It began with getting up at 5 a.m. That was the plan. Our baby would wake up at 6, and since I was the primary caretaker at home, I’d be able to get a sufficient amount of business done before then. I quickly learned that meant I didn’t shower unless he took a nap, so I started getting up at 4:30 a.m. Then I realized I couldn’t make morning tea or coffee unless I got up at 4:15 a.m., and that I had to refuse my steadily increasing workload unless I woke up at 4:00 a.m.

The scales kept adjusting until I found a new wakeup time: 3:15 a.m. It was an hour after the bar’s last call, making it officially morning. Three o’ clock still carries the smell and the silence of the night, though, and it gave me the isolation and the darkness that fueled my creativity. I traded my extreme late nights of younger years for very productive mornings. I had space.

My son became my end-of-day clock, and when he rang around 6 a.m., I had usually already talked to my New York contacts, written an article, and tackled a new business strategy for my first app, So Quotable. The time shift became invaluable when I launched my recently wound-down startup, Cuddlr, with a U.K. co-founder.

Around the time of my change, I caught a popular article that said we used to sleep in two shifts as recently as a couple centuries ago. People regularly went to bed for a few hours, woke up in the middle of the night, and then finished their rest with another multiple hour shift.

“Maybe this temporary thing will work…forever!” I told myself one morning before sunrise.

After several months, however, I realized that this should not-or rather, could not-be my default. My moods began swinging. My body began to ache.

I told myself that I’d keep at it for a year. As the 12th month arrived on the horizon, I hit the equivalent of a runner’s wall, and I limped to the finish line.

It was time for a change. I decided to look at my priorities. I started saying no to gigs, accepted that parts of my to-do list wouldn’t get done, and gave myself at least one alarm-free morning every week. The aches went away, my mind got clearer, and everything became more focused. The year following the experiment was even more productive, as I zeroed in on only the projects about which I was most passionate-simply because I didn’t have the time to do otherwise.

In the end, I left with some serious takeaways:

  • Vary the times you wake up: A consistent schedule is usually recommended as the best route, but I learned to vary the times of waking, even if it wasn’t the day after a late night or a business trip.
  • Be gentler on yourself: I was balancing being a present, active father; launching an immediately popular startup; and consulting to keep the lights on. Some days, I was bound to be relatively tired and unproductive.
  • Remember that it’s going to end: My startup wouldn’t always need me to handhold it, just as my son wasn’t going to be as dependent on me forever. On the rougher days, I remembered that this, too, was going to pass. Recognize that there is a finite ending to this. If there isn’t a finite ending in sight, then create a foreseeable milestone to reach.

What’s the craziest schedule you’ve ever kept? What were the three things that you learned? Let me know in the comments.

Published on: Jul 2, 2015