Harry Smith

Getting Up on Time

If you're struggling to stick to habits and change bad routines, you need to get the first habit of the day right. You need to get up on time.

The Rut

It’s 7:53am. You roll out of bed bleary-eyed and wishing for another blissful minute under the covers. You’ve been snoozing the alarm since 6:30am. You felt much better before the snooze-fest. If you don’t leave the house at 7:59am and run between bus 70 and bus 128 you’ll never make it to work in time. Good thing this isn’t your first rodeo. It’s a few minutes after you rush out the door that you realise your toothbrush is still in your mouth.

Sound a little familiar? It does to me. For years I slept as long as I could. I waited till the very last moment to get up. In pursuit of a few extra minutes I left jobs half done, hair and teeth half brushed and beds half made. And when I got to work I was half ready and half asleep and all day only half performed.

Exhausted at the end of each day, I’d return home and collapse. I have plenty I wanted to do, and even more that I dreamed of doing but I never seemed to have the energy or the time. Though the house was a mess and the dishes needed doing I would ignore them. Walking with blind eyes past the laundry that had been drying since the last full moon. I’d beeline for bed and watch youtube videos until I fell into fitful sleep at 2:30am.

It’s a routine that will strike a chord with many. It is disorderly, it is chaotic and it is ineffective. Its gluttonous pleasures dull the anxiety it causes. It provides both the problem and the cure. Like every negative behaviour it is a self consuming cycle that only seems to get worse. It had trapped me. The more I understood how deep the rut was, the deeper I dug.

How do you get out of it?

It all starts with getting up on time.

Getting Up on Time

If we want to make important changes in our lives that work, we have to do them in the morning. Leaving them to the evening doesn’t work. You spend all your energy on other less important tasks. You give the whole world a chance to ruin your mood. Then we try to carve time out from the endless distractions and temptations of the evening.

Chances are that you are a morning person - even if you don’t think so. In self reporting studies, around 30% of the population report as a ‘night owl’. Though it appears that only 10-15% actually suit this chronotype. Your chronotype is the set of times that your body comes to a natural inclination to sleep. And for the vast majority, (with some variation) this is from 10pm to 6am. As a result most people perform at their best from 8am to 1pm.

Though many of us are a far cry from our ideal chronotype. We stay up late consuming endless ‘blue light media’ - social media, netflix, youtube, tik tok. And though we stay up late we sleep even less, because our jobs demand an early rise. The later we work the more we depend on expensive luxuries. Taxi’s, Takeaways, Treats. Sleep debt accumulates throughout the week. By the weekend we are in desperate need for a rest.

No wonder we struggle to do what is important to us.

Getting up on time is the first habit' because it is the habit that will enable all the others that we struggle with. It takes discipline and organisation to get up every day feeling alert and energised. It is the foundation for everything to come.

Establishing your Early Start

You’ve decided to get it together. You put your phone down by 9pm. You read that self-help book that has been collecting dust on the fireplace. Your alarm blares you aware at 4:30am and you drag yourself down stairs. You are feeling good today, motivation is high and you are raring to go. 16 pages in your journal, 25 minutes of meditation, 100 push-ups. You’ve cracked it.

It lasts a few days.

You gotta stop trying to doing too much, too fast, too soon.

Establishing new routines and habits is hard. Unless you respect the difficulty you will keep failing. The only way to do hard things is to do them one at a time. Getting up early is going to give you the extra time and energy to do a great deal. But if you try to establish all these new habits now you set yourself an impossible trial.

After the first few days of getting up earlier your body is going to start to rebel. It will rebel against the long standing routine. It will take a few weeks or even months to adjust. Until it does, it’s going to suck. Let’s not add anything else to the challenge. Get up early, and keeping getting up early till it gets easy. When you’ve mastered that, it’s time to move on.

If habits are very hard to establish then we have to make them easy. And to make them easy we make them short.

It feels silly to meditate for a minute or write a single sentence in a journal. But these tiny steps never fail. By making the barrier to entry as low as possible you become consistent. Every day you show up. Every day you write your single sentence and meditate for your single minute. It will surprise you how many times you fail because you forget. But with consistent success comes a consistent habit. Once the habit establishes it will grow with your ability.

