One of the hardest things I have ever done (or will do) in my career is change what time I worked. To be specific, I made it my goal to start work every morning by 7am on the dot.
Today I do it without issue and am often able to exercise, eat breakfast and shower before I even get that far. But it took time. To put things in perspective, when I started freelancing in 2006 I woke up between 10am and 11am every day. That was early for me.
With time, I realized that starting so late basically meant finishing work around midnight and it became very discouraging, especially when I was working 7 days a week and leaving the house whenever I wanted to. I had no schedule at all, so it was very frustrating.

What Changed?

The first thing that changed was that I started dating my wife. She worked at 4-5am every day and was awake by 3:30am. Subsequently, she was completely konked out every night by 9pm. If I worked late we spent zero time together.
So I started working a bit earlier, getting up around 9am and working straight through until 3 or 4 so we could spend the evening together.
Eventually we got married and had a child. Now I needed to be even more efficient. Not only did I want to spend some time with Jack every day before he went to bed at 7pm, but I wanted to be sure there was time in the day for something other than just working.
But it took a LOT of time and a lot of willpower to make it happen.

How I Made the Change

The change was not easy to make, but once I realized a few simple things about how willpower actually works it got easier.
One of the coolest things I learned is that willpower is more or less a mental muscle. You can use it all you want but it will eventually get tired. The more you use it, the harder it is to use, until eventually you don’t have the energy to try.
If you use up your willpower on things like getting out of bed or going to the gym, then it’s a lot harder to get your work done efficiently. So I needed to create habits that would help me streamline those early things that I wanted to do every day and make it easier to get work done during the day.
It started with getting out of my own way. I stopped habits that were causing me problems like:

  • Staying up late
  • Eating before bed
  • Drinking during the week
  • Eating refined sugar
  • Drinking juice, coffee, or tea after 1pm

Then I started looking for ways to make those early hours more fun so I’d actually want to get out of bed. I tried a LOT of things, from fitness apps on my phone to a gym membership and even rewarding myself for multiple days in a row of getting up early.
In the end, the one thing that worked well for me was audiobooks on my phone (and podcasts). Every morning I try to listen to 30-60 minutes of an audio book or podcast while exercising or stretching.
I so look forward to that that I get upset when I don’t have time for it if I stay up late and can’t roll out of bed before 6am.

Building on Habits

Habits don’t form overnight. The first few times you do something, it’s going to be hard, no matter how easy you try to make it. But by focusing on what I know works and feeding myself those little rewards bit by bit over time, I have started to generate a longer lasting habit that maintains itself.
I can’t imagine sleeping past 7am now, even on a Saturday. It just feels strange, no matter how late I go to bed. I get antsy and uncomfortable if I don’t exercise in the morning. Something is just missing from my day.
While this may not work exactly the same for you, it certainly does the trick for me. I’d love to hear your tricks for getting up and right to work in the morning (or afternoon – whenever you work). Sound off in the comments below.