How I Hacked Time by Getting Up at 5:30AM
“I am not a morning person.” It was my mantra since I could remember, especially during my years in university. Classes before 11 AM? A cruel prank. I was not a morning person, and that was fine — but then, I graduated.
This was when reality slapped me in the face. The working world started their day at 9AM, sometimes even earlier; I had to bid a fond farewell to my late morning schedules.
After a few years as a young professional, I started to realize I had no time for personal growth. I felt robotic and lethargic. Every morning I would drag myself up around 7–7:30AM, grumpily slump my way to the coffeemaker, assume a corpse pose on the couch until coffee was ready, toss some down, and have just enough time to throw on whatever clothes were within easy reach, and run out the door. In the end, I still needed to down a large coffee as soon as I sat down at work. Fast forward to 6PM, I’d hop on the train to go home (promising myself to workout as soon as I arrived), eat a snack and then sit in front of Netflix. Suddenly the evening was gone.
Now, perhaps this sounds familiar, or maybe even ideal, but it wasn’t for me. I had dreams of adopting a side-hustle or working on personal growth initiatives, getting that 6 pack, or having the flexibility to spend more time with friends and family. This “schedule” (to use the word loosely) I adopted barely allowed for time I wanted for myself, nevermind the time I intended to spend with others; a major adjustment was in order, but I needed some inspiration.
My partner is a planner. He’s self-motivated and schedules blocks of time to work on a variety of different things: reading, writing, exercising, social time, and anything else that brings him joy. I remember feeling perhaps a touch offended when I first saw “spend time with Marcelle” marked in his calendar for an hour each day, but it worked 😂.
He had listened to me complain over and over again about not having enough time. Given his effective scheduling strategies, I felt he was an excellent source to turn to for guidance. In response, he recommended his schedule block methods, and I tried, for an entire month.
It didn’t work.
My days felt too calculated, boxed-in by strict schedules, with hardly any room for flexibility. I would try to allot time blocks for socializing with my friends, say, on a Tuesday. But, if they were only available on Thursday, then my attempts to see them were tossed out for the week because of my pre-scheduled blocks of time. If I then tried to adapt my schedule with their schedule, it quickly threw the rest of my planned week out of whack. I would then of course get frustrated, adopt anarchist sentiments, and defy the fragile remnants of my weekly schedule. It was great, because then I’d feel accomplished and in control, but of course that was a practice in self-delusion.
I remember researching schedules of highly-effective people like CEOs and consultants — individuals who had gone through the trials and tribulations to try to create an effective morning routine. I read articles and watched videos from the likes of Gary Vaynerchuk, Kevin Kruse and Jack Dorsey. The timelines were different, but they each had a similar framework: create a daily routine, exercise, cut down on unnecessary decisions, and give yourself creative time to think.
Trial and Error
6:30AM: Wake up. I slept in my gym clothes to shave off the task of picking out clothes and putting them on. This allowed me to roll out of bed and head straight to my condo’s gym.
7:05 AM: Drink a protein smoothie and have a cup of coffee (that I prepped the night before)
7:10–7:30AM: Digest and feel the morning crash of waking up for early. I would mainly just lay on the couch.
7:30–8AM: Suddenly bolt up to shower, do my hair, and makeup and rush out of my apartment
8 AM: Catch my train into downtown Montreal
Why it Failed
I hadn’t gained any “me time.” Besides the fact that I’d already gotten my workout in, I spent my workdays feeling like I hadn’t gotten the chance to work on any personal growth initiatives. The reality was, it displaced my workouts from the evenings to the morning, but at the end of a long day I was too tired to work effectively. I would get home, open my laptop and try to work on projects for hours, becoming frustrated when ideas or thoughts wouldn’t come to me. I’d expelled all of my creative energy at work. In the end, I ended up just watching another hour of Netflix in the evening (and feeling guilty about it.)
I began to re-evaluate the reality of my schedule. At the time, commuting to and from work for an hour made it difficult to create a morning schedule. I figured I’d try to adjust my schedule to approach projects in the evening. I tried to stay up later and sleep in. My rationale was that if I slept later I might have more energy remaining for the evenings.
I created this schedule:
7:30–8AM: Jump out of bed, shower and do my hair and makeup
8AM: Catch my train into downtown Montreal
~ Fast forward to the evening ~
6PM: Arrive at home
6:05–7PM: Put on my gym clothes (that I’d laid out the night before) and go down to our condo gym
7–8PM: Shower, cook supper and eat
8:05–9PM: Do one solid hour of work
9–9:30PM: Spend some time with my partner and catch up on the day
9:30–11PM: Continue working on projects/work
Why it Failed
My blocks of scheduled time weren’t accurate. It ended up being a bit more like: come home at 6PM, have a snack (couldn’t work out for and hour after ), make my way to the gym for 7:30PM, head home at 8:30PM and not making it home until 9 (we’d moved apartments at this time where our gym was a 30-minute walk away). I wouldn’t actually begin to work until 10PM, by which time I was exhausted.
