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The 1-Step Plan for Super-Productivity

Ready to super-charge your productivity? All you have to do is get up early. Here’s why you should, and how you can…

When I interview creatives, I often ask them what advice they would give to the next generation, the up-and-comers. Curiously, there’s one incredibly important habit that nearly all of them possess that is almost never mentioned. So what is the secret ingredient in their productivity regime? It’s simple: They get up early.

To take a (very) random sample of creative luminaries from the wonderful Daily Routines blog, Charles Darwin, Toni Morrison, Le Corbusier, Stefan Sagmeister, Benjamin Franklin, Emily Post, Gerhard Richter, and William Wegman all make (or made) a habit of getting up early.A recent study conducted by Christoph Randler, a biology professor at the University of Education at Heidelberg, backs up the theory that early risers tend to have a more proactive – and thus productive – mindset:

[Randler] surveyed 367 university students, asking them when they were most energetic and willing to change a situation. It was the morning people who were more likely to agree with statements such as “I feel in charge of making things happen” and “I spend time identifying long-range goals for myself.”

The data makes sense: If you’re getting up early, you probably already have a good idea of what you want to accomplish that day – otherwise it would be hard to motivate to get up in the first place. Being an early riser also indicates a natural affinity for ritual and discipline – both key traits of especially productive people.Here’s none other than Ernest Hemingway on the merits of getting up early:

When I am working on a book or story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write… You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and you know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.

Aside from lending some sex appeal to the early riser, Hemingway also makes an important point about the wonderful side effects of getting up early: You accomplish tons of meaningful work before most people even get started – allowing you to coast through the rest of your day with a sense of achievement and significantly less anxiety.

What if you’re not naturally an early riser? Or just hate the idea of it?

I’ve talked to loads of folks who insist that their most productive time is late at night – their creative energy naturally peaks when everyone else is asleep. And, to a certain degree, our ingrained biorhythms are a factor. Some of us are predisposed to late-night creation, while others naturally wake with the sun. Age is also a factor. (How many elderly people do you know that sleep in?)

That said, if you’re reading this article, you’re probably: 1) working as a creative professional, which means you are in the business of being creative, and 2) looking to get an edge. As Randler argues in the Harvard Business Review post on his research: “Though evening people do have some advantages… they’re out of sync with the typical corporate schedule. When it comes to business success, morning people hold the important cards.”

Like it or not, most of the world works on a 9-to-5 schedule, which naturally provides the early riser with a certain advantage. In a great piece Cal Newport wrote on the habits of successful professional writers, he notes that they all get up early, adding: “Several [writers] did mention that they might also be efficient working very late at night (and sleeping through the day), but that this seems incompatible with being a productive member of society.”

Certainly you can be a productive night owl, but when it comes to the business details we all have to attend to – the emails, the scheduling, the negotiations – there are definitely benefits to being on a daytime schedule.

In a recent conversation with energy management guru Tony Schwartz, he argued that less than 10% of the general population possess the unchangeable biorhythms of the die-hard night owl. In short, most of us can re-train ourselves to become early risers if we’re motivated.

So how can you become an early riser?

Getting up early is like most any habit that makes you a more productive creative: It’s hard at first. Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Set an exact time to get out of bed. If you normally get up at 11am, it’s unrealistic to start abruptly getting up at 6am. Think about what time you’d like to be getting up in the morning, and work up to it. Try to wake up 30 minutes earlier every week, until you get to the desired time.

2. Move up your bedtime in sync with the time you plan to get up. Seven to eight hours of sleep is the recommended dosage for maximal productivity (with a few super-human exceptions). So if you’re getting up at 6am, you’ll want to go to bed by 11pm at the latest. If you try to go to bed at midnight and get up at 5am, you’re eventually going to run into some problems.

3. Get out of bed immediately. The moment that you start procrastinating – read: hit the snooze button – it’s very easy to convince yourself of a multiplicity of reasons why you wouldn’t want to get out of bed yet. Don’t even allow those thoughts to kick in – just get up!

4. Expose yourself to sunlight. Sunlight is key to adapting your circadian rhythms. If you’re having trouble getting up, don’t close your blinds all the way, so you have some natural light as your wake-up call. Once you’re up, a short walk (or run) outside helps reinforce the message with your body.

5. Develop a routine for your morning. Whether it’s taking in the sunrise, brewing a cup of tea and reading the paper, or walking to the café down the street for a cup of joe, you’re more likely to continue to get up early if you develop a brief routine that is, in itself, a reward.

