‘Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise’, is one of Benjamin Franklin’s most famous quotations. The founding father believed rising at 4am played a crucial role in his productivity and accomplishment, but would you go that far for success?
Plenty of other leaders do…
Vogue editor Anna Wintour rises between 4-5.30am in order to read the British and American headlines and hit the tennis courts before work. Richard Branson is up at 5am to exercise and answer emails. Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter, is also out of bed by 5am to meditate and work out. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook is up even earlier, at 3.45am, to email and be in the gym by 5am. Although, as with just about everything else she does, Dolly Parton makes everyone else look slovenly by rising at 3am. She uses the time to write and pray.
These are busy people with packed schedules whose diaries are filled months, if not years, in advance. Unless they intentionally create time for themselves in those quiet early hours, it’s highly improbable they’ll have time to themselves later on in the day.
Early rising literally buys them time. For example, if a person gets up just an hour earlier every day they gain an ‘extra’ 15 days per year. Make that two hours earlier and they gift themselves an entire month!
Chicken or egg?
Are these leaders so successful because they rise early, or do they rise early because they’re so successful? There’s a strong likelihood that this works in a self-perpetuating way. They have to be motivated, strong, strategic, accountable, and disciplined to get up so early; and getting up early makes them motivated, strong, strategic, accountable, and disciplined. These are all key traits when defining leadership success.
Early rising also implies a certain lifestyle; you can’t stay up late partying every night if you want to sustain it. You have to look after yourself and be responsible; elements which also play a significant part in a leadership role.
According to biology professor Christopher Randler, ‘When it comes to business success, morning people hold the important cards…They tend to get better grades in school, which gets them into better colleges, which then lead to better job opportunities…Morning people are proactive. Many studies have linked this with better job performance, greater career success, and higher wages.’
So how could you apply all this to your own life?
Search through the schedules of early rising leaders and you’ll start seeing similarities. Meditation or spiritual practises, exercise, catching up on emails or industry news, and squeezing in family time, are all very popular.
These are the sorts of things that most people say they want to do; they know they are good for them and will contribute to their happiness and success. Yet they often end up on the ‘to-do’ list, rather than the ‘done’ list. By scheduling them first thing, leaders complete these things before anything else has a chance to come along and derail them.
There’s no reason why you can’t do the same. Try rising earlier and completing some of the tasks listed above and commit to the process for at least a week. The first couple of days will be difficult, as you readjust your body clock and sleep, and so you’re unlikely to feel the benefits. But once you get into the habit and can see how much more you’re getting done, it’s likely that you’ll become an early riser too.
But be warned…
You need to be sensible about how you do it, to avoid exhaustion, which is never a desirable thing. Research by Westfield Health showed that that over 10% of British workers have purposefully taken a nap at work. Nearly 50% have turned up feeling too tired to work, and 30% have had an accident or made a serious mistake due to being tired at work. Over in America, fatigue related costs are thought to cost the US economy over $136 billion every year.
The lesson? If you’re going to get up early, you need to structure your whole day around it. Go to bed at the proper time and get adequate sleep. This means preparing earlier on in the day, being careful with stimulants such as sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and screens, and factoring in things that do help your sleep such as fresh air, exercise, and meditation.
Still not tempted to rise before the sun? It doesn’t mean you won’t make it. Winston Churchill didn’t get out of bed until 11 o’clock in the morning…and he ended up doing quite well for himself.