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?”

My answer to the question of how to get a lot 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. Most high-impact leaders I know get more done before 10 a.m. than most people get done in a day.

Here are five 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 to 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? The journey started when my wife and I got married (I decided to get up at 8 a.m. because she was a morning person).

Having kids a few years later threw my previous schedule out the window, and I started rising around 6 a.m. 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 9 a.m.

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 the church I planted to the largest it’s ever been, published three books, blogged regularly, launched a podcast, and spoken more regularly at conferences – plus spent more time meaningfully 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 five 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 happen well before lunch.

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

Some research backs up my 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 favorite.

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 during 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 essential 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 someone with ADD, 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.

People are trying to communicate with you at any other time of the day. 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

Do you know what’s fascinating about leadership?

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

Your colleagues will 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.

Beginning 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

If you use your time well, the essential task for the day can be done by mid-morning.

I’ve never tried this, but I suspect if I stopped working at 10 a.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.

I usually spend my later time in meetings, answering emails, 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 most important 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 p.m. 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. You have to start now. Click To Tweet

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.

5 Powerful Ways Becoming A Morning Person Unlocks Your Leadership

40 Comments

  1. Lori A Tate on January 17, 2022 at 5:32 pm

    I was a morning person for years, but have tapered off.
    This article reminds me of how true it is (for me). Getting up early, I am focused, I write and think better. Answering emails or other stuff can wait til my energy/creativity is lower. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Dr. Rodney L. Graves on January 15, 2022 at 3:11 pm

    I read this with an open mind because of my great respect for you. You do make some good points. I have often envied morning persons and have attempted to become one to no avail. However, the points contradict your latest book which encourages people to identify their own best most productive hours. But this article emphasizes that morning hours are the most productive——do you need to do a rewrite?

  3. Mike Reimer on January 14, 2022 at 9:30 pm

    I’m glad to see some alternate opinions here. I’ve known for years that I get more done from 10 pm to 2 am than any other time of day.

    Take a look at some of your points, avoiding rush hour for example. Do you know who emails / texts at 1 am, nobody. Late night is actually similar in many ways. (Sorry to the mid- dayers out there).

    I really like the green, yellow and red zone thinking but in my experience, we have so many more early risers in charge, It’s hard to be taken seriously, even difficult to be hired and promoted when your the late night person. Yes, lazy people are almost exclusively night owls, late night tv is way better than morning shows probably for that reason alone.

    Working late at night let’s me deal with any issues that came up through the day, get the early risers their answers before they need them and go to sleep knowing everything important is already handled.

    I’m the end, I really agree with the principle of getting what matters most done when you’re at your best, it’s just not in the am for me.

    • Monica on January 15, 2022 at 10:51 am

      I agree. As a writer I have tried to get up early before my family to get my uninterrupted writing time, but my creative brain won’t cooperate. It’s not until 9 at night that words start magically stringing together for me. I can write 5x as much from 10-12pm than I can from 5-7am. I wish the opposite were true, and I’m willing to try again.

  4. Abby Herwaldt on January 14, 2022 at 12:13 pm

    I would like to offer an alternative perspective.

    It actually really bothers me how much people push that everyone has to be a morning person in order to be successful. I truly do not believe that. We need both kinds of people. There are people who naturally can and enjoy waking up early. Good for you. There are also people who naturally can and enjoy staying up late. That is good too. Think of all the night shift nurses or security guards (or other jobs like it). It would be much easier for them to do their jobs if they were naturally a night person.

    My entire immediate family are hardcore night owls. It doesn’t matter how early we get up, we can easily stay up past midnight. No sweat. We get so energized at night and are honestly the most creative in the evening. It is very typical that we would come up with an idea and start a project in the evening. There have even been times where we start projects even as late as 11 PM! That’s just how we are and how we work best. All waking up early does is just make us miserable. And by waking up early I mean earlier than 9 AM (though I prefer to wake up later).

    Why would I work so hard to rewire myself into something that I am not when I could just embrace how my body and brain work and use it to my advantage?

    To all my fellow natural night owls: there is nothing wrong with being a night owl. You can still be successful and also be a night owl.

    My last note (more on the fun side) since this is a Christian platform: think about the time when Jesus asked his disciples to stay awake and pray with him in the garden. They couldn’t do it. You know who easily could? Night owls. No question. Or the parable of the ten virgins. They were all waiting for the bridegroom to arrive late into the night. They all fell asleep before midnight. When the bridegroom appeared, some were prepared with extra oil and others were not. The night owls would have been prepared and wouldn’t have even fallen asleep. Jesus doesn’t condemn night owls. Just saying.

