How to Become a Morning Person

The most successful people tend to get up early.

I want to believe that somewhere there exists a happy, well-rested, very rich, busy woman who blissfully co-sleeps with her three children until 9:30 am. The mom opens her laptop at 11, executes an order for half a million in inventory, sells it by 3 pm, and then goes for a run in the middle of the day before inviting her business colleagues to do some networking at her home (while the children politely do handicrafts).

But this is probably not a real thing. Unicorns do not exist. And productivity starts early. Here are strategies to becoming a morning person.

Rise and Shine

Rise and Shine

The most successful people tend to get up early.

I want to believe that somewhere there exists a happy, well-rested, very rich, busy woman who blissfully co-sleeps with her three children until 9:30 am, opens her laptop at 11, executes an order for half a million in inventory, then sells it by 3 pm. But unicorns do not exist. And productivity starts early.

Laura Vanderkam’s What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast makes a strong, evidence-based case. When I interviewed her in 2012, she said of early risers:

They tackle personal priorities that are tough to do at other times of the day — because life has a tendency to crowd them out. These are important but not urgent things like exercise, spiritual practices (meditation, prayer), nurturing relationships with family and friends, or long-term career planning. Later in the day, you’re more likely to get interrupted, and some research into the science of willpower finds that our supply of self-discipline gets depleted later in the day. Successful people know that if something has to happen, it has to happen first.

Just think of all the things you could accomplish during those magical hours when no one interrupts you. Here are four strategies to becoming a morning person.

Develop a Nighttime Routine

Develop a Nighttime Routine

The idea of deliberately winding down before bed makes me feel a million years old. But I’m lucky — I can Instagram for an hour and then be asleep in five minutes. Some people, though, benefit from a bedtime ritual.

First, figure out how much sleep you need and how long it takes you to fall asleep. Count backwards to find your bedtime. Now set an alarm on your phone for 90 minutes before that. When that alarm rings, that’s wind-down time. Get off the Internet (glowing screens suppress the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin). Limit how much you use your phone.

Some other ideas that can save you time and help you wind down: Set a programmable coffeemaker. Take a warm bath. Lay out your outfit for the next day — or even better, adopt a work “uniform” so you don’t have any tough outfit decisions to make, ever. Set your intentions for the next day.

If you’re trying to get to sleep earlier, blackout curtains, sleeping in a cold room, and the scent of lavender may all help you fall asleep when it still seems early.

Treat Yourself When You Get Up

Treat Yourself When You Get Up

Include something enjoyable to reward yourself for getting up at the crack of dawn. Does the gym have a steam room? You could be the only one using it at 7:30 am.

Here’s a novel tip: The best place to put your alarm clock is actually the bathroom. Not only will you have to get up to turn it off, you’ll be in just the right place to brush your teeth, splash some water on your face, and get the day going.

And make sure you drink a glass of water — some of your morning fatigue may actually be dehydration.

Initiate Earlier Outings

Initiate Earlier Outings

If you want to go to sleep earlier without losing all your night-owl friends, you’re going to have to take the lead in initiating hangouts. Don’t wait to be asked to see a 9:30 movie — followed by drinks. Pre-empt that situation by inviting others to hang out right after work or for brunch on weekends. (This can be good for setting up dates, too: Avoiding late nights out can cut down on people just looking for booty calls, so that’s a plus depending on your goal.)

And getting together doesn’t have to mean drinks. If your friends would be open to walking or running (or taking a fitness class) together, you can get a two-for-one special on your time.

As for work, most networking events end by 8 pm, so the hobnobbing you miss by skipping late nights is more the informal kind anyway, where you’re just socializing and end up talking about business. If you need to cut out of those events early, turn it into an advantage: Needing to leave gives you a great excuse to aggressively introduce yourself to everyone (“I can only stay for a little bit, so I wanted to make sure I got to meet you”), or to hand someone your card and say, “I have to get going now, but here’s my card — can we set up a call to talk about this later this week?”

Use the “Extra” Hours to Enrich Your Life

Use the “Extra” Hours to Enrich Your Life

It’s not super motivating to get up early just so you can live the exact same life, shifted up an hour or two.

When you become a morning person, you may end up sleeping and being awake for the same number of hours per day — but your days often seem longer, because most people don’t fill their newly available morning hours with the same kinds of activities they used to do later at night. (Think about it: Are you really going to get up at 5 or 6 am and spend the time browsing Netflix or going out for drinks?)

Motivate yourself to rise and shine by using your morning time to write a book, learn Chinese, or do yoga at sunrise — to live the kind of life not available on your current schedule.

By cutting out a bunch of TV-watching hours and replacing them with energized and focused work hours, you greatly expand what you can accomplish.

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