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Rising Early

An early morning in Jackson, Wyoming
An early morning in Jackson, Wyoming

As a baby I never wanted to go to sleep: I stayed alert until I was completely exhausted (and my parents were too)! In high school and college, I regularly stayed up past 2AM. But for most of my professional life, I’ve been an early riser. I started out of convenience: gyms are less crowded early. Even after those circumstances changed, I found enough benefits to waking up early that I kept the habit. These days, I’m awake well before 6AM (and in bed by 9PM) almost every day. Here’s why I still do it:

Time before work

Especially during quarantine, I’ve found that work sucks up all of my available time. Work tends to be a never-ending stream of urgent-sounding tasks, which makes it hard for me to set aside time for projects, reading, writing, working out, or anything else. Waking up well before my work day starts gives me a several-hour-long timebox where I can pursue those interests without feeling guilty. Rising early also gives me momentum for the rest of my day. Getting a fast start and checking the most urgent items off my to-do list means that the rest of my day can be pursued without hurry or guilt.

Sleep

If left unchecked, I’d stay up most nights playing videogames, doomscrolling, or attempting to work long past the point of non-productivity. Waking up early without compromise means that if I stay up past my bedtime, I feel it the next day. This feedback loop is super effective. Now, instead of forcing myself to stay awake at night, I purposefully unwind and go to bed early.

Signaling

Early rising improves my productivity — but it improves others’ impression of my productivity much more. I’ve developed a reputation at work and among friends as being driven, dedicated, and hard-working. I don’t think I’m actually any of those things. Waking up early just signals that I am.

Sunrises

There’s no better way to start the day than warming up on the track as the sun rises.

Sunrise on the traack
Sunrise on the track

Drawbacks to rising early

Of course, waking early isn’t without its downsides: - It’s harder to have a social life. My friend group is mostly night owls; they prefer a drink after dinner to a coffee before breakfast. When they’re just getting the evening started at 9PM, I’m already in bed. - Afternoon coffees are a thing of the past. Since caffeine has a half-life of about six hours, drinking caffeine anytime after 11 or 12 drastically affects my sleep quality. - Waking up early definitely isn’t for everyone; there’s a growing body of research suggesting that there’s a physical basis behind early birds and night owls. I’m lucky that my circadian rhythm is malleable enough to swap between the two.

Overall, the benefits of rising early have outweighed the drawbacks for me. It’s a far cry from my childhood and college days!

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