    • Eric Luedtke on January 14, 2022 at 2:19 pm

      Thank you, Abby!
      I first read this article when I got up this morning (and did my usual read email, check headlines and ponder the weather routine) at 8am. My first thought was, “you want me to get up at 5am – NO WAY. And nothing in this article convinces me I would be more productive if I did – absolutely some people function well in the morning, I am not one of those.
      I have learned that I am most productive between 2pm-6pm. I can sit in my office and crank out all kinds of work during that time. I do it more quickly and with more focus than other times of the day.
      I have long found evenings to be my time to relax and unwind – with the pace of life around my kids there is no way I can do that until 8:30 or 9pm many nights – which means if I want to get the sleep I need to get up by 5am I’d need to be in bed by 9pm – which means ZERO unwind time and I’m sure that isn’t sustainable over the long haul.
      Oh, and then there are the evening meetings – I’m the pastor of a church (and over 11 years as a pastor, I think I’m pretty effective as a leader), we rely on volunteers for much of what we do, most of them work full-time jobs and are not available until the evening, so what do I do, tell them “hey, let’s have a meeting at 6am before you go to your job?” Yes, I know pastors who do this – they largely work with empty nesters and corporate execs who have a bit more flexibility in their schedules – not the parents who are getting their kids to school and then getting to work at a schedule start time.
      Even the articles that you site, Carey, leave a lot of ambiguity about whether this really is “more productive” – heck, one of them starts out saying “We are supposed to be awake when it’s light outside and asleep when it’s dark outside.” – if that’s the case, why would I get up at 5am when the sun doesn’t rise until after 7am?
      I say all this to say, “hey, if you’re a morning person, GREAT, I’m glad it works for you. If you think you want to be a morning person, by all means, give it a try, but let’s not disparage those who have found a healthy rhythm to their day that doesn’t revolve around waking up before the birds.”
      What I do see of value in this article is the idea of finding a healthy work-cycle: Carve out intentional “uninterrupted” time for getting things done. Carve out time for exercise. Focus on getting a good night of sleep. Make time for your family and friends. What if we focus on THOSE attributes rather than what time my alarm clock is set for?

  5. Deb Toth on January 14, 2022 at 9:48 am

    100% yes! ! ! best time with God, best time for working smart, best time to exercise, best time to see Gods glory in the sky! coffee even tastes better! YES!

    • Terry on January 14, 2022 at 10:57 am

      Totally agree

  6. Marybeth on December 18, 2020 at 2:47 pm

    I am a morning person (5:45a) and would really to be more of a morning person (5:00a). BUT my spouse is a night person. For me to be the morning person I want to be and get the sleep I need to be energized through the day, I need to be in bed by 9:30p but would love to be in bed at 9:00p. If I did that, I would never see my spouse.

    Is your spouse also a morning person? If not, how have you worked this part out.

    Thanks for sharing your experience!
    MB

    • Wendy Wilson on January 14, 2022 at 10:41 am

      I have a similar situation. I want to get up and going early and when I do it is great. But I do want to stay up with my night owl husband and going to bed at 8, 9, 10 not even an option. My teenage daughter with after school stuff and a job often does not come home until 10. In order to spend time with family, I have to stay up later. Getting up early and staying up late is not sustainable. As I’m typing, I’m thinking maybe a daily nap will indeed help. I will see.

  7. Andrew Morse on November 24, 2020 at 1:54 pm

    So I have always had a difficult time with mornings. I would go to bed early, have new routines and it didn’t matter. Getting up out of bed was just plain difficult.

    Had a sleep test done and found out I had extreme sleep apnea.

    If you struggle with getting out of bed perhaps it is not a hard wired thing, but sleep thing. Get it checked out as most places have a free sleep test available now.

    Just sayin.

    Don’t beat yourself up if mornings are super difficult, but don’t just stay there either.

    andrew

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 24, 2020 at 2:26 pm

      That’s awesome Andrew!

      Glad you got it figured out!

