It’s early and dark. The alarm sounds, and you reach over to switch it off. After a short pause, you sit up. You swing your legs off the bed, touch the floor with your feet, and reach for your phone. You sit quietly while your phone’s screen illuminates the dark bedroom. There are a few notifications waiting—new emails, a Twitter reply, a prediction of rain. You look at your messages, the news, and the weather. “I’m half asleep,” you think. “I’ll just look at Twitter while I wake up.” Ten minutes pass, then another five. You’re not asleep, but you’re not really awake either.
Five years ago, I decided to become a morning person.
It didn’t come naturally to me. When I had to wake up early—for a meeting, an event, or class—it was like the vignette above. I struggled to get out of bed. Often I barely made it to my engagement on time. And that rushed, zombie-like morning loomed over my day like a hangover.
But I was fascinated by the potential of mornings. Those early hours seemed like a gift—a couple of “free” hours when I could be productive and prepare for the day. Becoming a morning person would also give me more time with my wife. Michelle works at a biotech company in Marin where early meetings are the norm. I hated keeping a different schedule from Michelle, and it cut into our time together.
As a natural night owl, I knew I needed a plan if I wanted to avoid the mistakes of my previous early mornings. So I decided to research what had worked for other people, and try some simple experiments on myself.
It worked. I traded a typical night-owl schedule—up till midnight or later, staring at a screen, writing, doing design work, coding—for an uncommon routine where I go to sleep early, wake up early, and get a lot of work done in those quiet morning hours. (In 2015, that included writing our book Sprint.)
Here are the lessons I’d share with anyone who wants to wake up early.
Coffee, light, and something to do
These are my ingredients for a successful morning routine. Coffee is deceptively important. Sure, the caffeine is nice, but the preparation is essential to my morning. It takes me 15 minutes to make coffee…