12 Lessons of Waking Up at 4:30 a.m. for 21 Days
If it works for me, maybe it works for you!
On April 2, I put myself to a new challenge. It was one of the biggest life hacks I’ve ever done.
The challenge was simple: waking up 21 consecutive workdays at 4:30 a.m., a challenge I gave the name of #21earlydays. I was already used to waking up early (6 a.m. almost every day), but this time I wanted to go further. I wanted to test myself and be more aware of my own limits. And at the same time, my idea was to share my progress with the world and try to change some preconceived ideas that society obliges us to follow.
I chose to only do the challenge on workdays because I knew that weekends and holidays are radically different for me. There are times that I work even on these days, but most of the time I have other plans that include going out at night. Yes, I could do the challenge every day, but I thought that it’s a question of balance in life. As my idea since day 1 was to continue even after the 21 days, this would be more a struggle than a true benefit.
And why 21 days? Well, I based it on the old idea of Dr. Maxwell Maltz that says you need 21 days to form a new habit (not necessarily true for many habits). I didn’t know if it’d work, but for me it was more for the sake of establishing a goal. One lesson I always apply to life is to always establish a goal when you want to change or reach something because only in this way will you understand if you succeeded or failed.
But what was the final goal in all this? It’s all about productivity and making the most of my days. I’m always thinking of ways to improve my work and my life and I like to think about details and take action if I think I could improve. I’ve known for a long time that I am a morning person, and so the goal was to increase my morning time to see if it would increase my productivity.
So, what have I learned from this? A LOT:
1. If you want to change something in your life, it’s always better if you have support along the way. It will be this support that keeps you on track when you’re about to give up. In my case, I opted to share my journey on Facebook with my friends and acquaintances. I knew that I would need this because if no one knew I was doing this, no one would hold me accountable for failing. But when you share your journey, people will ask you how it’s going, whether they agree or not. And in my head, I could not give up and show weakness. I doubt I would disappoint anyone because this isn’t such an important thing, but if I could inspire at least one person in the end, I couldn’t give up for that person.
2. People like to see different things. And someone waking up so early is definitely not a normal thing, so I had huge engagement in my posts! People concerned about me. People asking a lot of questions. And people stating that this would be impossible for them. I had great and deep conversations because of my posts and I couldn’t be more thankful to everyone that interacted with me. You made me think about many things, and part of this post is also a result of these conversations.
3. People don’t wake up earlier because they think they have to sleep less. In the first days, some people were really concerned about me. Most of questions were about only one thing: the time I sleep. Of course I had this well planned. I know very well what my body demands and as I changed the time when I wake up, I changed the time I go to bed too. Simple. Usually I sleep between 6 and 7 hours during the week and I maintained exactly that during the #21earlydays. So when it’s 9:30 or 10 p.m., it’s time to go to bed. To my surprise, the majority of the people that asked me the time I sleep, sleep less than me. And me? In fact, I’m sleeping even more now than before!
4. Eliminate the obstacles along the way. People always say that doing something like this is impossible for them. Yes, there are a few situations that can make it harder. But I also believe that many people just don’t want to go the extra mile to improve their lives. Society in general is lazy and many people go with the flow. Yes, I have some conditions that helped me do this: I’m single with no children and I have complete control over my daily routine. But I have most of these things because I created this situation. When I lived with my parents, this would have been way more difficult because I had the context of the family environment. So, I started this challenge when I knew I’d extinguished many of the struggles along the way. Think of everything that’s getting you down and preventing you from reaching that goal you’ve wanted but have never achieved. This is applicable to stopping smoking, going to the gym or eating more fruits and vegetables. Getting rid of your obstacles makes it easier to achieve your final goal. In my case, I knew that I’d need several things: total independence in my life, i.e., over my working hours or dinnertime; the ability to go to bed anytime I want and to not be interrupted during my sleep; and the ability of working anywhere and anytime I want. I have all of this. I usually work in startups, which means that I have huge flexibility in my time and that’s why I can be working at 4:30 a.m. This flexibility also allows me to come back home earlier. In addition, no one depends on me and I’m not dependent on anyone. And despite living with 7 other people in a shared house, I reach sleep easily at such an early hour.
5. Your physical condition helps a lot. Regarding sleeping, I’m clearly a fortunate guy! ☺ I fall asleep really fast (5 min on average), I sleep well (rarely wake up during the night) and anywhere if needed, and I have no problems waking up (when the alarm rings, I get out of bed instantly). Of course, this is also a consequence of my lifestyle: I eat well, I practice sports every day and I don’t have big and permanent worries in my life. But even given this, I believe that there are many people that could improve their sleeping. It’s always about changing little things, and after a few weeks or months, you’ll feel the impact of all those little changes. I’m at this point as a result of years understanding how my body behaves and what I could improve. I didn’t change yesterday.
6. Forget snooze! Fortunately, I rarely used such thing in my life and these #21earlydays only help to convince me of the uselessness of it. For me, snooze is one of the worst inventions ever and it doesn’t help people. If you want to wake up at a certain hour, please do and don’t delay it for 10 minutes! One simple snooze will seriously affect your day — studies show that you’ll be even more tired after sleeping that 10 minutes and this makes people delay several other things. Nothing good comes of snooze.
7. I like to sleep, but my body only needs 6 or 7 hours. After that, I don’t take any special pleasure in being in bed and I prefer to go out and do the interesting things that exist in the world. Because when I die, I’ll have a lot of time to sleep! ☺
8. More working hours. Since I started waking up at 4:30 a.m., I won 2 hours of work per day. How? As I said, I’m a morning person and after 6 p.m., I don’t do anything valuable (even my afternoons are less productive). So, with this hack I took out 2 unproductive hours of my night, when I usually was on my laptop passing time, and I won 2 hours, when I get lots of work done. A rested mind and 2 hours of complete silence while the rest the world is still sleeping are extremely powerful and make miracles.
9. I get messages out of the way. Usually, during these 2 hours, I answer all my emails and messages and plan the rest of the day. Having an ‘Inbox Zero’ at 6:30 a.m. is great but the best part for me is the fact that I have no instant answer to my emails and messages. Especially on Facebook, this is something that can destroy your productivity, as it’s perfectly possible for you to spend all day chatting with people. And if you think twice, you’ll see that the majority of people don’t need an urgent answer and nothing bad happens if you wait to answer them tomorrow.
10. More time at the gym. Before these #21earlydays I was already going to the gym. But since I started waking up at 4:30 a.m., I’m going more times per week. Before, 3 times was already good, but now I can’t live without going at least 4 or 5 times. I truly believe that the fact I wake up earlier helps this as I don’t go to the gym so tired and when I go, I have already worked 2 hours. This helps in those days when you think you don’t have time to exercise.
11. A new view on the world. Waking up so early allowed me to see details around me that I’ve never seen before. Going running while the sun is rising or exploring different places in Lisbon during unexpected hours were impossible things with a “normal schedule.”
12. Yes, you need the will to do it. If you don’t have it, no one will have it for you and it’s highly likely that you’ll give up. Otherwise, if you have the will, no one will stop you!