Why 4.40am is my favourite time of the day

Having just returned from a business trip to Malaysia, which consisted of many meetings and cross-peninsula flights in the early hours, I can definitely say that I really do miss my morning routine and “extra-curricular” activities when I travel. Mornings are when I am probably most productive, so it’s surprising to hear that so many others regularly sleep in (bashing their snooze button) before skipping breakfast and grudgingly dragging themselves to work.

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View in front of my hotel in Kota Kinabalu in the morning

One of the common frustrations I encounter when discussing the pursuit of multiple hobbies/interests is that most people claim they “don’t have the time”. Obviously, we all have the same number of hours in a day, and it is up to oneself to ration this precious commodity wisely to juggle competing priorities.

I like to think of my time as a mixture of “constant” and “variable” components. “Constants” can be thought of as those regular occuring commitments in everyday life, such as attending one’s day job. “Variables” are the time slots that we choose to fill with a multitude of options that we perceive to be of importance to us.

Of course, unless you are a Saudi prince, you will have to commit a certain amount of time each day/week to constant components of time. Where most people go wrong is their commitment to non-value adding activities in their prized slots of variable components of time.

For example, I’m sure you all know of someone who is extremely well-versed in the latest happenings on Walking Dead or MasterChef, yet this same person will complain that they simply have no more hours in the day to go to a yoga class or complete a course of study.

I must admit, I used to be a lot like this, spending far too much time on the Playstation instead of attending to the other interests and goals that I had at heart. However in the last few years, I’ve been able to expand the breadth of the hobbies/activities that I commit to.

The morning grind – 3 value-adding activities, 3 hours before work

Reading through the daily routines of high-achieving “polymaths” there seems to be a clear similar theme – almost all of them make a commitment to fully utilise  their morning routines. It’s usually in this time that they set the “rhythm” of their day.

Another thing I realised was that their mornings all seemed to consist of rising early (at least 3 hours before “starting work”) and filling this time with ritualistic habits – in other words, they had made “constants” out of what ordinary people would consider “variable” slots of time. By forging ritualistic habits in what was otherwise “free time”, they were able to make their mornings a time to achieve mini-successes before their work day even began.

Additionally, I thought it important as an aspiring jack-of-all-trades to divide the morning rituals across the 3 spectrums of mind, body and spirit – simply to ensure that I was creating rituals that would not heavily skew my skill/knowledge (thus, 3 value-adding activities, 3 hours before work).

To see how I fit in these commitments, my morning routine for the past few years has been as follows:

4.40am – 5am: Wake up. Prepare a tea concoction of Pu-Erh and Yerba Mate OR sometimes a matcha latte. While this is brewing, I use the Calm app and meditate for 15 minutes. (Allocating time towards the spectrum of spirit).

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Since waning off my coffee addiction, I’ve turned to Pu-Erh tea.

5am – 5.15am: Read the daily headlines from The Economist app’s Espresso function. This also consists of opinion pieces on recent happenings across the world, in a concise format. (Allocating time towards the spectrum of mind).

5.15am – 6.30am: Completing a strength and/or conditioning workout at the gym. At the moment I’m working on a 5×5 lifting program, as well as utilising kettlebells for conditioning purposes. (Allocating time towards the spectrum of body).

During my workout, I’m also listening to an audio book or podcast. At the moment I’m listening to a fascinating book on the history of North Korea, Dear Reader. (Allocating further time towards the spectrum of mind). 

6.30am-7am: Prepare and eat a healthy breakfast. This usually consists of a Nutribullet green shake (kale, vegan protein powder, almond milk, creatine monohydrate and organic honey) and oats or eggs.

7am-7.30am: Shower and get dressed for work. Pretty self-explanatory.

7.30am-8.15am: Study the Thai language. 45 minutes of language study on a daily basis has been proven by research to be more effective than less frequent larger time slots. (Further time dedicated towards the spectrum of mind).

8.15am – Drive to the office or to client meetings to start the day!

So as you can see, by simply commiting to rising earlier and dedicating variable time towards value-adding habits, I’ve been able to make the most of my variable time slots (arguably converting them to new “constants” in my life). Through this I am able to make incremental progress in those certain areas.

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One of my favourite things to do. Reading The Economist while enjoying a matcha green tea latte (in the special T2 matcha flask!).

Common “Limiting Beliefs” 

I’m not a morning person, so I would never be able to wake up 3 hours before work!

If you’re not a morning person, then do it after work in the evening. Personally, I prefer to do ritualistic practices in the morning because my state of mind in these hours are more condusive towards an “autopilot” like mode. Whereas I like to reserve the evenings for more creative pursuits such as blogging, watching a documentary, social activities, training martial arts etc.

Additionally, you’re less likely to be confronted with conflicting appointments in the morning. It’s very possible that your gym routine will waver at the temptation of after-work drinks; whereas, people are less likely to want to catch up with you at Starbucks at 5am.

It seems so overwhelming to try and fit in so much more to my morning, let alone day. 

A great way to start would be just commiting to simply waking up early and doing a few things that you genuinely enjoy. This way, you create a habit out of rising early, and actually look forward to the early hours as the best time of the day. I managed to become an early riser by commiting to daily 5am Crossfit sessions at the local “box”. I looked forward to the workouts so much, that it became part of my lifestyle to wake up early and plan my mornings around this. Soon enough, I became addicted to the feeling of “achieving” something before even heading to work.

My morning commute is way too long, so I would never be able to fit anything else in.

I previously had to drive one hour to work each day, so I can see how this presents a genuine challenge. Audiobooks and podcasts became my best friend! I would use the one hour drive to listen to The Economist or language podcasts. When I previously used public transport to travel to work, I would see almost everyone wasting time mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. Make the most of this time and learn something!

Set that alarm clock and just do it!

The quaint peacefulness that accompanies the early hours have an air of perfection, and such is the enjoyment and fulfilment that I attain from my new routine, that I really look forward to my alarm clock going off at 4.40am. Sure there are times when I fail to adhere to schedule (it’s extremely difficult to wake up on time when you’ve just had to travel 8+ hours on a red-eye flight for a business trip to Bangkok!), but creating a habit out of this makes you yearn for a return to routine ASAP.

My advise on how to get started? When I first committed to this, I simply set my alarm clock one hour early to get one activity completed. At first it was just creating a habit of going to the gym. Once you’ve got that downpat, set the alarm clock for another hour earlier. Maybe use that time for meditation or reading a book.

So there you have it! Setting an early morning routine is something I’ve been working on for a while, and definitely recommended for anyone else trying to fulfil numerous hobbies in one day. Good luck and have fun with it!

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