Quiet. That’s the word I’d use to describe the world at 4 AM. No matter where I am — even in bustling cities like Tokyo, this time of day is tranquil. Most of the world is still sleeping.
Not me. I have been getting up at 4 AM for the last year or so. I was always an early riser, but recently, I’ve stepped things up. In part, this is because of my current stage in life. I travel more than 250 days of the year across all different time zones. A consistent schedule keeps me sane. Though my daily routine can vary a lot, I find keeping these regular hours offers tremendous benefits. Here’s why this super-early schedule helps me to achieve my goals and might help you, too:
1. It helps protect “me time.” I usually start my day with an hour or so of meditation, yoga, prayer and exercise. I find that when I don’t do these things, I have less energy and don’t feel as good, emotionally and physically. I’m not unusual in this regard, but if you try to squeeze in time for exercise at the end of the day, you’ll often find that there’s a meeting or a task that takes priority. Pretty soon a few days have gone by and you haven’t kept up your daily rituals. According to research, creating a habit requires doing the same thing at the same time each day. Believe me, there’s nothing that’s going to bump your schedule at 4 AM. If you get up this early, you have a little flexibility. Sometimes I spend my first hour answering emails but then I still have time to exercise, meditate and prepare for the day.
2. It maximizes my energy. It may seem counterintuitive, but waking up earlier actually helps me feel more alert and energized. Maybe it’s why Apple CEO Tim Cook gets up at 3:45 AM and former Wall Street exec Sallie Krawcheck has written, “I’m never more productive than at 4 AM.” Personally, I find that by afternoon, my thinking has already become fuzzy. In fact, I never make big decisions in the afternoon. On the other hand, on the odd occasion when I do sleep in until 8am, I always feel like I spend my first few hours struggling to catch up.
3. It keeps me focused on my priorities. It’s more difficult to muster resolve at night. If you go to bed at 8, like I do there’s no temptation to hit the bars, to overeat or to indulge in energy-sapping, time-wasting activities. Of course, many would argue that those activities are what gives life its flavor. I don’t disagree. But, like an athlete, I’m in a stage of my life where I need to be 100% focused on my day job. Life won’t always be like this, but for now I am focused on my goals, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.
Yes, there are downsides to this lifestyle. Unfortunately, I have friends I never see because of our conflicting schedules. In the summer, it can be especially challenging to go to bed at 8 when the sun is shining (I make full use of the shades and blinds to create blackout conditions.)
But there are rewards to getting up super early too. I always feel in control, healthy and focused. That mindset helps me sustain my intense business-travel schedule, and keeps me 100 percent focused on my personal and professional goals. If that appeals to you, consider skipping Netflix at night and setting the alarm a few hours early.