I tried waking up early for a week. Here’s how it went.

Sarah tried the "successful people wake up early" thing to get more out of her day. She liked the extra morning quiet time. The actual dragging her body out of bed before sunrise part was less enjoyable.
Young woman eating waffles
This photo is out of date (RIP that mullet) but this is still an accurate reflection of how much style and grace I have early in the morning (not much).

I decided to give this whole “successful people wake up early” thing a try.

I’ve never been a morning person. As a child, my parents would take turns waking me up because I was such a pain in the ass. More than one ex-boyfriend has told me, “You’re the worst in the morning.”

But lately, juggling (see what I did there?) a full-time job, a side hustle and a life has made it hard to get things done within the day. I’ve slipped into habits I don’t like — working on The Juggle or something else “productive” almost every evening. I’ve come to dread coming home after work with an already-fried brain and trying to write or do other hard-thinking things.

Deep down, I know that the morning is sacred productive time — the few times I’ve tried writing or studying early in the morning I’ve been incredibly focused and gotten a lot done. The combination of a silent inbox with not yet feeling the slog or distractions of the day is a magical thing.

So I thought I’d try out a new habit. To try to hack the clock and use my time more efficiently, I set a goal to wake up at 6:00 a.m. every morning for a week. I realize this is hardly heroic to many people, and it was actually only a little earlier than my normal 7:15 alarm time. But it felt like a pretty huge goal to me.

Staring down a bear of a week, I set my alarm for 6:00 a.m. Here’s how it went.

Breakfast layout on a table with a book and candles
My typical book by candlelight breakfast. It’s as lovely as it sounds.

Monday

  • Wake-up time: 6:00
  • Meditation: 20 minutes
  • Breakfast: Cereal and tea by candlelight while reading a book (I do this almost every morning and it’s as heavenly as it sounds)

I didn’t have a clear task I wanted to take care of this morning, so I just went to work early. I usually get there at 9:00 (read: 9:15), but this morning I was there at 7:30. My office is a pretty hectic open floor plan, so the silence until almost 9:00 was golden. I got more done by 11:30 than I have in ages. I didn’t feel super tired but did have a general bleary-eyed feeling for most of the morning.

Tuesday

  • Wake-up time: 6:15 (hi snooze)
  • Meditation: 20 minutes
  • Breakfast: Cereal, tea, candlelight, book

Tuesdays are my work-from-home day and I decided to use this morning to do a combination of Juggle stuff (including starting this article), life admin and current-events reading. I finally got through this saga on millennials and burnout that everyone was talking about.

Having slept only six hours the previous two nights (I couldn’t make myself go to bed early even though I REALLY prefer eight hours of sleep), the tiredness started catching up to me today. I had a very productive day but was practically falling asleep at dinner with friends. I was in bed by 10:00 pm.

Yoga mat on the floor of a home
Doing early morning yoga WHO AM I

Wednesday

  • Wake-up time: 6:00
  • Meditation: 20 minutes
  • Breakfast: The usual Kashi by candelabra

I got eight hours of sleep and felt like a brand new woman. But the stress of the week was setting in and I didn’t want to use my brain too much this morning, so after breakfast, I did yoga (I like Yoga with Adriene for home practice) followed by foam rolling because my body felt stiff. This was a good choice — I felt oddly calm heading into work, which helped me tackle my day in a really positive way.

Thursday

  • Wake-up time: 6:30
  • Meditation: Skipped in favor of more sleep
  • Breakfast: Cereal and tea, but no candles and reading. I was in a rush.

The extra sleep this morning was because we had a Juggle team call the night before and I was up late working. I’m always super energized after we talk.

This was a beast of a day: I had physical therapy at 7:30 a.m. for some knee pain I’ve been experiencing, followed by a full day of work, then a doctor’s appointment. After that, I drove to San Antonio (an hour and a half away from where I live in Austin) to interview Emilie Aries, the founder of Bossed Up and someone I’ve admired for a while.

Emilie and I ended up hanging out at my favorite restaurant in San Antonio (Ocho) for over two hours. It was great. After driving back home, I fell into bed like a corpse at 11:30 with a trail of clothes behind me.

Friday

  • Wake-up time: Fuck this early shit (7:30)
  • Meditation: Nope
  • Breakfast: I barely remember

After my marathon of a day yesterday and some lingering sleep deprivation, I was so tired today. I made it through the work day and skipped book club in the evening, which is rare for me, in order to stay home, paint my nails and go to bed early.

Reflections

My goal was to take advantage of the early morning to work so that I could reserve my evenings for relaxation and joy. Was I successful? Yes and no.

Overall, I succeeded at taking advantage of my mornings. I got a lot done, and my newfound early morning hours truly felt like “bonus time” because I was so clear-headed and focused.

I failed when it came to freeing up my evenings because this was a particularly busy week where I needed to actually use them. And I must confess, since this experiment has ended, my early wake-ups have ended with it. It’s too tempting to stay up late, hit the snooze and thus continue the vicious cycle of making myself write at 10:00 p.m. (as I’m doing now).

But the important thing is this: I now know that waking up earlier is not impossible — and not as terrible as I thought it would be. And that it can provide the space I need for undistracted thinking and work, or fitting in a workout or some self-care if I know I have a jam-packed day ahead of me.

I love how writer Edith Zimmerman describes a time when she used waking up early as a tactic to help her problem-solve her way through a new job: “I didn’t know how to manage people or my own time, or how to handle almost any of the new responsibilities I had, but giving myself what felt like more than enough time to look at them turned out to be basically all I needed.”

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to make it a habit like Edith did, but I’d like to do the early morning thing more often. The ability to tap into that sacred extra time feels like a superpower, and it’s one I’m grateful to have up my sleeve.

Early risers among us, tell me your secrets! How do you do it? Leave your tips and tricks in the comments.

4 thoughts on “I tried waking up early for a week. Here’s how it went.

  1. Early riser lifer here. Breakfast is CRITICAL. Also, if you felt like committing to this longer term, you’d eventually get way more used to the early wake-up time to the extent that I only have an alarm because I’m neurotic, but haven’t woken up to it in like four years. The key is not wildly shifting it on the weekends, which is hard, but if you keep it fairly consistent over the weekend, the weekdays will be a cinch. I also read somewhere once that it doesn’t matter as much when you go to sleep as waking up consistently at the same time every day and I’ve found that to be true. Also, (angry) props to my dog who is the world’s most reliable alarm clock.

    1. Carrie — this is encouraging. I think it’s a matter of getting over the willpower hump for me of just making the change (because I saw the benefits!) and people like you are an inspiration. I’m AMAZED at people who don’t use alarm clocks because I’m in such an abusive (it’s mostly me doing the abusing to be clear) relationship with mine.

  2. I’m a natural early riser, so take my comments with a grain of salt but I’ve found it is so much easier to spring out of bed cheerfully if I’ve been eating well – namely if I’ve cut out simple carbs and added sugar. It’s shocking what a difference it makes. Eating well definitely compensates for lack of sleep for me! Loved the article 🙂

    1. So I have to stop my mid afternoon gummy bear snacks too???? I’m kidding. These bright-eyed, bushy-tailed people are giving me the kick in the pants I need. Thanks Jenny!

What do you think? (Leave comments here.)