Wakey Wakey! The Business End of 4 AM

Sunrise, originally uploaded to Flickr by killthebird.There was an interesting article in Forbes the other week about how power women wake up early, and commenters seemed interested in talking about it more, so I thought we should explore in an open thread. How early do you get up? What do you do with the time? Any tips that make it easier to get up then? For those of you who don’t rise that early, do you have another special time of the day? (Sunrise, originally uploaded to Flickr by killthebird.)

For my $.02: I was always a night owl when I was younger. Term papers and graduation speeches alike got written in the hours between 12 and 3. I realized this was a problem sometime around high school when, reading a college admissions essay I had thought brilliant the night before, I realized a good two sentences were devoted to “finding a piece of licorice on the floor.” And not even in a metaphor way, just a “Kat had a dream while typing” way. Still, the habit perpetuated until after law school, I think. By then — working crazy long hours — I realized that my best time truly was first thing upon waking. So I started getting up earlier.

I also realized a funny thing: that the time was truly mine when I got up earlier. I wasn’t rushing out the door to get to work. I had time (and energy) for a workout. Then I truly got greedy and realized I could get the ME stuff done then — the stuff I’d always wanted to do but never had the chance to. I attempted to finish NaNoWriMo in the hours between 4:30-6:30 one November. I read books I had meant to read in college but never gotten around to — thinky books that won National Book Awards, and not just the latest brain candy. I started this blog. (In fact, most of the longer posts for the first six months of this blog were written primarily in those morning hours.) Occasionally, I would even use this “super Kat” time for good and do work work (usually when I was up against a deadline and needed super focus to get it done.) I love these hours — time to myself, and time to be proactive rather than react to the day.

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All that said — I’ll admit it’s really hard to get up, especially when it’s dark outside. I’ve found that it’s helpful to set the coffee the night before, and also to put my workout clothes in the bathroom so it doesn’t take too much effort to change into them.  I also tell myself, “If something is important to you there will be time in your schedule for it somewhere, and now is that time.”

Readers, how about you? Do you rise and shine early — and do you use it for “me” time or productive work time?

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  1. I wonder if the most high-functioning men also get up at 4am for some ‘me time.’ It sounds like the women who do this are bearing the burden for getting their kids together in the morning, while hubby gets to sleep in.

    Just a thought.

    • AnonInfinity :

      Not a scientific study by any means, but a lot of the men in my office seem to get up at 4:45-5 and get to work around 7-7:30. I get up at 4:45 so I can exercise before work (what I consider my “me time” and catch up on blogs before I start working), and I don’t have children.

      I don’t know that I’ve ever heard any man say the phrase “me time,” but I do think a lot of men get up early for the same reasons Kat and others have mentioned.

    • Anonymous :

      Men I work with get up around 5 am to exercise and read the paper before work. Then again, I work with a bunch of fitness nuts, most with grown children who don’t live at home. The one with young children has a wife with a part-time job. The key is to get a wife! (I once told my parents that and they were horrified. They think I should be able to do it all…and well!)

      • Amelia Bedelia :

        or get a husband with a flex schedule that will take on the cooking and housework and errand running. that’s what I did!

        • Research, Not Law :


          In all seriousness, every professional should have a stay-at-home spouse! It doesn’t have to be the woman, but wow, does it make a difference. The recession reducing my husband’s time has been a blessing in disguise.

      • phillygirlruns :

        i have said so many times that what i really need is “a wife.” and i don’t even have kids – just relatively well-behaved dogs. i’ve settled for a once-a-month cleaning service (which i will never admit to my family that i have – i did not grow up in a world where this happened and suspect i would be judged heartily for paying someone else to do my chores).

    • My dad (now semi retired solo practitioner) was always up before my mom for his “me” time/legal writing/paperwork time. Aside from time you were born, I wonder if being a morning bird/night owl is genetic, or observed/environmental trait?

      Both my dad and I need prob 7 hours of sleep daily. I can function for a day or so on 4-6 hours but can’t sustain it. I’m pretty type A though, so I can fit a lot in my day but just going going going all day long and still get a proper amount of sleep. I think Anna Wintour wakes up 5 or 6am, and is always in bed by about 10pm. And you won’t find her sitting around watching TV I’m sure. Her day’s are tennis, work, required outing as I remember from a book a read.

