I’ve always been a night person. My natural rhythm is to stay up moderately late and sleep in. I was never an out all night kind of guy, but I’d crash at about 2 or 3AM and get up around 10 or 11AM. If left to my own devices, I’d get about 9 hours of sleep before waking.
Then I got married. My wife is much more of a morning person. With rare exceptions, she’s never asleep past 7AM. Not even on weekends. Our kids are pretty early risers too. In the beginning, I resisted this trend. I’d stay up late (my wife having fallen asleep on the couch, usually rather early) doing my thing. She’d be up in the morning and I’d sleep in. This was silly, the unnecessary overlap in our schedules, but I was immature and irresponsible, so I did it anyway. The day was going on without me, and it gradually began to irritate me more and more. I felt like I was missing something. I reluctantly began to cave in.
So my schedule shifted earlier. But I still resisted. After all, I’d say, I was still a night person trying to live a morning person’s life. And unwillingly. With great heaping gobs of coffee to assist me.
But finally I began to realize something. If I wanted to be productive, if I wanted to actually do something with my day, I had to get rolling before the sun was up. There wasn’t time to lay around sleeping. People depended on me. If I didn’t get up, I was reacting to my day, always playing catch-up. I was putting an undue burden on my wife, who was up long before I was and wound up having to take care of the kids alone. In addition to that, I needed a jump start on everything I wanted to accomplish. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being up before everyone else is. You feel like you have the advantage. Except that’s not just a feeling – there’s plenty of evidence to indicate that you really do.
Steve Murphy, CEO of publishing company Rodale, says, “A line in a William Blake poem inspired me to think differently about my day: ‘Think in the morning, act in the noon, read in the evening, and sleep at night.’ This has made a huge difference in my life. Now, I take out a yellow pad every morning and write my thoughts for the day, which allows me to be much more strategic and proactive than reactive.”
I used to think my most creative time was late at night. And while I do get ideas then, I very rarely execute on them at that time. I’m usually too burned out. I’ve learned through experience, though, that my absolute best time to create things and get work done is first thing in the morning – something I would never have known if I hadn’t started rolling out of bed.
I rarely get a chance to use that time to the best of my ability right now, because family obligations and my work schedule put a crimp on the early hours. So I’ve decided I need to start getting up earlier. I usually get up around 6:30AM, so today I got up at 5:30AM. After a 5AM alarm. With mixed results. But I got out the door closer to on time, felt less rushed, and didn’t make my daughter late for school (a common occurrence, since I drive her in.) I plan to keep shooting for earlier, until (hopefully) I can do a 4:30AM wake-up. That may be a bit aggressive, since I don’t get to the office very early, and consequently get home rather late. And many evenings, I work until midnight or 1AM on projects or business ideas, which doesn’t leave much time for sleep – which is usually interrupted by a kid with a bad dream or a crying baby anyway. But it’s a goal, and if going to bed earlier helps me to make better use of that early time, I’ll do it. As the days get warmer, my daily walks are going to need to get pushed into the darker, cooler hours, and early morning is just the time to go for a brisk stroll and brainstorm the day. I suspect it will become an important part of my process for fueling creativity.
I used to make excuses. Used to say I couldn’t get up, that it wasn’t my fault, that I was just wired a certain way. And maybe I am. But overcoming our nature is one of the things that every human being with an intellect and free will has the capacity to do. In fact, it’s what we should do, when it comes to things that hold us back. What I’ve realized about myself is that I made excuses because I was lazy and didn’t see the point. I’d rather have stayed up late watching TV or playing a video game than get up early and have to do something I didn’t want to do. Namely: work.
But once you find work you enjoy, you look forward to it. Productivity is no longer a dirty word. It’s an exciting one. Even if you don’t love your day job, make the most of the time you have throughout the day to do the work you do love. Even if you don’t get paid for it. In addition, find the things about your job that you can take satisfaction in, and do them well. Look for the fun challenges in the work, rather than expecting the work you do to simply satisfy you on every level. Get an edge on the competition and position yourself for future career growth. And make time to do creative projects that have nothing to do with the bottom line (though don’t be afraid to monetize them if you can!) just for the sake of doing them. Just because they’re fun!
I’ve come a long way since the days I would sleep half the day way. I now realize that getting up early is worth it, even thought it’s not always easy.
How about you? Are you a night person, or a morning person?