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5 Powerful Ways Becoming A Morning Person Unlocks Your Leadership

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So you’re trying to be more productive—to get more done in less time.

I get that. But what kind of change does that mean for your schedule? Because as you know, if nothing changes, nothing will change.

So here’s a question: does it really make a difference whether you’re a morning person or not when it comes to productivity?

One of the more frequently asked questions I get as a leader is “how do you get it all done?”

I answer that most fully in my new online High Impact Leader Course.

My answer  to the question of how to get a ton done is usually a variation of “It’s amazing what you can get done before 8 a.m. if you try.”

As painful as that may sound to you, it’s probably also true for you. Many high impact leaders I know get more done before 10 a.m. than most people get done in a day.

Here are 5 ways becoming a morning person—as tough as that might sound—unlocks your leadership!

I Wasn’t Always A Morning Person…

I wasn’t always a morning person.

In university, I chose classes based on how late they started so I could sleep in.

I’ve made the transition from NOT being a morning person to getting up most days between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m.

How did that happen? Well, the journey got started when my wife and I got married (I decided to get up at 8 because she was a morning person).

Having kids a few years later threw my previous schedule out the window and I started rising around 6am and kept that discipline up through my 30s. Usually, I would get up early, pound through some email (after devotions) and then make breakfast and start working in earnest around 9am.

I spent my 30s wanting to write a book and having friends tell me I should. But I didn’t.

It wasn’t until my 40s that I started getting up earlier and really committing to a 5:00 a.m. wake up call.

Since then, I’ve led our church to the largest it’s ever been, published three books, blogged regularly, launched a podcast and spoken more regularly at conferences… plus spent meaningfully more time with my wife and kids than before.

Is that ALL because I got up earlier? No, age and stage have their advantages.

You(hopefully) accumulate wisdom, learn to do things faster, and your kids get older and don’t demand 24/7 attention like they used to (although I’m still convinced parenting teens requires as much or more time than parenting toddlers). Could I have done all of this in my 30s? Probably not.

But if I got up at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. most days, I’m convinced all I’d be able to handle is my day job… and I’m convinced I would do it more poorly at that. In other words, I’m not sure I’d be doing anything more than my day job had I kept sleeping in.

So how does being a morning person give me (and many other leaders) a distinct advantage?

Here are 5 ways becoming a morning person unlocks your leadership potential:

1. Your Brain Is (Probably) At Its Best

Personally, there’s no doubt I get my best work done before 10:00 a.m. My most creative thoughts, best insights and clearest analysis happens well before lunch.

I’m amazed at how many high capacity leaders I know tell me the same thing.

Some research backs up my personal findings—that morning people do significantly better overall than night owls do.

Other studies show a more balanced view with night owls gaining a few advantages over morning people.

My guess is we could trade studies all day long to make our points, but I’ve personally never been better than when I’m up early.

Your most important asset as a leader is your mind.

And personally, my brain just does better when it’s fresh off of rest. (I think sleep is the secret leadership weapon no one wants to talk about.) By working early (even if it’s just an hour), you do your most important work when your brain is at its best.

Naps can also reset your brain during the day… and I will often take a nap if I can. However, I find a nap recharges my brain for far less time than a 6-8 hour sleep will.

Your brain serves you better as a leader when it’s rested.

Your brain serves you better as a leader when it’s rested. Click To Tweet

2. You’re More Efficient Because You Beat Rush Hour

Of all the ways an early rise impacts your leadership, I think this is my favourite.

Work patterns are a lot like traffic patterns: at 5 a.m. you have the road to yourself. At 8 a.m., it could take you three times as long to travel the same distance.

These days I do everything I can to beat traffic, not just on the road, but in life. I do most of my shopping at off hours.  My wife and I have even begun to do off-season travel.

Why? Because we end up having more time to do what matters most.

Ditto with work.

Guess who’s texting you at 5:30 a.m.? Nobody.

Guess who’s emailing you an urgent response at 6:15 a.m.? Nobody.

You’ve got the work lane all to yourself, which means you can work uninterrupted. You can think uninterrupted. You can actually accomplish all your most important tasks completely distraction-free.

Morning people beat rush hour at work the same way early risers beat traffic on the highway. Click To Tweet

And for a naturally ADD guy, I’m grateful for that.

By the way, this reason alone is enough for me to recommend starting early to any leader.

