Why early to rise really can make you wealthy and wise

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

If you don’t mind a personal question, tell me: What time do you wake up? Are you early to rise, eager to get more done before 9 a.m. than most people do all day? Or do you prefer to ease into mornings, repeatedly whacking the snooze button as if you were chopping wood?

Personally speaking, I’ve done both — sometimes within the span of a few days. I bounded out of bed on a recent Saturday to complete a 4-mile jog by dawn’s early light. But far later in the morning on a Tuesday, I struggled to extract myself from where I was ensconced under the covers. I admonished myself to get my butt in gear, but couldn’t find the lever to engage any machinery.

It turns out the answer to my question is important not only for newspaper editors facing deadlines, but also entrepreneurs and executives running businesses. If you want something done right, you’re probably going to have to do it yourself — and get up early in the process.

At least that’s the advice of time management expert Laura Vanderkam, who literally wrote the book on the subject titled “What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast.”

Accomplished entrepreneurs and executives wake up in the wee hours, Vanderkam writes, to not only take on important work projects and clean out digital inboxes stuffed with emails, but also handle such tasks as exercising and catching up on news. In addition, they might work on personal projects, meditate to clear their minds or connect with spouses and children.

That’s not to mention what Admiral William H. McRaven recommends. If you want to change the world, the former Navy SEAL suggests, start by making your bed.

Vanderkam cites the results of research conducted by Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist who found that willpower is like a muscle that becomes fatigued with use. In other words, you’re likely to have more willpower first thing in the morning to tackle challenging tasks than in the afternoon or evening, when you’re weary from making decisions, dealing with people and putting out all those proverbial fires.

It’s also about time, Vanderkam writes. Entrepreneurs in particular know how little time is available in a day and how quickly it’s consumed by phone calls, meetings and all those other little chores that might be individually insignificant, but collectively considerable. Starting on priority projects early in the morning means you’re less likely to run out of time before you run out of work.

I suspect I’m preaching to the choir. It’s difficult to argue with the commonsensical proverb: “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

If you’re by nature an early bird busy catching worms, you probably don’t need much additional motivation. But what if you’re a night owl? Then the proposition becomes more problematic.

Fortunately, Vanderkam and others not only believe it’s possible to evolve into a morning person, but recommend some steps to undertake the process.

Start slowly. Set the alarm for 10 minutes earlier the first week, 15 minutes earlier the second week and so you until you reach your goal. At the same time, make an effort to go to bed a little earlier each night.

By the way, eating snacks, imbibing with a nightcap or surfing the web right before you go to bed can prevent a good night’s sleep. So don’t. Instead, crawl under the covers with a good book.

Keep a journal of what’s keeping you preoccupied at night. Many night owls realize in retrospect they’re not doing anything especially productive or even that enjoyable. Likewise plan what you’ll do with your extra time in the morning so getting up earlier becomes a reward rather than punishment. Will you enjoy some uninterrupted quiet time at your desk? How about a more leisurely and less-stressful routine instead of rushing around to get to work on time?

If nothing else, establishing a routine can help you get up and do what needs to be done, even when you don’t feel like it. American artist Chuck Close put it this way: “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”

I’ll admit it: I don’t always wake up as early as I’d like. That’s puzzling because when I do get up early to take on some effort, I’m more energized, more  motivated and ultimately more productive. I’m more confident in myself and my ability to solve problems. It’s a feeling I should bring to mind the next time I’m tempted to hit the snooze button. Again.

So tell me: What time do you wake up?