Happy people are productive people. That’s a fact.
But does it really matter if you’re an early bird or a night owl?
I’ve always imagined that night owls are a lot like Matthew McConaughey – cooler than me, definitely more artsy, and much better looking.
However, what has given me an inflated sense of superiority through the years over you night owls is the belief that like McConaughey, you probably don’t wear deodorant. I tell myself that what I lack in spontaneous bursts of late-
night artistic brilliance, I will make up for in crushing streaks of personal hygiene.
All joking aside – if there’s been a race to win the perception battle of who is more disciplined, and ultimately happier – the early risers seem to have crossed the finish line first.
But is that warranted?
Wisdom From Ancient Leaders
In his bedside journal Meditations, the second century Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote,
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself, ‘I have to go to work…Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’”
What I find most striking about this line is here is the most powerful person in the ancient world quite literally reminding himself to get up early and get to work. This is someone who could have stayed under the covers all day and have slaves wait on his every need.
Yet, Aurelius’ words are simply a footnote to the wisdom shared by an equally powerful and successful ruler one thousand years earlier.
King Solomon, the wisest and wealthiest king in Jewish history, penned the following words in Proverbs, his own beside journal:
“A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.” – Proverbs 6:10-11
Scholars all agree that Aurelius meditations, like Solomon’s life proverbs, were never meant for later publication. They were simply personal motivational reminders, written by someone who answered only to himself.
Do Difficult Things Others Won’t.
The thing to realize is that Solomon and Aurelius weren’t arguing with themselves to wake up early. That was never their aim.
They were arguing with themselves to do two hard things.
1. Sacrifice personal comfort to create uninterrupted blocks of time for the day’s highest priority.
Proverbs was the personal journal of a king who functioned as a business/construction tycoon. His financial and architectural exploits were legendary. He understood that on the world stage “a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of your hands to rest” gave the Egyptians an advantage. So, while other rulers were sleeping, Solomon got up and went after it.
Meditations was a journal written on foreign battlefields. For Aurelius, every moment was consumed with imminent victory or defeat. He knew that as a philosopher king his greatest strength was strategic thinking. But as a leader what he was ultimately fighting for was uninterrupted creative space each day.
For him, that meant fighting for long blocks of time early in the morning. For you, your battle may be for uninterruptible time late at night. The point isn’t when it happens, but that it happens each day.
2. Choose a block of time so painful to consistently observe that few people are willing to do what you do.
Practically speaking, there’s a reason why when I’m awake at 4 am there’s nobody to interrupt me. Or why nobody bugs my friend when he’s doing his best work between 11 pm and 2 am. Or why nobody could interrupt Solomon when he was working or Marcus Aurelius when he was strategizing.
It’s because everyone’s sleeping.
And the reason they’re in bed is because they’re unwilling to do hard things.
Happiness is always the by-product of believing and doing hard things.
If you want to be happy, you need to make yourself do things you don’t want to do. Looking back, I still kick myself for wasting my 20’s and 30’s haphazardly waking up or going to bed at random times. When I turned 40 I got serious about writing, and began getting up at 4 am every day.
Why Happy And Productive Leaders Always Crush Their Competition
If you’re willing to do the hard things necessary to create the space needed to do “what you were created for” (Aurelius) – you will quickly set yourself apart as a leader in your field.
That’s what Aurelius and Solomon were arguing for.
The fact is it doesn’t matter whether you rise early, or stay up late.
What matters is that you put in the time.
And wear deodorant.
(please don’t forget that)
Sign up HERE to get my articles delivered straight to your inbox.