How I finally learned to wake up early after 30 years of slow starts

Failure to Launch

I was convinced for years that you were either genetically an early riser or not. I guess that was a convenient way of justifying rolling over in bed and hitting the snooze button for the 4th 9min period that morning. I’d read so much about the benefits of rising early but until this year all attempts I’ve made never lasted more than a few days.

The Straw that Broke the Camels Back

This year however things changed. Having thrown myself full time into our Startup Reverbeo, the meaning of the phrase “not enough hours in the day” really hit me. We won a place on the NDRC Launchpad Accelerator Programme which was run over an intensive 3 month period. I woke typically at 8am or after, rushed breakfast and made my way to the office. I typically worked up until 8 or 9 in the evening and fell back in the door to my girlfriend fit for nothing but a snooze on the couch and straight to bed. The gym and my social life went out the window and after a month everything was out of balance. I was stressed and not getting enough quality time with Denise. Despite having convinced myself that I was not a genetically predisposed early riser, things had to change and I was willing to give it another try.

Early Riser Rule no 1: Get to a sink

Humans are creatures of habit. Just like a rocket getting into space the hardest part of changing direction and getting out of bed lasts only about 15 seconds and from then on it gets easier by the second.

Convince yourself that you are just getting up to go to the bathroom. When you get there open the window splash some water on your face and brush your teeth. If I get that far I’ve won. I am in the outer atmosphere and the direction change has been made.

Early Riser Rule no 2: Make your early morning routine something to look forward to

If you have set out your clothes or have a nice breakfast to look forward to it shifts morning time from being a painful haze to something to look forward to. This is the biggest part of how I have managed to sustain my 6am starts. Mornings are becoming my favourite part of the day. I have my running gear laid out and head straight out the door. The morning is fresh silent and something feels so good about being ahead of yourself. On the days I don’t run or swim I still go for a walk and sit on a bench in the local park taking the world in at my own pace and clearing my head for the day.

Early Riser Rule no 3: It takes time to adjust, stick with it for two weeks

This is one of the key reasons I failed in the past. Anyone can get up early for a few days in a row but sustaining it is the key. When I tried waking early it was always in fits and starts and only for a few days at a time. The result, I felt out of balance tired, cranky and ultimately decided that I was not meant to greet the sun. Maybe I was meant to be one of those midnight oil creatives. Nonsense, stick with it! at first you are going to feel wiped in the evenings and your second and third mornings are going to be hard starts. If you can get yourself through 7 days you have made it through the worst and your biological clock will adjust. Within two weeks I found myself naturally waking refreshed before my 6am alarm.

Early Riser Rule no 4: Get the right amount of sleep, waking will become natural

In a recent study it was found that the optimal amount of sleep per night falls in between 8 and 6 hours a night. The study found that deviating in either direction (more than 8 or less than 6) reduced life expectancy. So now you have no excuse! Sleeping for more than 8 hours is apparently bad for you with the optimal period being between 6.5 and 7 hours a night. I tracked my mood and energy levels for a few weeks as I tapered back my sleep allowance and found that my optimal zone is 7 hours a night depending on how hard I’m exercising (And of course partying!).

Once you have figured out what your sleep number is stick to a bedtime rule and leave the phone outside or at least in flight mode. Your body craves routine the more you stick to it the more energy you will get back. Of course it’s important not to become a monk altogether. Leave room for spontaneity and late nights but it’s probably best to stick with the schedule for a month to get it embedded before you break it.

Early Riser Rule no 4: 20 hour sprints are counter productive

Designers talk a lot about flow. We all have it no matter what we do. The day when everything aligns, the energy is good and everything just falls into place. These periods are awesome and are to be utilised, celebrated but not abused.

A macho 20 hours sprint can leave you exhilarated and with a load of work under your belt. But think of the fallout. Those kind of days are not sustainable. The next day you are tired your schedule is out of wack and it can take another day or two to fully recover. You might have gotten 2 days work done in one, but in the long run you lose a lot more productivity than you think.

Personal Benefits after 6 months of Early Mornings

  • I finish work at 7 and still manage a productive 11 hour work day
  • I get time to hang out with my friends and family and do the other stuff outside of startup land that I’m passionate about
  • My fitness has gone through the roof, I’m running, swimming or cycling 5 days a week
  • My diet has hugely improved due to having time in the morning to organise my meals and have a good breakfast
  • Mentally I’m much calmer and more present in everyday life, I’ve broken the cycle of catching up with myself and now have the time to ease into and appreciate every day. I’ve been guilty of waiting for the future to enjoy life (When this happens I’ll relax syndrome) now I’ve become much more journey centric.
  • The business is doing better then every before as the hour before everyone arrives in the morning has allowed me the time I need to be more of a strategic leader than a firefighter.

Closing Thoughts

It’s a simple thing, rising early. I think however that of all the things I’ve changed in my life over the past few years this has had the greatest effect. I’d like to think I’ll go on building businesses for years to come and I’m in general always really stoked about life and trying to fit as much possible into my days. Waking early has given me the extra time I need and the balance to manage it all together. I’m having my cake and eating it.

Don’t do it alone

I’m a big fan of the buddy system find someone else that you know who wants to try this and call each other every morning for 2 weeks at 6am. Don’t have anyone in mind mail me your phone number and I’ll call you!

Share your methods for getting out of bed, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

  • BarryDooney

    Good blog. Well done on the success to date….Gaillimh abu!

    • Robert O’Shaughnessy

      Cheers Barry glad you liked it. like your article on Why Startups Fail. Stay in touch!

  • Robert O’Shaughnessy

    Thanks Barry. Like your blog particularly the post on why startups fail. Are you working on one yourself?