Why Effective Entrepreneurs Wake Up A Little Earlier

by Jason Shen, cofounder of Ridejoy and author of Winning Isn’t Normal

This is part of a series on developing the habits that will make you a better startup founder. You may want to start with my first post: How to Use Structure to Become a More Effective Entrepreneur.

Many entrepreneurs are night owls.

Sometimes this is by choice — we feel more creative and juiced to work through the evening and night, when there are fewer distractions.

Other times it is by necessity. During the day, we’ve got so many random tasks to do that we can’t get to the “real work.” And if we’re still in school or working full-time, this may be the only time that we have to get our startup off the ground.

So what I’m going to advocate in Habit #3, affectionately called Eat The Frog1, might seem a little heretical:

Wake up 45 minutes earlier and work on one high level action item (preferably something you noted in your 3 To-Do’s a Day from Habit #1).

Optional: Go to bed 45 minutes earlier.

Why Attempt this Madness?

  • It sets the tone for your day. You’ll generate productive momentum that will drive you throughout the day.
  • You can place importance over urgency. Once the day gets started, entrepreneurs often get pulled into urgent, but not necessarily important, tasks. You’ve already identified the top three things to do that day in Habit #1, so why wouldn’t you spend the first part of your day working towards one of them?
  • You’ll be in good company. In a survey of 17 top CEOs and executives conducted by the recruiting firm Spencer Stuart, all of them were up by 6am at the latest. Most of them spent their morning time problem-solving important issues and tackling email2.

My Personal Experience

When I first started my blog, The Art of Ass-Kicking, I had a day job working at an ad tech startup. I blogged first thing in the morning, and some of my most productive writing sessions came during this time to myself. I would set my alarm for 8am, write for 40 minutes, make breakfast and get into the office by 10am, when most people arrived.

Sometimes my readers email me and want to know how they can find the time to work on their side projects or blog. What they are really asking is how they can find the energy to do it, since they’re so wiped at the end of the day. I tell them to get up earlier and work on it first thing in the morning.

At Ridejoy, I woke up about 90 minutes before my cofounders and would use the time to work out at the gym or go for a run, shower, and make a solid breakfast before sitting down at my desk. I think exercise qualifies as one of the top 3 must-do tasks for every entrepreneur out there. (In fact, I’ll have more on that in another post.)

Make the Eat the Frog Approach Work For You

  • Schedule a meeting with yourself. Sometimes we need to feel externally accountable. Make your 45-minute work session a calendared event, and you’ll be less likely to blow it off.
  • Jump right into it. Avoid the temptation to check email “just once.” Waking up earlier especially helps here because usually you wouldn’t be checking email for another 45 minutes anyway.
  • Take a nap. If you can’t fall asleep any earlier, I’ve found that taking a 20-minute power nap can be really effective. Lie down, in a bed if possible, with an eye mask and earplugs, and you’ll find you can regenerate a lot of energy in 20 minutes.

So like all these entrepreneurial habits, give this one a shot and see how it works. Try it for a week and see if you don’t make more progress on your startup.

Jason Shen works in tech doing product and growth in New York City. He previously cofounded Ridejoy, a Y Combinator startup, served as a Presidential Innovation Fellow at the Smithsonian, and published an Amazon best-selling book: Winning Isn’t Normal. He writes regularly at his blog, The Art of Ass-Kicking.

Footnotes

1. Why is it called Eat The Frog?

I first learned about this concept from productivity expert Brian Tracy in his book, Eat that Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. In it, Tracy describes an idea he attributes to Mark Twain: If you were to eat a live frog each morning, it would probably be the worst thing to happen to you all day. The point is to get it over with and move on.

It turns out this is one of those widely misattributed quotes that actually stems from a French political commentator from the 1700s describing the need to swallow a toad to inculcate oneself against the disgusts of society at the time. Despite the slightly different historical connotation of the quote and its misattribute to Twain, the admonition is still a powerful visual.

2. Sadly, email is one of the most important things for leaders of large corporations to stay on top of.  It’s less important for entrepreneurs though. Here’s more on that survey.