  8. Kay on November 23, 2020 at 9:53 am

    “The early bird catches the worm”. I learned years ago, that this truly IS the best time of the day. I have laxed a little, so this article will help jump start me back to where I truly wish to be. When I don’t get up early, by whole body suffers. My idea day starts at 4:00am, with an hour of yoga/exercise, time with God, morning prep and out the door by 6:30. IF buses are running this puts me ahead of them all. Depending on the time of year, amazing sun rises, as well. Those that sleep in, miss the Creators most fantastic artwork at this time of day! Getting to work an hour or two before everyone else IS the most productive time. NO INTERRUPTIONS!!
    I’m in bed, most nights, by 8:00pm. If this doesn’t happen, my body will tell me.
    Thanks for the reminder, of how important this is. I’ve been on quarantine for the past 10 days, as I was around someone who contracted Covid (Praise the Lord, they are doing fine.), and one can tend to veer off course. Even on my off days, I should stick to this regiment. If nothing else, it would just allow me more one on one time to be with my Lord. With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, will definitely attempt to put this into practice.
    Thanks, Carey, for allowing God to use you to teach us, through great articles like this one.
    Many blessings,
    Kay

  9. Toms Bermaks on November 23, 2020 at 6:15 am

    Hello. This is very Helpful and amazing and i want to get started, BUT i have question:
    I am 33, pastor of 3 years ago planted church, and we are growing and i need to change the way i work and delegate more, so all that is new for me.
    I am owl, but in recent years life has pushed me to become morning person.
    so here is the thing: i have 3 kids: 8 y/o; 6 y/o and third should have come out yesterday!
    The way it worked for us, was that i do bring kids to school at 8.30, my wife sleeps and she doesn’t work. I let her sleep late. And we put our kids to sleep at 9 PM, and then we have our time together. But time when i am asleep is about 11pm, and so it’s hard to be up early, like 5. So is there other patterns how to manage time, so i can still wake up early? Maybe change me and my wife times? I mention time with wife beacuse pastors do forget about it so we kind of plan it!

    Thank You! 🙂

    • Jenny on November 23, 2020 at 6:23 am

      Hi Tom, I am a church planter of three years as well! My kids are 12, 9 and 7 and I need to delegate more as our church keeps growing (praise God hey!). No chance you can put your kids to bed earlier? That might help cause you do need time with your wife! Mine go to bed at 7.30 and 8.30. Helps the evening not be toooo late. Sometimes you have to work out what your priorities are and time with your wife seems like a big one to me so maybe getting up at 5am might not be possible right now. That’s ok. Sometimes we put to much pressure on our selves to be everything for everyone and really God and our family are our first priority!

  10. Mathew Hargett on November 22, 2020 at 2:53 pm

    Great thoughts! Thanks for sharing this. I recently read the Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. I was very skeptical of the effects of getting up early. I have always been a night owl, but I decided what the heck and gave it a shot. I’m on my 40th straight day of waking up at 5 a.m.
    I agree with your statement that by 10 a.m. I’ve already accomplished more than most people. The only thing I have to be careful with is managing my energy. I do get what I want done, because at 5 a.m. no one else is awake, and I have a sense of pride about my day. Great post! Thanks!

  11. Brittany on November 22, 2020 at 9:58 am

    I have struggled sooo long to be a morning person! In highschool I used to get in trouble often for coming in late to first period.

    I appreciate all the benefits you posted of being a morning person. Most great leaders that I have seen in my own life are up no later than 4-5am.

    I will definitely be working to discipline and condition my body to be an early riser. I am in my early twenties now, so I I’d rather normalize my routine to this sooner rather than later.

    Thank you Carey!

  12. Matt Gholson on November 22, 2020 at 7:19 am

    I am a hardcore night owl who wants to be a morning person. I seem to be much more creative at night. Maybe that’s just in my mind?!? Lol!!! But I see a lot of advantages of getting up early as well!
    Being bi-vocational also enters into the equation and seems to bring its own timing issues with it. I do know that with both children in college I would like to control my time better for my wife’s sake. Pray that I can better organize my time, say no to overextending myself, and become a morning person!
    Thank you for pouring into us!!!

  13. Kathy on November 22, 2020 at 5:10 am

    I am totally with you on the early morning work lane and the benefit of a nap. I consider both the early morning hours (which I don’t do every day but always when I have something important to write) and naps my super powers.

    Thanks for your ongoing meaningful and helpful posts!

  14. fitoru.com on July 14, 2020 at 12:43 am

    This 5 powerful would be helpful for you to become a morning person and be able to unlock your leadership. This would really mean a lot. Thanks for sharing this one out

  15. 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!

  16. 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

  17. 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!

  18. 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 😂😉

    • Tiffany on November 23, 2020 at 12:28 am

      I resonate with this, Jenny! As a mom of 4 kids, 2 of whom get up at 6:00am and 2 of whom go to bed around 9:00/9:30pm, I find that it’s tricky to get up early enough before the early risers to actually get anything done, but also have enough emotional/relational energy left for the night owls. The only time my house is quiet is after 9:30pm, ha! I like the vision that Carey cast… maybe I’ll become an early riser when my kids are older ;).

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  25. 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!

  26. 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.

  27. 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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