It’s the end of half term here in England, and what a half term it has been. We have had sunshine… and heat…. in February! If you live in the UK or have ever spent a dull depressing February here, then you’ll know what a thing this is. What a cause for celebration.
And one of the things I’ve been celebrating this week is the first signs of Spring. Specifically, the first notes of the dawn chorus that greets me now, as I creep down the stairs at 5.20am, ready to start my favourite part of the day – the morning routine.
It’s not easy keeping this habit going throughout the dark winter months, but now that Spring is on it’s way, it’s about to become a whole lot easier. Which is why I want to dedicate this week’s blog to the cornerstone of my work life balance strategy: getting up early.
If your life is busy and demanding, get up early
If you’re serious about progressing your career while planning, starting or growing a family at the same time, getting up early is a habit that you would do well to cultivate. I know it’s hard. I know you need your sleep. I know that life is busy and exhausting and there aren’t enough hours in the day to go all the things you enjoy and achieve all the goals you set for yourself.
Well guess what, those aren’t the reasons you can’t wake up early. They are the exact reasons why waking up early is a must.
I have a 4 boys, a business where I wear many hats, a house to manage, a needy dog, a lovely but not always patient husband, friends I want to see more of, goals I want to achieve… the list of my haves and wants are wonderful but they are demanding and seemingly endless. There is only 1 of me, and I need time for me too. Time to reflect, time to be inspired, to check that I’m on the right track, to ensure I’m looking after myself. And often, just time to stop take a breath and notice beauty and the many things I have to be grateful for. Before I started getting up early, I simply could not find time for this. But 4 years ago I decided to make getting up early a habit, and it changed everything.
What time is early?
Aim to get up at least 1 hour earlier than you need to, in order to start your day. For example, I have to wake my children at 6.30am, so I set my alarm for 5.20, and I’m downstairs in my special corner of the living room by 5.30 (the 10 minutes in between are spent making myself my favourite Fortnum & Mason’s tea). So if you’re day has to start at 8a.m., then aim to rise by 7.
The 3 golden rules of getting up early
In order for this to be effective time, there are some important rules you need to follow. Getting up early is not, I repeat NOT an excuse for you to extend your working day. It is not the time for doing the things that would ordinarily by done as part of your normal day. That’s why there are 3 golden rules to getting up early:
- No news
- No social media
- No work
The rules are simple to understand but hard to follow. You will be tempted to make “good use” of this extra time. That’s a great intention. But in this case, there’s only one way to put this time to good use, and that’s to spend it on you. That’s right, I want you to be totally and utterly selfish, and focus only on your wants, your values, your dreams and your goals. On your life, what’s working for you now, and what you need to change to either move yourself forward or get you back on track if you’ve lost your way. Everything else can wait.
5 excuses for not getting up early and how to overcome them
If you’re not a converted early bird, most likely your brain will be bubbling over right now with all the many reasons why getting up early just isn’t for you. That’s natural of course. Our brains don’t like change, particularly ones that involve a degree of discomfort. The problem is that so many of our goals are on the other side of that discomfort. In other words, we have to be prepared to be uncomfortable if we want to grow or progress. So let’s have a look at the most common excuses, and help you to overcome these so you can give yourself the gift of time and attention at the beginning of your day:
1. I’m a night owl
Labels, labels. How we love to give ourselves labels and use them as an excuse to avoid discomfort or change. The truth is, if you decide to believe you are a night owl, then that is what you’ll be. But the opposite is also true. You can decide to be a mornings person, an early bird, and that’s what you’ll be come. You weren’t born as a night owl. It’s a habit that you’ve acquired and have held on to through the years. If it works well for you, if you feel like your life is under control, if you usually feel energised and in charge of your day, then this is great and there’s no need to question this. But if any of the above is untrue; if you’re craving more control, more order, more time in your life then maybe it’s time to let go of this old label and embrace the possibility that you can be somebody else. Someone who wakes up early and takes control of their day.
2. I need my sleep
Of course you do. And so do I! Nothing about gettign up early suggests that you have less sleep than you need. What it really demands is that you look at how you use your time and trade off those (typically) ineffective moments at the end of your day in exchange for some empowering uplifting motivating moments at the start of your day. In other words, you don’t need to give up sleep. You may, however, need to give up some (but by no means all) seductive but less useful things like social media, or the 3rd episode of that Netflix series you’re currently watching…
3. I work long hours
When it comes to working long hours, people who fall into 2 camps: those who work long hours because it’s out of their control and those who work late into the night because they’ve been inefficient in the day. Which one are you? I’m talking to you my lawyer friends. I know from experience how easy it is to assume you’re going to be in the office all day and most of the night, and so not really kick into gear until early afternoon. If this is you, getting up early is an excellent way to break this unhealthy habit. When you are committed to getting home by a certain time (because your day starts bright and early) it’s extremely motivating. The next time you work late in the office, ask yourself whether you could have done more earlier in the day to avoid this. If the answer is yes, then working long hours is no excuse. You can get up early. You just have to make the decision to change your behaviour and start doing so.
If, on the other hand, the answer is no, I couldn’t have avoided working late, it was out of my control, then you’ve earned yourself a free pass. Sleep is super important. And nothing of what I am saying is intended to suggest otherwise. However, if you are a lawyer for example, remember that there are often quiet periods, and that these are opportunities to seize back control of your life and reset where you are. And the best way that I know you can do that? You guessed it, it’s getting up early.
4. I’ll wake the house up
It’a a common and a valid one. The last thing you want is the whole house awake when you’re trying to get some precious you time! So you need to take measures to avoid this as much as you can. 2 suggestions for you. 1) tell your partner/kids/house mate that this is your new thing, that they might here the odd sound in the morning, but not to worry it’s just you doing your new getting up early thing. They may hear you the first few mornings, but they’ll soon get used to your footsteps and learn to zone it out so it doesn’t wake them. 2) plot your route to the place in your house where you plan to spend your time. Eg. if it involves negotiating some creaky floorboards, experiment with which one’s creak the least! If you have a squeaky kitchen door, make sure you leave it ajar or open the night before. You can get pretty inventive with these methods when you have the right intention.
So what are you going to do?
You don’t have to be a mornings person to enjoy the life transforming benefits of being an early riser. You just need to be willing to invest the effort to make it happen. For more help and inspiration on the practical steps to getting up early, see my earlier blog how to get up early . You can also download this free checklist:
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