First things first: Getting up early is not a prerequisite for success. Even though The Wall Street Journal says that 4 a.m. may be the most productive time of the day, the most successful people wake up and start work whenever the (heck) they decide is the best time for them.
That's because the only thing that truly matters is what you accomplish while you work. What time you start, and what time you finish is unimportant. What matters is what you achieve.
But still: Even if you're a committed night owl who loves to wake later in the day and work late into the evening, you may not have that luxury. Maybe you have clients in other time zones. Maybe you run a business that requires you start your day early.
Maybe you have little or even no control over your start time, much less your stop time.
If that's the case, you owe it to yourself to become a morning person. You'll feel better and get more done.
1. Let "bedtime" take care of itself.
Think about a time you knew you had to wake up early to do something important. You needed to be fresh and rested and full of energy. So you went to bed early.
How did that work out for you? I'm guessing terribly -- because all you could think about was how badly you needed to fall asleep.
And when you try to fall asleep, you almost never can.
If tomorrow is your first day of shifting to an earlier start time, don't try to go to bed early tonight. Just go to bed when you normally do. Sure, you'll be tired tomorrow, but that's OK. Natural fatigue will help you get to bed a little earlier that night, or the next night.
In time, your body will adapt -- as long as you don't shift back to your night owl ways on the weekends. Shifting back and forth results in an endless cycle of sleep schedule resets.
Ask anyone who works shift work how badly those suck.
2. Exercise first thing.
Take advantage of the mood-boosting effect of exercise: Research shows that as little as 20 minutes of moderate exercise boosts your mood for the next 12 hours.
Researchers found that aerobic training of "moderate intensity," with an average heart rate of around 112 beats a minute -- which is elevated, sure, but still falls on the lower-mid end of the cardiovascular intensity scale -- improved participants' mood for up to 12 hours after exercise.
"Moderate intensity aerobic exercise improves mood immediately and those improvements can last up to 12 hours," says one of the researchers. "This goes a long way to show that even moderate aerobic exercise has the potential to mitigate the daily stress that results in your mood being disturbed."
And as Gretchen Reynolds says, exercise can make you smarter; exercise creates new brain cells and makes those new cells more effective. Plus you'll burn more fat since your body will still be in a fasting state.
So if the thought of waking up early and having to exercise seems doubly bad, remember this: It will make the rest of your day a lot better.
And help you be a little healthier.
3. Eat more protein and fewer carbs for breakfast.
Protein naturally increases dopamine levels, and while most people think dopamine regulates pleasure, research shows dopamine regulates motivation, causing individuals to initiate and persevere.
Which is exactly what you need to do when you wake up: Initiate and persevere.
4. Harness the power of light.
Wake up before dawn and it's tempting to keep the lights low; after all, it's no fun to face bright lights when you're still sleepy.
Do it anyway: The presence of light tells your body to stop producing melatonin, the chemical that helps you sleep.
Turn on plenty of lights in your office. Or your facility. Wherever you are, make it bright.
5. Don't plan to nap.
While taking a nap this afternoon might seem incredibly tempting, it will also make it harder for you fall asleep at a good time tonight.
And make it harder for you to shift your schedule so that waking up early seems automatic, not forced.
6. Start every day with something you really want to do.
As Ernest Hemingway said about writing, "The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day ... you will never be stuck."
His advice applies to any work. Stop when you know exactly what you'll do next and you'll be excited to get started again.
And if that's not possible, plan to accomplish something extremely important first thing. Do that and once you're done you'll feel really good about yourself -- and will be motivated to accomplish whatever is next on your list.