Ask Not How To Get Up Early. Ask Why?
A common precept in much personal development literature is the idea that getting up earlier is intrinsically beneficial. This is such an established tenet that most everyone accepts it as Gospel and proceeds directly to the matter of how to accomplish this.
Now, the study of sleep is without doubt very interesting, with all manner of theories about how much you should be getting, how to handle sleep troubles, whether you should sleep on demand or according to a schedule and even some with cool names such as Polyphasic sleep (sleeping in multiple phases). But what has it done to deserve so much attention from the field of personal development?
I suspect there are several agents at work here. First there are the “everyone else bangs on about it, I guess I should too” merchants. These invariably have nothing interesting to add other than their own tuppence about what works for them (like that should obviously work for everyone else too).
Then you get Cart Before Horse Syndrome, a common affliction in this field with a wide variety of symptoms. In this case, it’s the observation that driven, successful people tend to get up early. So clearly that must be a factor in their success, yes?
No, no, no! This is like trying to learn golf by wearing check trousers and Pringle sweaters. Many of the top pros do indeed stroll around dressed like that, just as high achievers are often up and about early. But in either case we’re looking at an attribute that has manifested itself as a result of what they do, not the other way round.
The knees of downhill skiers are usually shot to pieces; ballet dancers frequently sport broken toes. The logic (if that’s the right word to use) of CBH Syndrome would advise any aspiring ballerina to take a sledgehammer to her feet.
The One (and only) Good Reason
The reason that high achievers get up early (and frequently also stay up late) is that they are by definition driven, motivated, determined people who absolutely love what they do and can’t stand to lie in bed when they could be out doing their thing. The early rising itself is totally incidental – they key to their success is their drive not their alarm clock.
On the subject of alarm clocks, don’t even get me started on that “how to get up early WITHOUT an alarm clock” drivel. If you must know, basically you just put it into your head what time you want to wake up. You will indeed wake up at the appointed time. Keep doing this (preferably always for the same time) for a few days and you can finally fling the wretched device into the bin. Its not mysterious, it’s not difficult and nothing more needs to be said on the subject.
Another reason so many self-help books and websites contain a section on rising earlier is simply because it’s an easy way to create a warm feeling of activity and accomplishment. You may still be twenty pounds overweight and sixpence none the richer, but at least you’re getting up earlier and have more time in the day, so something’s happening.
And this last point finally brings up the only valid reason to get up earlier. Namely that it can buy you an hour or so extra of typically quiet time. And that may indeed be most valuable – not the earliness of the hour per se, but the couple of hours to your self. Time when you can think and/or work without distractions and interruptions.
But you don’t need to get up early to gain this benefit. It’s simply convenient for many people since the early morning (i.e. well before most folk like to surface) tends to be a peaceful time of day. If your purpose is simply to acquire some extra time for yourself why limit your options to just one part of the day?
Not everyone functions best at the start of the day; for every person who gets up refreshed and ready to go there’s another who needs to build up a head of steam and doesn’t really start motoring until they’ve been awake awhile.
The Most Precious Thing In The World
If you’re looking to acquire more of what is arguably the most precious commodity you or any of us possess, time, then mindlessly subscribing to the dogma of the early start is not your optimal move. You would do better to actually analyze your own schedule and look for areas to optimize or eliminate.
Watch TV? I have nothing against an informed decision to view specific programmes or movies that catch your interest, but aimlessly switching on the box as a means to pass the time away? More like piss the time away.
You do want to put more time in your life? Valuable, non-returnable time that’s in short enough supply already? Well then, get a grip. Get a PVR; be ruthless and set it up to only record material that you would really, really, really like to see. Now you have a filtered (and much reduced) stock of TV that you can accommodate in your schedule, not the other way round.
Set about examining other habits that chew away at your time just because you allowed them to settle in, unnoticed, like dust. Writing it all down may help here. Break things down; don’t simply itemize 9:15 to 5:45 as “work” but look for specific areas you could better control, condense, create time from. How long do you spend on breaks, what do you do with them? You get the idea.
An all too common trait in humans is allowing a task to occupy the allotted time. So try compressing the time allocation for a variety of activities in your regular daily schedule. Review their usefulness versus cost in terms of time or attention, then put them metaphorically in a box. Adopt a simple routine to get organized at home and stick to it – make it part of your life.
Live Longer – Add More Time To Your Life!
What you are doing here is carving out fragments of new time and turning them into manageable units – little boxes of time. The next step is to rearrange these boxes so as to maximize the available time, in much the same way you would physically stack real boxes in a room to release the most space.
It’s no use saying “I wish I could learn another language, or read the great works of literature, or plan my own business, but I don’t have the time”. No-one denies that reading, say, War and Peace is a serious undertaking; but when all’s said and done its only a book, same as any other (just longer). If you would only set aside even ten minutes each day to read a few pages, you would easily finish it long before you would otherwise still be making excuses.
All that extra time from the simple expedient of reducing waste and inefficiency in your daily routine. And all without getting up even one minute earlier. Though that is of course an additional measure you could take if you wanted to add even more brand new time to your life.
But how much that would work for you depends on your own personal sleep needs. If your health suffers on less than say six hours a day and you’re already going to bed at midnight and awaking at six then pushing the start of the day back to five is either going to make you ill or result in you crashing at eleven instead. Either way it buys you nothing.
Getting up early (if you don’t already) can help increase the time available to you, but it’s really only one among a variety of ways to squeeze more out of your precious time ration.
So can we stop droning on about it now? It’s enough to send anyone to sleep.