The Oldest Productivity Hack in the World

“If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”

“I barely slept last night. Too excited about this.”

I received the text at 4:55 a.m, and I had been awake for 15 minutes. The sun was already up, and it was a bright, beautiful summer morning in 2020. My friend and I had both decided to try to wake up at 5 a.m for a week, to discover the world of (really) early mornings. I texted back:

“Same here. I woke up at 4:30 for this!”

I also sent hime a picture of my watch, and so did he, because that was the deal for a week. I’ve always been a morning person, and back then I was going through a stable period of a year where I rose at 6am everyday, to work on my blog first thing in the morning.

This article is not here to convince you to become a morning person. It’s not here to tell you what to do. It’s here for inspiration. Mornings are objectively the best time of the day to get things done above average, get ahead of everybody else, and build a strong foundation for success in your life. Here is why.

The oldest productivity hack in the world

I want to quickly explain why I call waking up early “the oldest and simplest productivity hack in the world.”

It’s the oldest, because back when humans didn’t have phones, time management apps, notifications all over the place, or even a snooze button to stay in bed, they still had the option to wake up early to get more done than everybody else.

Take any person in the history of humanity that made an impact on the world, in history, science, politics… If you can find information about their wake up time (you may use this amazing book from Mason Currey), chances are, you’ll find out they used to wake up early.

This is not to say that every famous and/or successful person is a morning person, that’s a big misconception to clarify here. Barack Obama for instance, has never been a morning person. But because he had one of the most demanding jobs in the world, with always tons of things to do, he didn’t have any other option but to rise early. That’s very important to understand. Productive people don’t necessarily wake up early because they’re morning people. They wake up early because they either know that’s the easiest way to get ahead, or because they don’t have a choice.

Thomas Edison, another person who left his mark in history, was a fierce opponent to the concept of sleep altogether.

“Edison spent considerable amounts of his own and his staff’s energy on publicising the idea that success depended in no small part in staying awake to stay ahead of the technological and economic competition.” — Source

This is extreme, but here is an example of a man who didn’t have access to an iPad, a Notes app, or a Philips Wake Up light to be more productive. His set of potential productive advantages was a lot more limited, so he had to “stick to basics”. Waking up early was one of the most obvious ones.

Beat the sun up: build self discipline into your life

Waking up early goes beyond just having more time to get things done. It is one of the most efficient tricks to naturally build self discipline in your life. A lot of us could use more discipline, especially during these days of confinement and lockdowns around the world.

Waking up early is a keystone habit, a term coined by Charles Duhigg in his amazing book The Power of Habit. Keystone habits are “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.” The first step towards the right direction in your life is self-development, and the easiest way to start working on that is by creating habits for yourself that will automatically generate positive change.

When you wake up early, you start to have more control over your life. That’s where everything else will flow from. When you rise at 5 or 6am , you’re your own boss.

  • Nobody is calling you at 6 a.m
  • Nobody is asking for your attention at 6 a.m
  • Nobody needs an urgent email reply at 6 a.m
  • Nothing is getting in your way at 6 a.m
  • It’s most likely calm, quiet and peaceful at 6 a.m, perfect for full focus

That’s the number one most important thing about early mornings: it’s the only part of your day you truly control. Once the buzz of the day gets started, it won’t stop until you go back to bed. You can never be 100% sure your evening will go as planned. Maybe you do get an email, a phone call, somebody asking for your attention… Early mornings are a lot more predictable than late evenings.

When you get out of bed early, at the same time everyday, you gain an amazing sense of control over your own life. You’re ready to be in charge.

The morning routine

All that being said, if you wake up early with no goal, you might as well go back to bed immediately. That’s why it’s important to have a set routine around it, and I have good news: it’s very simple to come up with.

Grab a piece of paper and a pen to write down a list of 3 to 5 things you can do every morning to start your day the same way. You can write more than 5 and cut it down afterwards. Pick 3 to 5 things that will get your day going with an early sense of accomplishment, and of respect for yourself. Here are a few ideas:

  • A super quick workout. This is what I do: I wake up, go turn on the kettle in the kitchen, and immediately go out on the terrace for a 10 to 15 minutes stretching + push ups + jumping jacks session.
  • Journaling. I use Day One. I have the same journaling template everyday, and write in it every morning.
  • Coffee. I make coffee the same way, at the same time, every morning. Then I grab a cup and get to work.

More examples:

  • Meditating
  • A quick run
  • Free-writing thoughts
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Drinking a glass of water
  • Making breakfast

It doesn’t have to be hard. It has to be things that will ignite your momentum, take you to 7 or 8 a.m like a breeze and make you realise:

“I literally started my day by waking up when I said I was going to wake up, doing what I said I was going to do, and feeling a sense of accomplishment for myself.”

From 7, 8 or 9 a.m, you will be able to go into the world believing in yourself, seeking more accomplishment, so that people start believing in you just as much as you started believing in yourself by waking up early.

Good luck, enjoy the journey, and don’t forget to have fun.

Don’t take just my word for it! I interviewed 50 productivity/business experts and made a 150+ page guide out of the project. Get it for free here. (Spoiler alert: 60% of people wake up at or before 6am).

Living with a purpose and improving myself is changing my life — Get my Top 50 Productivity Experts Interviews for free at josephmavericks.com/50people

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store