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5 Powerful Ways Becoming A Morning Person Unlocks Your Leadership

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!

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Want More?

I’ve created the High Impact Leader Course as a way of helping you become a far more effective leader, getting your time, energy and priorities to finally work in your favour.

You can do the online course at your own pace, and it will guide you through a personalized plan to help you figure out how to lead with passion and the highest level of impact at work, at home and in life.

Best yet? I honestly believe taking the High Impact Leader will help you find between 3 hours a week to 3 hours a day back. Imagine what you’d do with all that time.

The High Impact Leader Course is available now. Check out the team edition that includes multiple licenses for your staff, or consider the new premium edition kit which includes a physical workbook and Moleskine® journal.

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.

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8 Comments

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

  2. Weekend Leadership Roundup - Hope's Reason on December 10, 2016 at 8:47 pm

    […] 5 Powerful Ways Becoming A Morning Person Unlocks Your Leadership – Carey Nieuhof […]

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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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