Early rising into a daily routine

Improving productivity through consistent behavior

It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom. ~ Aristotle

While I have always loved the idea of waking early, for most of my life, it had been just that—an idea. This year I decided it was time for a change. In my mind an early morning offers so much. The fresh air and sounds of birds starting their day is very relaxing. Feeling like I have a fresh slate to conquer is motivating. Having time to plan the day removes unnecessary last-minute decisions.

With a little desire and a dose of motivation you can shift yourself from being a night owl into an energized early bird.

The Shift

Like many out there, I developed a habit of using my time in the evening to work on startup projects. For a while this was my only option due to working at an established company and trying to start something.

Over time, I realized that my productivity in the evening had not always been great. Some evenings I would be on fire and other evenings would be a waste. I began to wonder how I could utilize all the hours I was awake, maximize productivity and improve the way I approached my day.

The New Years Resolution

At the beginning of the year I made a goal to wake before 6:30a.

That sounded easy enough, but I quickly learned that resetting my natural alarm clock didn’t simply adjust because I asked it to—even nicely.

If you want a full and productive day don’t fight against your body. Doing that just leaves you in an exhausted state and will end up disappointing you. Here are a few things I’d tell myself six months ago:

  • Scale back your wake up time in increments. Instead of going from 9:00a to 6:00a, adjust in 15-30 minute increments. Give yourself a few days before adjusting again.
  • Do not sleep in. Sleeping in hurts your body clock. If you must sleep in (traveling, for example), stay within an hour of your normal wake time. Avoid sleeping in multiple days in a row.
  • Adjust your bedtime. Find out how many hours of rest your body needs (for me, that’s seven). Make sure you factor this in with the time you want to wake up. Don’t fight what your body needs—work with it.
  • Daylight. Waking to daylight can be extremely helpful. If you want to wake before then you might try using a device that mimics this.
  • Avoid food two hours before bed. If you eat shortly before bed, it will be far more challenging to fall asleep because your body is still busy processing the meal.

Creating a Daily Routine

Now that I am rising early I can take advantage of the time to actually plan out my day. Having a well defined routine lets you focus on your goals without the worry of what is next. Going through the day not really knowing what you want to do next can eat away at your mood very quickly.

I started this year out with a pretty simple routine.

Starting Simple

  • 6:00a : wake
  • 6:00a - 6:30a : breakfast
  • 6:30a - 7:30a : do something productive
  • 7:30a - 9:00a : gym
  • 10:00a : get back to being productive

That simple routine worked well, but it didn’t take long to realize it wasn’t as specific as I thought it should be. I wanted to define blocks of productivity periods and also set aside an hour for reading.

The Current Routine

  • 6:00a - 6:10a : wake, tea or warm water + vitamins
  • 6:10a - 6:20a : bagel or yogurt and coffee
  • 6:20a - 7:20a : catch up on news and outline task blocks
  • 7:20a - 8:30a : gym
  • 8:30a - 9:00a : drive home & eat breakfast
  • 9:00a - 12:00p : important task block 1
  • 12:00p - 1:00p : lunch
  • 1:00p - 5:00p : important task block 2
  • 5:00p - 6:30p : dinner
  • 6:30p - 9:00p : important task block 3
  • 9:00p - 10:00p : reading
  • 10:00p - 6:00a : sleep

Define Important Task Block

An important task block in this schedule isn’t necessarily one task. It’s actually one of three options:

  • A small task block is a set of simple items on my list. Maybe one meeting, two easy bug fixes and one medium fix.
  • A medium task block is two or three more time cosuming tasks.
  • A large task block is used when I just want to focus on one task.

Depending on how I want to work on a particular day I may have a day of just small task blocks. If an item is larger than my largest block (four hours), that is a clear signal that the task needs to be broken into smaller chunks.

If you’re married and/or have kids you might use one of these blocks to spend time with your family. The important part is that you’ve already established what will be done with your time.

Where I’m At Today

I’ve adapted to the schedule and am still fine tuning things as I go along.

Right now I currently wake at 5:45a and am aiming for 5:30a. While the day I use as my off day is still pretty random, I’m beginning to try using Sunday as a day to detach myself from current project work.

Not everyone is born a morning person. But if you’re interested I strongly recommend experimenting and beginning your day on a different foot. Start simple. My wife, who was nowhere near being a morning person, is actually becoming an early riser.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to write in or find me on Twitter.

Book Recommendation: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
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