When I had an infant, I remember my mother-in-law telling me that she used to get up at 5:00 a.m. or even earlier when she had kids. “No way!” I thought. “I’ll never do that.”
Well, add it to my long list of things I said I would never do in the realm of parenting, because I’ve found that the benefits of early-morning wake-ups far outweigh the benefits of one more hour of sleep. On a good day, getting up before the kids allows me to workout, have coffee with my uninterrupted thoughts, set out math worksheets or activities for them at the breakfast table, read my Bible, process purchases in my You Need a Budget app, make a to-do list for the day, and get breakfast going. Yesterday, I also ordered a new Apple charger, did a couple of rows of knitting, pulled meat out of the freezer for dinner, unloaded the dishwasher, and worked on clearing off the kitchen tables and counters (a never-completed task).
Some days, the only benefit is time alone to read and knit in silence. To think. That’s all I did this morning for over an hour.
I think you already know, though, about what early mornings can do for your mental sanity and productivity. The real question is: How?
Peter Shankman, author of “Faster Than Normal,” and a proponent of the positive qualities of ADHD, gets up at 3:30 a.m. due to a cascade of cues he sets for himself. He controls his whole apartment with Amazon Echo, from his automatic lights to his back-up light-alarm. He told me that he sleeps in his gym clothes. He keeps his workout equipment in his bedroom. There is no excuse for this man to not get up early.
One alarm doesn’t do it for me, either. I set an analog alarm on a little clock in my bathroom, so I’ll have to physically get up and turn it off. If my phone is in my room, I have two alarms set that go off every day at 5:45 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. My husband gets up at 5:30 a.m. to get ready for his day at the Army and leaves the lights on in the bedroom and starts talking to me . (You’d think that would be the only cue I need, but I like my warm bed.)
But there’s more! I tell myself that I’m only allowed to pull a shot of espresso from my fancy De’Longhi machine in my grandmother’s fancy ceramic cup from Japan if I actually get up by 6:00 a.m. I know that I have yummy SmartyPants gummy vitamins I get to eat—they’re candy, right? I do feel pretty bad if I don’t get myself downstairs to give Stephen a hug before his car pulls out of the driveway, so guilt works, too.
Plus, I text my friend after I have worked out, and put a checkmark on the month’s workout tracker, which is a Post-It on the fridge (my friend and I compete each month to see who works out more times). Getting to bed early, too, is pretty important. I try to make sure I’m moving toward bed by 10:00 p.m.
The best part about waking up a solid hour before the kids is that it also sets off the rest of my good habits that I’m working on, such as exercise, time reading the Bible, and drinking enough water each day. If I wake up early enough days in a row, my body starts to automatically get up by 6:00 a.m. without all the cues.
Some public school parents and parents that need to get to work in the morning might not be so impressed by these tips. Everyone else: please don’t read this and be discouraged. I honestly couldn’t have started this habit when my first child was an infant. In that season of life, sleep was crucial. And know that it has taken me a long time to get here and it’s easy for me to fall off the wagon, especially during the holidays or times when my husband is gone for training, as he often is. (The next time he’s gone, I might ask some of my friends on the East Coast to start texting me when they’re up and going, since they’re three hours ahead of me.)
Sometimes the way toward a hard habit is with a small, first step. I often tell myself that all that matters is that I go downstairs in my pajamas to give my husband a hug. After that, it feels like quitting to just go back to bed. Everything else follows.