The magical 5 a.m., key to successful fight with a screaming TODO list.

The magical 5 a.m., key to successful fight with a screaming TODO list.


Recently, I stumbled upon an article that praised the merits of waking up early as the way of the “successful” people. It suggested that the best time to wake up is 5 a.m. I don’t know why I read it, I usually avoid the “habits of successful people” articles. Strangely I read it and thought there is something to it. At the time I had a huge todo list, no strength and motivation to do it in the evening and a guilty conscience from not doing it. Basically I had nothing to lose and it inspired me.

My life so far

I work at Montrose Software on a flexible time schedule for as long as I can remember and waking up early was never my thing. I was never in hurry in the morning since there was never a need to be anywhere. I would go to sleep 12 – 1 a.m. on average and wake up around 9 a.m. I remember staying up late like this even back when I was in high school. I just figured I was a late night kinda person. It had one drawback I would rarely do anything productive in the evening. I was usually quite tired already and in the mood for some entertainment not more work. It was hard to focus on self improvement or any personal projects. Whenever I forced myself to do it, it would be chaotic and constantly interrupted by watching Youtube clips or checking facebook. I remember the feeling of working tired and getting annoyed with a side project that was supposed to be a fun thing to do. I usually abandoned most of my “great” ideas angry and feeling beat by my old weathered body that wanted silly entertainment.

The fresh and exciting change

The article inspired me especially since I had been falling behind on my todo list. There were new interesting side projects to do, things to learn and articles to write. I thought I should give it a try. I was not so much convinced by the successful people in the article, but my own struggle to get things done in the evening. I noticed some time ago that I have much more energy in the morning and I want to do things. I always beat myself up after waking up (9 – 10 a.m.) that I spent another evening playing Rocket League instead of learning Haskell. Let’s change it. I did my homework reading up on the science of sleep and waking up. It turns out that minimum sleep time at my age (super young) is 7h a day. So I should be asleep at 10 p.m. which means I should probably go to bed around 9:30 p.m. (Engineer’s approach to life).

The early days

Ok let’s do it. I prepared my family for the shocking change. My wife thought it was another of my “great” ideas that I will never do. My son (4 years old) didn’t think much about it, his concept of time and hours is not there yet. Most importantly I prepared myself for it. I was excited as If I was starting a fresh new project, you know that project, the one where finally all the code will be clean with no hacks, like it is in tutorials and books.

I’m rested, working, killing my todo list – it’s all what I imaged it to be…

The time was upon me I set my alarm clock, finished watching the Wizards destroying some poor team and 9:30 p.m. marched off to bed. The struggle began. I always thought I can go to sleep anytime, but it seems going to bed at 10 p.m. is hard and unnatural to me. With all the excitement of waking up early the next day and the knowledge of how much more I will achieve in the morning. I just couldn’t sleep. The more I struggled the angrier I got that my perfectly engineered sleep cycle is ruined and I won’t get enough sleep which will leave me tired. The angrier I got, the more awake I was and the cycle continued. I finally caved in and bliss of sleep took over, I don’t know what time, but 7h of sleep was ruined.

In the morning (I think it was morning since it was still dark) the alarm rang. I snooze couple of times as it should be, why wake up once when you can do it 5 times. Elbow from my wife lets me know it’s time to get up and be successful! First coffee of the day tastes amazing. I’m rested, working, killing my todo list – it’s all what I imaged it to be…. My son wakes up at 6 a.m. ruining it, he is trying to comprehend why I am awake. Nevermind, I make him breakfast, put cartoons on and back to work.

My Life now

I’ve been doing this for about a month now (I know, still short). If you’re reading this, it means it’s working. It is 6:07 a.m. and I’m writing this article. Feeling great, rested and motivated. I have few tips for you that might help you do the same.

So far the hardest thing for me is still going to sleep. I want more time in the evening for all the important entertainment, all the series to watch, games to play, pints to drink. Waking up at 5 a.m. is easy, going to bed 9:30 p.m. is the hard part.

You should, really, try one day, see how you feel

The trick for me is, I don’t wake up at 5 a.m. every day. Not that I don’t want to, but I can’t go to bed early enough on some days to get the 7h of sleep, life gets in the way. I figured the most important thing is to get the 7h of sleep. On some days I play squash or basketball in the evening, this is usually late and I get back home around midnight which ruins the plan. On some days there is a Champions League game to watch and sometimes I just need to go out for a couple.

Pros and Cons

I find myself doing a lot of extra work in the morning and what’s probably even more satisfying I’m feeling good doing it. In the morning, I’m much less inclined to watch Youtube or check Facebook every few minutes. I’m more focused and rested. There is another great side benefit I didn’t anticipate. The time I have in the evening is dedicated fully to entertainment and rest without the feeling of guilt. Once I come back from work I know that the rest of the day is for me and my family and it is a happy feeling. I get tired over the course of the day and in the evening there is this enormous craving for rest and easy entertainment. Now I can let myself fully enjoy that time with a warm feeling that I will address all the pressing matters at 5 a.m.

Main concern of some of my colleagues was you’ll burn yourself out working in the morning and will be less focused at work struggling towards the end of the day. It is not true. I find it does not affect the workday, it affects you in the evening. Working until 5 – 6 p.m. is fine, I’m not more or less tired than I was when waking up at 9 a.m.. Actually you feel more productive. You have a great feeling of achievement from the morning, your mind is at peace with your evening plans of doing absolutely nothing. Your todo list is short and happy leaving your brain clear to focus on your daily bread winning activities.

Try it!

You should, really, try one day, see how you feel, especially if you have a screaming todo list nagging you and a growing guilt when enjoying yourself in the evening. My main advice is: You don’t need to do it everyday, but do it every time you can.

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