I used to wake up before dawn. My roommate and I would stumble down the streets of NYC at five in the morning and talk about anything and everything our brains could handle. (As for why we decided to wake up at dawn, it was because our third roommate didn’t think we could do it. Our competitive side kicked in and we wanted to prove him wrong.)
It was a beautiful sight, too: We’d watch the sun rise, the shopkeepers roll up their steel gates, and if we were lucky, we’d catch those sneaky guys who change out subway posters when no one’s looking. We’d see the world wake up, right in front of us.
Sounds magical, huh?
Well, before you get too impressed, know that this lasted all of three weeks. But I never forgot just how empowering it felt to be awake before the rest of the world had even wiped the sleep from their eyes.
I knew I owed it to myself to try again. So, I set one resolution this year: Every morning, I will wake up at 5 AM. Period. Quitting is not an option.
Two months in, it’s already changed my productivity in ways I never expected.
You Feel Like You’re Winning, Just by Waking Up
For a while, I tried and failed—sometimes spectacularly—to wake up early: Those 5 AM mornings of bliss were just one of many well-intentioned experiments that usually ended with me hitting the snooze button.
But you know what? I’m glad for those failures. If anything, it makes every morning I do wake up right on schedule feel like a big win. And when you win the morning, says Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, you win the day.
Now, I can say I wake up even before notorious early risers like Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington, and Mark Zuckerberg. It’s a wonderful feeling to kick off the morning: Some people drink coffee or watch baby videos to get pumped—but just by waking up, I know I’m taking control of my day. Just by waking up, I know I’ve done something right.
You Get to Set Your Own Priorities
The average US individual wakes up between 6:00 and 7:30 AM, which means when I’m up at 5 AM, I have a good one to two hours before my phone starts buzzing. There are no urgent emails, no calls, no fires to put out just yet. The only question I have to ask myself is, “What do I feel like doing this morning?”
Usually, that means putting on my favorite Spotify playlist, maybe spending a few minutes journaling or reading a book, and then heading out to the gym.
This is the definition of luxury: With a two-hour head start on the rest of the country, I get to decide what’s important to me—instead of rolling out of bed, straight into a hailstorm of to-dos. Because my mornings are, well, mine, I’m able to devote them to the quiet, meditative activities I love.
And better yet, by the time I arrive at work, I’m calmer, happier, and in a better headspace for the day ahead.
You’re Building Discipline for Everything Else
When I’m lying in bed, covers up to my chin, and the alarm is going off, waking up is the hardest thing in the world. But I’m tired, says that sleepy little voice in my head. What difference would five more minutes make?
Building discipline is like building muscle: For example, every time I work on my side plank, despite the burn, I strengthen my obliques. Similarly, every time I force myself out of bed, I strengthen my discipline—not just for the next morning, but for life. These days, for instance, I’m better able to focus on a single task. I’m keeping habits I never could before. Most importantly, I’m building confidence in my own willpower: Once I get out of bed, I know I can tackle everything else that comes my way.
I’ll be the first to admit that some of us are just hardwired, died-in-the-wool night owls. If you’re one of them, keep on rocking into the wee hours. But if part of you knows you haven’t found your stride yet, waking up early might just be the change you need to hit peak productivity.
And early doesn’t have to mean 5 AM—it just means earlier than you do now. Of course, you can’t make that change overnight. Instead, you have to build in a few habits to help you get there.
- Start intentionally winding down earlier than you usually do—that means avoiding all tech two hours before you want to fall asleep.
- Create a bedtime routine.
- Find a way to fall asleep faster—it can include deep breathing, visualization (such as running through the first three things you’ll do in the morning), or even an app designed to make you tired.
- Get an alarm clock that forces you out of bed.
Yes, getting up early is hard. But I promise when you develop the habit, knowing you’ve won, taken back your morning, and built discipline for life, it’ll feel like a high-five from the universe.