How to be an Early Riser


I’ve always liked the idea of being an early riser. It seems a lot of successful people start early, get a head start. But actually doing it… never really happened.

Actually, that’s not totally true. There were times I managed to get up earlier but I always seemed to back slide.

However, I’ve recently had a breakthrough. It’s allowed me to get up earlier, usually at five a.m., and stick with it.

To explain how I got here we need to go back to the start, see what didn’t work, then look at the new approach.

Sabotaging your own efforts

Self-sabotage is often about defeating your own will. I’ll give you an example.

You decide to learn French.

To get there fast, you aim to learn twenty words a day, that’s 600 a month, a nice number. In three months, if all goes well you’ll have almost two thousand.

What happens?

You get off to a good start. Every day twenty words.

But then you miss a day.

Back to twenty words. Then you kiss two days. The weather is lovely so you go hiking.

Another day missed.

At some point you review how far you’ve got, usually around the three week mark. That’s the ‘go no go’ point for me. You’ve probably learnt about 100 but even those aren’t learnt very deeply.

You decide French is too hard. Sod it, let’s do something else. Anyway, you can always go back to it later.

And you do.

But the same pattern repeats.

A good start, then a few bumps, and you’re off the track.

There’s two things to note here.

  1. the permission to excuse yourself now and try again later.
  2. the feeling that you have more time, lots of time

These two undermine your best efforts. Why?

Because they tell you, “Well, don’t worry about it now. We’ll have more time later. There’s always tomorrow. Anyway, the new episode of True Detective is on. You deserve a treat.”

The treat is you veg on the sofa.

That aim you had to speak French, so you can get the most out of your first trip to Paris get’s put on hold, once again.

You’re torn two ways.

Have a rest or make more effort?

And that nagging voice in the background?

The one you’ve sedated with Facebook, TV, and junk entertainment?

You know who that is, don’t you? No? Read on…

Home alone

You know how Home Alone starts.

They sleep in, then panic like crazy, and forget Macauley Culkin in the confusion.

Except it’s never like that.

No one sleeps in when they’ve a flight to catch. You always get up, regardless of how tired you are. And you can stay awake all day long until you get to the hotel.

In other words, when you have to get up, you get up. It doesn’t matter if it’s 5am. Something inside you, whatever it is, makes you get up.


Here’s the problem. I think.

If you feel you have unlimited time on your hands, there’s no hurry to start.

Another five minutes in bed leads to another five…

And even when you get to the PC to start working, a quick peek at Facebook becomes ten, fifteen, twenty minutes. Before you know it, the mornings gone.

So, why bother right? May as well stay in bed.

So, keep this idea of urgency in mind.

The second is your conscience.

We work hard to silence our conscience.

Things like TV, social media, gossip, and junk entertainment press it down. But the voice is always there.

That’s why when you binge on Game of Thrones, you don’t feel a sense of elation when it’s over.

Rather, you feel guilty. You know you shouldn’t be spending so much time doing this.

That little pang of guilty?

It’s actually a good thing. It’s trying to tell you – wake up. You don’t have that much time left.

Now, I know this may have seemed like a detour but having a sense of urgency and an active conscience is what you need to get up at 4 30 – and want to get up at 4 30 every morning.

Imagine what it would be like if you wanted, more than anything else, to get up at 4 30?

That’s the turning point.

Once you find something that

  1. evokes your conscience and
  2. creates that sense of urgency,

getting up is something you want to do, not have to do becomes much easier.


It’s to do with purpose.

Realising your purpose, not wasting it.

Preparing to get up early

To prepare for getting up, you need to work backwards.

What obstacles do you face when you get up?

Can’t find your clothes, too cold, working area is a mess?

