“Those that get up at 5 a.m. rule the world.” – Robin Sharma

Those who know me, know that I love my morning routine. I’m always making adjustments to it, and at its core it revolves around waking up early (before sunrise), working on something important for 90 minutes, and then hitting the gym. I recently shared my most recent routine in a blog post about creating new habits.

Today, I want to share a couple of things about my routine that I’ve neglected to mention in previous articles. These two aspects have enabled me to create a morning routine that has lasted several months, and it’s through my morning routine truly becoming habitual that I’ve seen massive benefits. I hope that these two insights can help you, too.

Why wake up early in the first place?

Before I jump into those two key insights that helped me, I want to share some of my thoughts about why you might want to wake up early at all.

Firstly, I’ve observed that many of the most successful people wake up early. In fact, I don’t know anyone who consistently wakes up before 6 a.m. who isn’t doing something interesting with their life. Some of the top CEOs are well known for waking up super early, many of them at 4:30 a.m.

Additionally, I feel that waking up early sets the tone of “making a choice” for my day. If I leave it to fate as to when I roll out of bed, then I feel like that’s the outlook I’m taking in general. On the other hand, if I choose to get up early and do amazing things in those quiet hours, that’s when I feel like I’m grabbing hold of my life and controlling where I go. That’s the choice I want to make.

Finally, I’d like to ask you – are you working for someone else and have the desire to create your own startup? If that’s the case, then do you leave your “startup building time” to the evening? Why do it after 8 hours of work? You’re going to be exhausted and struggle to be motivated.

I advise you to think about what is a higher priority for you—your dream of a startup, or your work for someone else? Perhaps start working harder on yourself than on your job. When I started Buffer whilst working 5 days per week, it was the choice to work an hour first thing in the morning each day when I was freshest that made a huge difference.

So, if you’re thinking about starting an early morning routine, here are two things that took me a while to notice:

1. Craft your evening routine to get enough sleep

two-tips-evening-routine-simple

One of the most important things I’ve found when I have attempted to keep up an early morning routine for several days and weeks in a row is that if I let my daily sleep amount get much below 7 hours for too many consecutive days, I will burn out sooner or later.

The best way I have found to counteract this is to decide how much sleep I need (for me it’s about 7.5 hours a night) and then figure out the exact time I need to be in bed. Once I’ve done this, I set up a 30-minute winding down ritual (for me, it’s going for a walk) that allows me to disengage from the day’s work and not have work in my head when I hit the pillow.

The key thing I’ve found is that in order to wake up early over a sustained period of weeks, this evening ritual is just as important as how much I think about my morning routine.

2. Wake up early on weekends, too

two-tips-weekend-routine

Another key aspect I’ve found to having a consistent early morning routine over a long period of time is to pay particular attention to the weekend as well as the week. I certainly believe that allowing imperfection and some slack at the weekend is important, but I personally made the mistake of having a weekend wake-up time that was too divergent from my week day wake-up time. Only once I started to think about the weekend, I hit a chain of many days of early mornings.

Once you’ve decided when you want to wake up during the week, I recommend that you don’t wake up much more than 1 hour later at the weekend. This also probably means that you still need to go to bed quite early on Friday and Saturday night. The problem arises when you wake up several hours later on Saturday and Sunday, and then want to wake up super early again on Monday.

The most likely thing is that Monday will be a little later, and Tuesday too. Perhaps by Wednesday you are back to your early morning waking time, but you will not feel that magical state of gliding along, having several days in a row of early mornings and productive quiet hours.

If you don’t try to wake up at a similar time at the weekend, it is similar to giving yourself jet lag every weekend. By waking up at a similar time at the weekend, you don’t stretch your body, and therefore you can achieve long term consistency with your morning routine.

Have you tried to have a long lasting early morning routine? Have you encountered either of these two challenges? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with your morning routine.

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Written by Joel Gascoigne

Joel is the founder and CEO at Buffer. He is focused on the lean startup approach, user happiness, transparency & company culture. Say hi to him anytime @joelgascoigne.

  • mattcantstop

    Deciding to change my sleeping habits to wake up early was the best thing I ever did for my career.

    The trick for me was to wake up early no matter how late I went to bed the night before when I was creating the habit. I tried to just go to sleep earlier and that never worked.

    When I decided to wake up early no matter how tired I was it became simple to go to sleep on time. I started just falling asleep a very reasonable time after about three days of getting up early.

    I work on skill development or a side startup project each morning for two hours before my day job starts. It has be transformative (for both me and my employer, as my skills are always increasing).

  • Excellent post Joel! Strangely I was just sitting down to re-think my morning routine to see if I can make any improvements.

    Adding an evening winding-down routine is a fantastic idea. One that I’ll begin tonight!

    Biggest challenge I find is the difference the winter months make to my natural ability to wake up in the early hours of the morning.

    Have you found any tricks to combat that sluggish morning feeling the darkness can bring?

  • Heh, I like this post! Ironically, today I just decided that I’d start getting up earlier. I’ll have to try adding a winding-down routine and see how that helps me sleep a bit earlier. Also, clearing my mind of work & life before bed would be a nice thing to do…

    Thanks for this! :)

  • I”m working on getting my evening routine in place and a fixed morning routine(I’m productive but don’t have a fixed activity…but it’s been working well for me so who knows.)

    My biggest struggle is the company I keep. My best friend recently transferred to another job which makes him only available to get together for some drinks, poker, etc at 11:00-12:00 Friday night. This has pushed my sleep off to the side during the weekends and I’ve noticed the overall impact.

    Yes, I know that ultimately the ball is in my court but this friend and I inspire each other, and deeply enjoy each others company. I’ve let him know that this isn’t a sustainable practice and this weekend will be the finale for awhile. It’s hard but you’ve got to think DEEPLY about your values and how to inch closer everyday towards being the person you envision yourself being.

