champions

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard went like this: “The only time you can get any work done is early in the morning, and late at night. Everything in between is firefighting.”

The more I thought about that, the more sense it made. Assuming a standard nine-to-five workday, early morning is the only time that’s truly your own. ‘Firefighting’ means you’ll have to conform to others’ schedules—like the client who wants an update NOW, the boss who holds interminably long meetings and the colleagues who drop by for chats that go on and on.

You’ll have to meet their expectations, and sort out their conflicts. Those who work in offices know this—the moment the workday begins, the world crashes headlong into you. Work emergencies crop up depressingly often, and take a lot out of any of us.

And when you finally knock off, you’re so exhausted mentally and physically that all you want to do is have a long shower and drop into bed. Those dream projects—the writing you’ll do, the investments you’ll make and the exercise you’ll get—become more and more unlikely to happen.
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That’s why Benjamin Franklin’s advice remains so valid today: “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

Biologist Christoph Randler, writing in the Harvard Business Review, agrees. From a survey of hundreds of university students he learnt this: “Morning people also anticipate problems and try to minimize them […] They’re proactive. A number of studies have linked this trait, proactivity, with better job performance, greater career success, and higher wages.”[1]

I’m not writing this to say I’ve succeeded, or cracked some kind of mystical code that will magically make early mornings happy and productive for you or myself. Nothing like that; I’m just a fellow pilgrim on the road of life who decided he wanted to live for himself for just a small part of the day.

 

A Productive Morning Starts a Productive Day

Imagine these two scenes:

1. You rise with barely enough time to shower, get changed and take the bus to work.
On the way, you fire up your email program on your smartphone, tap out replies to the dozen requests that have come in during the night.

In the office, you make some headway on that project that’s been stalled for a month—only to have to answer a phone call from a cold-calling salesperson. But your focus is gone, and you don’t get it back before another meeting takes you away.

Before you know it, it’s lunchtime and you’ve to jostle with the crowds. Then it’s back to the office for more of the same—and you return home wondering where the day went. You spend a few hours unwinding, but can’t muster the energy you need to work out, read, write or do the things you truly want to do.

The day ends with another late night, and the whole scene plays itself out again… like you’re in a crappier Groundhog Day.

2. You rise two hours earlier, and hit the ground running.
You take a moment to enjoy a cup of coffee, then turn on the computer for some investment monitoring and trading. An hour later, you’re done boosting your passive income—and you’re energised enough to throw on your workout gear and go for a run, or do some work on the book you’re writing on the side.

Even before you have breakfast and board the bus to your day job, you’ve done more important work for your future than most people ever manage. Whatever happens later in the day—you know you’ve got the willpower and morale to tackle it.

And tackle it you do. Emails, project and meeting go so smoothly you almost can’t believe it, because the good feeling of progress towards your goals energises you to keep going. You do what you can, because you’ve already done what you must.

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At day’s end, you kick back and relax over dinner with your family. You’ve earned it.

I can’t stress this enough: Early morning is time that’s entirely your own, and the best part of the day to work on your long-term goals on a deep level. You’ll never get a better time to carry out meaningful activities like exercise, prayer, strategizing or writing for yourself.

In her book What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, Laura Vanderkam points out: “Seizing your mornings is the equivalent of that sound financial advice to pay yourself before you pay your bills […] If it has to happen, then it has to happen first.”[2]

 

A Habit of the Greats

Vanderkam reveals a fact that should give late risers pause—in an interview conducted among 20 executives, “the latest any of them was up regularly was 6:00 am.”[3] Their morning hours are given to study, prayer and exercise, and is as much a factor of their success as their work competence and their ability to get along with others.

The same habit that fuels high-powered executives work for athletes as well. It’s easy to forget that Olympic medallist Joseph Schooling is also a student at the University of Texas, and like any other student has to juggle his schoolwork and social life.

The solution? He gets the task that needs the most willpower out of the way first, when he’s fresh out of bed. “The most pain I feel is waking up in the cold in the morning at 5 am and jumping into an even colder pool. But I like the hurt, because it means I’m getting better,” he told Low Lin Foong of Today.[4]

What helps Schooling also helps those who combine full-time jobs with sports training. They invariably rise earlier than everyone else, so they can do more than everyone else.

 

The Perfect Combo

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In short, mornings are a golden opportunity to work towards your goals—physically, financially and mentally. Once you’ve woken up and washed the sleep from your eyes, early morning gives you that perfect combination of peace, energy and willpower.

Done right, they can have a phenomenal effect on your personal development. Rising just one hour earlier every day will give you an additional day to yourself every month, and an entire fortnight of ‘you-time’ each year. If you’ve ever been tempted to escape from it all and have two weeks to yourself, maybe rising earlier will provide a far cheaper, more accessible solution.

I know it’s easier said than done, and I myself have failed many times in mustering the willpower I needed to become an early riser. The reward has been well worth it, and I’ll share more about how you too can build a bulletproof morning routine in the next article.

Meanwhile, what would you do if you had an extra hour every day? We’d love to hear from you—let us know in the comments.

 

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[1] Christoph Randler, “Defend Your Research: The Early Bird Really Does Get the Worm,” Harvard Business Review (Jul-Aug 2010), at https://hbr.org/2010/07/defend-your-research-the-early-bird-really-does-get-the-worm.

[2] Laura Vanderkam, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (New York, NY: Penguin, 2012), “The Madness of Mornings”.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Low Lin Fhoong, “Joseph Schooling: Grit, guts and the pursuit of glory,” http://www.todayonline.com/sports/what-makes-joseph-schooling-special.