These days, it’s become extremely fashionable to be hyper-productive and ‘always on’. Yet while many strive to turn themselves into morning people, modelling their lifestyles after entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, most people don’t succeed. And we know exactly why.
Hello, it is me.
One of those psychopaths who wakes up at 5:30 AM everyday just to go to the gym. By the time most people are just out of bed, I’ve already burnt twice the calories the average office drone consumes in a day.
After the rush of endorphins, you’d think I’d be raring to power through the day like a productivity maniac. With the extra two hours in the morning, I should be clearing emails, scheduling meetings for the week, getting pregnant, and giving birth, all before getting into the office. After all, this dream of hyper efficiency is exactly what countless articles preach as the benefits of being a morning person.
Said articles usually report that morning people succeed in building up their superhuman discipline, stay ahead in the world, and thrive in a distraction-free environment. Morning people supposedly have a greater sense of satisfaction from accomplishing twice (sometimes thrice) the amount of work in a day than wake-up-at-normal-hour plebeians.
Case in point: Tim Cook, who wakes up at 3:45 AM. Jennifer Aniston, who wakes up at 4:30 AM. And Oprah, who wakes up at 6:02 AM. What’s your excuse?
Four years ago, I too treated this information like gospel. Back then, I started sleeping before 12 and waking up before 6, thinking I would get shit done with all the extra time I had.
Lol, how naive.
The reality was that I did not complete more personal projects, did not become more efficient, and certainly did not miraculously discover more family time. This heartbreaking lack of accomplishment bothered me at the start, particularly since I take pride in being extremely Type-A.
Yet I’ve since accepted that it’s completely fine not to live up to your own high expectations, least of all before 7:30 AM. Oddly, after letting go of the desire to change the world, it became much easier to wake up.
Now, I get out of bed early simply because I enjoy it. Not because I want to be #nevernothustling.
For anyone who cares, this is the schedule I’ve settled into that hasn’t changed much:
5:30 AM: Wake up. Lie in bed and reply messages I received while asleep. Let my eyesight deteriorate. Briefly scroll though a few posts on Instagram. Change into workout attire.
5:40 AM: Leave home. Drag myself to the nearby bus stop. Choose a Spotify playlist for the day.
5:50 AM: Board the first bus. Catch up on local and international news headlines via Facebook, and social media updates from friends and public figures. Skim through some of my favourite email newsletters (New York Times’ Smarter Living, Buzzfeed News, Literary Hub’s weekly updates). Bookmark articles that I want to spend more time on.
6:00 AM: Reach the gym. Die a thousand deaths.
6:50 AM: Leave the gym.
7:00 AM: Ache all over. Stop by a hawker centre to buy breakfast. Alight one to two bus stops away from home, then take a leisurely stroll back.
7:40 AM: Arrive home. Shower. Watch friends’ Instagram Stories. Catch up on more news—this time via Twitter. Read articles I’d bookmarked from earlier in the morning or yesterday. Realise I’ve been sitting with my wet hair in my dripping towel for 15 minutes. Check the time. Panic.
8:30 AM: Drag myself to work. Breathe.
8:40 AM: Board the bus. Think about which friends I haven’t spoken to in awhile, and those I want to see during the week. Text them. Spend the whole journey on Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Instagram Direct Message, and Telegram. Sometimes, sleep instead.
9:25 AM: Unmute my office group chat. Read the messages I’d missed throughout the night. Mentally prepare myself for the daily morning meeting.
9:30 AM: Arrive at work. Sigh. Tell myself that I can do this. I can do this!!
As you can tell, at no point does work get done.
I arrive at the office with both an overwhelming to-do list and tons of leftover work from the previous day, and I don’t give a damn.
Productivity mavericks will argue that I need better time management. That I could complete a million minor tasks in the morning if I spent less time reading the news, mindlessly browsing social media, and sitting around after showering.
Thanks, but no thanks. I could easily make these changes if I wanted to, but you know what?
I don’t. Because being an overachiever is overrated.
With time, I’ve learnt that what I enjoy about waking up at 5:30 AM has nothing to do with getting more things done. I, like everyone else, have just been sold the narrative that rising early has a direct impact on our success; that we’re doomed to languish in the bowels of a dead-end office job, a parasitic sore festering on some itchy corner of society’s armpit.
So, real talk. I wake up early so I can bask in the extra time for myself. So I can savour the quiet moments before my home comes alive with the chaotic convergence of every family member’s morning routines. So I can relish the delicious solitude of being the only one awake and online.
Given that work is often a balancing act between “Get this done!” and “Get this done, now!”, I love that I can dictate my own pace of life in the morning. Whether it’s spending an hour at the gym or 30 inconsequential minutes drying my hair, or taking time to reflect on what I hope to accomplish by the time I get into bed at night, I like knowing that I’m not waking up just so I can get right to work.
So when I recently discovered the ‘Type-A Breakfast’, which comprises a community of “Type-A entrepreneurs and executives” who gather for two hours in the morning to complete an entire day’s work, I was reminded that while this can sound like heaven, the trade-off would be hell. I was reminded of a time when I would have embraced this, nevermind that I wouldn’t be able to lie in bed staring at the ceiling for 10 minutes, or that I wouldn’t be able to zone out for 15 minutes at a bus stop, not in a rush to go anywhere.
It was then that I truly understood. The best part of being a morning person isn’t about being more productive. It’s really about carving out the freedom to do whatever you want for yourself, on your own terms. This includes absolutely nothing.
Before the day starts and you have to do things for other people, this breathing space is invaluable.