Why 4 a.m. Is the Most Productive Hour!

Tackle personal tasks before sunrise; find focus before distractions begin. Are Early Mornings the Secret to Success? 

The early bird gets the worm, as the saying goes. But what about the really, really early bird — like the one who’s getting up before the night owls even go to sleep? In a recent article, The Wall Street Journal profiled a number of people who swear by their morning routine of getting up at 4 a.m.

While that might sound like the schedule of a workaholic (or maybe a farmer, or U.S. president) the people in the article swear it’s not necessarily an insane workload that inspires the schedule. These crazy-early risers enjoy the solitude at 4 a.m. and find the lack of distractions can boost productivity.

“No one is expecting you to email or answer the phone at 4 a.m. No one will be posting on Facebook. You’ve removed the internal temptation and the external temptation,” psychologist Dr. Josh Davis explains. On the flip side, however? Many of those profiled are in bed, exhausted, as early as 8:30 p.m.

The tips these extreme morning people share for staying on schedule? Everything from sleeping in your gym clothes (then, just slip on your running shoes and you’re ready to go!) to keeping a coffee maker programmed to start brewing at 3:45 a.m. One thing career coach Lauren Milligan recommends, though, is scheduling emails to go out a bit later — the world isn’t ready for the pre-sunrise crowd, and people might find it off-putting to get an email before 7 a.m.

It’s not all blissful quiet, however. The early risers report missing out on social events with friends, and occasionally feeling lonely in the pre-dawn hours. Still, it sounds tempting — though probably downright impossible for some of us, considering this night owl might just be flicking off the bedroom light at 2 a.m., hours before the alarms of the 4 a.m. risers are set to ring.

A new report published in The Wall Street Journal says that 4 AM is the most productive hour of the day.

Let’s face it, dear reader: Our world is super crowded and loaded with distractions. Do you see why it’s very easy for things to escalate into high-stress mode? A typical day will only escalate from there. Classic example: I used to work retail before I landed a job that allowed me to write and edit full-time. (Such is life, right?).

During my first few months at this place, I worked from 1:30PM-10:30PM five days a week. It was really nice to have a regular schedule––I was fortunate to have the same days off the entire time I worked there––and it seemed great, at least at first. 1:30PM was a peak hour for this place, so I’d clock in and walk right into a maelstrom of human activity. The demands only grew from there––this is retail in the heart of Manhattan’s East Village, so you can imagine how busy it would get. By the time I’d get ready to go on my one-hour lunch break, I’d find myself already on the steady decline toward exhaustion. By the time my shift ended at 10:30PM, I’d make the 90-minute trek home (yay, trains!), arrive home, feel a desperate need to unwind, then watch the hours tick on by before falling into my bed like a hapless sack of potatoes, only waking up when I had barely 30 minutes to spare before it was time for me to make the trek out again.

But I’m still very much a night owl. I do all of my best writing at 4 AM. I clean my room at 4 AM. I plot my global takeover at 4 AM. I do a lot of things at that ungodly hour. Why is that? Now, I’m no CEO, but many prominent and powerful executives swear that getting up early––and super early at that––is the best way for them to get a nice start to their day.

Take Russ Perry, for example. He’s 33 and lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is the founder of graphic design firm Design Pickle, and he says that the hours between 4 AM and 6 AM are the most planned, most organized and most scheduled part of my day. It’s a crapshoot from there.

Perry identifies as a Christian. He prays, first and foremost, then he goes ahead and answers his emails and handles business finances before heading to the gym. Productivity experts believe handling emails first thing in the morning is a good way to waste energy, but Perry swears he gets “a head start on everyone as a result.” By the time 10 PM rolls around, he’s exhausted, but, he says, I’d probably just be watching TV or on my computer doing low brain activity stuff.

So is he really giving anything up? Let’s look at some more well-known executives for a moment. Like Tim Cook, the Apple CEO. Cook is known for being the first one to arrive at the office and the last one to leave. He likes to start his day at 3:45 AM sharp.

And billionaire Richard Branson, who actually gets up at 5 AM, but… …he says the early wake-up call allows him to spend time with his family and get some exercise. Speaking of exercise, Peter Shankman, a New York-based entrepreneur and speaker, says that he likes to go out for 10-mile runs with a friend twice a week. The early morning hours are perfect because the streets are free from distraction. He says:
If I’m busy dodging people or noticing who’s passing me, my ideas won’t come.

He’s ready to work by 7 AM. And he’s in bed by 8:30 PM. No Late Show for him: I’m exhausted, but in a good way, which means I won’t have the energy to do something stupid like eat two gallons of Ben & Jerry’s at 10:30 p.m.

Not bad. Josh Davis, the director of research at the NeuroLeadership Institute, says: When you have peace and quiet and you’re not concerned with people trying to get your attention, you’re dramatically more effective and can get important work done, so they have that part right.

So clear your inbox. Clean your room. Go to the gym or go for an early morning run. Set goals for yourself. Take the time and eat a healthy breakfast. What’s stopping you? There are no distractions at 4 AM! I’m up between 6:30 and 7 AM Monday through Friday, already at work, meeting my deadlines. On a good day (if I don’t have to travel out), I can finish what I need to do by 2 PM. 4 AM? I’m working on it. But who knows, dear reader? Try it. You might find that you’re more productive and more sociable than you ever dreamed of.

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