Working when no one else is working gives any leader a distinct advantage.

Any other time of the day, people are trying to communicate with you. But rarely do they do that before 8 a.m.

Morning people work uninterrupted because, well, no one else is up. Imagine that. Click To Tweet

3. You Get To Work On Your Most Important Tasks

You know what’s fascinating about leadership?

Nobody asks you to accomplish your most important priorities. They just criticize you if you don’t.

In fact, not only will your colleagues never ask you to accomplish your priorities, they will usually ask you to help accomplish theirs.

Which is why you never get your work done.

That’s also what email is, by the way; other people asking you to do things that aren’t on your task list.

By starting early, you can accomplish your priorities and THEN be available to help others with theirs, in person or via email.

Starting early eliminates so much of the everyday push and pull. Plus you’ll be far kinder and more gracious when you interact with them because you’re already done.

Nobody asks you to accomplish your most important priorities. They just criticize you if you don’t. Click To Tweet

4. You Already Have A Series Of Wins Under Your Belt

Sometimes all you need as a leader is some kind of win.

Starting early means you:

Got a jump on your message.

Came up with a great idea.

Discovered a new strategy.

Banged out a chapter you were not expecting to write.

Got the retreat planned ahead of schedule.

With one or two wins under your belt, the rest of the day is easier.

So much of leadership remains undone at the end of the day–except for what you got done first.

So much of leadership remains undone at the end of the day–except for what you got done first. Click To Tweet

5. Your Big To-Dos Are Already Done

Not only is SOMETHING done before 10 a.m., if you use your time well, the most important task for the day is done by mid-morning.

I’ve never tried this, but I suspect if I stopped working at 10a.m. most days I’d still be 70% as productive as I am now. And more importantly, I’d have the most significant things done.

The way I usually spend my later time is in meetings, answering email or doing other tasks that require less mental energy.

But again, even if those don’t go well or take longer than expected, the big stuff is already accomplished. Which means you’re really already done for the day.

Think about what that could mean to you and the people you love: when you start early, you get your evenings back, your weekends back and your life back. Because your big work is… done.

So how can you become a morning person?

Try setting your alarm 15 minutes earlier every week until you hit the time you think you need to be up. In a month, you could be operating one hour earlier than before.  (And remember to go to bed earlier too. I’m generally in bed between 9:30 and 10 most nights.)

Michael Hyatt has some great ideas on becoming a morning person as well.

The bottom line is: start now.

Wanting to be a morning person brings you none of the benefits of becoming a morning person.

Wanting to be a morning person brings you none of the benefits of becoming a morning person. Click To Tweet

Want More?

If you want to truly change your life and leadership, focus on changing the systems that run your life.

It’s not getting up early in the morning that makes a difference, it’s learning how to manage the hours you have, how to optimize them that makes the difference.

One of the most helpful changes that I’ve made is making the shift to a fixed calendar that has allowed me to get my time, energy, and priorities working for me, instead of against me (which they will naturally do).

I’d love to help you get time, energy and priorities working for you too.

To that end, I’m giving away the calendar template I use with leaders. It can help you structure your time in a way that helps you get far more done in less time.

You can download the High Impact Leader Calendar Template here. 

What Do You Think?

Well, morning people? What do you think? And night owls, we love you. We really do.

But I’d love to hear from everyone what you’re learning about productivity and time-shifting.

Scroll down and leave a comment! Let’s get better together.

19 Comments

  1. Jarod Richardson on January 29, 2020 at 2:34 pm

    This is pretty stinkin’ powerful! Thanks for sharing, Carey!

    Admittedly, I am a hardcore night owl for many of the reasons you suggested people become a morning person. Right now, my usual day starts about 6:30-7 AM and ends between 12 AM – 2 AM. What God showed me through your article, however, is that there are 2 HUGE things that you mention that, frankly, might be game-changers for me in this regard: 1) Energy: If I am working into the late evening for a few of the reasons you suggest (other people’s agenda, solo task time, etc), I don’t effectively take into account that I’ve already given a ton of my energy to the other parts of my day and I am not as effective or efficient, basically not as productive; 2) Family: Even working after the wife and the kids go to be is still robbing them in a couple of possible ways – I’m not totally present when I am with them because I basically just ‘took a break’ to be with them and if I am working while they sleep, there is nothing that ‘makes’ me quit at a certain point, so often I’ll work past when I planned to and then my whole next 48-72 hours is lambasted because I’m playing rest-catchup (which is a total paradox, btw).

