“Get Up Early” is a scam. Do this instead.

Alarm Clock

One of the currently popular so-called productivity hacks is to get up an hour or two earlier to get your best work done first thing.

It’s a scam. In fact, it’s the exact same scam as Daylight Saving Time. While it might feel like you’ve created this new magical time that was just waiting there for you to take advantage of with its additional productivity, it comes with a cost that no one talk about. Either you must actually sleep an hour or two less, or you need to compensate by going to bed an hour or two earlier.

You’ve not created anything new, you’ve just shuffled the deck chairs into a new arrangement. You — like each and every one of us — still have the exact same 24 hours allotted to us each day. No more, no less. You’re just changing which ones you elect to use.

Now, I’m not saying that getting up before the days’ distractions begin can’t be helpful. Certainly you can be more productive if your kids aren’t up yet, the spouse is still sleeping, the world is quiet, and things like phone calls and other interruptions are highly unlikely. Of course that makes it easier to focus.

But there are other ways to solve those problems that don’t involve short-changing yourself when it comes to sleep. In the worst case you could be exchanging one kind of productivity drain (interruptions) with another (lack of sleep).

One of the reasons that this frustrates me is that I hear it over and over again, though it makes absolutely no sense. It’s presented as a wonderful, no-cost, solution. And it’s often presented with the expectation that if you’re trying to be an entrepreneur at all, well then it’s something you simply must do. If you’re not doing it, the implication is that you’re not serious about your entrepreneurship.

I’m here to tell you that it’s absolute bull.

Just like daylight saving time, it’s one of many solutions to a specific problem. And just like daylight saving time it’s decreed by the powers that be (governments for DST, entrepreneurial gurus for the get-up-early mantra) as “the” solution to life’s problems.

And just like daylight saving time, it’s an unnecessary mandate.

To begin with, it doesn’t work for everyone. And further, there are other, possibly more practical, solutions to the problem that it purports to “solve”.

Let me be clear: if you get up early and experience your own personal golden hour (or two) of productivity, and you can compensate in some healthy way by getting the sleep that you need at other times, then fantastic! Just because it doesn’t work for all, and just because it’s an unnecessary mandate, doesn’t mean it won’t work for some. It could well work for many. If that’s you, soldier on my entrepreneurial colleague. You’ve found something that works. For you.

For the rest of us — yes, this includes myself — if getting up earlier or before others is not a practical or functional approach, you needn’t feel like you’re failing “Entrepreneur 101”. In fact, like an entrepreneur it’s time to a) define the problem you’re attempting to solve, and then b) investigate solutions that will work for you.

The problem is as old as entrepreneurship: productivity. The fact is there are times when you are more productive than others. It may also be instructive to look at it the other way: there are times when you are less productive than others. The first thing to do is identify the characteristics of each. Then structure some time during which more of the more productive things happen, and fewer of the less productive things.

Ultimately getting up early does this by removing distractions. Seriously, that’s all it does. Everything from a busy mind to email interruptions happen at a lower frequency the hour or two after you first get up.

So? Replicate that some other way at some other time of day.

I’ll use myself as an example. Three simple steps, as it turns out:

  1. Close the door. I’ve made it “OK” to close the door to my office. My wife knows that this is me attempting to focus on something, and if at all possible I should be left alone. (Even when we have guests, as we do today.)
  2. Wear headphones. Sometimes noise-cancelling, sometimes not. Generally I’m listening to some kind of what I’ll refer to as “low drama” ambient music, or perhaps the “focus” binaural program from brain.fm. (This morning it’s brain.fm.)
  3. Single-task. Option-Command-H on my Mac minimizes all windows other than the current window. If that doesn’t work I’ll minimize or close all those others myself, manually. I’ll have one window, one task, open and I’ll focus on that. Period. Right now that’s the single, sparse, window into which I’m typing these words.

There’s actually a step zero: meditate. It’s not required, but it makes the entire process more effective when I make sure it happens. Ten minutes is all it takes.

It really can be that simple. I can do that at any time during the day. There’s no requirement that it be first thing. (Though, indeed, I am personally more productive earlier in the day, so this will generally happen after the dogs are dealt with and coffee has been made. Breakfast is optional.)

Every year — well, twice a year actually — we hear calls to abolish Daylight Saving Time. I’m all for it, but I’ve little hope that it’ll happen any time soon. The “get up early” advice, however, which I continue to hear from so many sources, is something that’s completely under your control — it’s nothing more than a personal choice.

Choose to use it. Or, like me, choose to devise alternatives that solve the same problem in a way that’s more compatible with how you live your life.

You’re a fine entrepreneur no matter which path you choose.

3 thoughts on ““Get Up Early” is a scam. Do this instead.”

  1. Leo, such Blasphemy!
    I like the term low drama music. When I want higher energy zero drama, I listen to J-Pop. I have no idea what they are saying and my brain spends zero time processing them. Our brains react to every stimulation whether we are aware of it or not. J-Pop is happy and up beat for when you need a boost.

    Brain FM. One cannot even sample it unless I have a Facebook account.
    What is their business model? How do they pay salaries? Subliminal programing can be spooky stuff. The FCC has banned it for broadcast TV but the internet is wide open.

    I wonder how much life I am missing out by not having a Facebook Account?
    Like the 1984 Apple Superbowl commercial, the next big thing will be someone smashing the big Facebook theater screen with a theater filled with Facebook zombie clones.

    • You don’t need Facebook to use brain.fm. You can sign up with an email address and password if you like. (I did.) I believe they sell subscriptions, but I’m not sure — I got a lifetime deal some time ago.

      As for subliminal messaging … well, if you’re going to believe in that kind of thing nothing I say will change your mind. Certainly it can be intertwined with J-Pop (and other) youtube videos just as easily.

      Oh, and it’s K-Pop for me, but mostly because I have some Korean friends. 🙂

      • 🙂
        Our brains are quite amazing.
        After after playing some J-Pop backwards, I could hear the subliminal message to propagate it.
        Thank You for all the great posts and I wish your family a very Happy Thanksgiving.

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