      I think my dad goes to bed 8:30-9 and wakes up 5:30-6. Obviously there are variants, and I remember his always taking naps before him and my mom went out, or before other late outings.

    • Amelia Bedelia :

      the high-powered men at my work all get up early to exercise or “get a jump” on the day. I routinely get emails at 6.30 or 7am from these partners.
      Sometimes I think we are reading too much into this gender-bias. Kat herself established this “me time” 4.30am rule well before she was even married, let alone had kids. can’t blame the husband and children for that one.

    • Research, Not Law :

      I know lots of men who get up early to exercise for two hours before work, to pick up their kids after school, or just because it’s comfortable for their daily rhythm. I once had a male roommate who did it just to have ample grooming time.

      And FWIW, my husband gets our daughter up and out the door in the mornings. LOL, although he’s not up a 4 am. Like me, he prefers to spend his “me time” asleep ;)

    • I don’t have kids or a husband and I get up at 4 a lot of days to run. Don’t make everything about gender…

    • My dad gets up at 3 or 4am every day to have time to himself because it’s when he’s most productive. He goes to bed around 9pm. My mom has never been a morning person and always slept much later. When we were young my dad got us ready for school, breakfast, etc.; my mom handled dinner. I don’t think it’s gender-specific at all.

      I wish I could be more of a morning person. I did it for about 5 months straight this year, during the spring/summer: went to bed around 11am and woke up at 6:00am to head to the gym. I think it helped that it was light and warm out. I LOVED having my mornings, even though I have never been a “morning person” by nature. I knew I would be so much happier if I worked out, so that was my motivation to get out of bed. I thought it was a permanent change. But then work got busier, I ended up having a few weeks of leaving the office at midnight, and I got on a later schedule. Trying very hard to switch back, but it’s much harder now that it’s dark and freezing in the morning.

  2. I could never imagine waking up at 4 am either (maybe staying up until 4am, but not waking up!)…until my teenage daughter became a competitive swimmer. Then, it was 4 am 3x per week so that she could be at practice at 4:45. What was really insane, was waiting in the parking lot for the Y to open (at 5 am) so that I could get a workout in before picking her up and taking her to school. Now, she is old enough to drive herself. And…I wake up at 4 to make sure her alarm goes off and don’t fall back to sleep until she texts me when she gets to practice. Oh well. As I tell my younger colleagues who are just starting families, “sleep is overrated”!

    • the zinger :

      As one of those former Olympic hopefuls, let me tell you:

      That over-training and messed up sleep cycle will mess her up for life.

  3. momentsofabsurdity :

    Can any ‘Rettes make recommendations for websites or articles where I can get the boiled-into-five-seconds download on student loans?

    Background – I was accepted to an MBA program in my senior year of undergrad and deferred for a couple of years. I was in the extremely fortunate position not to have any loans from undergraduate and have never been in any significant debt. I am now a year and a half into my work at a startup and while the experience has been invaluable (I’m doing plenty of things that I am NOT qualified to do less than two years out of undergrad!) the pay has been far from ideal and I have minimal savings to put towards the MBA. I expect it to be financed primarily with loans and institutional grants, and know that what little savings I have will be a drop in the bucket.

    I expect to get the financial aid paperwork, etc, in the start of the new year, but want to start becoming financially literate over the holidays so I can best evaluate the package. My parents are in the (lucky) position of being able to help if the terms for student loans offered are untenable (but it would be a loan, not a gift, and would be expected to be repaid, with interest), but I would prefer not to put them in this situation as they are approaching retirement (though if the school determines an EFC for me that’s not possible for me to reach, my parents might be able to help me out there). I basically need a website which just throws the down and dirty about financing graduate education – things like- federal vs private loans? I know that I’ll be entitled to a Stafford/Federal Direct Loan, and theoretically, Grad Plus loans which could cover the entire cost of attendance, but I assume it will be a mix of private and federal loans and much will depend on the package that I’m offered. Ideal interest rates? Fixed vs variable (do they even have variable student loan interest rates?)? What kind of loan term should I look at? etc etc so that when I get the package from the school, I have an idea of what is reasonable and what is not.

