The case for waking up

I was on a BBC Radio Scotland program this morning talking about the “5-9” shift (based on a Telegraph article I was quoted in last week – behind the paywall). Mornings are always a great time for getting stuff done. But this is particularly true now as many people are juggling work and homeschooling/childcare duties. Seizing the early morning shift can make the whole day feel more productive.

For starters, in many of our houses, this is the only time that’s quiet. It’s also a time that’s less likely to be interrupted. If you’re running a lot of tech support on Zoom after 9 a.m., well, nice to have a time when no one’s logged on.

Now, this doesn’t work for people whose children wake up unpredictably, or very early. But if the kids are old enough to sleep, or old enough to know to stay in their rooms until 7:00 a.m., or an early riser can be reliably satisfied with YouTube videos (like my 5-year-old) then it can work.

Just figure out what block of time might be available. Go to bed early enough to make it feasible. Then plan exactly what you’re going to do in the early shift. A lot of people start with their inboxes but…this is a bad idea. You can clean out your inbox in scattered bits of time through the day. You won’t concentrate on anything deep while mediating sibling squabbles. So go with whatever requires focus.

Ideally you should choose something that can actually get done in the block of time available. Because when you knock something off the priority list first thing in the morning, the day feels a lot better. You can be more relaxed for the interruptions later, because you know you’ve already done something. Since some of the despair of currently chopped up schedules stems from wondering if we’ll ever get anything done, this is no small matter.

Are you seizing the early shift these days?

21 thoughts on “The case for waking up

  1. I started working earlier (not that early but still) and it does help getting things done. Key is going to sleep on time which I often find challenging. Really enjoy reading on work, sleep and time!

    1. @Maggie – so true that it is hard to get to bed! I try to get ready for bed earlier in the evening so I’m ready to dive in when it becomes a possibility.

  2. I’m not an early riser at all but I’m in insurance and one of my actuarial colleagues has a baby and 2-year-old. So he sleeps from 8pm to 3 am and then starts his day so when the kids awake, most of his deep work is done. He and his wife are both actuaries and are both working so have to share childcare (in South Africa we are not allowed to have our domestic workers or nannies back in our houses yet)

    1. @Marcia – if you can get to bed at 8 p.m. this is not a bad plan at all. Work 3-6 and then maybe 1-4/5 and you’ve put in a full work day. And party B could work 6-1 and for an hour in the evening.

  3. I love doing this but my seventh month old keeps waking up at 4am! I can’t start my entire day working from home with a 3 year old and baby at 4am so I end up going back to bed and not getting in that early shift. Really looking forward to a more predictable sleep schedule!

    1. @Allison – will he ever go back down? That’s been a saving grace with my little one – he will go back to sleep pretty quickly for any wake-ups that happen pre-6 a.m. After that is a different matter but I was really glad to learn we didn’t have to start the eat/active cycle at the first wake-up.

  4. This is the only way I get my academic writing done in this period, 5:30-7:30 am. Inevitably there are days when the kids get up too early and I’m multitasking (yuck) with homeschooling or YouTube but if I try for 5 days and get 2-3 it’s better than nothing.

    1. @Emma – I think “better than nothing” should be the theme song for this period of time…

  5. I’m definitely trying to do some work in the mornings before my son gets up. It helps me get done what I need to with less stress as I’m trying to teach online at the same time my son is doing school from home. It’s not something I can normally do since I have to leave for school at 6am and am already tired enough to go to sleep as early as my son does, but I am taking advantage of it for now!

    1. @Dana – I suspect many people are going to find that it will be tough to go back to leaving for work at 6 a.m. after this. I am hoping my middle schooler can just bank sleep or something before the next school year….

  6. Yep! I absolutely do this. A lot of days, I’ve put in a half days work before my boss or colleagues even logon. I just wish they understood this. I find myself still working until 5 or 6 pm regardless of my start time, though of course with countless homeschool interruptions after 9 am. 🙂

    1. I have this problem, too! I start before most of my colleagues, but find myself still answering emails after 5 or 6pm because that’s when ‘everyone else’ is also working. And I am in the midst of a project for which one team is on the west coast (I’m in Eastern time), so they are three hours behind and are in the thick of working when I’m ready for dinner. Some days, I just start later, so at least I’m ‘only’ putting in a full day if I’m still going at 6pm. Other days, I take longer breaks mid-morning to do other things, since I expect that my workday will be going later. I’m finding it harder to ‘shut down’ and stop working now that I am 100% from home since…the computer is always available and many colleagues are working at all hours (whenever they can fit it in), which leads to feeling always ‘on.’ Some days, I’m definitely putting in more hours than I would in the office. I (and you!) should stop this habit!

      1. @KGC – It is frustrating to start early but not be able to end early. Of course, with all the kid/homeschooling stuff, it might be necessary to work hours that stretch longer through the day but aren’t so concentrated. I know this is what I’m doing. Yesterday I was doing work at 5:30 a.m. and at 6:30 p.m., but I had various other things in the middle – I suspect it was an 8 hour day at max.

  7. I had great plans to do this since at earlier phases of life my 5-7am work shift was the most productive. However, I spent the first 4 or so weeks of quarantine awake from around midnight to 2am. Sometimes more. My husband and I had to start trading off nights to take a sleeping pill because there was no shutting the brain down after having a full house every day. Not my favorite or my most productive mornings.

    1. @Calee- yes, waking up early does require getting enough sleep. I aim to work early most days but if it’s been a bad night with the baby I just don’t force it. I will live to fight again another day. (Hope the move went well!)

  8. Nopety nope nope nope. My clinical day starts at 6:30 so I have to be out of the house by 6. Now way in hell I’m getting up at 3. Lol.

    1. @OMDG – yep, that does sound pretty appealing. I think the only way it would work is if it were possible to go to bed at 8 p.m. No one in my house (and I include the baby and 5-year-old in this) is asleep at that time.

  9. I have always believed in this idea. Since the lockdown, and with a small baby at home and full time job it has been my secret wespon to get some deep work done or sport. Although i am awake most times by 5 or 5.30 am, i have observed that i lose quite some time until i am at my desk/sports matt. Sometimes it is the baby needing to be breastfed, but others is mindless mobile web surfing from the bed or judt putting a laundry and tidying up. Suddanly is 7oclock and i havent started. Any ideas how to become fasrter ready from bed to the productive activity to use all minutes of this golden time?

    1. I write down what I want to get done the night before so it is clear in my mind. Also, lay out your workout cloths so they are right there in the morning. And use a regular alarm clock and don’t touch your phone until the workout is done. Or if you need to use it for something, block the apps that are time wasters from 5am to 7am.

  10. I have loved the early morning hours for years. However, during this pandemic time I have actually shifted from doing work then as I oftentimes normally would to taking my “personal” time then- exercising, blogging and just having some alone time. I find this is even harder for me to carve out once the kids are up than work time, oddly. The kids are always just…”around”. I know you understand. 🙂 Whatever the use, I LOVE the early mornings. I slept in the other day and felt sad that I missed my golden window. 🙂

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