I’ve always been a night owl. The most productive part of my day, I thought, was in the late evening when I would fly through script pages, totally focused and without interruptions. I’d heard about all these early risers and I envied those writers who proudly announced in those Life In A Day pieces that they had all their work done by elevenses and were free to spend the rest of the day “running errands” (what are these errands that take an entire afternoon to complete?), but it wasn’t for me and it clearly didn’t fit with my lifestyle or my particular circadian rhythm.
Recently, as newsletter readers will know, I’ve been under a couple of brutal deadlines, writing a movie and a TV pilot at the same time. I had the whole thing planned out; five pages of each a day until the pilot was done and then ten pages a day on the movie thereafter. It’s a good system, so long as ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAPPENS IN LIFE TO SCREW IT UP. But, of course, shit happens and pretty soon you take a couple of meetings or you get stuck on a plot point and suddenly you’re a day behind and then two and then, if you want to stay on schedule, you’re facing a thirty page day. And that’s when you throw your hands up and start rescheduling and making those “it’s going to be a few days late” calls.
So, in the middle of last week, I decided to try something. I set my alarm for 6.30am. Now I know this is a regular wake-up time for many of you but I’m more of a nine AM alarm guy and I never sit down to work before eleven. A 6.30 wake up meant that I was only going to get about three and a half hours sleep and I knew I’d feel like shit but I also knew that the only way I could force a change in my routine was to take the hit in the morning and trust that the more tired I became over the ensuing days, the easier it would be to go to bed early.
That first day, while it was still dark, I trudged to my desk with a big mug of coffee and fired up Scrivener. The first few minutes, my fingers wouldn’t obey basic commands and it was like I was typing dialogue for H.P. Lovecraft: “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”. But then I got into the swing of it. By 10AM – fifteen pages done. That was the day’s work! I’d caught up, an hour before I would ordinarily have started. And it’s worth noting that, when I start at 11, I need to run Pomodoros all day because there are constant interruptions and things to do, so I need to carve out time. But at this time in the morning there were no interruptions and there was nothing else to do, except make more coffee, so I’d just sailed through it. This was a revelation.
Since then, I’ve been getting up between 6 and 6.30 every morning. That includes weekends because it turns out you can’t adjust your routine AND sleep in at weekends, at least initially. I’ve got loads done, the days have been longer and I’ve had more of a chance to read and watch stuff and make notes throughout the rest of the day (I still haven’t discovered these afternoon-long “errands” though). What’s more, I’m naturally tired by about eleven PM, so the routine is cementing. This morning was the first time I woke up feeling absolutely fine at 6.15 and so far today (it’s 8.15 as I write this) I’ve worked through more than half of my to do list. I’ve also finished the pilot script, two days ahead of schedule.
I appreciate this all sounds horribly fucking smug (that’s just who I am, guys) but I am quite freaked out to discover that I am actually a morning person who has spent two decades sleeping through the most useful part of the day.
There’s an interesting piece on the ASIAN EFFICIENCY blog on how to figure out when in the day you have the most energy.