How to wake up earlier

15 December 2021 Update
Hey there, it’s Ross. I wrote this article almost 2 years ago. It’s one of the most popular articles on my website. Since writing it I have fallen into the trap of hitting the dreaded snooze button again. But I am human, ok! 😀

What really helped me reforge the habit was putting my really loud alarm clock in a nearby room. That being said, a lot of the advice in this article is still relevant. Have a great day!

In this article I am going to give you some immediately actionable tips to help you get out of bed earlier. We are going to look at why you should wake up earlier. Once you know your “Why”, we are going to look at how with some bullet proof systems.

A while ago I resolved to start waking up earlier. Why? Well that’s apparently what effective and successful people do. There are tons of articles on the internet that tell you, that in order to be successful and effective as a human being you have to wake up at 03:00am or some ungodly hour equally as absurd. So I set my alarm for 05:00am with an entire list of things that I wanted to get done in the morning before I got to work. I think it lasted for a week before I was hitting snooze on my alarm clock every morning, back at square one: waking up 45mins before I left the house for work at 07:15am.

So how did I resolve this? Well, I haven’t entirely, I don’t wake up at 05:00am every morning and that’s part of the trick.

Understand why you want to wake up earlier

A clear sense of why you want to wake up is really important. Saying “Elon Musk and Bill gates wake up before the sun rises, so therefore I will too” is not going to cut it. Your sense of why has to be personal. It needs to be something that’s obviously going to improve your quality of life or make you happier in some way.

Here are some examples of why you would want to wake up earlier:

  • Stay at home parent that wants to wake up earlier to exercise because she doesn’t get time to do it any other time
    Someone working full time that wants to wake up earlier to study part time.
  • Waking up earlier to get more “Me time” or “Alone time”
  • Waking up earlier because you want to spend that time reading and relaxing rather than getting ready for the day.
  • Waking up earlier to exercise
  • writing in your journal
  • writing your blog
  • writing your book
  • Waking up earlier to put together a todo list for your day at work so you feel more focused
  • Waking up earlier to meditate or engage in another spiritual activity
  • getting in some study time before your day job

The list goes on and on, but you get the point. You need to have a clear motivation for why you are waking up early in the morning. It has to be something that you look forward to doing, otherwise, in the winter months when it’s cold and dark and all you want to do is snuggle under your covers – the waking up early habit isn’t going to stick.

I read a book Atomic Habits by James Clear which really drove home the importance creating meaningful habits in your life. After reading Atomic Habits I went crazy, everything became about building a new habit. I was going to build the habit of learning a new language, eating healthy, reading more, exercise and a better spiritual life all at the same time. This is ironic because James clear would have frowned upon this because he explicitly warned against doing this in his book. I thought that the best time to develop all these new habits was early in the morning so I started waking up at 05:00am cold turkey. As I mentioned earlier, I probably lasted a week or two before I wasn’t waking up at 05:00am or developing any of these new habits that I set out to develop.

What’s the point of this little story?

You really have to have a good reason that you can keep reminding yourself of to keep you waking up early consistently.

Figure out how early you have to wake up

This follows on from what I was talking about prior to this paragraph. Understanding what you want to achieve in the morning is critical to your early morning success. If all you want to do is write in your journal and that generally takes you about 20mins – waking up 1 hour earlier could make that experience a lot less enjoyable. It’s excessive and not necessary.

Work backwards from the time that you generally wake up and factor in how much time you will need to do things that you want to achieve.

Recently I decided that I needed to spend more time reading my Bible. I have made use of Bible reading plans for ages but I noticed that when I tried to read my Bible in the evening before bed, I would rush through what I was reading so I could go to bed. What happened was that I wasn’t actually absorbing what I was reading and it was actually quite pointless. I was waking up at 06:00am every morning to get out of the house by 07:15am for work at 07:30am. In order to make the most of my Bible reading habit, I would need to wake up earlier. I factored in that it would take me about 20mins to read the Bible each day and added 10 more mins on to that. With those time factors considered, I am now waking up an entire 30mins earlier, at 05:30am every day.