6. Stick with it. Know going in that it’s going to take some time to adapt to waking up early – probably about 30 days. Don’t expect to feel bright-eyed and bushy-tailed from Day 1. But if you stick with it, getting up early is likely to become one of your favorite rituals.


It’s a lot better to sail into your business day feeling like you’ve already crossed a finish line, than to put off your vital creative work until after you’ve devoted your best energy to other people’s demands. As designer and early riser James Victore said in a recent 99U interview, “I get more work done by 9am than most people do in a full day.”

What Your Experience?

When is your most productive time during the day?

Have you tried getting up early – did it work for you?

More Posts by Jocelyn K. Glei

A writer and the founding editor of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei is obsessed with how to make great creative work in the Age of Distraction. Her latest book is Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distraction, and Get Real Work Done. Her previous works include the 99U’s own bestselling book series: Manage Your Day-to-Day, Maximize Your Potential, and Make Your Mark. Follow her @jkglei.

Comments (163)
  • Wall01 Com

    One day I will build a swimming pool below my bedroom, and my bed will be on a hydraulic system which will spring me into the pool each morning, this is the only way I will be able to wake up early!

  • Rui Gouveia

    I most definitely agree! This is a proven fact since my high school times.

  • Dan Peck

    Great ideas! how about trying DigitalSilence Lite –  http://digitalsilence.wordpres
    3 hours without technology – helping you becoming super productive!

  • Liliputput

    While I agree that it is wonderful to get up early and get everything done I myself never got used to it.

    I have extremely low blood pressure in the mornings and no “habit” will ever change this (believe me, I tried for MANY years while still in school), but I found a way to make my getting up much easier and maybe it will help someone with the same problem as well: so here’s my morning routine
    – I get up half an hour sooner, that gives me enough time to actually get my system going (otherwise it just takes too long,)
    – coffee is priceless
    – workout after a nutritious breakfast is the best possible way to start the day if you have low blood pressure. If it’s not possible, some housework will do the trick as well (or something else that will not require too much brain activity and is relaxing enough)

    Also, people are different and while 8 hours is enough for some it’s not for others. I learned I need at least 9 hours to be fully productive, for example and so I try to follow that, eventhough statistics say otherwise.

    Hope this is helpfull.

  • Billandbill

    I’m a former U.S. Marine, and I’ve convinced myself that I should continue to make reveille with the Corps. It was 0530 during my enlistment (1959-63). Having coffee at the ready also helps. With that first cup in hand it’s a short walk to my writing desk

  • Nomad

    I got a job in my final year of university and I found that I could not study in the evenings and I was really struggling to keep up. Then I came across an article about bio rhythms and it dawned (pardon the pun) on me that I was naturally a morning person. So I changed my study plan to in order to study in the mornings before work, and it really worked. There were some crazy early starts when I had a lot of work to cover but it got me through. I still wake up at 5 most mornings to exercise and I love that time to think without any distractions of kids, phones and to do lists.

  • Zach

    I find myself most productive late at night when there are no distractions, but only if I’m choosing to be up. If I’m forcing myself to stay up to meet a dead line or something of that sorts, I don’t get anything done and usually find sleeping for a few hours to be the boost I need. 

  • Meghan

    Being a morning or a night person is influenced by circadian rhythms, determined by genetics. However, a social stigma is often attached to being a night owl.

    This article has many great tips and insights. Night people are often stigmatized as lazy, and I know I have felt guilt and shame since I was a child as I have struggled to rise as early as my peers. I’ve now come to realize that we are all on a spectrum, and for me I need to find MY way of being productive, and most importantly accept myself. I hope all readers will accept themselves and their night-owl peers and not perpetuate stigmatizing those that are prone to a different circadian rhythm.

    Read more at Suite101: It’s Okay to Sleep Late: Social Jet Lag and the Stigma of Being a Night Owl |

  • Reagan Pugh

    Early is the only way. Up by 5:00am and writing on fuels the rest of the day’s activities.

  • Srinin

    There are morning persons and night owls. Idk the stats but this early morning thing works for more ppl I guess.

  • wieserd

    partly agree. Some people need to wake up early and make something productive. I also believe, that you have to sleep (or take naps) again during the day, and be up till 3 or 4 am.

    It’s not about the hours you spend, but how you spent your hours.

  • John

    in that time, I could have contacted many customers via email.

  • Charlotte

    I’m not a professional, but I am a student and have always been a night-owl (so much so that I only take afternoon and evening classes, because anything earlier than noon is truly impossible, no matter how much sleep or caffeine is entered into the equation). I’ve stopped drinking entirely, quit cigarettes, changed my diet (even tried to re-set my sleep schedule by re-setting my eating schedule–no luck), etc., and still the same peak hours are there: I work from 3am onward. It has been that way ever since I was 12.

