Adventures at 5 am: An Exercise/Writing Routine

I dubbed my previous attempt at focusing on reading, writing, and exercise as the “me hour.”  I woke at 6 am–an hour before anyone else in the house–in order to give myself uninterrupted reading, writing, and exercise time. And after some fits and starts, I can say that I have honored that hour almost every weekday this year.

But it’s turned out a little differently than I imagined. Because of our family’s commitment to get at least 10,000 steps a day, I’ve found I use the me hour exclusively for exercise. With a desk job, I won’t get anywhere near 10,000 steps unless I make a concerted effort to exercise.  Certainly not a bad thing (I’m averaging over 11,000 steps), but its not giving me the writing and thinking time that I’d like to devote to this blog and other projects.

So, what did I do? Expand the me hour to 2 hours starting at 5 am. I exercise from 5-6 am and then think/write from 6-7 am.

With a few drawbacks, I’m finding this new schedule helpful to start out my day on the right foot. First, the benefits:

  • It gets me out of bed. I tried to write prior to exercising, but I found that it was too easy for me to reach for the snooze button. Because I’ve already trained myself to get up and exercise, doing that first ensures I get out of bed.

  • I get writing ideas. As I start my exercise, my mind starts to unravel from the sleepiness. Ideas start swirling around in my head. If I focus on a problem, I’ve now convinced myself that I’ll figure out an answer–though not necessarily the best one–for it by the time I finish my walk.

  • It forces me to prioritize better. Getting up at 5 am forces me to be in bed by 10 pm at the latest. That means I don’t allow myself to be distracted (too much) by late-night, low-value internet wanderings.

  • I see unexpected things. This week, I saw some large white rodent of some sort scurry across the outside steps as I was tying my shoes. Yesterday, I saw a raccoon dart up a tree and ran into a friend that I don’t make nearly enough time for.  Beyond the unexpected, the quietness of that time a day is priceless.

  • I don’t feel rushed. With only one hour, I often found myself rushing back to start the day. Now, with two hours, I can exercise and still have time to do some push ups or a 7-minute workout.   And since I hate taking a shower while I’m still sweating from a run, this schedule allows me to cool down and shower before the kids wake up and things get hectic.

There are some drawbacks though:

  • Impact on others. My wife does not like the 5 am alarm. I often wake up before the alarm but not always. And in the rare case one of the kids needs something that early, I’m not available to help.

  • Meeting my energy needs. I haven’t yet figured out the right balance of food, water, and coffee during this two hour stretch to maximize my productivity and comfort.

  • The pull to stay up late. Whether its a work project or some must-see sports event on TV, having the discipline to be in bed by 10 is challenging.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Paul Dryden for inspiring me to take some of the same discipline I’ve honed for exercise and apply it to thinking and writing. Both Paul and I are constantly on the lookout for how productive creative people learn and practice their craft. What do you do?

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2 thoughts on “Adventures at 5 am: An Exercise/Writing Routine

  1. […] So when my wife told me that the local state park was offering ranger-led hikes on New Year’s Day, the cynic in me said it was a way to grab all those people who recently decided to commit to exercise.   And yet I thought it was a great idea for our family because it was consistent with activities that we already do, like getting 10,000 steps a day. […]

  2. […] I want to do these things more, I need to habituate myself.  I’ve been getting up early in the morning to exercise–when the house is quiet and distractions are few- so I’ve got a […]

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