Does Waking Up At 5:30am Make You More Productive? ZTC 5:30am Wake Up Challenge

Ethan’s Journal

Day 1
I woke up with only 6.5 hours of sleep, but felt pretty good. I jumped immediately into planning my day. Literally, first thing, my finger tips touched the keyboard to input my tasks and time blocks for the day. Once I planned my day, I exercised with a body weight workout emphasizing chest. Felt really good. By 6:30am, I felt more awake than I normally would at 9am. Following exercise, I ate breakfast, showered, and jumped right into work with my blood flowing and fuel in my belly. The morning sped by as I completed tasks that had been on my “to do” list for days. After an incredibly productive morning (and early afternoon), I took a short nap around 2:30pm since I did not get a full night sleep before. After waking up, I ran two miles to get some blood flowing through my system and recharge me. Productivity shot up after the run and I completed some additional tough tasks left on my list. I worry about tomorrow, however, because it is 11:30pm and I am 3 drinks deep after a night of trivia. Hopefully, I’ll be able to function after 6 hours of sleep, but I may be in store for a rough day tomorrow.

Day 2
My alarm blared at 5:30am begging me to wake up. I opened my eyes, pulled my computer onto my lap, and began planning my day. Suddenly, the prior evenings drinking and late bed time hit me like a firetruck. I knew that I would not be able to sustain productivity throughout the day off only 5 hours of sleep. I tried the 5:30am challenge the week before and noticed that I could take an afternoon nap, but my productivity still waned. Instead of pushing through a day of with a sleepy brain, I fell back asleep knowing that a 300 pushup punishment awaited.

While I did not wake up at 5:30am today, I still maintained a productive day after getting at least 7 hours of sleep. Any less, my entire day would have been shot. My morning certainly did not provide the same level of productivity as Day 1. I look forward to an early start tomorrow to gauge how I feel.

Day 3
Success! Up at 5:30am and right to a planning session. Energy pumping through my veins and my mind full of creative ideas waiting to be manifested into meaningful project work. Waking up at 5:30am after a full night sleep feels like the first time drinking a Red Eye (coffee with a shot of espresso).

Day 4
Another late night leads to another rough morning of waking up at 5:30am. While yesterday felt like a productive masterpiece, today felt like it trudged along at a snails pace. My time seems more or less wasted when I cannot think clearly enough to even produce words on paper. I completed a workout in the morning which spurred some productive process soon after, but by 1pm I became so burnt out that the rest of the day was pretty much lost.

Day 5
After yesterdays sleeplessness and today being a holiday, I decided to prematurely end my 5:30am Challenge like a wimp. Overall, I succeeded 3/5 days. Two of the days felt absolutely spectacular. My mornings led to huge increases in my productivity, but the lack of sleep completely crushed my ability to function in the afternoon. I believe it takes a certain lifestyle to lead a 5:30am life, but in my current state of being, I don’t fit the lifestyle bill.

What I Learned
5:30am wake ups offer you the time to complete a huge chunk of tasks during peace and quite. Seriously, the internet still sleeps at 5:30am. However, the day slips away rather quickly if you fail to get a full night sleep. More important than consistently waking up early, you must consistently get the right amount of sleep. Yes, Thomas Edison slept 3 or 4 hours a night, but I am Ethan Lieber, and Ethan Lieber needs 8 hours of sleep… minimum. Did you know Albert Einstein supposedly slept 10 hours a day? (And he is one smart cookie!)

Would I Do It Again
When my lifestyle changes and I am in a position to get to sleep early, I would totally do this challenge again. Imagine waking up totally fresh, tons of energy, completely alert, and no distractions to interrupt you. That is the beauty of the 5:30am wake up call. You just need to get a full nights rest to make it worthwhile.

Final Thoughts
While the 5:30am Challenge won’t be holding a permanent place in my life, I learned valuable lessons about my own needs on staying productive. For me, this was not just a 5:30am Challenge, but it was a representation of what we can learn when we are willing to completely change our lifestyle for a short period of time.

George’s Journal

Day 1
I slept about 6.5 hours but felt alert upon waking up. Immediately I headed to the beach for a dawn patrol surf session. I got a workout in and had fun even though the winds were not ideal. Next I scrambled home for food and a shower. Off to work! My workday was packed with activity beginning with moving my workspace to another location which took a lot longer than expected. To eliminate distractions I seized the opportunity to remove clutter and set up my new workspace in a minimal fashion. Deep UI/UX work for a new software release took up the remainder of my day. I was noticeably tired after lunch so drank green tea to pick myself up.  Upon coming home from work I prepared for sprint training. I do sprint training at a park near my home once a week to switch up my workouts and push myself hard.  Plus this improves your fast twitch muscle fibers.  The day was productive but I ended up going to bed later than I wanted to. Let see what tomorrow brings.

Day 2

Today it was also not too painful of a wakeup. I was out of the house to the beach quicker than the day before which is awesome. I had a feeling the surf was going to be good and I was right. The conditions were pristine and the waves were firing. After catching as many waves as I could I rushed home and prepared for work. Time blocking my day is the first activity of the day before checking email. The work day progresses and I hit a slump at noon. My coffee count was one, the green tea count was two and rapidly rising. End of day count was 5 green teas and 2 coffees which must be a personal record. Around noon Ethan and I started blasting tweets for our next challenge to Pat Flynn, Tim Ferris, and Ramit Sethi. I had no idea what to expect but I was going to try. Pat Flynn ended up responding to us although he did not accept a challenge. We will get him soon!  Need to catch up on some sleep tonight. 10pm target hit the pillow time.

Day 5
This was the hardest day given today was July 4th which is a holiday. Somehow I still managed to wake myself up and go to the beach to surf. The rest of the day I did not drink any coffee or tea. I only seem to drink when it is readily available. Looking back I am proud I woke up by 5:30am five days in a row. I’m not sure I would have been able to do this even a few short years ago. My lifestyle makes this challenge more suitable to me as I don’t go out late at night. For Ethan who is currently single getting to bed early was more of a struggle.

What I learned
I learned that I could wake up early and be very productive. I think the key to waking up early is having a purpose for doing so. I exercised or went surfing every day before work. It does not have to be exercise but if you want to wake up early you will need to plan something to do for this to be a worthwhile endeavor. I also learned I need at least 7 hours of sleep to be fully functional. On days where I slept less than 7 hours I was less productive and needed to drink abnormal amounts of coffee and tea to power through the day. With time I’m sure I would be more consistent with my sleep time.

Would I do it again
Yes! As a surfer I know the best conditions are usually in the morning. I love getting exercise out of the way before work and it helps to boost my energy levels throughout the day. Not sure if I will do it everyday but I will check back to let people know in the future.

Final Thoughts
As we close this challenge and move to another I really believe this is a habit I will work on developing and continuing. One of the things I noticed is I did not always get 7-8 hours of sleep during this activity. What would be good in the near future is an 8 hour minimum sleep challenge. It would be great to document how this affects our day vs sleeping less. The only way to find out is to experiment and do! Hope you learned as much as we did.

Please leave your feedback about the challenge below:


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Ethan Lieber

Ethan Lieber is a founder at ZeroToComplete where he focuses on leadership and entrepreneurial productivity. Follow Ethan on Twitter @EMLieber .

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