Want A Personal Life? Get Up Early

Sometimes when you’re running an organization, things fall by the wayside. You know, things like exercise. Playing with your kids. Talking with your spouse. Meditating. You’d like to do them, but even when you schedule a run on your calendar for 5:30 p.m., you’ll get a call from your biggest client at 5:15 p.m. lamenting a problem with the last order — and next thing you know it’s 7 p.m. and you’ll barely make it home to tuck your kids in, let alone exercise.

Is this just the price of being in charge?

Not really. You can have a personal life. You just have to get up early to enjoy it.

At least that’s what I’ve discovered from studying hundreds of time logs and interviewing leaders about how they spend their time. Steve Reinemund, for instance, now the Dean of the Schools of Business at Wake Forest University, and the former CEO of PepsiCo, has run 4 miles most days of his life. Pepsi had many crises at 5 p.m., but that didn’t matter for Reinemund’s running. He ran his 4 miles at 5 a.m. instead. It turns out that there are very few crises at 5 a.m. So that makes it a perfect time for getting things done.

Indeed, there’s even some research finding that mornings are prime productivity time. Florida State psychology professor Roy Baumeister has done intriguing studies into the science of willpower, and has found that self-discipline is like a muscle. It gets fatigued from decision making and attempting to focus in a distracting world. Over the course of the day, one’s supply of willpower is simply used up — which is why diets are broken in the evening, not the morning. In the morning, however, after a good breakfast, willpower is at its peak. So you can deploy this strength to tackle tasks that are important to you — those tasks that nurture your career, your family or yourself — but that life has a way of crowding out.

In short, if it has to happen, it has to happen first.

So how can you make the most of your mornings?

First, figure out how you’re currently spending your mornings — and nights. You may think you can’t get up earlier because you’re too tired. But when you look at how you’re spending your late nights, you see that you’re either responding to emails that could wait until the next day or you’re watching TV. Sleep is much more relaxing than TV, so go to sleep instead. That way getting up earlier isn’t such a sacrifice.

Second, picture your perfect morning. You want a morning ritual that makes you excited to get out of bed. Maybe it’s a quick run around the neighborhood followed by breakfast with your family. Maybe it’s lifting weights, then having a cup of coffee with your spouse on the back porch. Whatever it is, figure out the logistics (like blocking your calendar before 8 a.m.) and then build the habit. Feel free to bribe yourself. Silly as it sounds to celebrate a morning run with a doughnut, better to switch out the doughnut for a different breakfast in the future than never building the exercise habit in the first place.

Finally, tune up as necessary. You won’t be having morning coffee with your spouse if you’re traveling, but maybe you can do a quick Skype chat instead. Maybe you’ll have to start staying in hotels with treadmills and packing your shoes. But making time in the morning for a personal life at least a few days a week beats never having time for what matters most to you. That’s definitely worth waking up for.

Author: Laura Vanderkam

Follow

Laura Vanderkam

Bio: Laura Vanderkam is the author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2012) and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She writes the 168 Hours blog for CBS MoneyWatch, is a member of USA Today’s Board of Contributors, and speaks frequently about time management and leadership topics. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three children.

 

Other Articles by Laura Vanderkam

The Best Management Tool You're Not Using

How To Master Your Morning For Peak Productivity

4 Bad Boss Bloopers--And How To Fix Them

How To Work 50 Hours A Week And Still Have Time

7 Ways To Cut Stress For Success In 15 Minutes

The Trick To Making Your Week Productive

Is Your To-Do List About What You Need To Do?

The Ultimate Sign Of Success: An Open Calendar

8 Steps To Turn Your Dreams Into Goals

The Hidden Trick To Finding An Extra Hour In Your Day

  • http://www.nixonvs.com Patricia Nixon

    How ironic! Just last night as I was up late doing some of my own admin work that doesn’t get done during business hours, I looked at the clock (1:45 a.m.) and thought to myself, “This has got to change.” And it did.

    I set the clock this morning for 5 a.m. and I did NOT hit snooze. I admit I dragged out of bed, brushed my teeth while my eyes were still shut and popped in my cardio DVD, but you know what? It’s ok. Of course I was tired because of the time I got to bed. But waking up earlier today, I’ll be tired earlier tonight and it’s the beginning of a new habit.

    Yes, it’s hard being the captain of my own ship, running my own business and not neglecting my personal time. But it’s true – with a little shift in timing, I can certainly make more valuable time for myself. And you know what else? It’s 11:30 a.m., clients are already emailing back and forth and I’m feeling better than I have in a few days just because I started my morning selfishly. I’m looking forward to more of this. Thank you for a timely article that’s personally very significant!

    Cordially,
    Patricia

  • http://www.publicationcoach.com Daphne Gray-Grant

    I agree with much of you’ve written above, with one key hesitation. Our body clocks are not about “willpower” or “organization.”

    I used to be a night owl. I usually did my best work after 11 pm and regularly stayed up til 2 am. This was fine as long as I could “sleep in” til 8 am. But for several years I had a job that required me to start work at 6 am. This was horrible for me and I found myself setting my bedtime earlier and earlier and STILL feeling I wasn’t getting enough sleep. Eventually, I was going to bed at 9 pm so I could get up at 5:30 am. Note that I needed MORE sleep (8.5 hours) to make this schedule remotely possible for me and I was chronically exhausted all the time.

    The penny dropped, a few years ago when — suddenly — I turned into a morning lark. I now go to bed at 11 pm every night and get up at 6 am, no problem. I do my best work in the morning and if there’s a special need for me to get up earlier, I can do so without complaint. This is not about willpower or planning — it happened to me, literally, overnight, without any effort on my part, so I can’t take any credit for it.

    The world has more patience for and gives more kudos to morning larks. I’m not sure it’s fair to blame night owls for this….

Popular Stories

Welcome to CEO.com

Connect with CEO.com to receive exclusive, timely and informative content.

  • CEO trends and activity
  • Actionable leadership insights
  • Exclusive stories, guides and research

Connect with CEO.com

The Chief's Daily Brief Newsletter
Top business insights, CEO news, and buzz-daily

More Subscription Options:

2013 Social CEO Report:
Are America's Top CEOS Getting Social?

See The Report

The Chief's Brief
Newsletter

Subscribe now