I attempted to give myself some more flexibility by getting up at 6:30AM on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On these days, I would plan to workout in the morning and do a bit of work on the train (something I’d had a hard time doing in the past due to distractions.) Tuesday and Thursdays would be “sleep-in days” where I would sleep until 7:30AM and try to work on projects in the evenings.
Why it Failed
The inconsistency of sleep patterns left me constantly tired. I found it easy to convince myself to swap around my “sleep-in days.” I basically ended up sleeping in every day of the week.
I’ve found it difficult to remain as consistent as my partner, and distractions of all distractions, I ended up moving to different cities every few years: from Corner Brook to Montreal, Montreal to Toronto, Toronto to Calgary. Our commutes to work changed, our careers changed, the only consistency was that everything constantly changed.
I’d just begun to come to terms with the fact that this just might be my reality.
Then I came across this video.
It preached about getting ahead in the entrepreneurial world and having more time for personal development. The secret? By getting up way earlier, before the working world even thought about waking up. I will admit that there were some parts in the video that did not resonate with me. However, the suggested experiment of waking up at the crack of dawn sparked the spirit of challenge in me . Especially when the outcome of a successful venture could finally give me what I’ve craved for so long: more time.
Before I get into the routine I’ve adopted, I’ll be honest that I didn’t think I would ever be able to get up consistently at 5:30AM. I remember thinking “That’s way too early,” and, “There’s just no way!” Truth is, I worked up to it. I started to incrementally get up a half hour earlier every 3 days. It worked, but I found I couldn’t maintain the later bedtime that most adults like to keep. Each night I would end up going to bed around 9PM to make sure I get my full 8-hours. I can’t function without it. This can sometimes cause problems in your social life as most functions or get-togethers don’t end until much later. I’ve found that I’ve had to either opt-out of some social events or push through the 5:30AM start, regardless of the “late night.”
I lay out my gym and work clothes to leave no room for decisions (they’re hard at 5:30AM). Prep your coffee and your breakfast for the morning the night before. I typically mash up a banana and oatmeal for overnight oats. That way, everything is ready to go.
5:35–6:05AM: First thing I do when I get up is put on my gym clothes and do a half-hour at-home workout with my BeachBody.com app. Initially, I was going to the gym each morning, but I wasted roughly 30-minutes just in the commute to get there.
6:05–6:15AM: I turn on my coffee maker and do a 5–7 minute meditation session with Headspace, an app that provides guided meditation. By the time I’m done, I have fresh coffee.
6:30–7:00AM: Shower, hair, makeup.
7:00–8:00AM: One hour of uninterrupted work time. I also typically have a second coffee.
8:00–8:15AM: Hop on my bike and cycle to work.
Why this Works
I find by exercising first thing in the morning, a tone or sense of pace has been set for the day. I will admit that it takes a few days to get into this routine, but once you getover the 5-day hump, it’s really easy to hop out of bed and be excited for your (very) productive first few hours of the day. On top of all this, the surge of productivity you get when there are no interruptions is phenomenal. No Slack notifications, no phone calls or texts — you’ll find you can easily get 1–2 hours of uninterrupted work done without even realizing it.
People ask me all that time if getting up that early is worth it for 1–2 extra hours of personal time, and I always respond in the same way: hell yeah it is! If I know I only have one hour, I will be hyper-productive. In fact, I’m writing this article at 7:25AM. If you get up at 5:30AM every day to work on projects, you’re already ahead of everyone else who sleeps until 7 or 8AM.
I also find that I’m more productive at work, because I’ve given my brain a chance to wake up and get moving. I don’t feel as lethargic throughout my somewhat-stationary workday, because I’ve already worked out physically and mentally. I’ve been eating better because I prep everything in the evening (and on Sundays #MealPrep), so I don’t need to worry about what to eat or drink in the early morning or throughout the week.
My partner has adopted this routine as well and has noticed drastic changes in his quality of life. He’s been able to put in an extra 150 hours into studying for his actuarial exams, while adopting a regular exercise schedule. (PS — It is way easier to adopt this routine if you have a roomate, family member or partner to do this with!)
Where I’m at Today
I’ve been working within this routine for about a month now, and I’ve seen crazy results: I have more energy, I’ve found more time to work on personal and professional projects, I eat better and it’s been much easier to keep a consistent exercise schedule. Each day, I find myself being more productive and focused on tasks at hand. I highly recommend this routine for anyone looking to gain more time throughout the day.
I’m always interested to hear other’s habits / schedules they’ve created for themselves that work! If you have one, please let me know by emailing me or commenting down below.
Disclaimer: I’m not associated or affiliated with any of the products mention in this article. I am not compensated in any way for mentioning them.
Jack Dorsey routine: http://www.businessinsider.com/jack-dorsey-morning-routine-experiment-2016-7#-4
Gary Vaynerchuk routine: http://www.businessinsider.com/gary-vaynerchuks-morning-routine-2015-3
Kevin Kruse Recommended Routine: https://www.inc.com/jeff-haden/20-minutes-guaranteed-to-make-your-whole-day-better-tues.html?utm_content=buffera5e9b&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer