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To accomplish a big goal, such as launching a new business, writing a novel or starting an exercise regime, productivity experts will often suggest getting up early. You can get a lot done in a quiet house with no distractions or interruptions. While this is sound advice, it’s easier said than done.
“You might think getting up earlier is just a matter of discipline, but it actually takes much more than that,” says Julie Morgenstern, time management expert and author of Never Check Email in the Morning (Touchstone; 2005). “The truth is, your entire ecosystem has been built around sleeping later.”
When you try to change your morning routine, several obstacles will stand in your way. It’s possible to overcome them, however; the key is to start the night before. Morgenstern offers six strategies to make getting up early work for you:
1. Change your mindset. Many people fight going to sleep because they want to get more done – they have separation anxiety from the day. But Morgenstern teaches her clients to think differently.
“Consider sleep the beginning of the next day,” she says, adding that this mind shift can change the way you look at sleep and make it exciting. “Sleep becomes an active element; you’re charging up your battery.”
2. Adjust your bedtime. Many of us are already sleep deprived, and stealing another hour of sleep will just set you up for failure. The only way to be successful is to go to bed earlier. Determine how many hours of sleep your body requires and count backwards from there.
“Getting up earlier requires a fundamental shift in your neuro-pathways,” she says. “While the change makes total sense to you the day before, actually doing it the next morning is hard work and requires you to break a lot of patterns.”
3. Adjust other nighttime activities. You’ll also have to adjust the time you eat dinner as well as after-dinner decompression activities, such as reading, says Morgenstern.
“You’re not being realistic if you say you’ll get up early but then don’t build everything else into your day" accordingly, she says. Also, eat dinner no less than two to three hours before bed, which is optimal for being able to fall asleep and sleep well.
4. Prepare for your morning activity. Sometimes what keeps us in bed isn’t fatigue, but the fact the morning task we’ve planned is overwhelming. To make these activities less daunting, prep the night before and organize your equipment. Set out your gym clothes, yoga mat or running shoes, if you’re planning to exercise. If you’re going to be on your computer, tidy your home office, and preprogram your coffee maker.
“Starting something new can feel complicated,” says Morgenstern. “Take the time to prepare and you’ll increase your chances for success.”
5. Turn off electronics. At least 90 minutes before bed pull the plug on electronic activities, such as watching television, checking email or social media or reading on an e-reader.
"Science says it’s a source of energy and over-stimulates us,” she says. “It’s like drinking a Red Bull before bed – there’s no way you’ll fall asleep.”
She suggests replacing it with something relaxing, such as listening to music, drawing, or prepping meals for next day.
6. Create a pre-bedtime routine. Give yourself peace of mind and time to unwind by creating a calming pre-bedtime routine. For example, make a ritual of checking the windows and locks. Dim the lights and stretch. Or take a leisurely walk.
“This routine will help you fall asleep quickly and easily,” she says. “It will also significantly increase your chances of getting up in morning.”
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