Need To Get Stuff Done? Shift Your Hours.

I’m going to let you in on a secret to getting more done. I truly believe it has helped me be more successful than ever in the past year.

It may sound counterintuitive. It may not even be logical. You might have a violent emotional reaction to the idea. But it works.

Shift your hours. In other words, get up 2 hours earlier.

Most people get up 1-2 hours before they leave for work. Some college kids cut that down to ten minutes, some high-maintenance people I’ve known require more than a few hours just to look presentable.

Every minute of that 1-2 hours is filled with showering, shaving (legs, face, or both), brushing teeth… otherwise, Dentist Winter Park will be on my case! Then, I’ll start to eat breakfast, getting dressed, fixing your hair, feeding the dog, getting the kids up, feeding the kids, making the kids’ lunches, getting the kids out the door, driving to work, parking, and then dragging yourself in to the office. Whew! That’s a full day already!

Then what happens when you get to work? Everyone else’s priorities land in your lap, your voicemail, and your email inbox. You have five scheduled meetings, fifty impromptu meetings, and even a few meetings to decide when you should have your next meeting. Then it’s lunch at your desk and another fifty meetings in the afternoon before your check your meeting schedule for tomorrow, turn off your light, and go home. Another day checked off the calendar and you got exactly 15 minutes of actual work done.

I’m telling you, get up 2 hours earlier and you will magically start getting more stuff done. If you get up at 7am, get up at 5am. If you get up at 6:30am, try 4:30am.


Oh, that’s the second part of the equation. You might have to go to bed earlier. But, honestly, how productive are your last two hours of the day anyway? I’ve got two words for you: American Idol.

I discovered this secret upon the prompting of leadership and personal development guru Robin Sharma. His powerful business fable, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, hit my reading list last year and I really enjoyed it, so I started listening to what Robin had to say. He’s a big believer in getting up at 5am so I decided to give it a try.

I used to get up around 6:30am or 7am, but now here’s a typical routine for me:

  • Get up at 5am.
  • Feed the dogs.
  • Shower.
  • Eat a light breakfast.
  • Kiss my wife goodbye (she makes the cutest sound when I kiss her while she’s still asleep).
  • Kiss the dogs goodbye.
  • Head to Starbucks.
  • Work for 2 hours.
  • Go to the office.

Yep, I work for 2 hours BEFORE I go to work. What do I do during that time?

  • Read.
  • Write.
  • Review my vision and goals.
  • Plan my day and my week.
  • Work on my most important project(s), like, for instance, this very article.

I do review my email quickly, but I typically only respond to critical requests. And by critical I mean somebody needs a reply immediately so they can continue working. By the way, I find that very few emails ever fall into this category…at any time of the day.

Many mornings, I smile to myself as I remember the words of an old Army commercial: “We get more done before 9am than most people do all day.”

When I get up at 5am, I really feel that way. I get WAY more done than I used to when I got up at 7am because I don’t waste this newfound time. I don’t spend it reading the paper or hanging out in my bathrobe sipping my Maxwell House. Ok, I don’t even own a bathrobe and it’s been decades since I even tasted Maxwell House, but you get my point.

Do I work more hours each day? On average, yes. Does it feel like it? Hardly ever. When you’re uber-productive, you really don’t pay attention to the clock. When you get to work on what YOU want to work on, you get more energized, not more drained.

Do I feel guilty or like a slacker when I cut out early some days? Not a chance. First of all, “early” is rarely less than an eight hour day and, second, I’m very satisfied with my level of productivity on most days. I can’t say that with near as much consistency when I get up at 7am and work a “normal” day.

And the best part is, when I hit the office, I’m much more able to be present to the needs of the people I serve (my staff, my workshop clients, and our guests at sparkspace) because I know I’ve already been productive today. So my attention can shift from my personal, high-priority work (which I worked on at Starbucks) that requires a fair amount of focus, to being more responsive and helpful to those around me.

Is it a perfect system? Golly, no. It takes awhile to get used to getting up a lot earlier. It can be tiring. Your mind, body, and soul will form an alliance and attempt a coup d’etat. I’ve noticed that at 5am my bed feels more comfortable than at any other moment of the day or night. Believe me, on many mornings that’s a hard situation to pry myself away from.

Oh, I hit the snooze button, sometimes more than once. Ok, sometimes more than seven times. And I don’t get up every day at 5am. Weekends I let myself sleep in until 6am. On holidays I really relax and get up at 6:30am. I’m kidding, but I do get up early most days.

Getting up 2 hours earlier is one of those things that’s simple in theory, a bit difficult in execution (at first), but with a much bigger payoff than you anticipate, which is why it becomes easier and kind of addictive the longer you do it.

If you think you can’t do it, you can at least do it for one work week, yes? C’mon, you can do anything you put your mind to for at least 5 days. Try it for one week and see if it makes a difference for you. I’m willing to bet you’ll see a powerful increase in your productivity.

Need some tips on how to get yourself up early? Check out this video from the man who inspired this idea, Robin Sharma:

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