get up earlier

How I trained myself to get up earlier

Posted by Matthew Stibbe
Picture of Matthew Stibbe
on 13 July 2006
Advice Miscellaneous

I am not what you would call a morning person. I'm a writer, for heaven's sake! (See this blog on how to get the job you want.) But getting up early has become really important for me. When I have a lot of work stacking up and I add my blogs into my daily routine, it feels as if there simply aren't enough hours in the day. These are the techniques that I used to make a new habit and learned to get up earlier:

Seize the morning 

  • Decided what time I wanted to get up. In my case 6am so that I could do a couple of hours, write my blog and catch up my email before everyone else started work (and started sending me emails and phoning me).  The point is to set a time and stick to it.

  • Set myself a goal. Initially, I aimed to get up early every weekday for a month. I read somewhere that if you can make a new routine stick for a month, it becomes a self-sustaining habit. It proved true in this case.

  • Promised myself a reward. I always wanted to learn clay pigeon shooting so I promised myself I would book a day's shooting if I got up early for a month.

  • Tracked my progress using Joe's Goals. The more I use this little website app, the more I like it. I used to track these kinds of routine, habitual things using recurring tasks in Outlook but it was a bit fiddly and, addicted as I am, I didn't have Outlook open all the time. I also used a little Post-it note on my monitor and ticked off the days, convict-style.

  • Get clothes, computer and breakfast ready the night before. Don't want to trip over everything trying to do basic tasks when I'm half-asleep.
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  • Alarms. I set my beside alarm for 0600 - and this is the clever psychology - I also set my telephone to ring at 0605 but I put the phone on the other side of the room so that I have to get out of bed to stop it ringing. In the UK, you dial *55*0605# to do this. What happens is this: either I wake up and cancel the alarm or I get up and answer the call to stop it ringing. First, we're strongly programmed to answer the phone*. Second, I'm very strongly programmed not to wake my wife up! A ringing phone will do this so I have powerful motivators at work: guilt and fear. This technique works every time but I had previously reserved it for early morning trips to the airport and things like that.

  • Naps. Sleep is like money in the bank. If you overdraw by getting up early, you have to pay in some other time. Initially, I did this by having short naps after lunch. I suspect that over time the body adjusts to less sleep - most army people get by on less sleep than the rest of us, for example - but this seems to happen over a longer period than a month.

  • Earlier nights. In the long run, going to bed an hour or so earlier and having lie-ins on weekends meant that I was getting the right amount of sleep. Like jet lag the adjustment is a little painful but it only took a week or two to get used to the new routine.

  • Boast widely about your new early-birdiness. It makes feel good to tell people 'oh I get up at 6am'. Also, my friend Stuart says 'we are the stories we tell about ourselves.' If I describe myself as a punctual, early-rising, efficiency robot then maybe that's what I'll become (when I'm not a bohemain, enterpreneurial writer genius ).

To cut a long story short. It worked! I wake up at six, feel fresh and hop right out of bed without any alarms or bribery. I get two or three extra prime working hours a day.

None of this is rocket science, but I reckon if it can turn a lay-a-bed writer into a member of the dawn chorus, it's got to be worth sharing. Your mileage may vary.

* This is the source of the classic joke: "The phone rang in the absent-minded professor's house at 3am and he got up to answer it. Wrong number! 'Sorry to disturb you,' said the embarassed called. 'Oh, that's alright, I had to get up to answer the phone anyhow,' replied the absent-minded professor." (The old ones are the best.)

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