They say the early bird gets the worm — and there may be some truth to it.
After all, successful people tend to wake up early. Apple CEO Tim Cook starts his mornings at 3:45 a.m. to get a head start on email, and Ellevest CEO Sallie Krawcheck wakes up at 4 a.m. for creative thinking time.
It's arguably the most productive time of the day, according to The Wall Street Journal, because it allows you to tackle tasks before distractions arise.
I decided to join the 4 a.m. club for two weeks to see if the early bird really does catch the worm.
I barely lasted one week.
While I won't be adopting Cook or Krawcheck's morning routines in the near future, I did gain some valuable insights and got closer to establishing the ideal morning ritual for myself.
Prior to this experiment, I started my days at 7 a.m., which allowed me 45 minutes to shower, dress for work and whip up lunch before heading out the door for my 40-minute commute.
Here's what my morning routine looked like during my experiment:
4 a.m.: My alarm sounds. I have a 50-50 chance of hearing the alarm right away.
4:20 a.m.: I get out of bed. I only managed to get out of bed at 4 a.m. on the dot once. Most mornings, I didn't even hear my alarm until 4:20 a.m. The one positive of consistently oversleeping by 20 to 30 minutes is that I shoot out of bed with a sense of urgency, the way you do when you realize your alarm didn't sound and you're going to be late.
4:30 a.m.: I make my bed. I find it helpful to immediately start and finish something, no matter how minor the task. Making my bed takes less than two minutes, but it still requires me to stand up and do something active with my hands. Plus, making your bed has been correlated with things like better productivity and sticking to a budget.
I also take a couple of minutes to tidy up — fold clothes or organize my room — after making my bed.
4:45 a.m.: I prepare lunch for the day. Again, doing something — cooking rice or chopping vegetables — wakes me up a bit. Making lunch doesn't require as much energy as reading or working out, but it's not completely mindless and helps me ease into the day.
5 a.m.: I read. At this point, I'm awake enough to pick up a book and not risk falling back asleep. I make sure to read on my couch, not my bed, just in case I'm tempted to doze off.
I also use this time to check off any lingering to-do list items — writing thank-you notes, sending off emails, updating my budget or ironing clothes — that I normally wouldn't have time to do in the mornings. Individually, they're small tasks, but completing so many little things makes me feel significantly more productive and in control of my day.
5:45 a.m.: I work out. I go out for an hour-long jog along the Hudson or East River. I've never been much of a morning runner, but since I've been awake for an hour and a half at this point, I'm surprisingly energized and it doesn't feel like the typical morning workout.
7 a.m.: I shower and get ready for work. This is when I would typically wake up and get ready for the day. I leave home the same time I always do — 7:45 a.m. — and get to work around 8:30 a.m.
While productive, my "4 a.m. week" was miserable for several reasons:
There were several benefits to waking up hours before the workday began:
During week two of the experiment, I decided to set my alarm to 5 a.m., which would still give me a solid chunk of time before the workday but wouldn't throw my body for quite the same loop.
Interestingly, after a week of 4 a.m. alarms, getting up at 5 a.m. felt like an absolute breeze, even though it's still much earlier than I'm used to.
I didn't get as much reading in, and shortened my runs a bit, but I still felt exponentially more productive and in control of my days. Most importantly, I wasn't overwhelmed with fatigue. That extra 45 to 60 minutes of sleep made a world of difference.
So while I ditched the 4 a.m. club as quickly as I joined, I'm now a content member of the 5 a.m. club — and here to stay.