Case Study: Does Waking Up Early to Write REALLY Work?

Before the Playstation Two was a twinkle in Sony’s eyes, weekend mornings were great fun because I could get a few hours on the Playstation One. With my twin sister either asleep or already awake, we would stay in our bedroom, quietly playing – my sister with her toys and me with the Playstation. We were the early risers, waking around 5AM naturally on those mornings to play.

Over the years, my gaming console was switched for the Playstation Two, and the time I got up grew closer and closer to the time my mum would do the morning rounds of waking up the family.

By the time I was nineteen, living on my own and attending college, I was waking at 7AM.

And sometimes this year (2016), I’ve woken at 8am when my neighbours have noisily gone to work and I’ve not had any early client calls to set an alarm for. One time whilst ill, I even woke at 10.

But it’s clear there’s a downwards slide into my sleeping more, or so I thought.

Deciding to Shift Time, Not Lose Time

Whenever a writer looks for suggestions to find time to write, we hear the same suggestions every time, give or take a few. One of the most suggested is to wake up early to get things done before anyone else or before anything less important to you gets in the way and saps your mental energy.

Big name successful entrepreneurs are also fans of waking up early (including John Lee Dumas and Hal Elrod), so I decided to run an experiment – can waking up early to write really work?

Enter the Fitbit…

Those who have followed me since 2014 sharing articles for writers on my author site may remember I have the Fitbit Charge HR – this can track your heart rate, your activities and when you’re asleep.

It turns out my average good night sleep is between 4.19 hours and 5.1 hours – any less or more and I’m resistant to getting up or groggy.

I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to lose sleep waking up early – I wanted to “shift” time instead. I knew it took me 1 – 2 hours to fall asleep, so I decided that I would stick to my usual bedtime of 11PM and wake up earlier within the waiting-to-fall-asleep timeframe – 5.30AM.

In theory, this would mean 6 and a half hours of sleep if I fell asleep as soon as I climbed into bed. So I set an alarm on my phone for 5.30AM, and headed to bed at 11PM.

Now, I believe in letting you know exactly what’s going on during the days of an experiment, so whilst I was getting up earlier to do my writing before anything else took place (other than the morning washing routine), the following was also happening:

  • Family commitments, including weekends of sleeping over at the parents’ to lend a helping hand and buying funeral wreaths (151/720 hours, rounded down).
  • A relaxed fiction book launch – last week of prep.
  • Prepping for new client proposals. (est. 12 hours)
  • Working with clients one-on-one (12 hours)
  • Enrollment to an 8 week business course and actioning within the course (140-149 hours)
  • Sleep (127 hours)
  • Outlining articles (16 hours)
  • Recording, cleaning and uploading podcast episodes (7 hours)
  • The remaining hours (246) I enjoyed as downtime activities, uncounted hours of book launch preparations, chatting with members of Writers’ Club and general exercise.
  • Total steps and miles walked during this time: 288,811 steps / 117.29 miles.
    • Miscellaneous:
    • Amusing – shower snapped in half by jumping off its stand one morning so I glared at it and decided to go back to bed until 7.30AM.
    • I was still cleaning the house every week.
    • At one point I also fell ill for two days, and was still up at 5.30AM those mornings.
    • Total coffees drank: 32.

Previous Months’ Statistics

The experiment ran from 14th September to 13th October 2016, but so we have something to compare the results to:

14th August – 13th September

Total word count: 26,510
Days writing took place: 20.
Average words per day: 1325.5

14th July – 13th August

Total word count: 11,794
Days writing took place: 10
Average words per day: 1179.4

14th June – 13th July

Total word count:15,798
Days writing took place: 11.
Average words per day: 1436.18

Average word count for this three month period: 1313.69
Average number of days writing for this three month period: 13.66

 

The Experiment

I’ll admit – waking up earlier than I was used to, even knowing I was merely “shifting” time, was not pleasant, but I was determined to see this experiment through to the end, even when my willingness to wake up dimmed before sparking back up. There were even 10 days I didn’t get up early:

4 days of waking up between 6AM and 6.30AM.
1 day at 6.50AM.
4 days of waking up between 7AM and 7.30AM
1 day at 8.30AM (this wasn’t during the time I was ill but it was early on in the experiment).

Whilst running the experiment, I started noticing things I was doing differently to keep myself on track with my writing. Here’s four of them:

 

The Corrective Mouse Drag

One of the things I started doing within the first week was repositioning reminders that my writing was important to me. One of these was what I’ve called The Corrective Mouse Drag, which came about because the majority of the words I wrote during the experiment were written straight into the digital copy of a manuscript (due to the main project being a publication redraft).

When I was supposed to be writing, I would get ideas for other things, often elements of my business. Such things like, “has X client paid for this month’s hosting?” and, “has Z client booked their next session yet?”

But as I dragged my mouse’s cursor towards the top or bottom of my screen, towards the minimise button, or to open tab or programme, I reminded myself that I was supposed to be writing and whatever had caught my attention would have to wait. I’d let go of the mouse and get right back into writing.

