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Waking up at 5:30 Will Change Your Life

Joe Clay | Jul 16, 2018

If you listened to my appearance on the excellent Ukramedia Podcast last week, you heard that I've changed up my sleeping schedule. I used to be all over the place with my sleeping. If left to my own devices, I'd end up looping over. But I can't. So that means less sleep. But now I get up around 5:30 every day.

Why the sudden change?

The algorithm. Yep, that's right. YouTube suggested a video to me. It's one of those clickbaity kind of list videos that litter the platform. Instead of ignoring it like countless others, I watched it. It's even a whiteboard animation. I'm not making this up. A whiteboard animation has changed my life. Here it is.

I've seen a lot of other videos about the topic but never really thought about it because it seems like something I should do, but could never accomplish. I'm a professional night-owl and sleeper. But I saw this video at a pivotal time and it asked a question that struck a chord with me:

How do you normally spend your time after 10 pm? Are you working diligently at 100% capacity—no distractions?

That 10 pm part was especially important to me because I was sitting there wasting time on YouTube enough that it suggested that video to me. As usual, I was sitting on the couch and 10 pm had come and gone. My wife had already left me there and gone to bed. And that's about the time I should be getting ready to work if I'm going to get something done at night. But the truth was this: she goes to bed and I keep sitting there blowing time on YouTube. I'm spent creatively and don't have the will to start something new. So I sit there watching other people building things on YouTube. That's pretty sad, right?

I spend most of the beginning of my day working on client work or procrastinating and then I work later than I intend. I'm always rushing to get started before lunch or before dinner. I come inside for family time, and then I have to go back out to the studio to finish something or I end up wasting time on YouTube because I'm burnt out. I never even get to Netflix! Because of all of that time spent on other work, I feel the need to do my own work or something else to complete my day but I don't have the will to do it. So the net result is that I feel guilty about not doing more and I'm unable to change that fact.

So what are the benefits?

Going to sleep around 10:30 and waking up at 5:30 has additional benefits I didn't foresee. For one thing, when I did actually work at night and I finally got into a groove, I'd stay up really late getting things accomplished while no one was awake. That's the same as getting up early, right?

Well, no. Here's the thing. You technically get all of those hours alone to focus either way—assuming you actually stay up to work of course. It's great. But when you go to sleep at 5 am and force yourself to get up at 10, there are already fires to put out or distractions online by the time you roll into the studio.

But when you get up at 5:30, it's just as dead as 3 am and there are no impediments to getting started. You make some coffee, sit down at your computer, and you just work on whatever you want. You're just ready to go. This is a major shift in perspective that sets you up for further success in your day.

We worked late the night before I'm writing this, and so I got up closer to 6:30 today. But even with writing this, I'll still get started on client work hours before I would have in the past. And since I'm already focused, because I'm already working, I tend to get right to work rather than wasting time on the internet. So I'm way more efficient with my time. You might've seen my tweet that at 1:30 pm I felt like I'd gotten more done than I usually get done by 6:00.

That's a sad truth that has become an amazing advantage. With the same amount of effort, I get more done with less procrastination. I've finally kept that beast at bay. It has plagued me since elementary school. In high school, I wrote a term paper the day it was due. If you're wondering how so many people get so much more done than you, either it's an instagram trick or they're getting up way earlier than you and getting to work.

There are other benefits that I discovered. Obviously I have more time for my family. But what I discovered is that the time I have for my family now is of a much higher quality. I'm present in my life. I'm not cooking or helping with bedtime thinking about what else I need to get done. When I'm done, I'm done. There's no regrets, there's no worry that I need to get further along on something. And having a normal sleep schedule means I'm not out of time with the rest of the world—which is a common problem with night-owls that can lead to depression.

Work/life balance

This is the work/life balance I've been looking for. I've heard all of the ideas. I want to hustle like Gary V but I also want to be with my family. Those things are incompatible if you're trying to do it at night. Unless you have enough resolve to actually sit down and work at the end of the day when willpower is at it's weakest, you're not going to succeed that way. And if you have a family, you're going to spend most of your day without them.

Now, instead of being asleep while my wife and kids wake up and then leave in the morning, I'm already awake. I can see them for a little bit before I head out to my studio and then I'm done and can hang out with them at the end of the day. And I'm not sleeping in on Saturday morning because I stayed up late Friday night, which is a fact I'm sure my wife loves.

The best part is that I get more done and there's a lot less of a rush. If a client request derails my plans for the day, it's ok because I already did what I wanted to do for myself, and I'm there to help them out. I don't have to hope I can fit them both in my day before dinnertime.

And as my friend Max pointed out, my day seems less rushed because I've started so early that instead of having an hour or two before a lunch break, I've got 6 hours. That's a ton of time when you're not in a hurry. It's almost too much sometimes!

I can't do this

I know what you're thinking because it's the same thing I think when I read any article or watch any video about getting up early. That would be nice but I can't do that. Plus I like staying up late and sleeping in—especially on the weekend! So do what I did. Try it for a few days. You'll find the same benefits that I did.

The biggest problem you'll face is getting started. If you're like me, you'll probably need to put your phone in another room. I've seen excellent suggestions about putting your phone in a place where you'll work. I ended up convincing my wife to join me because I'm a professional alarm disarmer and few sounds wake me, so alarms are a terrible option for me anyway. So if you can tag team it, do it.

It might also help to leave a task somewhat unfinished. That way you'll have the double-benefit of wanting to complete it and might also come back to it with a fresh perspective from taking a break. That's also helpful when you leave your house. I took a break from writing this before coming out to the studio so that I'd keep working when I got out here.

Believe me, I'm probably one of the least likely people to be able to accomplish this. I've always stayed up late—too late. I think in college I averaged about 4 hours of sleep a night because of it. I've got permanent bags under my eyes. But now I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything by going to sleep. I've made my days complete, and I'm no longer feeling like I need to accomplish more. And I even get a little bit more done on the weekends before the kids get up.

So if I can do it, you're just making excuses. I promise you, it will change your life.