try to break meditation down into things that influence sleep. Find ways to express more gratitude, which leaves you feeling more excited for the things you’re doing because you’re grateful for the opportunity to do those things. Otherwise, you might feel like you “have to” do things, and that attitude can influence the way you wake up. When Sean and I were in a band together, on days when we had a show, I could wake up at 4am and be ready to go because I was so excited. On days when we go to Disney World, same thing.
  • 40:00 Sean: Robert says something very related to this, “If you had an early appointment with a client everyday, or a regular morning meeting for your day job, you’d get up early. There’s no sleeping in because someone is depending on you. In this case, it’s your future self that’s depending on you. For me, 6am club is one way to show up every day. It’s making an appointment with myself for the benefit of my future self. It’s an investment that only happens because I know that I can’t afford not to do it.” If you have an important client meeting, you’re going to wake up because you have to.
  • 40:44 Ben: I think Sarah is talking less about waking up and more about the feeling of wakefulness and the amount of focus and clarity she has. I definitely think that’s a great approach to getting yourself going, but you have to be careful not to make it feel like an obligatory thing in a way that makes you dread it. Even though it gets you out of bed, it doesn’t provide you the focus and clarity if it isn’t also something you’re excited about. Thinking about the future and having a positive optimistic outlook is not everybody’s emotional default. Some people have to work more to get there than others. Things like meditation and mental exercises where you imagine your future self can be helpful in getting you there.

Understanding Sleep Cycles

  • 41:42 Sean: You go through several different sleep phases when you’re asleep: light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep, which is the dream state. A full sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes. It varies from person to person, but not by much, maybe only a few minutes. Generally, it’s about 90 minutes that are repeated several times in the night. Your movements will vary depending on which phase you’re in, and this is something that can be tracked via an app using your iPhone’s accelerometer.
  • 42:31 Ben: There are some that are even more advanced if you don’t like the idea of having your cellphone under your pillow. There’s one company that has an app that tracks it, but they also send a device that you clip on your pillow that doesn’t disrupt you and doesn’t make you worry about your phone falling off your bed.
  • 42:55 Sean: You’re not supposed to put your iPhone under your pillow. When you use Sleep Cycle, you should not feel it; it should be at the corner of your bed, if you follow the instructions they provide. If you’re worried about sleeping on your phone, you don’t have to do that. The Sleep Cycle alarm clock will track your sleep to wake you up during your lightest phase of sleep within a predefined 30 minute window. If I want to wake up at 6am, it will wake me up between 5:30am and 6am at the lightest phase of sleep it’s able to track.
  • 43:47 The nice thing is that when you wake up with the Sleep Cycle alarm app, you’re wide awake. It’s at the most peak time when you would be awake, which helps you set an ideal time on your alarm using sleep cycles. Because of the 90 minute increments, you’ve got an hour and a half, three hours, four and a half, six hours, seven and a half, and nine hours. When you want to set your alarm, say you don’t get to bed until midnight, if you want to get up early, get up at 6am to hit the light phase of your sleep cycle.
  • 44:27 Since we all vary by a few minutes per sleep cycle per phase, this app will wake you up in a 30 minute window at the peak time. You don’t want to try and wake up during a deep sleep, or you’re going to feel terrible. You will feel more terrible in the morning, even with more sleep, if you wake up during a deep sleep. If you set your alarm for six hours from now, if you fell asleep now, you’d feel better waking up in six hours than you would in six hours and forty minutes because you’d already be back into that next deep phase. Being aware of sleep cycles has really helped. If it’s really late, you’re traveling, or you can’t control the circumstances, you might want to get four and a half hours of sleep instead of five because you’ll feel better since it’s a 90 minute cycle.
  • 45:33 Ben: When you wake up in the middle of your sleep cycle, that deepest part, the affects of that last throughout your day. You never quite regain the same amount of clarity and focus. Sierra asks, “Do you believe in sleep debt? If so, do you have any specific advice to get through it?”

Getting bad sleep does irreparable damage.

  • 46:35 Sean: That’s just a fact. You can’t say, “I’ll get crappy sleep for a few weeks and then I’ll make up for it for a few weeks.” You did damage to your body.
  • 46:49 Ben: It’s definitely not hour for hour. If you lose three hours of sleep, you’re not three hours in debt. Sean’s right, it does damage. When we say “irreparable damage,” it’s not like you’re going to be damaged for the rest of your life. You can’t exactly make that sleep up. If you lose three hours of sleep one night and sleep an extra three the next night, that’s not going to offset the effects of that.
  • 47:22 Sean: It might even make you feel worse if you’re trying to make up for all of it all at once. It might be better to add a sleep cycle for several days.
  • 47:34 Ben: It’s okay to add a sleep cycle, but the most important thing, the thing your body thrives on, is routine. It’s the same kind of thing—if you go for two weeks without working out and then you try to make up for that by working out twice a day for two weeks, or something ridiculous like that, you’re going to harm your body more than you’re going to help it. Your body likes and thrives on rhythm and routine. It would be good to get a little bit of sleep to offset that debt at first, but as soon as you can, get your body back on a routine.