    Maybe this is all a little too far in advance to be thinking this, but having never been in debt before, it’s scaring me a little and I want to understand as much about it as I can!

  4. I am NOT a morning person at all. I typically get to work around 9:30 am, leave work at 7:30 pm and then work at home if I need to (I’m in Big Law). On the days that I do get up early I love it, but it’s a struggle for me to get up. My goal is to go to bed at 11 pm, wake up at 7 am and then work out. That happens every once in a while. My current schedule is more like go to bed around 12:30 am, wake up at 8 am, get to work at 9:30 am.

  5. I am all over this thread, but anyway, another perk of getting in early and leaving early is that you can fit in a hair cut, oil change, post office trip during normal business hours on a weekday evening, rather that having to fit that into your weekend too.

  6. When I was single, and living in the city (read: short walk to work), I loved getting up “early” — my favorite was signing up for a 6 a.m. bootcamp class 4 days/week that still had me home in time for a shower and leisurely breakfast before walking to the office.

    Now that I’m married, and living in the suburbs, that same “early” time is when I have to get up if I want to eat a quick breakfast at home instead of in the car, never mind working out. And it means I generally need to go to bed a bit earlier than my night-owl husband (who has a nice, short commute). I theoretically could go to bed earlier in order to get up earlier and squeeze in a workout or me time, but that would mean seeing even less of my husband, especially during busy seasons when he’s not getting home until after 9 p.m. most nights. Not gonna happen.

  7. Anonymous :

    Has anyone tried the Zeo sleep monitor? You wear it like a headband and it monitors your sleep cycle. It wakes you up at the optimal time in your sleep cycle. It may be that you can sleep for 4/5 hours and wake up rested if you wake up at the right moment in your cycle. Similarly, it may be you sleep 7/8 hours and wake up tired if you wake up at the wrong moment. I haven’t made the investment, but curious if anyone has else tried it.

    • There’s an iphone app called sleep cycle that does the same (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sleep-cycle-alarm-clock/id320606217?mt=8). Don’t know if there is an android version.

      It works Ok for me, but probably because I use it as a part of my “routine” 7/8 hour sleep. I’ve never tried it for a short (4/5 hour) sleep and would be wary of using it under such conditions b/c my iphone is not as loud as my alarm clock (and I would probably sleep right through).

    • My husband was just talking about an Android app (I think it’s free) that you can download. You have to sleep with your phone on your bed so it can evaluate body movement, but it generally tries to do the same thing. My husband said that the two times he’s tested it that it seems generally accurate.

      • Any chance you have the name of the app? I would love to try something like this!

        • It’s called “sleep as an droid”. It’s free for two weeks and then I think it’s somewhere around $1.75. But it’s great!

    • I have a Zeo, but find that sometimes its accuracy is a bit off in terms of identifying which part of my sleep cycle I’m in, so its identification of transition points can be a bit off, so I limit the function to “up to 15 minutes before set alarm time”.

      I’ve had terrible insomnia my entire life (at least since 1st grade, and my parents say longer), and I’ve found that the tracking tools have been really helpful in narrowing down what’s actually happening during my sleep, and what affects my sleep quality and restedness. Once I’m at a point where I can do something about my sleep I’ll be bringing some charts in to my doctor to discuss treatment options (I’m currently pregnant; no sense in bringing it up until the kid is sleeping through the night). I’ve been treated for insomnia before with limited success, but that was based on annual visits to a sleep clinic, so the data (while more elaborate) was pretty limited and couldn’t show any trends – I’m hoping that knowing the trends can help narrow down a more effective treatment method.

  8. I feel like such an odd-ball. I’m definitely not a night owl since I’m ready for bed by 10 every night. But I don’t think I’m a morning person either. I’m at my best between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. I don’t get up earlier than 7 , though I wish I could to carve out that extra me time. Still even on the days I do get up before mr gov anon, I find I don’t get much done. He’s so sensitive to noise that it bothers him if I walk from living room to kitchen to pour coffee. I can’t imagine trying to get housework done or typing done. And as he’s a true stay up until 4 a.m. and sleep until noon night owl, I usually feel that the best part of the day/weekend has slipped away before I can even think of starting on my projects.