    Again… THANK YOU!!! Want to chat and use me as a case study? I’m all ears, brother!

  2. Angela on January 27, 2020 at 3:46 am

    Just curious what you do, though, when part of your job is meeting with people when THEY can meet, which is usually in the evenings? I like to get up early. However, because of my role, I often end up going to bed late after a long and productive chat with people who we really need to have a relationship with in order to get ministry work done. And when that happens, it becomes harder to get up early all week long.
    Any ideas for me?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 28, 2020 at 10:26 am

      Hey Angela,

      Sometimes, you have to do the best you can with what you have.

      I know some leaders have been able to bring the explanation of why they want to change meeting times to whoever is deciding when their meetings are. Sometimes the boss is willing to find a different solution.

      Another tip I might give you is to take a nap in the afternoon. That helps me stay energized when I work mornings and nights often!

      Hope this helps!

      Carey

  3. Nick on January 26, 2020 at 10:11 am

    Definitely needed this today… as I am starting to wake up at 6AM and needed some encouragement to get out of bed 😂

    • Nigd Daniel on January 26, 2020 at 3:05 pm

      I am in total agreement, for me early mornings are more productive. I enjoy freshness of the day as well.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 28, 2020 at 10:33 am

      Love it!

  4. Jenny on January 26, 2020 at 9:31 am

    It’s almost 1am right now and my brain could stay up and work another hour if I didn’t know my kids will be up early. I love the idea of being a morning person and maybe I’ll change but I get my most creative and productive work done between 10 and 12 many nights. I’ve tired the morning and I find my kids get a tired and grumpy mum at 3pm after school so nights it is for now. I do wonder if that will change as they get older and so do I. Now I’m off to sleep, but you won’t see me at 5 😂😉

  5. […] I’ve outlined before, Work patterns are a lot like traffic patterns: at 5 a.m. you have the road to yourself. At 8 a.m., […]

  6. […] I’ve outlined before, Work patterns are a lot like traffic patterns: at 5 a.m. you have the road to yourself. At 8 […]

  7. […] I’ve outlined before, Work patterns are a lot like traffic patterns: at 5 a.m. you have the road to yourself. At 8 […]

  8. […] I’ve outlined before, Work patterns are a lot like traffic patterns: at 5 a.m. you have the road to yourself. At 8 […]

  9. […] I’ve outlined before, Work patterns are a lot like traffic patterns: at 5 a.m. you have the road to yourself. At 8 […]

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  11. Tim Curtis on December 10, 2016 at 8:00 am

    When the time changed (is that just a crazy U.S. thing?) last month, I decided that I wouldn’t. It was a natural time for me to transition my sleep habits. Not I get up between 4-4:30. The main benefit I have found is a more meaningful devotional time. If I wait until I get to the office to read my Bible and pray, there are just too many distractions. That’s now the highlight of my day. I eagerly look forward to the early morning time with God.

    BTW: At age 60, a short nap is a must for me.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 10, 2016 at 11:10 am

      That’s such a great idea Tim! Way to go!

  12. steve carruthers on December 9, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    I think life stage is a major element of this to not be discounted as it can also work against waking up too early.
    With a 11 month old and wife at home, I start work at 8 now instead of 9/9:30, because I’m up earlier anyway cuz of the baby, or I can get home earlier since I have 3 nights of ministry a week. I do tend to get more done in the morning as a result and am less stressed about how I’m going to do what I need to but get stressed at the volume, which is also a stage thing.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 10, 2016 at 11:17 am

      For sure Steve. Thanks for fighting for great leadership and being a great dad and husband at the same time.

  13. Travis Stephens on December 9, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    In 2015 I made waking up by 5am every weekday one of my goals. I pulled it off for close to 9 months, and then I stopped. I enjoyed sleep more than productivity. The benefits of waking up early are great, but it got to the point that all I could think about was how much I missed that extra hour of sleep. I now find other times during the week to work on blogging and other side projects. I may not be quite as productive, but I am well rested.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 9, 2016 at 2:56 pm

      Thanks for this Travis. A rested you is a better you for sure. I get tired too…but I take a nap. Have you tried that? Powerful, and you realize the gain of an early morning start.

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