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In Defense of Waking Up (Really) Early

Bright-eyed and ready to take on the day.
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It's 9 A.M. by the time I sit down for work, but I've already completed more this morning than I have in some entire days. Since waking up, I've sweated through a 45-minute Peloton class, showered, done my hair and makeup, put on real clothes, read a good portion of my book, made coffee, gone to the dog park with Toast, Facetimed a friend in New York, and eaten breakfast. That's because, hours ago, my alarm went off so I could start the day at 5:30 A.M.

Done with my workout by 6:30 (and while it's still cool out!)

Done with my workout by 6:30 (and while it's still cool out!)

The idea to wake up with the birds began at a dinner party, when a friend said, "I've been really into waking up early." Like, how early? "4:30 has been amazing."

I've always been a morning person, but even this time struck me as punishingly early. (Apple CEO Tim Cook gets up at 3:45 AM, by the way, which is proof that even successful people do stupid things.). Still, my friend's earnest defense of the pre-dawn wakeup hour needled at me until it felt like the exact solution I needed.

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At that point, earlier this spring, I regularly found myself still in sweatpants most evenings, even as I vowed to leave that era of quarantine behind. My problem was this: Waking up at 7 A.M. left me with little time beyond taking Toast for a hike and making myself breakfast. I planned each day to work out at lunchtime, so I could shower and "get my life together," to quote Cody Rigsby. But even when I did manage a mid-afternoon sweat, it felt pointless to do my hair or put together an outfit for a few short hours before Pajama Time (which hits around 5 o'clock in our house, give or take). 

For the past several weeks, I've been waking up at 5:30 A.M. almost every weekday morning, a full two hours before Jonah (or Toast, for that matter) gets up. The time is fully my own. After the initial grogginess wears off, I love the quiet of the morning and that the house is often at the tail-end of sunrise-pink in the summertime. I usually kickstart my day with a workout, which helps me feel energized for the rest of the day, then shower so that I'm dressed and ready.

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The cons—and there are a few—of waking up so early mean that I get tired around 8 P.M. I'm often pushing the boundaries of an "early dinner," asking friends to meet me at 5:30 in the evening. But I've also found that it encourages some healthy-to-me evening habits as well. I'm much more strict about turning off the TV a full hour before bedtime, which often means Jonah and I play a board game, garden, or read instead of watching TV at all. And, because I sleep poorly anytime I drink even a glass of wine, I've almost completely cut out alcohol on nights when I'm at home. 

For as many morning routine posts as I've devoured—and written—there isn't a "one size fits all," way to start a day. I've even poo-poo-ed the idea of working out first thing in years past. But I do believe that using the time intentionally, in a way that sets you up for a day of success, is always a good thing. Below is my rough schedule of mornings recently, and a few tips:

1. Remove excess decisions from your morning. While I reserve some room for decisions—like what workout I do, and whether to go for a hike or to the dog park—I limit the options as much as possible. Though there are a thousand dog park options, I choose between two and often go on the same 3-mile loop when I opt for a hike. Mornings are just easier with a bit of autopilot built-in. 

2. Commit to it. As you may remember, I used CBTi (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia) to treat my disordered sleep. A major tenant of CBTi is to wake up at the same time every single day. Even on nights when I can't fall asleep until well into the night, I still wake up at 5:30. You may feel like 💩 that day, but your sleep will get back on track after a few good nights.

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5:30 AM Wake Up and Work Out. Though I try to work out for an hour each morning, I often leave the decision of what to do until the day-of. Sometimes, I wake up ready for a 45-minute boot camp (Jess Simms on Peloton has a gift for motivating me when I'm half-asleep) or do a slow yoga flow, or simply go for a long walk or run. I often find that, regardless of how tired I am, I feel alert and awake within ten minutes of whatever I choose.

6:30 AM Shower/Get Dressed/Do Hair. Although my hair and makeup routine are still minimal, going through the motions of blow-drying my hair and adding a bit of highlighter to my cheeks just makes me feel better and more pulled-together for the rest of the day.

7:00 AM Drink Coffee and Read. A few months ago, I was surprised to discover I was spending 20 minutes of screentime on my phone before starting work—doing what? I've since gotten into the habit of replaced that screentime with some downtime to read with a coffee on the porch. 

7:30 AM Feed Toast and Hike/Dog Park. I love taking Toast to the dog park and having an hour of outdoor time before work starts. I often chat with the other dog parents at the park or listen to a podcast while playing fetch. On days when Jonah's able to join, we usually go for a hike.

8:30 AM Make and Eat Breakfast. I need a good, hearty breakfast to function, especially after morning workouts. Most days, I have three to four eggs with homemade pesto or garlic-chile oil, then some fruit for "dessert."

9:00 AM Start Work. At the end of each workday, I write down a to-do list for the following morning so I can jump right in.

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P.S., More of a night owl? No shame—Jess has gotchu!

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