Every day for the past nine months I have woken up around 4am on purpose. It’s amazing to have a sizable chunk of my day’s work accomplished as I watch the sun rise and hug my children good morning.

Getting work done early makes it easier to spend the day handling emergencies, being around for coworkers who need a hand, and hacking on side projects. Nobody schedules meetings before breakfast, so it’s uninterrupted time. And it’s easy to keep in touch with friends in easterly time zones. In case you want to try it, I thought I’d share a few tips that helped me make it work:

Going to bed early. It has been relatively easy for me to avoid movies, TV, and iOS games with family and friends after dinner. Sometimes I get wrapped up in chatting with my wife, and getting my kids to sleep is a constant challenge, but going to bed early is critical.

Using the Sleep Cycle alarm clock (iOS). I don’t care about the sleep analysis part of the app. What makes it really useful is its alarm, which wakes you in your lightest sleep phase. So when the alarm goes off, it’s like I’m ready to wake up anyway. Helps me avoid snoozing for too long.

Using Flux (Mac). Especially in winter when the mornings are dark and cold, having a warm screen eases me into work mode.

Using the StayFocusd Chrome extension. I have tried a few different tools that prevent me from visiting distracting sites via customizable parameters. They all work fine, and I ended up with this one. Great for snapping me out of sleepy surfing and keeping me on task.

Knowing what I’m going to work on. By planning the morning’s tasks the day before, I can wake up and just get started. I have found the morning to be a great time for planning, email, and routine task work, and not as great for writing (this surprised me!) or deploying work.

Having coffee and snacks ready to go. I grind my coffee the night before, which is not as delicious as freshly ground coffee but doesn’t wake anyone up. Having minimally-packaged, prepared food to eat in the morning is also useful, to avoid kitchen noise.

Working early is a lot like working very late, except you’re running on a near-full tank of gas instead of a near-empty one. The hard parts? Going to bed on time, waking up on time, and staying focused and alert in the morning.

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