    I would wait until my parents had gone to sleep, then create (draw, paint, write, photograph) all night…not sure when I slept; guess I just went without…for now, taking on the responsibilities of singing in a band, it works out for a night-owl, but how long will that last? Probably not past college.

    Is this the real reason “late-night creatives” often end up committing suicide? Lack of steady employment / employment in the creative fields? Maybe I should just move to Japan…I could wake up early there.

  • Carl

    Or else you try the Uberman sleep schedule with online 6 times 20 minutes a day. That saves you about six hours of unproductive sleep.

  • Anushka

    For some people it works and for some it does not. Thats pretty much it!

  • Julian Vidal

    I agree with jkglei, even as a nightowl, I can tell if I’ve had a good night’s sleep—woke up around 8AM and did the tedious organizational, research, and writing tasks, my productivity is 85% better then the rest of the day. I think us nightowl’s antagonize the morning because we never want to wake up, and we’re more creative at night because we’ve spent the whole day doing something other than a creative thought process.

  • Ese Omame

    What if you have to wake up before the sun sets? This will certainly not apply.

  • Javier El Tigre

    I love both extremes of late night and early morning. Late nights have an exotic feel, since I was a kid I’d battle to stay up at night on weekends to tag along with the older ones or just to wait for them to come home, and when I managed to stay up I’d see the nightlife or atleast watch unusual stuff on adult swim. I wake up early most of the week though, there is a rawness about waking at 4 am to workout; doing pushups while I stare at my grimy smurf blue rug and my cracked wall taking an icy shower afterwards and eating a steak with eggs and fruit, then listening to some upbeat techno until I put on my clothes, spike up my hair and head out the door.

    To get into morning mode you just force yourself up at desired time – you will be sleepy – don’t worry. Go be with a friend until an hour before the new bed time and avoid caffeine and tv and you will likely want an extra hour or so of shuteye anyways, you’ll need to be around people if it’s a big change or you will fall asleep.

  • Brutavious

    Awesome Article really enjoyed it and i am setting me alarm for an early(ier) get-up
    again thanks for the advice and keep at it. (..oh and yes i am a designer, good guess)

  • siouxgeonz

    I was a night own until the Wednesday after I turned 40. I’d gotten in pretty good shape and then didn’t exercise for three days, then went out and did a little bit… and couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t sleep. Felt like I needed a bike ride.
    Should have slept in, but at dawn… needed a bike ride. Thought it would pass but the next day… dawn… the next day… that was years ago.
    A: I dind’t have room-darkening shades, so dawn was in my face. B: yes. I was getting a ton of sunshine on those bike rides. C: I was unemployed and, therefore, getting enough sleep.
    I’ve worked hard to keep getting enough sleep even though I’m employed full time. It’s huge.

  • Danielle F

    This is a great article! So interesting. A topic that isn’t explored enough. I’ve always been a die-hard night owl (that 10% Tony Schwartz describes) and would like to become a “morning person” (who also stays up late) to maximize productivity. I’ll give it — a very reluctant — try.

    • Amy

      I have generally always been a night owl myself, but there have been a few times in my life that I was getting up early. It really isn’t so bad once you get used to it. But I just love staying up late! It’s quiet, no one’s around, I feel more creative usually!

  • Jorge

    This is good for normal 30s people but what happen with student around 22,22,23… I study, I work in an internship and I help some startups in everything I can do for them.I can wake up early on Tuesday, Wed, Thrus, and Friday. But not on Sat and Sun because our life envolves going out on Friday and Sat. What recommendations would you give us?

  • Brittany M.

    So, how early is “early”? I know people who get up at 5am, but when I first wake up I am just not productive at all, and I can’t get up that early no matter how hard I try. I normally wake up around 7:30 am and go to sleep around 2am. I am just now learning what specific tasks I can accomplish during specific time periods. For example, I generally feel more creative and motivated in the afternoon or late night, so I use the mornings to: follow-up on leads, read business articles, and other mundane tasks that don’t require much brain activity.

  • Brittany M.

    I agree. Do what works for you. Saying that you won’t be successful in business because your a night owl is a harsh assumption. If you’re a diehard night owl, find a job that works with people overseas or simply in a different time zone. They will be up at the normal working hours. Or you can find other diehard nightowls to work with.

  • Brittany M.

    or find a job you can telecommute to in Japan or other countries in different time zones.

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