Again, you want to factor in a healthy chunk of time to achieve what you set out to achieve. If you factor in too little time, you will rush through your routine and it will lose it’s value. If you factor in too much time, you’ll lose motivation for waking up so early.

Go to bed on time

Going to bed in time to wake up early in the morning is critical in making this habit sustainable. Most adults need 7 – 9 hours of sleep. Personally, I find that 8 is optimal and anything less than 7 makes it difficult to function at work. You need to establish how much time you can realistically dedicate to sleep. I know a guy that routinely sleeps less than 3 hours a night but then on the weekend will sleep for over 16 hours at a time. This is not healthy and is definitely not going to benefit you. In-fact it’s proven that you can’t catch up on sleep because your sleep health is actually more like a rolling average over 10 days rather than just the past 1 – 3 days.

Going to bed at a reasonable time means getting the exact amount of hours sleep that you need to function healthily before you wake up. Because, I require 8 – 9 hours of sleep so I aim to be asleep at 09:00pm and awake at 05:30am. If for some reason I don’t get to bed on time (It happens) at the very worst I will get 7hours of sleep.

Eventually if you stick with waking up at the same time every day your body will tell you when you need to go to sleep.

Implement bullet proof systems to help you wake up earlier

Sun lamps

Sonoff Basic Wifi Switch that I used as a Son Lamp

A sun lamp is a light that automatically turns on at a certain time, usually the same time that the sun would rise. Your body needs light for it’s circadian rhythm to work this may not wake you up but it could make getting up a bit easier if your room is lit up when it’s time to wake up. I bought a Sonoff Basic Wifi Switch that allows you to schedule the light turning on and off from your phone. They are incredibly affordable at $5 – $10, and a great alternative to an actual sun lamp.

Don’t put your alarm clock close to your bed
Putting your phone or alarm clock too close to you makes it too easy to opt out of waking up and just hit snooze. I recently bought a really obnoxiously loud alarm clock that’s on the other side of my room. When it goes off, with a fear of waking up the entire neighborhood I can’t help but jump out of bed to turn it off.

Pro Tip: For even better results, if you can find a loud enough alarm clock stick it in a nearby room instead of the same room.

Be accountable
Using and I set up an automated tweet that goes off every day at 06:00am. This means that I have to be awake everyday before 06:00am to avoid the embarrassing tweet from going to twitter. Currently, I have my alarm set for 05:30am and I intend to gradually decrease that time until I feel a negative effect on my workday. For me getting enough sleep is more important than waking up early. I try to get about 8hours of sleep every night. If I am finding that I start to get less than 8hours of sleep a night and that I can’t get to bed early enough, I will stop reducing the wake up time.

Alternatively, you could ask your Wife or Room Mate to wake up early with you. You’d be keeping each other accountable.

Create a keystone habit
For a lot of people a good keystone habit is making their bed. A keystone habit is a simple task that you do very often without fail that you can tack additional tasks after completing. For example every time you make your bed, do 5 push-ups directly afterwards. Or, every time you make your bed, you write in your journal. Having a set routine can make waking up a lot easier since it reduces some of the uncertainty.

Never ever hit the snooze button
Just don’t, don’t give yourself an out. On this, don’t ever skip a day if you can help it, and if you do, try to wake up early the very next day to keep the habit going.

Download a puzzle or QR Code Alarm app
There are apps available for Android and iPhone that require you to do a puzzle or scan a QR code before you can turn the alarm off. This is a great alternative to putting an alarm clock in a different room. Be careful though, getting out of bed is still the best way to wake up.

To sum it all up

In order to wake up earlier you first need to have a very personal and clear sense of why you are waking up earlier. If you don’t, you won’t lost long. Secondly, you will need to work up exactly how much earlier you need to wake up. Waking up 2 hours earlier for a 30minute task will make you question your sanity and soon you will be hitting snooze again. Thirdly, go to bed on time. Your body needs sleep, there is nothing more demotivating than having to wake up early after 6 hours of sleep. Fourthly, put bullet proof systems in place to make waking up earlier easier and more likely to happen.

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