We all want to find ways to be more productive and maximize our days. We hunt for lifehacks on how to improve our performance and find article upon article advising us to wake up at 3, 4, or 5 am to work out, meditate, do yoga, hit the gym, etc. before actually “starting” the day (going to work?).
We’re inundated with people telling us how they wake up at unspeakable times in the morning and go to sleep running on fumes, convincing us to do the same over and over again until we see similar results. We’re bombarded with people, like Gary Vaynerchuk telling us to hustle, hustle, and hustle some more! Here’s the thing too many people get wrong about these supposed lifehacks — the message isn’t the problem. What you’re taking from it is.
As the old saying goes, take advice with a grain of salt (or skepticism, if you’ve never heard that term).
Why We Should Wake Up Early
Waking up early isn’t about beating sunrise or being able to brag to your friends — who, by the way, probably couldn’t be paid to care any less — about how maximized your days and work schedule are.
Waking up early with the intent of maximizing your day isn’t actually about the day, your work, or your schedule. It’s about you!
Once we get our “real” day started — which is the time when we go to work — our entire process becomes about everything and everyone but ourselves. We have to think about our bosses, our employees, our coworkers, our customers, and our families.
In a world where many of us define our existence on who we know, what we do, and what we’ve accomplished, we fail to remind ourselves that what makes our contributions so eye-opening, the work so valuable, and the ways we process so original, is the unique perspective we lend to the world around us.
Waking up early and doing all of these activities isn’t about the activities at all. It’s about making time for and reclaiming control of the most valuable asset we have — our imaginative minds. Sometimes to do that, we find clarity by activating our bodies with physical activity.
Taking time to start the day with our own interests in mind — the point of all this stuff, anyway — helps set our minds free, recentering ourselves, and subsequently giving ourselves a platform of clarity to launch the rest of the day from.
Maybe you’ll use that time for yoga. Maybe you’ll go to the gym to work on the summer body you’ve put off for the past six summers. Maybe you’ll start up your Xbox and play a game. But you should if you want to because that time is yours to use in any way you please. It’s not for your boss or your followers, and definitely not for the project you’re a little behind on.
So while the idea of getting up early might seemingly be about maximizing your day by accomplishing a bunch of things before others even wake up, it’s really about giving yourself the permission to reclaim valuable time for yourself and no one else.
That’s pretty hard to do when your alarm clock is set for a time that only allows you to possibly make breakfast but ultimately just get ready for work and head out of the door.
You’re More Than Just the Work You Do
Consumerism has encouraged us to believe that who we are is defined by which job title we have, which car we drive, how large our home is, and a ton of other vanity metrics we subconsciously compete for.
You only have one life to live. So while we do need to work to pay bills, public recognition for our work is fantastically flattering, and fancy cars (but really, the attention and favorable assumptions about us that come with them) might be great, focusing on these things might not be the best way to attain them and, even more so, using them as the basis of our merits might actually only send us further down the rabbit hole of emptiness or faux fulfillment in vanity appraisals.
That’s why a lot of the same people who will peddle these types of productivity hacks will also tell you that work (or your thing) isn’t about the money. On one hand, it’s easy for them to say because for many of them the comfort level they have, wise money management practices, and sometimes generational wealth (don’t believe everyone’s definition of broke is the same as yours), make money a non-factor for them.
On the other hand, you could make the argument that money is such a non-factor for them because they understand that with unique work, disruptive perspective, and a dynamic process comes compensation. Regardless of where they work, the product will always be them and, therefore, will recreate itself as they grow.
That has nothing to do with a job title or what car you drive. It has everything to do with having full agency over who you are and allowing yourself the luxury of not depending on the vanity of things to define yourself like so many of us do.
Don’t Blame Gary Vee (or any other “motivational” characters)
Gary — like many others who produce content to inspire their followers — has an immense library of videos and articles in which he tells people that if they want something, they have to hustle for it harder than they’ve ever hustled, every single day, no excuses. For him, that means working (last I checked) 18-hour days. People see his content and while some admire his tenacity and use him as inspiration to do the same, there’s a sizable chunk of his audience who admonish him at times because they feel that what he is encouraging is glamorized burnout.
The important thing to remember when seeing and hearing these things is this — they aren’t telling you what to do. They’re not promising equal or similar success by doing what they do. They’re simply telling you their story, process, or vision. It’s up to you to decide how much of that you want to use in your own life. What motivates them might not motivate you.
The path to success is not a solid line with solid rules that lead to solid results. If that were the case, we would all be successful because we decided to do sun salutations in work clothes at 3 am in front of our local bodegas and coffee shops before the sun rose to salute back.
Time is a Construct of Limitation and Freedom
This brings me to my last point — not everyone is a morning person and it’s perfectly fine to not be.
While I definitely get a jolt of clarity from waking up at 6 or 7 am and getting in a quick run, I have also put down some of my best work at between 1 am and 4 am while in the dark, blasting death metal and smashing away at my keyboard.
You have to find the balance for yourself and give yourself permission to jump out of the box. We spend so much time trying to fit in so people can easily define us based on their limited imaginations that we undervalue our own definitions of self.
There is no right time for productivity. In my opinion, there is only time taken to not be distracted from self.
Not a morning person? Cool! Use your peak imaginative hours to put in work, even if that means you don’t have time for 5 am runs through the South Bronx all winter. Instead of waking up super early, use the time at night to create and give yourself a template to start the following day strong with (which I would advise you do even if you are a morning person).
I’m not about to tell someone who is currently a bartender with aspirations for more who is working from 5 pm to 2 am and gets home at 4 am to change and go to the gym because, you know, early. For them, maybe 10 or 11 am is that time.
Taking time to be selfish has a bad rap. But like anything else, moderation is key. So before you go ahead and read a ton of articles filled hacks to help you maximize your productivity by doing activities you’ll probably fall asleep doing, take 10 minutes, a half-hour, or an entire hour to dedicate some time to yourself because all the work you do is not who you are, but that work is derived from fostering imagination and embracing your unique additions to the process.