Waking Up Early is Terrible… Unless You Have a Good Reason

by Tim Arendse on June 2

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I’d gotten it into my head that waking up at 5:00 AM was a good idea. I set my alarm, settled into bed, and thought about all I would accomplish the next morning. Sure enough, I got a lot done! I tidied the house, started the slow cooker, relaxed with my morning coffee, and caught up on the news. Waking up at 5:00AM was amazing.

At least, that’s what the personal development gurus told me.

I lasted about two weeks. I began collapsing into bed no later than 8:30PM. Sleep felt like nothing more than closing my eyes and immediately opening them to the sound of my alarm. Where I’d spent the first few mornings on productive activities, I was now spending most of my time surfing the internet. Getting up at 5:00 AM was terrible.

You’re More Than What You Produce

Getting up early really does sound attractive. I recently read a blog post in which the author lists thirty tasks he completes each morning, by getting up at 5:00 AM. If productivity is high on your list of values, this sounds wonderful. You’d also make a terrific robot, and I’d love to hire you. I’m kidding, of course; an army of automatons at my disposal does appeal to me, but I’m more interested in seeing you live a good life.

In the personal development world, boosting productivity is a big deal. It can feel like the more we produce, the more value we have as people. Everyone wants to feel good (and your employer wants to get their money’s worth), so productivity is promoted. The catch is that you actually have to have something to do.

When I tried the 5:00 AM routine, I quickly ran out of things to do. If you tidy your house daily, it’s not a big job. Slow-cooking resulted in a lot of leftovers and freezer meals, so that stopped. Eventually I started looking for new projects. Believe me, nothing is more demotivating than reorganizing your closets while everyone else is still in their warm beds.

What is your purpose for waking up early?

I could give you lots of reasons to get up early that sound good. Read, journal, exercise, review your spending habits, write a to-do list, check your e-mail, write down your goals… all good reasons. The question you have to honestly answer is if those reasons are good enough to give up your sleep.

I wake up early for exactly one reason: writing. I find that the time between 6:00 AM and 7:00 AM is the easiest for me to focus. My alarm is set for 5:45 AM. I roll out of bed, splash some water on my face, occasionally perform a few half-assed burpees, make coffee and head to the computer.

Nobody else in my house gets up before 7:00 AM, so besides the internet, I’m distraction free. Work starts at 8:00 AM (no one seems to appreciate me writing at work) and my creativity goes off a cliff after lunch. If I want to write, that’s the only time of the day that makes sense. Writing is a good reason for me to get out of bed early.

Beware the sleep deficit

Although 5:45 AM isn’t drastically early, it still results in a sleep deficit. If I want eight hours of sleep per night (my gold standard), I’m looking at a bedtime of around 9:30PM. Between kids, chores, and a social life, that doesn’t leave a lot of “me time”.

Despite my best efforts, I rarely get to bed before 10:30 PM. That simply isn’t enough sleep for me and the result is that by Friday, I’m wiped. On Saturday, I sleep until my wife gets fed up and pries me out of bed with a crowbar.

Rest is extremely important and most of us don’t get enough. If you’re going to replace some of your precious rest, make sure you’re getting it back somewhere else. We’re not machines and eventually, we will burn out.

Final Thoughts

If I didn’t get up early, I wouldn’t be able to write. There simply isn’t any other time that it works. I have a very compelling reason to roll out of bed every morning. If you don’t have a good reason, just stay in bed. You’ll gain much more benefit from getting your sleep than whirring around your home, looking for things to do.

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Tim Arendse

When he’s not playing with his kids, Tim is finding new ways to make his life more efficient. He likes to draw inspiration from unlikely sources, like Minecraft, and is willing to explore almost any paradigm if he thinks there’s something to learn. He also hates bananas, loves candy, and holds strong opinions about the best brand of beer.

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