    • If you are an oddball, gov anon, so am I! I always feel so left out when I read articles geared towards the night owls and the larks (I think that is what morning people are typically called), full of helpful tips about how each type can maximize productivity. What about someone who needs 8-9 hours of sleep each night, who has never and could never pull an all-nighter, and for whom waking up early (let’s say before 7:00) is virtually guaranteed to induce a migraine headache – even if she tries to go to bed early the night before to compensate?

  9. My commute to work is about an hour, and I have to be to the office by 7:30. It takes me about an hour to get ready, have breakfast, pack lunch, etc. so I have to get up at 5:30 in order to be on time. I’m not normally a morning person, but after being at my job for a little over a year I’ve started transitioning to a morning person. For me, I did a couple of things to get my ‘me’ time in.

    First, I turned my commute (both ways) into ‘me’ time. In the morning I listen to my favorite radio show and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea. I live in a very rural area so I usually get to watch the sun rise over the mountains, depending on what time of year it is, which makes for a wonderful morning. For my afternoon commute, which is 4:30 to 5:30, I usually make my ‘family catch-up’ phone calls. (I know, I know!! I could be practicing safter driving – my husband tells me regularly!) I like to call my sister, parents, brother…whoever, and spend some time catching up.

    Second, I pack my gym bag in my car at all times and have a membership at a gym that’s on my way home. That way, I can stop without having to go out of my way, and my gym clothes are always with me. I can usually manage to get a 45 minute workout in and still make it home by about 6:30.

    The catch to all this is that I MUST have at least 8 – 8 1/2 hours of sleep to function, so I need to be in bed by 9:00. I just got really good at time management. I run ALL errands on weekends so I never have to do ‘just this one quick thing that turns into hours of things’ on my way home. I make a meal plan on Sundays so I know exactly what I’m doing when I get home and I’m not staring at my pantry for half an hour. I’m pretty type A, but my effeciency allows me to get everything done during the day and still have time with my husband or for myself.

  10. I get up at 4 a.m. The trick that works for me is to put an alarm clock in the living room (my blackberry in my purse performs this function nicely) and put my workout clothes in the bathroom.

  11. Getting up early is critical if I want to be sure to have time to work 0ut – can’t count on time or energy at the end of the day.

    Critical to getting up early – an alarm clock that lights up. You can buy ones with actual lights built into them, or get ones into which your bedside lamp plugs in. They slowly “dim up” the light over a set period of time; I set mine to 15 minutes. Couldn’t get up at 5:00 am in the dark, but can with this light/alarm.

    • This works for me, too. I’m a snooze-button addict, and especially at this time of year, I’ll be hitting it for like an hour or more.

      But what has worked for me is the lamp on my bedside table. It has a high-wattage bulb. I turn it on the first time I hit the snooze button. Then I only hit it once or twice more, which works, because I have set the alarm 2-snoozes before I have to get up anyway.

  12. Liz (Europe) :

    Night owl with a need for 9 hours each day here, getting up at 6 in the morning to avoid traffic jams. To be honest, not a lot of time is left for anything. Luckily, I’m not raising offspring. I tend to go sporting after work.

    I’ll recommend the phillips wake-up light and good BRIGHT halogen desklights.

    • Liz (Europe) :

      9 hours of sleep, that is.

      • L from Oz :

        Is the wake-up light that good? I splurged on the Phillips light box recently (the big one, not the Go-Lite), and have been wondering whether the wake-up light would be a good addition. It’s a rather expensive collection of lighting, though!

  13. I wake up at 5:30 and spend about an hour getting ready and then get to work around 7am. I then leave early so that I can be home by the time my daughter gets off the school bus. My husband takes care of the mornings at home and works later. It is hard for me to get up early and I have been trying to get up at 5 and go for a short run…but that doesn’t always work out. I usually go to bed around 10 or 11. I like sleeping in but with three kids, including an infant those days are long gone, for now!

