How I Became a Person Who Gets Up at 4:30AM
February 5, 2016
The Time is Now
I used to stay up late, as late as possible, and then drag myself up out of bed at the last possible moment to give myself enough time to get to school, work, or wherever I needed to be. I did this until well into my thirties. I was a hardened night-owl.
By the time I was in my mid-thirties, I was also a freelance software developer, and since I was billing by the hour, I was also feeling the pressure to make sure I was getting in sufficient billable hours each week. Doing said hours late at night began to seem untenable: it made it harder to get up the next day, I wasn’t necessarily at my sharpest, and plus it took away the only time I had for hanging out with my wife.
So I decided to switch habits. I’d become a morning person, I figured. I’d get up early and do a few hours of programming before anyone else was even awake. By lunch, I could have five, or even six (billable) hours under my belt, taking a lot of pressure of the latter part of the day. It seemed like a great idea.
It turned out not to be so easy to suddenly change habits, but I did it.
Was it sheer force of will? Incredible self-discipline? Am I just one of those ridiculously privileged people who can suddenly change their habits like changing a shirt?
Nope, nope, and nope. Well, certainly some self-discipline was involved, but I don’t think I’m any more disciplined than the next person, really — especially not at that point in my life.
Essentially, I cheated for the first several months until I had built up the habit and conditioned myself to get up earlier and go to bed earlier.
Cheated? I guess it depends how you look at it, but it worked for me.
All I did was buy a bunch of 5-hour Energy drinks and sit one beside my bed each night.
When my alarm went off at 6am or 5:30am or whatever (6am was pretty early for me, at the time), I would immediately drink half the bottle of the energy shot, get up, walk across the apartment and start doing something (usually opening up my computer to my most recent project and running the tests, or something).
And then I’d just stay up and keep working. Or writing. Or reading. Or, after awhile, going to the gym one or more times a week.
That was probably about 5 years ago.
I no longer do the 5-hour energy drinks when I wake up, though I do usually have something caffeinated within the first 15 minutes. Nowadays I usually get up at 4:30am. I have kids now, and those first few hours are often the only time I can steal away where I can just work on my own things, be it working out, writing, or some new programming project. After work I don’t want to do those things: I want to see my kids. After the kids are in bed, generally, I want to hang out with my wife, watch a movie, or work on some project around the house.
That’s what I did. Was it good for me? I don’t know. Will it work for you? I have no idea. I wanted to change my habits, and that’s the way I figured out how to do it. You might have to figure out a different way, if getting up early is even a thing you care about.
For me, I really wanted to change that particular habit. I saw only benefits, and no downsides, to becoming a morning person. My wife started joking that I was taking drugs every morning to wake up, which is probably technically true, given the amount of caffeine and God only knows what else is in 5-hour Energy, but it did the trick.
It can be challenging. It’s a different schedule than my wife has, which can be tough. Whereas a decade ago she might be upset that I was staying up so late, now it’s more likely she’d complain that I’m tired far too early, long before she’s ready to go to bed. I value my marriage (spending time together is important, turns out), so I compromise as much as I can, which means staying up a little later than I might otherwise do. It’s worth it.
Arguably I don’t get nearly enough sleep, now, but that’s another story.