Early mornings are often touted as the key to success--getting up at the crack of dawn is a daily habit you must cultivate to get more out of your day and maximize productivity.
Yet, despite our best intentions to rise early without a groan, many of us continue to reach for the snooze alarm--only to later berate ourselves for not instantly becoming morning people. When we're told a morning routine will transform our day, will success always be outside our reach because we are late to rise?
After interviewing hundreds of successful creatives about their daily lives and challenges, I've come to understand that being an early riser does not necessarily determine success in a given field. It's mistake to place too much emphasis on what time you start the day, instead of what you are doing to kickstart your morning. Waking up at 5 in the morning may work for some, but for others, it simply interferes with their creativity, energy, or natural biorhythms.
An individual's daily routine does not need to be fixed to be geared for success. Instead, experiment to find what will lead to the most optimal approach to your day.
Here's some alternatives to the early-morning routine to help you cultivate your own work habits, based on advice from creative entrepreneurs and freelancers and on my own experiments.
1. The slow morning
Without the confines of a 9-to-5 job, many creative entrepreneurs and freelancers have done away with the idea that the early bird gets the worm and instead allow for a natural tendency to sleep in and relish the slow morning.
Melbourne illustrator Jeffrey Phillips drafts and redrafts his daily habits as if his day were a sketch, regularly trying experiments to find the optimal wake time. For months he woke up at 6 a.m., only to find that it is the slow morning that works best.
"I've flirted with all types of waking hours. There used to be a time when I didn't set an alarm and I could wake up anywhere between 10 and 12."
Phillips now sets his alarm for between 8 and 9 a.m., depending on what he gets done the night before. This allows for a sleep-in, a leisurely breakfast while listening to a podcast or reading, and practicing the piano before heading off to the studio late morning.
"All these little things serve to make me feel in control of my day, and provide a sense of agency over my life," he said.
2. The 'eat the frog' routine
Mark Twain once said that if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day.
Popularized by author Brian Tracy, the "eat the frog" technique suggests that we tackle our most dreaded first thing in the morning, when we are less susceptible to distractions.
Experimenting with this technique myself for one week, each night I would determine my frog for the next morning--the thing I didn't want to do, but actually needed to do. I woke up naturally each morning, made a cup of tea, and opened my laptop to eat my frog.
This routine gave me the feeling of getting two days in one. With the hardest task behind me, I'd then reset, shower, and attend to tasks that are usually swallowed up by the snooze alarm--exercise, eat a full breakfast, and do a daily meditation.
"Eating the frog" may suit those, like myself, who are prone to procrastination. Completing the hardest task first creates a sense of accomplishment and momentum for the rest of the day.
3. The reflective morning
Photographer Mark Lobo has made a conscious effort to allow himself ample time in the morning to contemplate. "I'm definitely not a natural early riser. Once I'm up, I need at least an hour to get myself mentally ready for the day."
To start his morning, Lobo reaches for the coffee and makes breakfast, before settling into relaxing and reflective activities.
"I really value the time I give myself in the morning and spend a lot of it relaxing, stretching while listening to a guided meditation, sometimes making more coffee, sometimes browsing the internet. I do my best not to cross over into work mode during this time, as it can throw my whole day off. When I'm feeling settled, I start thinking about what I need to do for that day," said Lobo.
4. The miracle morning
Popularized by best-selling author Hal Elrod, the Miracle Morning is a set of rituals wrapped in the acronym SAVERS: Silence, Affirmations, Visualizations, Exercise, Reading, and Scribing.
This morning-routine sequence can be completed in any order and in as little as six minutes or as much as an hour. Taking the advice of Elrod, when I personally tested this routine, I got up an hour earlier than usual to fit in my sequence: 20 minutes of meditation; five minutes of reading a positive affirmation and making mental visualizations; 10 minutes of free-form writing; 10 minutes of reading; and a 20-minute jog or a high-intensity workout.
While I found the sequence exhausting and leading to a tendency to dally afterward, the Miracle Morning routine might be well suited for those who want to "win the day" and take to new habit formation quickly.
5. The faux-work routine
For anyone working outside set office hours, not having a specific start time can be both a blessing and a curse. It's liberating to construct your own day, but can equally feel directionless and chaotic.
As a freelance writer working from home, it has helped me at times to return to a faux 9-to-5 work routine. While I don't have an office to hurry to, following a faux-work routine requires I be at a café or library no later than 9 a.m.
The structure has proved to be a great way to force me out of bed instead of scrolling on Instagram till the mid-morning. Combining this routine with "eating the frog" has often proved to be a very successful way to start the day.
6. The work-from-bed routine
It's reported that Winston Churchill maintained a steady morning routine throughout his career: he would wake at 7:30 a.m. and stay in bed to enjoy breakfast, read his mail and the news, work, and dictate to his secretaries before finally rising at 11 a.m. to bathe.
Telstra Business Women Award winner and founder of Kester Black Anna Ross has a modern adaptation of the routine.
"The first thing I do is I grab my phone and check the Sleep Cycle app. Then I'll reach down for my laptop and start to check all my emails and pretty much do all of my accounting and invoicing in bed. It's an actual addiction--but I have an hour before I go to yoga and I think it makes everything as easy as possible for when I finally get to work," she said.
When it comes to your morning routine, don't beat yourself up for being a late riser. Experiment, mix and match, and find what works for you--but, most important, shake the belief you have to be an early riser to be successful. As these creatives and models prove, you can start your day on your own terms.