Waking up early doesn’t make you more productive. Here’s what does

Takeaway: Waking up early doesn’t make you more productive—there’s no difference in socioeconomic standing between early risers and night owls. What makes you more productive is becoming deliberate about how you live and work—including with your wakeup ritual.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 8s.

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One of the biggest productivity myths out there is that waking up early makes you productive.

The idea of waking up early is a sexy one: a lot of people dream about being a productive early riser; drinking a cup coffee, reading the news, working out, and meditating before the rest of the world wakes up. And don’t get me wrong: a lot of people wake up early every morning, love it, and make it work.

But here’s the problem: the research shows that your wakeup time does not impact your productivity. In fact, there is zero difference in socioeconomic standing between someone who wakes up early and someone who wakes up late.

This happens a lot with productivity advice, where the idea of a change is much sexier than what you’ll have to do to make a change a reality. Everyone likes the idea of working out, having a six pack, and eating an all-natural raw food diet—but in practice, these changes involve making million small sacrifices along the way, that, on a daily basis, feel like more trouble than they’re worth. Making big changes often involves swimming upstream against a tsunami of small habits. This makes it worth questioning exactly why you want to make big changes in the first place, and if you decide to make them, deeply thinking about how you will.

I have a theory for what does make you more productive with regard to your wakeup time: being deliberate about what time you wake up at. If there’s one central idea I keep coming back to in my productivity experiments, interviews, and research, it’s that the most productive people don’t work on autopilot in response to the work that comes their way—they work deliberately and with intention behind what they do.

This same idea applies to your wakeup ritual. If there’s a reason some early risers are more productive than late risers, it’s that they’re deliberate about when they wake up, and what they do afterward. Their running clothes are already set out for them (provided they’re not sleeping in them already), the coffee maker is ready to go at the press of a button, and the newspaper is waiting for them at the door.

Someone who wakes up at 5:30 and someone who wakes up at 8:30 each get 16 hours to have a productive and meaningful day.

What actually makes a difference in how productive you are after you wake up is how deliberately you spend your time, attention, and energy.

  • Abby Marks Beale

    I LOVE this post! It is about being mindful and intentional about what we do everyday. Getting enough sleep is also key to being productive so if you need to get up later because you went to bed later, so be it! Thanks for your great content!

    • Yvonne McQuarrie

      Completely agree, Abby! There is even a particular amount of sleep time for getting the energy for the whole day. I mean having slept 6 or 8 hours we will be feeling the same, but it’s essential to spend that exact time sleeping, not 6:30 or 7:20, etc. These thoughts are related to the sleep phases and their influence on our productivity.

    • Scott Wittrock

      Hey Abby, I’m looking for some early adopters to try out a new productivity tool that helps keep you focused. If you want to try it out you can sign up at http://www.dolist.io. Would love to hear your feedback!

  • Cheryl Fewell-Brown

    I think everyone is different in whether they are early birds or night owls. I love getting up early, but over the years (I’m 58), I have trouble getting to sleep at night so I find i stay up later, but still wake up fairly early. Then I’m tired! Getting enough sleep whatever time you wake is very important!”

  • Thomas Dahbura

    I use the word Cadence when talking about being more productive. Deliberate is awesome! Spend your time wisely!

  • Flower Violet

    This is such a prevalent myth. I’m weird in that I go through phases of being an early or late riser for no apparent reason. Going with what feels right is important.

    http://www.rosieleizrowice.com

  • Jimmy Moroney

    Doesn’t it matter if you are a productive person or not?If you don’t sleep well its hard to be productive!

  • I have been a die-hard night owl and a die-hard morning lark at different points in my life. This was NOT a choice I made; my body decided. That said, be careful about saying “there is zero difference in socioeconomic standing between someone who wakes up early and someone who wakes up late.” Russell Foster may be a neuroscientist but he is ONE neuroscientist. Such theories are never definitively proven by the work of one person. I have read other studies showing that morning larks do better, financially. Oberservationally, I can also say that our society tends to favour the morning lark. And I agree that that’s totally unfair.

  • Waking up early gives you a “small win” in the morning that motivates you to keep being productive throughout the day.

  • Minta

    Yes, yes and yes. Too many times I see ‘the key to a successful life is waking up early’. All this may seem attractive and motivational but it won’t stick. As you said, in order to make a real difference, you need to change the reality. Motivation will wear out, discipline will stay with you forever. Great article!

  • Glenny Lapaix

    Actually, I think that when kids are involved, productivity is increased when you wake up early. Having three kids of my own, I can attest that on the days when I wake up at the same time or after my kids, I accomplish less because I am so busy attending to their needs. However, when I wake up early, I am able to make my cup of coffee calmly, perform chores, work on my at-home business, and even have lunch already prepared BEFORE they wake up that way I don’t have to worry about cooking for the rest of the day. I can see how not waking up early might not have an impact on your productivity if you do not have children; however, when kids are involved, the earlier you can start your day before they do, the better.

    • Scott Wittrock

      Hi Glenny, I’m building an app that helps people be more productive by focusing on what’s important. I’ve gotten good feedback from people who are trying to balance family and work priorities, which is especially important when you are working from home! I’d love to hear your feedback. You can sign up at http://www.dolist.io. Thanks!

  • TuckerdogNC

    So, let’s all stop being elitist about early risers, or making people feel lousy that they aren’t. :-)

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