How To Wake Up Early

I get up every day at 5:30a. When I mention this most people inevitably say “I could never do that.” Some claim they’d love to do the same, that they’ve tried and failed. Well—I’m here to help.

How It Works

It’s common knowledge that a healthy night’s sleep is around 8 hours long.¹ People use this simple rule when they attempt to wake up earlier. For example, if you want to start getting up at 5:30a, just go to bed tonight at 9:30p, right? Well, yeah—that’s exactly it. But that’s now how it plays out.

Everyone focuses on the time they need to go to sleep. The trick is to focus on the time you wake up.

Failure occurs in the transition between sleep schedules. If you wake up at, say, 8:00a then you’re likely not going to be tired until close to midnight, which would give you a solid eight hours of sleep. When you switch things up and try to go to bed at 9:30p it’s no wonder you have a hard time falling asleep. Then you start to stress out about not getting enough sleep, which makes it even harder to calm your thoughts and drift away. You see where I’m going with this.

Everyone focuses on the time they need to go to sleep. The trick is to focus on the time you wake up. I know it sounds simple, obvious even. But therein lies the magic.

The Process

I’m going to help you get up whenever you want. The following is a simple process for changing your sleep schedule. 

  1. Accept that you’re going to have a couple of tired days.²

  2. Get up at the time you want to transition to.³

  3. Go to sleep whenever your body tells you it’s tired.⁴

  4. Rinse and repeat steps 2 and 3. Effects solidify in 1-3 days.

Over 1-3 days your body will learn to get tired at the appropriate time to account for waking up at whatever time you choose. 

Try it, then shoot me a tweet and let me know how it’s going.

😴 

 


1. Varies from person to person. You should know how long you need to sleep. My perfect night’s sleep lasts roughly 7h 45m.

2. This is key. The vast majority of people give up when they can’t fall asleep at the corresponding time to get up early eight hours later.

3. Remember—you will be tired, because you got less than eight hours the night before. I can’t emphasize this enough.

4. On the first day it will vary from person to person.

Write ‘Now’, Right Now

Why do we put off to later what we can do now?  For some reason most of us can’t resist. It’s a problem so common that we even gave it a name, procrastination.  Back in college I had a realization that turned my room into a sideshow—but it also helped me get things done.

The Power of Now

I don’t run around preaching the good word of every self-help book I read. Not that they’re bad, it’s just that few are excellent.¹ One of the few excellent ones that I’ve read is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. He was a big deal after writing this around 2008. The thesis of the book is about helping the reader be more present. Hence, ‘now.’

It took me a day and a half to read it. I couldn’t put the book down. The ideas within captivated me, right from the first story about how he had an epiphany that changed his life. 

Afterwards I was hooked on a newfound appreciation for the present moment. My thoughts were tugging me away from it all day, and I was constantly having to remind myself to let them go. Unfortunately I was having a hell of a time trying to make it happen. One day my desire to be present clashed harder than ever with my inability to do so. 

To The Next Level

Back then I lived in a small dorm room that was just big enough to fit a twin bed, a small desk, and a fridge. All three pieces of furniture were within a foot of one another—the whole room wasn’t much larger than a walk-in closet. There were art supplies tucked in every nook, which served me well on this fateful day.

I threw my hands up in frustration. Expletives poured forth and mingled with sounds that floated up into my sixth floor window from the corner of 23rd and Lexington. I slammed a large format sketchbook on my paint-stained desk. My hands tore through my art supplies for the boldest writing instrument I could find. Finally, I scored—a fat blue Sharpie.

I scribbled “NOW,” bright and wide, filling up a page. I tore it off and filled another page, and another, until I had a stack of blue NOW’s ready to go. Then I proceeded to Scotch tape them on every wall and surface so that, no matter which direction I was looking, I would see a NOW. That included the floor, ceiling, and yes, even the shower.

It was rudimentary. It was aggressive. But my method worked. Within a few days I was more present than ever before. I left those pages up all year, and the effect still lingers to this day.²

Your Turn

It’s your turn to try it out. You can read the book, but you don’t have to. And I don’t expect you to plaster your home or workplace with NOW’s, either. Try it on a small scale: Grab a sticky note, write our little magic word, and put it in a place you’ll see it.

 


1. Self-help books are great. They get a lot of flack, but in reality they’re written by others who have figured out something about life that most of us haven’t. I’m all over that shit.

2. Being present isn't a magic bullet, but it does improve life in a lot of ways. My personal relationships grew deeper, my design and drawing work developed profoundly—and I became happier overall.

Task List Momentum

How I love making checkmarks in little boxes. I’m a task list enthusiast, which is putting it lightly. I’ve tried every technique and app out there. At some point I’m going to dig into my task methodology, but for now, a tip.

Marc Champagne, the co-founder of Kyō¹, and I were having a pre-breakfast conversation last week about morning routines. We were discussing different strategies we use to get into a clear, positive mindset for the rest of the day.

At one point I mentioned my strategy for ordering my task list and Marc stopped me mid-sentence. He asked me to go back and describe in detail exactly what I meant. Marc had never hear of anyone doing this and, after thinking about it, I hadn’t either. So here it is.

Warm-Up Tasks

I keep two task lists, one for work and one for everything else.² On the Everything Else list I tend to wake up with about 6-10 items collected over previous days, and I usually add another 4-6 throughout the day.

Here’s the tip: Add warm-up tasks.

I put 1-3 simple tasks at the top of the list—the warm-up tasks—and I make sure to complete them before I get to work. They’re usually straightforward things like Take out the trash or Schedule haircut. By the time I get to Studio Fig I’ve completed ~15% of my list. It’s just enough to build momentum for the rest of the day.





1. I'm an avid supporter of journaling by hand as part of the meditative/self-reflective experience. If you're into using your phone and want to check an alternative to Day One, check out Kyō.

2. We currently use Basecamp for all high level project management and tasks at Baron Fig. I use a combination of paper lists (Baron Fig's Mastermind and Nomad, usually) and Things 3.