Productivity sites sing the praises of early rising, and in one of our previous articles, we talked about why you should seize the morning. It’s effectively the only time in the day you have for yourself, and the best way to capitalise on a good night’s sleep.
We all know what we have to do. The hard part is actually doing it.
Here’s how I fought for the time I needed to hone my craft in writing every day, and juggle a full-time job with that.
1. Resolve to carve out purposeful, uninterrupted time.
The goal is really to have long stretches of time when you’re truly working for yourself, not at the beck and call of anyone else (however close they may be). For best results, this needs to be turned into a daily habit—an entrenched part of who you are.
In his bestselling book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, computer science professor Cal Newport points out that the most effective (and realistic) is the rhythmic approach—creating blocks of time in the morning and protecting them from any other commitment.
In other words, it’s about habit forming and breaking. To establish a new habit, you first need to break the old one. Here’s a quick tip. Set shorter termed goals when you first start out. “I’ll do this for six weeks” is a lot easier to stick to than “I’m going to change my life from now on”.
2. Time addictive activities so they don’t interfere with your sleep pattern.
I fell in love with video games at an early age, and while they’re great entertainment, gone are the days I could play for hours on end without much consequences.
Whatever the case, I knew my future was in deep trouble if I didn’t get my gaming appetite under control. No, I ain’t asking you to just quit cold turkey—that would have spent willpower, which was a precious resource I needed to save for the more important habit of sitting down to write every day.
Instead, solve that problem by purposefully setting a cut-off time, tracked by an alarm clock. Wash up and clean your teeth before sitting down to play, so you could go to bed immediately after the alarm went off.
3. Include something to look forward to.
To make waking up early more enjoyable, set up a morning ritual. A cup of coffee, MacDonald’s delicious hotcakes, or even a quick round of video games. This helps you to break out of the habit of sleeping in, and eventually when you’ve finally tuned back your body clock, you can start doing more important things.
At the end of the day, you want that good feeling of having made progress, and having used the day wisely. No matter what happens at work or later that evening, you’ll know you’ve accomplished something out of it. That’s what encourages me to get out of bed the next morning and carry the chain on to a new day
4. Think of it as getting more sleep and time.
Don’t think of it as giving up the activities you love. Habits and discipline stick much better if you focus on gaining, not losing.
If you resolve to get more sleep, you’ll be more inclined to shift your activities around, work more efficiently and make the sacrifices needed to get into bed by 11.30 pm—or even earlier. I don’t completely give up on videogames or social media; rather, I integrate them into my life in a planned, controlled way.
I’ve still got a ways to go, but I’m slowly learning more about myself and the systems that work best with the people and routine in my life.
The way I’ve come to see it, we don’t lack information on how to wake up early. What we lack is the psychology needed to set up a system that works for us, and a system that builds habits instead of relying on willpower.
Before you know it, you’ll have formed a new habit, and gained a dozen prime hours a week to get you closer to your goals.
All the best!
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Zhengping Lu is a Programs Executive at Eagles Communications, a non-profit that helps emerging young leaders and public speakers reach their fullest potential, and serve with honour and integrity.