Special Circumstances

  • 48:25 Sean: Cory Miller said, “How do I reconcile my desire to wake up early with the occasional reality that I won’t be able to go to bed early or that I might wake up a lot during the night? If I only get a couple hours of sleep, should I still wake up early, or do I allow myself some grace on those edge case days and get back to it the next time?” Sometimes you have a kid that wakes up or there are certain circumstances. Robert was asking, “What about the times when you’re traveling and you’re in a different time zone? Do you still have to do 6am club?” Waking up early is not so much a rule as it is a mindset.
  • 49:06 If you’re traveling and you have jetlag, it doesn’t make sense to pretend and try and do 6am club in this time zone when your body is thrown out of whack. When I’m traveling and speaking, switching time zones, I typically don’t do 6am club during those times. The worst thing you could do is say, “I ruined my streak, so I guess I’m not in the club anymore. I guess I’ll stop waking up early.” That’s an edge case; do what you can that day and then get back on the saddle tomorrow.
  • 49:44 Ben: I roll really easily with that way of approaching it, almost to a fault. I’ll give myself a break even when I shouldn’t be giving myself a break, but some people are sticklers with themselves about stuff like this. Be lenient with yourself in those cases, because you’re not always going to be in the optimal circumstances. This routine is a default operating mode, but for every default operating mode, there are some anomalies and things that happen that you don’t have control over. You can’t keep pressing forward if it’s going to come at the expense of your ability to do so in the long term.

If you want to keep a morning routine sustainable, you have to allow for exceptions once in a while.

  • 50:36 Sean: For me, that’s where accountability comes in. Ben was saying that he might let himself off too easily. If you’re doing the 6am club with another person and you’re texting each other, you might text them, “Feet on the floor?” and get silence. An hour and a half later, they respond, “Hey… sorry.” We’re not going to beat ourselves up, but we’re going to do it again tomorrow, and that person is texting you at 6am. It’s about accountability. Reset and start again.
  • 52:05 Ryan says, “How early is too early?” If it’s still today, it’s too early. Sarah asks, “How do you manage different wake up times (like if your spouse wakes up later) when you live in a small space?” Obviously, it’s ideal if you can sync up if your spouse is sleeping in the same bed. Going to bed and waking up at the same time is great, but to me, going to bed is more important than waking up at the same time. It’s more healthy for the relationship to go to bed at the same time, but if one person wakes up early to write or run, different people need different amounts of time. I function pretty well on six hours of sleep, but Laci needs a seven and a half or nine hour sleep cycle. It depends.
  • 53:19 Ben: When I do stay up later and work on stuff, Rachel always has more difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. It doesn’t matter how quiet I am coming back to bed, I always interrupt her sleep in some way. Going to bed at the same time is the best way to protect the other person’s sleep. I’m curious to know, if you have to go to bed at different times, whether it’s better to interrupt a sleep cycle in the deep part of sleep or the lighter part of sleep? Which one has the greater impact? I’ll have to do a little research. Maybe you just need to go sleep somewhere else, like on the couch, if you’re the one staying up late. I always appreciate waking up at the same time because I feel more motivated when somebody else is up with me. It’s like we’re commiserating in a way. We both have to be up at 5am, but at least someone’s doing it with you.

To Eat or Not To Eat?

  • 55:14 Sean: Sarah says, “You often say we should go straight from bed to work in the morning, have a glass of water and that’s it, no distractions. What about breakfast? Don’t you think it should happen before you start working?” It’s about focus. If you’re eating, you can’t be writing. What do you do while you eat? Most people don’t sit and stare at a blank wall. If they’re not talking to a person, they use their phone, TV, computer, or video… some sort of consumption while eating. We’ve talked about fighting the urge to consume in the morning and storing up that charge because you want to produce as the first thing. For me, that’s writing, for someone else that may be running, but at least you’re doing something and not consuming something.
  • 56:05 I think it’s a matter of changing the way you think about it. If you normally sleep in late and get up at 9am, you immediately eat breakfast. You’re thinking, “If I get up at 6am, I want to immediately eat breakfast.” You would have been sleeping now anyway; it’s okay to not eat breakfast. I would shoot for 90 minutes of focus time, 90 minutes of writing, and then eat. Start out with 30 minutes. You’re going to survive. Eating doesn’t have to be the first thing you do when you wake up.
  • 56:45 Ben: I’ve woken up feeling hungry before, so the first thing you can do is drink some water. We can confuse thirst for hunger pains, and your body loses a lot of water while you’re sleeping. If you’re going to eat and you more naturally consume while you’re eating, do some kind of more productive consumption, like reading something that’s going to inspire you or help you feel more energized for your day, or something instructive that leaves you feeling motivated. Or, you can go on your porch, enjoy the morning air, and meditate while you’re eating.

If you have to eat first thing in the morning, find ways to still use that time productively even if you’re not able to write or make something.

  • 58:03 Sean: Laci says, “I disagree with Sean on this part. I’m all for eating within 30 minutes of waking to boost metabolism.” Eating is a very involved activity, so I find that it’s easy to consume media while you’re eating. In the morning, the most important thing is production, not consuming. If you can eat and stare at the wall and think about what you’re going to write, go for it. Don’t freak out and think, “If I don’t eat first thing at 6am, I’m going to die!” You get used to it. I used to go to a camp, and at camp, you have to wake up, clean your bunk, do studies, chores, or meet in with your group, and sometimes it’s an hour or two before you can go to the hall and eat. As a kid who used to wake up and grab a bowl of cereal before my eyes were open, I thought I was dying, but by the end of camp, I got used to it.