That includes the time you wake up. Bolting awake at 4:30am when you’ve been waking up at 8:00am for the last ten years is too great a leap. Start with half an hour - giving you enough time to do your tiny habits. Then move to an hour, and extend the size of your habits. As your morning activity grows so will your ability to get up earlier. The more you have to do the more you will be motivate to get up on time.

And remember, the goal is to get up on time. Not to get up early. It means:

  • Feeling alert, refreshed and prepared for the day
  • Enough time to do your essential personal work
  • Getting ready for the day without rushing

This doesn’t mean you have to get up at 4:00am. It means you have to work on getting up anywhere between one and two hours before you need to leave. It’s the time you should have been getting up anyway - you’ve been getting up late too long.

Good Sleep and Good Habits

If you finish at 11:00pm and start at 6:00am every day then you can’t start getting up even earlier. If you slept from when you finished work to the moment you started you would be right on the edge of enough rest. I know people who work this sort of schedule. The majority of the time it is self imposed - extra hours for extra money to pay for extra expenses. This is no good. Your massive sleep debt never stops accumulating. You are at high risk of depression, obesity and heart disease. You can always sleep when you’re dead - which is coming a lot sooner if you aren’t sleeping at all.

Working this much because you need the money should always be a temporary situation. I’m not talking from a lack of experience - I’ve been there. But know that the longer you spend doing it the worse you will perform. Cut back spending, budget your expenses and reduce your hours back to sane levels. You and your life deserves more.

You are starting to see how getting up on time is the root habit. If you can get up on time well rested, you really have cracked it.

To get up on time we have to get all our ducks in line. If we don’t go to bed early because we are working too much then our sleep suffers. If we binge watch netflix till the witching hours we won’t pop out of bed at 6:00am. If we don’t have a good rest we won’t feel like getting up or doing much of anything. If our diets are poor we will have poor sleep. If we party away the weekend we double our problems. No sleep, no money and a whole lot of hours working away the debt.

“I will get up one hour earlier than I need too” is a decision that makes another hundred decisions for you. Will I watch another episode of this series? No. Will I drink until 3am with friends? Not today. Do I eat this extra large pizza before bed? Never gonna work. Should I scroll through my exes instagram for the third time?

No. No. No.

A whole lot of no’s so that when you ask the question “Should I work on today?” you have the strength to say “Yes!”

Committing to getting up an hour earlier than you need to is a bold statement to the world and your former self. It says I have the organisation, the discipline and the focus to get off the endless dopamine treadmill of immediate desire and make the right decision for tomorrow. You want something, so you are going to make it happen. That all good things come with some voluntary hardships and you choose this one with purpose.

A Perfect Morning Every Day

Not all jobs are fulfilling, exciting or important to all or people. Even if you are lucky enough to have a career that is, you will still have essential work that is important to you. Having got up early and done this essential work, you can go to work knowing that you made progress on what matters. This gives each day meaning, even if the way you make money gives you none.

When you arrive at work you will be like an olympic sprinter competing at a primary school sports day. Warmed up, alert, energised and ready to work. While many are still grumbling around the Nespresso machine you are outperforming them. You’ll make less mistakes, you’ll be nicer to be around and you’ll get more done.

There is a reason why people like Bob Iger (4:30am) and Tim Cook (3:45am) get up very early. Guaranteed Solitude. Masters of their craft can only do their best work with silent, intense focus. Unfortunately the master craftsman also is in high demand. Once the working world wakes there are emails to answer, meetings to attend and lunches to attend. There is no guarantee of an evening as others demands on your time hold you at work. If you want to work out, spend time with your family and do deep thinking - you’ll need to be up before everyone else gets up.

You (probably) aren’t a CEO, and don’t need to get up quite so early. But imagine what you would do if you had one uninterrupted hour. An hour of silent retreat before the rest of the family rises. Before the inbox begins its endless treadmill. Would you read? Would you draw? Would you create that business you’ve been dreaming of? Write that article you’ve been thinking of?

I think you would.

And that’s worth getting out of bed for.

Harry - 6:09am

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