Rising earlier: perfect to try now many of us are homeworking?

By Geoff Harris

The pandemic has altered many aspects of our working lives and although working from home long term is not without its challenges, at least the long, expensive commute might have been put on hold.

So, you may have more time in the morning before starting work. Why not put this time to better use?

One of the more interesting self-help books of recent years has been the 5 AM Club by Robin Sharma (best-selling author ofThe Monk Who Sold His Ferrari).The premise is simple: get up early and spend an hour on positive, self-development. “The book is not just about waking up at 5 AM, but there is a specific morning routine – 20 minutes: 20 minutes: 20 minutes – which I urge the readers to follow,” Sharma explains. “I have been teaching that to my high-profile clients, and it has brought tremendous change in their lives.”

So in practice, you would devote to 20 minutes to raising a sweat via exercise, be it a quick jog, weights or yoga: 20 minutes meditating or practicing other kinds of personal or spiritual reflection; and 20 minutes reading or studying a foreign language (for example). Three 20 minute sessions may not seem much, but they will soon add up over the course of a week and the ‘little and often’ approach has been proven to be a good strategy for consolidating positive habits or learning new skills.

Sharma presumably came up with 5am as it would still leave his followers with enough time to get to a conventional office or deal with family duties, but with the rise of homeworking, there is less pressure to get up at such an ungodly hour. The 6am club could work just as well, or the 6.30-7.30am club if you have kids to get to school. The most important thing about this practice is to give yourself a structured morning routine before the demands of work and family clamour for your attention. Cynics may argue that Sharma is simply repackaging the old adage ‘early to bed/early to rise…’ but dividing the all-important hour into 20 minute segments make a lot of sense; it’s long enough to start to accrue the benefits of regular practice over time but not so long it seems a chore.

It also echoes the Swedish tradition of Gökotta (“early morning cuckoo”), which, while not as well known as the concept of Hygge, is attracting a lot of interest amongst Scandinavian lifestyle fans. Apparently in rural areas of Sweden, villagers and church congregations used to gather from May to September to enjoy the dawn chorus and hang out together. Author Linnea Dunne, like Robin Sharma, believes an early morning ritual can be a great way to work on yourself and has written a book on the subject called Good Mornings: Morning Rituals for Wellness, Peace and Purpose.

“One of the most effective ways to be present these days is through activity, as many of us aren’t able to just sit there without worrying about emails or work. But when you are concentrating on an advanced yoga stretch, that gives your brain a break,” she explains.

While getting up that bit earlier in the winter is never going to be easier, at least it’s that bit less painful if you are working from home. It is important to make sure get enough sleep, however, so don’t try to burn the candle at both ends. Sleep deprivation can batter your immune system, which may already be flagging a bit during this stressful year. Before committing to an early rising regimen, it’s also important to consider whether you are a lark or an owl – according to sleep scientist Dr Neil Stanley, there really is something to this.“It is not anecdotal and we know it is genetic. Some 25% of people are larks, 25% are owls and the rest of us are probably in the middle.” To help you find out your ‘chronotype’ or circadian rhythym type, Dr Stanley encourages people to complete Horne and Ostberg questionnaire, which enables you to work out where on the “morningness and eveningness’ scale you are.

“Some people are extreme morning people, who can get up at five and be fine but they are no fun after 8 PM. And some people struggle to get up at the best of times. So because morningness or eveningness are genetic, there is no way some of these regimes would be beneficial if you are evening person. You cannot be at your optimum if you are waking up at a time that is not appropriate to your chronotype. If you are productive at 5 AM, brilliant, if not, there nothing wrong you with you.”

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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