Some people don't have a choice. The working poor have to take the hours they can get, even if it means getting up in the middle of the night. Farmers also need to rise early, although I suspect few rise when it's still pitch dark.

Other than those folk, anybody who gets up at 4 a.m. is doing it out of choice, probably because they feel that they're getting some sort of competitive advantage, usually something like higher productivity. These people are idiots.

Let me explain.

Yes, I've read the many articles proclaiming that "the world's most successful people start their day at 4 a.m." And yes, I'm aware that the short list of extreme early risers include Apple CEO Tim Cook.

But you know who doesn't get up at 4 a.m.? Linus Torvalds, who (in addition to being a nite owl) created Linux, the operating system that runs most of the servers on the Internet and emerged from the same operating system concepts as MacOS.

By contrast, what has Tim Cook accomplished? I mean, other than maintaining Apple's momentum? The company has released no new product categories since Steve Jobs died. All Cook has managed are incremental "improvements" on existing products. Big shrug.

Now, I don't know how YOU measure success but by MY metrics Linus Torvalds is far more successful than Tim Cook. A hundred years from now Torvalds will be in lists that include Edison, Tesla and Einstein. Cook will be a footnote.

While I'm on the subject, other famous nite owls include Winston Churchill, Bob Dylan, Carl Jung, Franz Kafka, Fran Lebowitz, Mao Zedong, J.R.R. Tolkien, Prince and Barack Obama.

Maybe it's me, but I'd rather be ranked with that crowd than with "famous" early risers like the chief merchandising and customer officer at Kohl's department stores or Virgin America's CEO. Whoever they are.

Again, while I'm on the subject, you know who else didn't start their day at 4 a.m.?

Archimedes, Aristotle, Bach, Boyle, Copernicus, Da Vinci, Democritus, Descartes, Epicurus, Erasmus, Euclid, Galileo, Goethe, Heraclitus, Hobbes, Jefferson, Kant, Kepler, Leibniz, Lucretius, Machiavelli, Twain, Maxwell, Newton, Pascal, Plato, Poe, Pythagoras, Shakespeare, Spinoza, Vivaldi, and Voltaire.

How do I know they they didn't start their day at 4 a.m.? Because prior to the invention of the light bulb, nobody ever got up prior to "dawn's early light." 

But let's put history aside for a moment and look at the case for a 4 a.m. wake time on its own merits. The most popular article touting 4 a.m. (which appeared in Inc.com, incidentally) claims the competitive advantage of early rising comes from:

  1. "Minimal distractions (like kids or work) before the sun rises"
  2. "No one is emailing or texting you"
  3. "There's less to see on social media"

Uh... I don't want to state the obvious, but you get the exact same advantages if you work late, like from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.  Which is, BTW, when I am personally the most productive. Same thing for many nite owls who, from what I can tell, are usually more creative than the early birds. 

But even accepting (which I emphatically do NOT) that there's some as-yet-undefined competitive advantage to waking at 4 a.m. versus staying up til 2 a.m., consider this: all three of those "advantages" are only meaningful if you lack self-discipline.

Take that "minimal distractions" thing. People who have personal discipline always manage to ignore distractions, kids, work or whatever.

For example, Stephen King launched his career as one of the most successful writers in history while working in a trailer full of children. I'm not saying that was ideal, but the point remains: if you're sufficiently self-disciplined, distractions don't matter.

Similarly, emails and texts are only a problem if you're not disciplined enough to turn them off when you want to get work done. Same thing with phone calls. These things are only problems if you choose to let them interrupt you.

Ditto social media. Is it really that hard to not check Facebook and instead focus on getting real work done? Is it really such an incredible burden to resist the temptation to click over to Twitter? Not if you're committed to your success.

I put it to you: anybody who's getting up at 4 a.m. (or staying up to 2 a.m.) to avoid distractions, emails, texts and social media, is weak-willed and silly because they could get the exact same results simply by prioritizing what's really important.

But let's forgive their weaknesses for a moment and give them the benefit of the doubt. They need peace and quiet to get work done. Fine. But who else but an idiot would start their day at 4 a.m. when they could get the exact same benefits by staying up late? 

Seriously, when has anybody anywhere ever said: "it's my day off so I'm going to wake up at 4 a.m. because I'm taking care of ME"?

In any case, I'm deeply skeptical of those who claim that they regularly start their day at 4 a.m. I'll bet that 99% of the time, people who claim to do this actually did it once or twice but say they do it all the time to impress people.

Not impressed.

The idea that rising at 4 a.m. makes you successful is just as stupid as thinking that you'll be more successful if you burn yourself out working 100 hours a week, or that open plan offices will increase productivity. It's bullsh*t from top to bottom.

It's time for us non-idiots to say "enough with this macho crap." Here's what you do instead:

  1. Set ambitious goals.
  2. Get up at a reasonable hour.
  3. Work 6-8 hours each day.
  4. Rest, relax, recharge.
  5. Get a good night's sleep.

Follow that simple, time-honored regimen and, trust me, you'll be far more successful than those spineless fools who must needs get at 4 a.m. simply to get a day's work done.

Published on: Dec 22, 2018
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