Tackling the hardest task of the day first thing in the morning is a technique used by many to increase productivity. Getting the biggest task out of the way before dawn has many advantages:
- Your mind is lighter for the rest of the day, you have less to think about.
- You start the day with a great sense of accomplishment.
- It’s not as critical if you’re low on energy during the second half of the day.
- If you can do the hardest thing first in the morning, the rest of the day will seem really easy. Whatever comes next won’t get in the way of the thing you finished.
To tackle your first big task in the morning, you’ll most likely have to wake up early, or really early. I have conducted many interviews of top authors and people who get things done above average. An outstanding proportion of these “doers” wake up before dawn. 7am, 6am, 5am…
- 7am is easy and not uncommon for most people. No need to snooze, the sun is up. Put on your slippers and off you go.
- 6am is less easy, and more uncommon. Regardless, it takes effort and maybe a bit of snoozing to get yourself out of bed that early.
- 5am and before is brutal, and uncommon. In fact, waking up at 5am is nearly impossible unless you wake up for a good reason. You can wake up at 6 without a good reason to wake up. You can wake up at 7 on the weekends, even without a goal. But waking up at 5 requires so much mental and physical effort to drag yourself out of bed, 99% of people will fail at it without a vision.
If you have a normal job and start heading to work at 8 or 8:30, waking up at 5am gives you 3 hours to 3 hours and a half to hatchet your big task of the day. Amazing, right?
But it is far, far easier said than done. If you want to experiment with waking up this early, or if you know that you need to wake up at this time to be able to take your side project to the next step, here is a 5-point checklist to make sure you maximise your chances of skipping the snooze and doing the work.
😴 Go to bed early
1% of people can function properly on less than 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. This means that unless you’re part of that lucky bunch, you can’t go to bed at 11 or 12 and expect to wake up feeling refreshed at 5am. You might wake up to the sound of the alarm, but you’ll hit snooze and go back to sleep within 5 minutes.
So respect yourself, have common sense, have quality sleep.
- Go to bed early
- Don’t go out during the week (learn to say no to people)
- Have an easy wind-down evening routine
- No screens 1 hour before going to bed
🔭 Have a vision
There was a time when I would wake up before 6am, stretch, have breakfast, and then… literally nothing. I had set up a great sleeping routine for myself, but I was missing a plan. I would sit at my desk and realise that I didn’t know where to start, what to do.
Have a vision, a purpose. If you wake up at 5am with nothing to do, you’ll either do like me and wonder what the hell you’re doing this early in your swivel chair, or you won’t even manage to drag yourself out of bed, and you’ll sleep in.
✅ Have a todo
To fix my vision/plan issue, a short early morning journaling session does wonders. I now mentally prepare my day the evening before, and I journal 5 minutes every morning to write down my number one task for the day, along with the 3 smaller tasks of the day. This way, I know why I woke up, and I can get to work right away.
You can take it a step further and break down your Top 3 tasks into smaller sub-tasks. The more specific you are, the more motivated you’ll be to get to work, and the clearer your vision will be. Especially in the morning, it’s important to declutter and structure your mind as much as possible.
📅 Avoid sleeping in on the weekends
This is really important. You can technically stay in bed one extra hour on the weekends. But sleeping more would be risking to break the sleep schedule you took a long time to build. Once you’re out of bed, you can take it slower than usual, you can even waste time doing whatever you feel like doing. But actually getting out of bed is important. You’ll save your brain and your body from confusion the next Monday morning, and you’ll be able to operate at your normal performance level.
🛋️ Have time off
If you wake up at 5am most days, chances are you’ll be out of juice in the evening. Don’t beat yourself up for it. The whole point of waking up early is to work hard first thing in the morning. The rest of the day is supposed to feel like a breeze, and the evening can be spent on whatever you feel like doing. It’s not only totally fine to be out of energy at night, it’s completely normal.
Most people get back from work, feel drained, and watch Netflix all night until going to bed. But they didn’t wake up early to have time for their own projects. You did, so you can do whatever you like, guilt-free. I try to replace mind-numbing habits like Youtube and Netflix with fun stuff like chess and reading. I find those alternatives as relaxing, and much healthier.
At the end of the day (or the beginning), there’s a reason most over-achievers wake up early. It’s the best “you” time of the day. No distractions, no people coming at you… Only you, your work and your mind. Then the day gets going, distractions come, but it doesn’t matter as much anymore, because you already finished the one thing(s) you had to do today, way before the chaos started. That’s the power of early mornings.
If you decide to start waking up at 5am, make sure to keep this checklist in mind:
□ Go to bed early
□ Have a vision
□ Have a todo
□ Avoid sleeping in on the weekends
□ Have time off
With those 5 items, you’ll be well on your way to early productive mornings, and you’ll greatly increased your chances of success overall.
Stay healthy, wake up early, crush your productivity.