Is the early hour a magical time for productivity—or just pure misery?
The Wall Street Journal calls 4 a.m. the most productive hour, citing powerhouses of industry who swear by getting up early to avoid distractions.
Hoping the same magic would rub off on me, I traded in my usual 6 a.m. rise time for 4 a.m.
But would the 2-hour time difference transform my productivity and improve my day?
Here’s what I found out.
1. Changing my body clock wasn’t easy.
The first order of business was waking up and getting out of bed.
My body clock isn’t set for pre-dawn. And I’ve been known to sleep through an alarm clock or two, so this took a bit of effort.
My first attempt was a fail: I hit snooze in a stupor, rolled over, and went back to sleep.
The next morning, I set three alarms staggered two minutes apart.
Surely, this could outsmart my chronotype, the master biological clock ticking away inside my head. Nope.
After trying and failing three more mornings, I downloaded Mathe Alarm Clock, a free app that makes you solve a math problem to silence the beep.
It worked, and turned out to be the ticket to my new call time.
2. It actually feels good to wake up early.
Normally if I oversleep until, say 7 a.m., I get out of bed already feeling behind, like the day has gotten away from me.
Even with my usual 6 a.m. wakeup, the to-do list turns on as soon as I open my eyes, and the rest of the day feels like I’m playing catch up.
Waking up at 4 a.m. really is like rising and shining.
Right out of the gate, I felt like I’d done something positive for myself, a feeling that carried over into the rest of my day.
I was kinder to myself, less reactive, and in a better mood.
3. It turns out, 4 a.m. really is a magical time.
The only time I remember waking up this early on purpose was to catch a flight, and I was too groggy and preoccupied to notice or care about my surroundings. What a missed opportunity.
The early hours of the morning really are wonderful. Some days I just lingered in bed, others I’d sip coffee on my porch or in front of my computer.
Waking up before the birds and the sun felt like finding an unexpected stash of cash—a secret world where the sky is still dark, the silence is amazing, and even the air feels calmer.
There’s nothing pressing to do, nowhere to be, no sense of urgency, just bonus time that brings a brighter perspective.
4. It helped me prep for the day.
I’m an introvert. Being around people can drain me, especially first thing in the morning before I’ve had my coffee (my kids included).
Usual school mornings are a mad dash of eat-breakfast-get-dressed-brush-teeth mayhem that can leave me depleted.
Solitude in the morning was my secret weapon. The guaranteed quiet time meant by the time my kids were out of bed, I’d already had my coffee, answered email, and had a whole lot me time.
My tank was full! And the calm start also better equipped me to handle whatever storms lay ahead.
5. You get a lot done if you’re up before everyone else.
Between email, Twitter, Facebook, phone calls, and office interruptions, the ding is constant and productivity pays a price.
The best part of waking up early is that distractions are way down and willpower is way up.
This proactive combo meant I got lots done. Sometimes I’d glance at the clock at 5:30 and already feel like I’d done a day’s worth of work.
No wonder Starbucks President Michelle Gaas sets her alarm for 4:30, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, rises at 3:45, and Mark Wahlberg Wakes Up At 4:10 a.m. Every Single Day.
6. I didn’t write a novel, but I did get more creative.
The Irish novelist and playwright Edna O’Brien worked in the morning, “because one is nearer to the unconscious, the source of inspiration.”
And she wasn’t alone: Writer Anais Nin said she did her best work in the morning; Kurt Vonnegut wrote before dawn; ditto for Toni Morrison.
And I sort of thought I’d hammer out a genius novel just like that. Not so.
The morning didn’t magically turn me into a novelist, but getting my to-do list done early did mean more creative match-strikes throughout the day.
7. It kept me from behaving badly at night.
Most of my sins happen at night.
That’s when I’m more likely to binge watch, binge eat, and even binge buy.
Instead, I got into bed with a book and it was lights out by 9 p.m.