 

The Smart Device Waits

On the third day, I had noticed that each day I didn’t look at my phone when I woke up in the morning. Instead I’d head to the bathroom and get myself ready for the day, then write. This was so there would be no scrambling after the writing if I lost track of time and had to be somewhere later on. It was only after writing that I’d even think about my phone – and this was even while using my mobile for an alarm. I ignored the emails, the tweets, the updates for my favourite podcasts and all the other alerts waiting on the phone.

 

More Conscious of Decisions & Creation of The Reverse Why

My favourite take-away from the experiment is The Reverse Why, which is a way I developed to get myself back on track with my writing even when I wanted to do everything (or anything) else. It didn’t make me feel frustrated with myself or make me feel guilty – it was the perfect way to talk myself back into writing and to recognise its importance. I was growing more aware of the decisions I was making throughout my day that meant I was being less productive as a writer (and helpfully, as a business owner too).

 

Spurred on by my own Action

As I watched my word count grow during the period, and spotted that I was growing a writing streak of working on Shotput of Power’s publication redraft everyday, I was inspired to keep going no matter what got in my way – when I was spending weekends helping out my family and enjoying spending time with them, I didn’t have access to a computer.

That’s when my smart phone came in handy, along with Google Docs. This is an old technique of mine, but I’m sharing it here for those of you who might find it handy.

Whilst being part of conversations with my family, I would use Google Docs on my phone. I would stop writing when responding or contributing verbally to the conversation, then would pick up again after eye contact and listening to responses (natural response I do – visibly paying attention beyond my contribution), before returning just to listening and occasionally looking up to the one speaking. My family didn’t consider this rude, because I was present in the conversations. This has been proven to work even with 6 people in the conversation.

 

The results

Total Word Count: 70,030. With 65,000 words often being the required length by publishers of their debut authors, this is pretty neat to know is possible when determined.
Days Writing Took Place: 30
Average Word Count Per Day: 2334.33

77.69% Increase of Average Word Count Per Day

The previous three months’ average word count per day was 1313.69. For this experiment, my average word count per day shot up to 2334.33 – that’s a 77.69% increase!

 

How it Felt

It was pretty amazing to be honest.

I was able to relax throughout the rest of the day, knowing I had hit my word count goal for the day (1000) before anything else could get at me for my time. It was soothing, knowing I could do whatever I wanted for the rest of the day (depending on if I had commitments like helping my clients or family). It was no longer a case of growing frustrated on the days I didn’t write, or feeling guilty when I didn’t reach my wanted word count of the day (which only happened once).

A few times I even popped out for coffee with friends at the smallest of notice, being texted an invite during the later hours when they would be awake and responding – that extra time in the morning gave me the opportunity to be flexible with a large chunk of my day.

 

Would I recommend waking up early to write to others and will I continue?

 

Looking at the results I gained from waking up early, I will definitely be continuing to do it. How it made me feel, and the fact that I increased my word count by 77.69% and had a 30 day writing streak really makes me feel confident this is the way to keep going for my continuing success.

Whether you should is up to you. Take a look at the results and decide for yourself. You can always run your own experiment with waking up early to test if it’s for you.

Grab The Reverse Why Worksheet

I want to give you a gift that came from this experiment – a worksheet to learn how to use The Reverse Why. This helped me on multiple days of the experiment to reach my word count goal and exceed it, as well as doing its primary task – helping me to stop doing other things so I’d go and write.

You can download this free gift by subscribing to Writers’ Club below.

  • Oct 21, 2016 @ 13:10 pm

    This was a great experiment. I’m a morning writer too! I think writers should do this experiment, but with different times of day to discover what their individual optimum time to write is. I personally am a big fan of morning writing, but I know lots of people whose brains don’t get into the zone till 8pm. There’s an awesome book about the myths of habits by Gretchen Rubin called “Better Than Before” and mornings as ideal productive time is one of them. It works for some people (like you and me) but not for everyone. Great article!

    • Oct 22, 2016 @ 8:23 am

      Thanks Ingrid! I may have to check that book out! There’s definitely two camps for writers – the morning and day writers, and the evening/night writers.

  • Nov 13, 2016 @ 1:33 am

    I wish I could writing in the early morning when my eyes are still a little blurry and I’m gulping down my first mug of coffee. Unfortunately, my writing place is where my husband is in the early morning and he’s, by no means, a quiet soul. He’s addicted to noise, his own voice as well as the TV, radio, or CD player. The home isn’t quiet until about 8:15. I’m an early bird, always have been. I’m at my best after sleeping approximately 6.5 to 7 hours. Less or more makes me drag a bit.

    • Nov 14, 2016 @ 13:36 pm

      Heya Glynis! Thanks for visiting and checking out this article. I appreciate it a lot. Writing in the morning is not for everyone – thanks to this experiment, I turned it into something I could do if I wanted to, but many writers have reasons to prefer writing at other times. I wish you all the best in your writing.

  • Jim Reply
    Jan 3, 2017 @ 22:50 pm

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    • Jan 5, 2017 @ 19:53 pm

      Heya Jim! I’m glad you found this article interesting. What are your thoughts on waking early to be more productive?