My approach tends to be as follows:

  1. On Sunday night I identity my major goal for the week. This is the one thing I need to complete by Friday.
  2. Get my work place ready. Have a clean the desk or table where you plan to work. Personally, I can’t start until my desk is tidy. That’s just me.
  3. Have your clothes ready. Often when I get up its dark. You don’t want to wake other people up. I put my clothes on the same chair, same position every night. That way there’s no stumbling around in the dark.
  4. Check my email first. Yes, I know this seems like heresy but I have to glance at my email otherwise its nagging at me when I work. But I only glance. Unless something is an emergency, I close it again, then get started.
  5. Coffee and toast. While checking the email, I have these on.

Steaming hot coffee and crispy buttered toasty stop my tummy from rumbling.

I know some people who use a different approach, for example, your first coffee after a thousand words but I can’t do this. I’ve tried this and I’ve seen myself type furiously just to make the word count target. When I looked back, what I wrote was terrible.

So, instead, I give my body a small treat for getting up and letting me work so early. My body would rather be in a warm, cozy bed.

Warming up

I know some people who start with the most difficult thing. I can’t. Instead I work up to it. I’ll usually start with something easy to get the gears in motion. It’s a bit like warming up exercises before running. Then, after say fifteen minutes, I’m ready to start the main piece of work. Once in the saddle I can write for an hour or so, then stop to stretch my legs.

Managing your time

I track when I stop and start in an excel spreadsheet, so I can see my numbers at the end of the week.

Here’s why I do this.

If I can get 75 minutes in every morning before I start my real job, that’s 375 minutes every week, just over six hours.

That’s close to a full working day.

My aim then would be to get 480 minutes every week when I get up early: an 8 hour day.

  • If I do this every week, I create almost 4 full working days every month.
  • If you calculate this over the course of the year, you can see that you’ll be able to create a lot of time for your personal projects.
  • In Excel, I’ve created a line chart that shows me the hours by day and month.

It’s a nice way to see any patterns that might emerge, for example, Thursday, not Monday, is the day I often struggle to get up on.

If your plan is to get up at 4.30, then try to start off at 5.30 for one month.

How to start the day

All of the above is fine and good but what happens the moment you wake up?

For me, this goes back to your core beliefs.

If your core beliefs are fuzzy, you’ll start negotiating when you wake up.

“Five more minutes won’t kill anyone.”

“I’ll get up when it’s exactly half past.”

“I got up ten minutes earlier yesterday, so today I can ten extra in bed.”

Ever heard yourself say these kind of things?

Here’s the thing: who’s saying this?

I mean what part of you wants more time in bed? Probably not the part that wants to develop you as a person. It’s the part that wants to rest, take it easy, be comfortable.

To get past this you have a few choices.

  • One is to negotiate your way out. Explain why you want to get up. But that suits them. You’re still in bed.
  • The second is to barter. I’ll give you extra time in bed tonight if you let me get up now. Of course, at night-time another version of you might override this agreement and binge on Netflix.

The only way to get past this negotiating trap is to take action.

The moment you wake up, get up.

That’s it.

The moment you feel yourself awake, roll out of bed, get up, dress, shower, and get started.

If you can get dressed, it’s unlikely you’ll undress and go back to bed. You’ve broken the grip that held you back.

Of course, you have to actually do it. Thinking I’ll get up when I wake up is another trick. At that point you’re already awake.

One way to train yourself to do this is to get up anytime you wake in the night. Make it a kind of reflex. That way you train yourself to get started immediately when you awake.

Again, your core beliefs must drive this.

Unless you’ve written down what you believe in, what you want to achieve, and feel why they mean so much to you, you’re unlikely to create the necessary willpower.

Think about it.

If you’ve been getting up at seven all your life, getting up at five is a huge change. You need to be very strong to make this happen.

Getting up early is more to do with mental strength than any gimmicks, tricks or life hacks.

It comes down to: Why you want to get up early?

What do you plan to do with this time?

I feel that it has to be connected with something deep within you.

From another angle, it’s your ability to admit to yourself that something very important has been ignored.

For me, it’s the sense that I’ve wasted time, that motivates me. For you, maybe it’s different.

Let me know what you think.