  14. I’ve used the “sunrise” alarm clock below since 1L year (just graduated this May) and am a huge fan.


    I always had a southeast facing room growing up and always just rose with the sun. My law school apartment faced east but straight into my neighbor’s window 10 feet away from mine and I never got any sunlight – I had a hard time waking up for 8am CrimLaw and bought this light. In the 4 years I’ve had it I’ve never had to change the lightbulb and their customer service is GREAT (moved and had no idea how to re-set the clock after plugging it in).

    You can set it to gradually get brighter culminating in your wakeup time – I usually wake up (naturally) a minute or two before the alarm is scheduled to go off and feel alert and awake rather than I’m fighting sleep. It’s a bit pricey but if you’re normally able to wake up with the sun but the winter is making it harder, I totally recommend it!

  15. I am completely and totally not a morning person. Even if I am up, no one dares speak to me. It takes me a good hour to become a normal person. Next to mornings, 3:30 in the afternoon is low energy crash time. I could fall asleep during an earthquake if I was sitting down. I have tried to be an early riser because I read about the benefits, but my mind is even less willing than my body which is saying something. Maybe I will put it in my new years resolution list again this year. Wish me luck!

  16. I get up between 4-5 most work days to run. Saturdays it may be 6. Its not easy, but I feel better after a good run.

    • Skirt Envy :

      Same here. Even though I don’t classify myself as a morning or night person (as long as I get 6.5ish hours sleep, I’m a generally amiable riser), runs certainly make everything better. My thoughts are more clear and I find myself solving work problems that were foggy the day before.

  17. Self-employed :

    I’ve always been more productive in the morning, and couldn’t study later than about 9:30 pm in law school or college.

    I usually fall asleep between 10:15-10:45 (I almost always turn on Daily Show before the interview, and am asleep before Colbert is over).

    I set my alarm for about 5:30 or 6:30, depending on when I need to be at work. I hit snooze a fair amount, and then am usually out of bed by 7. The best days are when I don’t have any morning meetings or court, and I can walk in at 10. That’s awesome, because I can spend the hours between 7 and 10 drinking coffee, reading the newspaper, checking emails, doing dishes, folding laundry, etc. Self-employment is nice.

  18. Sigh- I’ve been waiting for this thread forever and of course this is the day I had no computer access at work. Go figure.

    I get up at around 6 and make it to work at around 7-7:15. I am most productive before others get in and really like to have that quiet time to read my email and catch up on a few other things before it starts to get busy. I don’t think I need as much sleep as others. I can go to bed at 11 and still be fine the next day. I usually wake up right when I need to without an alarm. In the winter I do find it hard to stay up until 10, but if I go to bed before that I will end up waking up at 4:30 and having issues falling back to sleep.

  19. I’m at my sharpest first thing in the morning… which is why I prefer to work out in the afternoons. While lots of people swear by morning workouts, all they have ever done is make me feel like ish by 2 PM… and I’m so hyperactive that, regardless of what time I wake up, I am restless and antsy after sitting still for so many hours and feel like I HAVE to move around by 6 PM or so.

    In a perfect world, I would get in to the office at 7, work till 4, go to the gym, take a shower and a break and then work from home for a couple of hours. Am I the only person like this?

    • No, that’s me too, except reverse: I like to work (from home) from when I get up at 7:00 until 9 or so, then shower, make food, run errands, etc. until I make it to the office about 1:00. Then I’ll work until 7:30 or 8, go home and make dinner.

      Unfortunately I can only get away with this about once a week…

    • This is brilliant. I’ve never thought of going to the gym about 2pm, but it would totally work for me.

  20. hate the morning, no matter the time zone! need 8 hrs plus time to get shifted into the day. kind of sluggish mid-morning and afternoon too.. usually pretty awake evenings but not while pregnant now! so i guess i don’t have a perfectly productive time of day yet i get things done- more about the conditions in the moment. and i accept i’m not one of those lucky people who can do more on less sleep- a limitation to live with, is what it is. love to sleep, need it. in a work personality/icebreaker game once they asked “what’s your favorite place on earth, if you could be anywhere right now where?” i said my bed! Someone said you shouldn’t say that, people will think you are depressed. I’m not, I just like my safe, cozy restful bed:)