I wasn’t always an early riser. Many a morning has come and gone in my life where the sound of the alarm has either been turned off without a second’s thought, or has repeated itself, seemingly forever, with a push of that magical little button labelled ‘SNOOZE’. Now, however, I regularly rise in the early hours. Only recently since coming to work for TSheets, have I really stopped to analyze what it was that helped me make the transition from a slothful servant of sleep to an early morning evangelist. Working at a company that eats, sleeps, and breathes time tracking and timesheets tends to make you a little more aware of how your time is spent throughout the day. So, for your benefit, I’ve compiled a list of things I believe will help you establish the habit of waking up early .
Commit to a trial period for waking up early
It is daunting to make a permanent change in your behavior and most people give up before they ever begin. They don’t believe they can sustain the change. According to the ‘21 day habit theory‘, it takes at least that long to form a new habit and have a good chance of it becoming permanent. Most people give up on a new resolution simply because they feel that they won’t have the wherewithal to stick to their new behavior for the long haul. But if you know from the beginning that this is just going to be a “try it and see” type of exercise, then it makes it much easier to stick to your guns. That way there’s an end point, a summit, where you’ll be able to stop, take a breath, and reevaluate how it’s gone so far and whether you want to continue. I recommend at least 21 days, that’s only 3 weeks that you have to do it; then you get a chance to decide how to proceed after that.
Establish a morning routine
This is important. If you wake up early and don’t have anything in particular to do, you might make it downstairs to your couch and promptly fall back asleep there. You need a repeatable routine that will get you through the first 10 or 15 minutes of the morning, long enough to get past the grogginess that comes after getting up, so that you start thinking a little more clearly and begin feeling like it wasn’t so bad waking up early after all. I generally come downstairs and eat a bowl of cereal while reading through the latest stories on Slashdot.
Wake up at the same time every day, no matter what
During your trial period, you need to wake up at a consistent time, regardless of what time you finally fall asleep the night before. This may be painful at times, but it is important for two reasons. (1) You will be training your body to wake up at a particular time, and (2) you will learn how much sleep your body needs each night. If you get too little sleep one night, you’ll naturally be sleepy earlier the next night. Over time you’ll get a feel for how much sleep you need in order to wake at your target time. The amount of sleep you need each night may fluctuate slightly depending on your activities that day. I’ve found that I do well on between 6 to 7 hours of sleep at night – and I’ll go to bed earlier or later depending on whether I’ve played hard that day or not done much.
Get out of bed immediately
When your alarm goes off in the morning, how many times have you said to yourself, ‘Just five more minutes..’ ? If you turn off the alarm or hit snooze and start to indulge yourself in self-talk, the minutes will quickly slip by and before you know it you’ll open your eyes and 15, 20, or 45 minutes will be gone. Not to mention the strange dreams involving fried chicken and Ed McMahon that you’ll most likely encounter (or is that just me?). Wake up and get out of bed and start your morning routine immediately (see #2). Your mind will eventually catch up to your body and you’ll be grateful for all that you’ll be able to accomplish in the wee hours of the morning.
Start your day with an enjoyable activity
Make sure that you’re looking forward to whatever you do early in the morning. If you’re dreading it, it will be too easy to talk yourself out of getting up. However, if you can’t wait to do it, getting up isn’t a chore, it’s the gateway to an enjoyable day. Think about all of the hunters, golfers, fishermen, runners, etc. you know that practice their craft before the sun comes up. You don’t have to make it a party, just put something you’ll enjoy as the first thing on your list, then once that’s finished, you can move on to whatever else needs to be done.
A while ago I decided to track my own sleep habits for a couple of weeks using the Freelancer version of TSheets. During this period I was setting my alarm for 6:30am, but getting out of bed if I woke up earlier. Here’s a screenshot of my efforts.
Good luck becoming an early morning evangelist – share any other tips you have in the comments below!
 Sometime in 2006 I was trying to change my ways and make waking up early more of a habit in my own life. I Google’d “how to wake up early” and found this post by Steve Pavlina on becoming an early riser. I wanted to mention it here because it influenced me greatly and thus influenced the content of this post as well. I recommend giving it a read.