The past few mornings I’ve been setting an alarm. This is a step toward being intentional about my mornings. I’m starting with limited ambitions and the good news is that when your ambitions are limited, they’re easy to achieve. I’ve actually been waking up before my alarm. If I go to bed at midnight, I wake up on my own around 7:15. I tend to be mostly done with my shower before the first kid is out of bed and in my bathroom. We go have breakfast together. I start work around 8.
So that’s my morning. Of course, since I write about morning routines, I hear from a lot of people whose mornings start a lot earlier. The other day I got a note from someone who’d read my book and wanted to tackle personal priorities in the morning. The problem was that he had an hour-long commute and left the house at 5:30 a.m. His question: should he be getting up even earlier?
I get different versions of this question. Another iteration is parents of young kids who wake up at the crack of dawn. They want to have personal time before the kids wake up but they’re already getting up early and (worse) unpredictably. Is it possible to get up earlier? Should they be getting up earlier?
My answer is…it depends.
The reason to institute a morning routine is that mornings are a great time to do things that matter to you, and that life has a way of crowding out. So the first question should be whether there are things you’re not doing in your life that you’d like to be, and that don’t happen at other times.
One reason I’m not really getting up earlier is that this isn’t the case for me. I exercise during the workday. It’s the upside of being self-employed — no one cares if I shower! Also, it’s light out and I have childcare. For office workers who need to look spiffy, AM workouts are more efficient because you only have to shower once. Post-work workouts often don’t happen because they cut into family time, or you’re starving or you’re too exhausted. I spend a fair amount of time with my kids. I eat lunch with the two little ones, and I’m generally with them from 5-ish to 9-ish most evenings. So I don’t feel like we need to make the most of quality time in the morning. Breakfast suffices. I also don’t need to use morning hours to take on personal passions like writing a book because…that’s what I do all day.
If you’re making time for the things you want to do, then get up whenever you want.
If you’re not, though, then that’s when you need to get more creative.
For people who are already getting up very early, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you might be able to create extra morning space just by being more intentional about your routine. Is there any way to shorten it? Time yourself. Especially if you’re leaving home really early, maybe you can eat breakfast at work. Streamline your closet. Get a different haircut. You may be able to create 20 minutes or so, even without setting your alarm earlier. Or maybe you’ll just need to set your alarm 5-10 minutes earlier. That’s really not so bad, especially if you’re focused on getting to bed on time at night.
Twenty minutes is a decent chunk of time if you’re smart about your routine. So that’s the second thing to keep in mind. How can you get the most bang for your buck in 20 minutes? You can certainly pound out some push-ups and sit-ups in that time. Heck, if you have a basement treadmill, you can do a fast mile (or more!) and some push-ups and sit-ups in that time. My guess is that someone getting up at 5:00 to leave for work at 5:30 could probably wake up at 4:50, do a hyper-intense workout, shower, and be on the road by 5:35 if he/she really wanted to.
There are lots of other things you can do in 20 minutes. If you have an early rising partner, the two of you could spend quality time together doing whatever it is you like to do when you find yourselves in the same bed. Twenty minutes is enough time to read, or write a blog post (really!)
Of course, all this presupposes that you’re not horribly sleep deprived. For me, the problem of getting up at 5:00 would be that I’d need to go to bed by 9:45 p.m. I could. But I do enjoy doing creative work at night (night owl alert!) and my 9 p.m. to midnight work stint is not an unproductive time. The question of sleep deprivation plays in more to the world of small kids who wake early and unpredictably. You can know that your kid normally stirs around 5:45 a.m., so waking up at 5 could, in theory, give you 45 minutes alone. Maybe. Because perhaps 10 percent of the time, the kid might wake earlier. And there is nothing worse than getting up at 5, thinking you’ll have some alone time, and then not getting it.
In these cases, I think it’s good to look at the fundamental issue. Why are you getting up before the kids to have alone time? Especially if you’re taking care of the kids all day, you might be able to recreate alone time with…childcare. A babysitter. Seriously. There is nothing wrong with joining a YMCA with babysitting so you can go work out. There is nothing wrong with hiring a sitter for a few hours a week so you can do a few professional projects and thus keep your hand in the workforce to ease your eventual return. You can trade off with friends and neighbors, and get alone time that way. Alone time doesn’t have to happen at 5 a.m. You may be able to restructure your life to make time for what you want at other points too.
What time do you get up? Do you exercise before work or the rest of your day?