It’s early – way, way too early. Your alarm apathetically blares from a few feet away. You claw your way to the edge of the mattress, stretch your hand out, and slam it down on the snooze button. Then you collapse back down and fall back asleep until eight minutes later, when the alarm sounds off again. It startles you into falling off your bed completely, and you wake up on the carpet, confused and terrified, only to realize that your nightmares have come true: it’s time to wake up for the day.
You’re not alone. It’s safe to say that not many of us are morning people. And when I do come across someone who’s already hit the gym, read the Times, and started on their to-do list all before an 8:30 meeting, it’s always made me scratch my head in a jumble of confusion, doubt, and pure anger.
Luckily, though, I’ve gotten better – and compiled a set of steps to turn you from sloth to jackrabbit in the early hours. It takes some thoughtful preparation and schedule structuring, but with a little dedication, it’s plenty feasible for most anyone. Give it a shot yourself, and you’ll be up and at ‘em in no time.
The Night Before
Prep Ahead of Time
If you usually spend your morning brewing coffee, cooking breakfast, choosing what to wear, and packing both your work and gym bags, you’re wasting valuable time. Shift those habits to the night before instead, and you’ve instantly got a whole bunch of extra time in the morning.
Pack your work bag, gym gear, or whatever else you need the night before, hanging them near your door so you can easily snatch them on your way out.
Make a batch of cold brew the night before, rather than taking the time to grind, measure, and brew your caffeine fix in the morning.
Cook a quick and simple breakfast, if you usually eat one, ahead of time that you can quickly reheat or toss together.
Go to Sleep Earlier
This should go without saying, but it’s not exactly easy to become a morning person if you’re up until 3 a.m. scrolling through Twitter for the fifteenth time or staring into a Netflix screen. Believe me, I’ve learned that the hard way. Staring at bright screens for extended periods of time causes the brain to simulate the same alertness you experience when out on a sunny day, so it probably isn’t the best idea to allow your screen-time to stretch until right before bed.
So what have I started doing instead? I’ve found reading before bed for an hour of so in soft lighting helps coax me into sleep mode. But if you really need to be on a screen late until the last second before you hit the hay, all is not lost. There are plenty of apps out there for both desktop and mobile that dim your screen and add a warm-hued overlay as it gets later and later, so as to prevent your device's bright blue light from disrupting sleep patterns.
Another small point that helps is that I stick to a hard-and-fast no caffeine six hours before bed rule. I love coffee, but not when it keeps me up at night.
Keep Your Body Clock Healthy
Some people somehow manage to wake up every day at the same time, almost automatically. No alarm clock, no bleary stumbling to the coffee maker, nothing. The only thing that can give you this superpower is keeping your body clock healthy and predictable.
To engineer this effect, I try to go to bed about the same time every weeknight in a similar fashion. That’s the easy part. The hard part is loosely maintaining this same sleep-wake schedule on the weekends.
I’m not suggesting you leave the bar early on a Friday night to preserve your sleep cycle – you don't want to be that guy – but if you're staying in, do the best you can to avoid staying up unnecessarily late. That makes it easier to wake up early on Saturdays and Sundays, which gives you more time for a morning run, laundry trip, gym session, or pancake-flipping practice.
The Morning Of
When your alarm first goes off, you’re always going to be tempted to snooze. And damn, do those few extra moments of sleep feel great. But when you choose to slam down on that button and go back to sleep, you’re just delaying the inevitable, which turns your morning into a stressed-out race against the clock, fueled more by panic and fear than motivation or enthusiasm.
To get the best of both worlds, I take advantage of a strategy called “active snooze.” Basically, you hit the snooze button, but as opposed to lying back down, you sit – or if you're feeling ambitious, stand – up at the edge of your bed. Then take a few minutes to stretch, check the weather, look out your window, and adjust to being lucid before the alarm goes off again.
The key here is to not actually start making moves on getting yourself ready until the snooze is over. This creates a transition period between complete rest and complete alertness, making the shift a whole lot easier.
And if you can gather the willpower, a few minutes of exercise when you first wake up can also do wonders for your energy level. I usually do a quick round or two of of bodyweight movements, which only takes a couple of minutes, but sends the brain a small endorphin rush that makes it easier to get going and delay that first coffee break. This isn’t a necessity, but it can give you an extra boost if you’re feeling unusually tired. Starting won’t be fun, but you’ll be glad you did, trust me.
Create a Routine
Creating a ritual – and more importantly, one you actually enjoy – can make a massive difference in your morning enthusiasm for two reasons:
Repetition lets you cruise through the morning on autopilot, more or less. So you're spending less mental energy worrying about what you need to get ready for work and more about bigger picture stuff. More on that in a second.
Having little things in your routine to look forward to will help get you moving. If you're a coffee guy, get the best quality beans so you can look forward to your first cup. If you're into grooming, stocking up on extra nice shave gear or high-quality shower goods will make freshening up that much more enjoyable.
Once you've got that in place, add in a couple minutes of conscious goal-setting before stepping into the office. I usually do this in the shower or during my commute, and it always helps to write my thoughts down in a little notebook that I can bring along everywhere. No matter what I’m trying to accomplish, spending a few minutes honing in on my current objectives can really make chasing the day’s goals that much easier.
So, if you and the AM don’t see eye-to-eye, you’ve got nothing to fear. Give this roadmap a shot and see how much more productive you can be in the early hours – even if you’ve always been more of a snooze button kind of guy.