Matt Greer

Waking Up at 5am to Code

23 January 2012

I’m currently experimenting with waking up at 5am to work on personal projects before heading to work.

Someone on Hacker News once mentioned they do this, and it stuck in the back of my head ever since. I’ve been at this for two weeks thus far.

The basic idea

At 5am I jump out of bed and code for two hours, then get ready for work. I do this every day, including weekends. I maintain an online Kanban board which I groom/prep in the evenings while watching TV, to ensure I am ready to be productive the next morning.

Enjoying the work is key

It’s 5am and I will be also putting in a full day’s work afterwards. Not being stressed out or frustrated during this time is essential. I ensure this by working on truly personal projects that interest me and I have complete control over. I’m only two weeks in but so far no signs of getting worn out, in fact quite the opposite. It’s been pretty invigorating.

Advantages

  • At 5am things are very quiet and serene. Nobody is on IM, no one is texting or emailing me. I find myself very focused. I am also aware of the cost of these two hours, which motivates me to be even more to focus and use them efficiently. So far, I have found I am very productive.
  • I have a well defined slot to do my work, and I am guaranteed at least 12 hours a week, typically 14-18 (how much I put in on a weekend can vary). This is very different from before when I’d try to carve time out of my life at the expense of other things. The strong structure has led to better time usage overall.

  • I am only going to bed one hour earlier than I used to. To do this I do sacrifice a bit of reading time, and I get between 7-8 hours of sleep. But I’m (so far) ok with all of this

  • My evenings – and much of my weekend – are more relaxing. I can enjoy myself and unwind and not have a little voice in the back of my head telling me I really should be pushing forward on the game. If I want to work in the evening I can. But so far I am finding ~12 really good hours a week to be enough to propel my project forward at a comfortable pace. The itch to create is well satiated.

  • I am finding myself turning off the project thinking and daydreaming and being more in the moment for the rest of my day.
  • When I head off to work I’m more awake, and feeling good about already having been productive.

Disadvantages

  • At first waking up at 5am was very painful. But I am adjusting.
  • I may be wearing myself down more than I realize, and may not really know that for a while yet
  • I can’t listen to music as effectively as I’d like, lest I wake my girlfriend up. This may become an advantage though…
  • This could interfere with weekend plans. I do doubt it though, I’m not so young anymore and not really a late nighter these days.
  • Getting in a pinch and not making much progress during these early morning sessions may be a drag on the rest of the day. Hopefully that never happens, but it may eventually.

Why the weekend too?

I find I am more likely to stick with something like this if I do it every day. Letting myself sleep in on the weekends makes me more likely to then sleep in on Monday too. It can unravel from there. That’s just my personality though.

The Kanban board

I’ve really become a fan of Kanban, even when just working by myself. I do feel this is a key element in this. It keeps me focused, forces me to break down my tasks into managable chunks (ideally finishable in 2 hours), and makes sure I am never messing around trying to think of where to go next.

I got requests to see a screenshot of my board, so here it is (click for full size):

kanban

Other ideas

First I plan to see if this will really stick. I am optimisic it will. If it does, I think might look into a coffee pot that can have a nice cup waiting for me right when I get up.

I gave the standing desk idea a shot a while back and ultimately went back to sitting. But maybe for two hours in the morning standing would be more ideal? Worth looking into.