    Great job with this article because I’ve noticed how important weekends are to the circadian rhythm. Biology doesn’t wait for you!

    Ps: I’ve begun shifting my showers into the evening, despite the crazy bed-head In the mornings, because I feel that I’m more likely to take them in the evening, I like the feeling of going to bed, “clean,” and it frees up that much more productive time in the morning — at 3am.

  • Saskia E. Voss

    Interesting read, I decided to launch a speaker career by August 2015 and finish a book by then too. Working still a full-time job with a commute what keep me away from home for 12 hours is a little tuff to find this routine, I am a morning person, but I am also 65. For right now doing what I like to do means I have to shift priorities not to run out of steam. But I am exited and driven and believe if the passion is there we can accomplish everything.
    Thanks for your wisdom.

  • I really like the idea of getting up earlier – but I’m 24 and enjoy an active evening social life, especially at the weekends. Does anyone have some tips for this? I’m currently experimenting with mid-afternoon naps (afternoons being the time I tend to flag a bit) and have found that as long as they’re less than 30 mins or more than 2 hours they don’t leave me feeling sluggish.

  • Ben

    Fantastic piece yet again Joel. I am waking at the moment between 4:30 & 5am using the SleepCycle app which wakes you in “light sleep” mode.

    My morning routine then consists of the following:
    – Meditate – 10 mins
    – Affirmations – 10 mins
    – Coffee & a Book – 30 mins
    – Most important task – 45 mins
    – Running – 30 mins

    All inspired from a book “The Slight Edge”. I have kept this routine for most of 2014.

  • Guest

    What’s interesting about this Joel, is that it’s very Ameri-centric. Americans in general are OBSESSED with waking up early, when in France, Italy, Argentina, Portugal, Denmark, countless others, this isn’t quite the case. So the “successful” people that wake up early should actually be put in quotations, because it’s all relative. I think this is important to note because Buffer is a “global” product and you have a distributed team working in multiple time zones, so I think this POV should take this into account. As a general inheritance, America’s patrimony for sleep comes from England, far from the Equator, with it’s short daylight hours, especially during Fall/Winter.

    That said, I don’t think a morning routine should generally be aligned with specific hours. What’s most important is probably the consistency of repeating whatever that routine is again and again. If you dig deep in the numbers of those successful people, even the ones here in the States, what it looks like is that most of them only sleep 6 hours a night — some less. Being successful means having lots of energy!

  • Gregory D. Navarro

    What’s interesting about this Joel, is that it’s very Ameri-centric.
    Americans in general are OBSESSED with waking up early, when in France,
    Italy, Argentina, Portugal, Denmark, countless others, this isn’t quite
    the case. So the “successful” people that wake up early should actually
    be put in quotations, because it’s all relative. I think this is
    important to note because Buffer is a “global” product and you have a
    distributed team working in multiple time zones, so I think this POV
    should take this into account. As a general inheritance, America’s
    patrimony for sleep comes from England, far from the Equator, with it’s
    short daylight hours, especially during Fall/Winter.

    That said, I don’t think a morning routine should generally be aligned with specific
    hours. What’s most important is probably the consistency of repeating
    whatever that routine is again and again. If you dig deep in the numbers
    of those successful people, even the ones here in the States, what it
    looks like is that most of them only sleep 6 hours a night — some less.
    Being successful means having lots of energy!

  • Antonio Romero

    It is nice to have routines when you don’t have children! :D

    • Antonio, I hear you! But it’s still possible! :) It just takes a extra focus and determination. Part of my morning routine consists getting our three kids fed with breakfast and the two older ones dressed and on their bus for school. They must wake up at 6:00am in order to get out the door on time. This means, if I want any sort of morning time to myself, I must wake up at 5:00am. It’s not 90 minutes, and there’s definitely no time for hitting a gym or anything like that, but that commitment to get up an extra hour early really sets the tone for the rest of my day, like Joel said. I spend my hour reading. I think it’s really more about the practice of the matter and not so much about how long or elaborate your routine is. Whether it’s 90 minutes or 30 minutes, multiple activities or just one, I’ve found that having some sort of consistent time to myself that every day begins with makes a big difference. Do kiddos make it more difficult? Heck yeah. But it’s still doable. ;) What’s your morning with children like?

  • Love this, Joel! For me, it is nearly impossible to have a consistent morning routine without a consistent evening routine. Every evening, I set myself up for the morning. This includes setting out a coffee mug, pre-weighing out my coffee and putting it in the grinder, putting water in the kettle, and setting out my book that I am reading. Everything is setup in the exact same way and with the exact same placement every evening. It’s funny how it works, but if I don’t do this ahead of time, it makes it SO much harder to make the choice to get out of bed when my 5:00am alarm sounds.

  • What do you do if your social life still insists that you stay up late on a weekend? :)

  • I work at one of the
    promotional agencies in
    toronto
    , and the CEO of my company is always up at 5AM. Even on weekends, like you mentioned, she’s up around 6. As a young adult, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to wake up this early. My commute isn’t long at all, so I’m home by 5. I hit the gym for an hour, have dinner, and I still have about 3-4 hours until it’s time for bed. Why would I wake up at an ungodly hour when I had all this time in the evening?

    Well, last week I woke up at 5:45, went to the gym for an hour, showered, made a great breakfast and went to work. I was so energized it was unbelievable. Usually I’m drowsy and don’t feel truly awake until 11am. I came home after work and started working on a photography project I had completely neglected. Waking up at that hour gave me more energy and helped me remember that there’s more to week days than work, gym, sleep, repeat.

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