Joining the 5 a.m. Club May Not Make You More Productive

“Wake up early and be successful” is not the best advice. It’s more nuanced than most people admit.

Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay

I don’t want to brag, but I’ve been waking up between 4 and 6 am at least for the past 7 years. Yes, I’m an early bird. And boy do I get my worm!

When I tell this to people, I’m invariably told that mornings are not for everyone, which is understandable. Some people are just more productive and/or creative in the afternoon or the night. (Or perhaps they’re trying to justify their bad habits, who knows?)

Anyway, theoretically speaking, we all have the same 24 hours a day. Assuming all of us get our 8 hours of sleep, it shouldn’t really matter when you’re getting up, right? There shouldn’t be any difference in the productivity levels of a person sleeping from 2 am to 10 am than the person who sleeps from 9 pm to 5 am.

I’d say, it depends. The above statement is only true if we live in a vacuum, which we don’t. Apparently, outside influences like the people around us, environment, culture, etc make certain times better to work than others.

And thus, time and time again, successful and productive people are found to get up earlier more often than not.

Why Morning People Are More Productive

From Tim Cook who starts sending emails at 4:30 am, to the rather extreme example of Mark Wahlberg who wakes up at 2:30 am for his workouts, the list of early risers is long.

According to a Nature Communications study, people who described themselves as “morning people” were less likely to need more than eight hours of sleep. A University of Barcelona study also found that “morning” people were more persistent and be less likely to experience “fatigue, frustrations, and difficulties.”

In an article by Jeffrey Hayzlett, he recounts his conversations with entrepreneurs and busy executives on waking up early and why they do it:

“I wake up about 6:30 a.m. and the first thing I do is walk my beagles. During this time, I usually think about what I want to accomplish during the day. I mentally play out any potentially important conversations, or transactions, that I know I need to have during the day. I try to anticipate what the other people are going to say or do and what questions they are going to ask; and then I come up with answers to those questions.” — Luther Garcia, CEO, ECS Global Solutions

“Starting my day with a beneficial endorphin rush is the best way to charge into my day. A quick, high-intensity, 30-minute workout to rev up my engine for the day means that the second I walk through my office doors, I’m fired up for my first action.” — Jason Forrest, CEO, Forrest Performance Group

“I am out of bed by 5 to 6 a.m. I will work from my home office and try to accomplish tasks that I need to get off my plate right away; this is typically from 5 to 9 a.m. This time allows me to focus 100 percent on the task at hand. My mornings are focused on being proactive and my afternoons tend to be much more reactive to tasks like meetings and emails. — Joshua DeWitt, CEO, CoinLion

And just so you know, being more productive isn’t the only benefit of waking up early. Believe it or not, surveys conducted by Amerisleep found that early risers (meaning those who wake up between 4 and 7 am) report having higher salaries and quality of life than late sleepers (those who wake up between 8 am and 12 pm).

On average, early risers earn $45,725 a year, nearly $15,000 more per year than the average late riser’s salary of $30,835. Those with 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. wake-up calls make the most ($48, 582, and $48,339 respectively), while those used to getting out of bed at noon earn the least (with an average income of $22,689).

Interestingly, while both groups were satisfied by the amount and quality of sleep they get, the early risers were more likely to say that their health and social life were more excellent.

Another reason night owls may underperform is that societal norms expect us to start our days early — say by 9 or 10 am. This means, to get a good 8-hour sleep and start the day with some kind of morning routine, one needs to sleep by midnight maximum. Those who can’t either compromise on sleep or have a chaotic start to their day — both of which hurt performance.

The corollary is of course not true. Meaning, I’m by no means implying that if you wake up late, you’re not going to be a failure. But the bottom line is this — waking up early does help you with a lot of aspects of your life.

So What Should You Do?

A word of caution here. Getting up early can easily turn into a cult of hustle and overwork which can be self-defeating. The purpose of getting up early, for me, is to get a head start on the day and work on things I love before the demands of the world kick in.

However, I also go to bed by 9:30 and take care of my sleep. The goal is not to work late into the night and wake up early the next morning — because that’s not sustainable at all.

Even though these CEOs I talk about wake up early, don’t let them delude you with their badge of workaholism.

So, while there are many arguments to prove the efficiency of early risers, this subject is more nuanced than most people like to believe. The best thing, then, in my opinion, is to experiment.

Be motivated by articles like this, that expound the benefits of waking up early, but take a logical decision for your lifestyle. Start paying attention to your energy levels and anchor your day around them.

Test different times for a week at a time and see if it clicks. Sleep and health should never be compromised to follow a routine you read about on the Internet, even if it works for others. And yes, I say that as a morning person.

So if you really feel that mornings can become a good time for you, then I’d implore you to try it out. And if it doesn’t work, no harm!

As I’ve written earlier,

I get up at 5 am. But I’m not one of those people who believe in the “Get up at 5 and join the elites” mantra. I do it because it works for me. I do it because it gives me control of my day. Because it helps me do my best work before the requests of others hijack my attention.

Do what’s right for you and if you decide you want to wake up early, here are some tips that will help you tremendously.

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Written on August 20, 2021