Nicolas Alpi, Web developer

A blog about productivity, startups and me.

5am Wake Up. Is It So Crazy to Wake Up Early?

I don’t remember the exact date I started, but around a year ago I started a “new experimentation”: Being an early bird.

My sleeping/working background pattern

As a lot of developers, I used to be a night owl. Coding/hacking/writing on personal projects during the night, then struggling to wake up every single morning.

I always had a strange sleep pattern, coding lately for 2 or 3 nights in a row, and then going to bed at 9pm on the fourth day, then again 3 days of late code and 9pm sleep.

I would wake up around 7am or 8am. When I say I would wake up, it was more Nathalie waking me up, pushing me out of bed every single morning.

When I was single it was even worst, I was living with my roommate, and he had the same waking up issues, so we had 4 alarm clock in our tiny apartment. One in every room, so we could be sure of getting up. Not quite effective.

I knew this sleep pattern could not stay for long now for multiple reason:

  • First, my brain didn’t like the non scheduled type of things. Sometimes staying up late, sometimes going to bed early, caffeine all night, it’s not the best way to treat your brain and body.
  • Secondly, I was now in a couple. Being in a couple means doing concessions, you can’t continue to hack all night long every night. So at first we tried to agree on a hack day schedule, hacking X days + Saturday and the rest is unwired. It was working on the first weeks, then all fall apart one day or another. Then I came across some blogs talking about this “waking up early” idea. I decided to give it a go.

At the time, I didn’t know how long I was going to keep it, neither than there was going to be 3 stages on this new habit.

First stage, making it a habit

I’m not sure it would be acceptable for your body to go from 8am to 5am in one morning.

I had to make it a habit. I decided to go for 1 month at first, but 1 month where I would wake up early every single morning, even on the weekend. The idea was to make it a habit.

I was going to wake up earlier each week. I started waking up at 6.30am for one week, then 6am for another week, then 5.30am and 5.15am on the last week. Obviously I would go to bed early, and I found it easier to fall asleep. Strangely I found it also easier to wake up at those early hours.

I started around spring here, and I was rising up with the sun. I would wake up, power on the computer and go to make a cup of coffee, all listening to the silence and feel the light entering the place. It’s a nice feeling.

So it took me around one month to make it a habit, but it took no time to start feeling the positive effect on my life.

Now I’m waking up early, my schedule changed. I can hack on personal projects in the morning, then breakfast, and start working for my clients around 8.30am or 9am. I would probably put an extra hour to personal work around 5pm to 6pm. When Nathalie arrives at 6pm, I can close the computer, and enjoy the rest of the evening entirely dedicated to Nathalie or at least other activities than wired ones.

It took me around 2 months to move from 5.15am to 5am. Doing it by transitions. I’m now going to bed around 9pm, and fall asleep around 10pm probably. Sometimes a bit before.

I try to make sure I have every day at least 7 hours of sleep. It appears to be the time I need.

From silence to rush

After at least 6 or 7 month of this schedule, I was a happy bunny. My productivity was rocketing, waking up with the sun and the birds song was lovely. Evening with my fiancee were great, and it was a nice feeling not to feel guilty of not working in the evening.

Then Nathalie decided to take some courses at the Open University, and we took a gym membership. So that was more activities to add on our schedule.

We decided that we would go to the gym as soon as Nathalie would come back from work, in the evening, and Nathalie decided to give a go to the early rise.

It changed everything for me. The morning silence transformed itself into a morning rush for the first weeks. We would wake up, then take breakfast together, then Nathalie would go to the shower then myself, then, I would finally reach my computer. Even if my client work productivity didn’t change, my morning productive was in a deep down fall. It has been hard, for me, to adapt this new schedule.

Finally it’s just a new habit

So, after a few weeks, I realised it was just another habit. I needed to change my habit one more time. I had the same activities than before (personal work, breakfast, shower, personal work) but in a different order (breakfast, shower, personal work). Starting pomodoro helped me a lot to make it a habit, and to stick with my daily goals.

In a nutshell

So, if you want to start the 5am waking up call, here are my tips:

  • Make it a habit: Start for one month, no cheating, wake up early every single day. Even during the week end. That will help your body to make it a habit. Try to always have the same go to bed time as well, so your body can learn from it.
  • Do it progressively: If you want to wake up more than 1 hour earlier, doing it progressively will help your body make the transition. Go by 30 minutes steps.
  • Have a paper/list ready: I found it easier to have a list of 2 or 3 actions ready near the bed or the desk. So when I wake up, I know what I have to do.

As I said, it has been nearly a year now, and I can see pros and cons on the technique.

PRO

  • Makes you highly productive.
  • If you’re a freelance, it’s easier to manage the balance between personal and working life.
  • Gives a strict pattern to your body.
  • Even in the week end, your body is use to the pattern and you wake up earlier than usual.
  • Spring/Summer wake up is awesome! Sun rising, birds singing …

CONS

  • Evening events are harder to make. I now decided that, the morning after an evening event, I would not wake up at 5am, but use the sleep time + 7 hours pattern. But you’re still tired before everyone else at the event.
  • Autumn/Winter wake up is shit! Dark, rain and cold, makes it harder.

Edit: I think I missed the explanation on why I started the 5am thing. As said on Hacker News, you can achieve the same productivity if you dedicate yourself some time frame in the evening (say 10pm to 1am). But I found it hard to manage private life and work life when working in the evening. I prefer the early rise in the morning to hack and spend quality time with my fiancee every evening. Before that it was more an internal fight between “Well, I need to work/hack/write” and “Hum, I’m having a good time now, I don’t want call it off”.

That was my felling around my early wake up experiment. What about you, early birds or night owl? Do you have some tips to share?

Comments