Experimenting with waking up early to work on side projects

In the past when I’ve worked on side projects it’s been primarily on nights and weekends. Between school and work, I never had time for them during the day and because I’m not much of a morning person, nights and weekends always worked better.

When my son was born about three years ago, a lot of the time that I would have put into side projects went towards trying to be a good dad to him and now also to my daughter. This led to less time during the week because after I would get done with work, I would spend time with them and after they would go to sleep, I wanted to spend time with my wife and relax. I also can’t stay up too late because I needed to get up with the kids in the morning. Similar story on weekends.

This has led to my side projects time dropping from maybe 10-15 hours/week to only 3-4 hours/week for the last several years.

Inspired by my friend and coworker Dave Martin, I’ve started experimenting with waking up early to work on side projects. Not 4am-5am like him (!), but just at 6am. That gives me 1 to 1.5 hours to focus on side projects most days. I take Saturday off and also wind up skipping some other days, but it’s probably doubled the amount of time I put into side projects to around 7-8 hours per week.

To make this work, I’ve also had to adjust my evening routine. Instead of going to bed around 10:30pm, I try to be in bed by around 9:30pm to make sure I get in 8-9 hours. I wind up watching less Netflix, but don’t feel like I’m missing anything important.

And as a side effect, I’ve found that I’m sleeping a lot better now that I’m no longer jumping straight from coding into bed a lot of nights. All too often I’d just lie there for hours waiting for problem solving mode to turn off. Now I read and it makes it much easier to fall asleep.

If you typically work on side projects at night like I did in the past, I encourage you to experiment with waking up and going to bed early for a few weeks to see how it works for you.

8 thoughts on “Experimenting with waking up early to work on side projects

  1. Yes! A few weeks ago I started waking up at 4am (we normally get up at 5:30, but hey, I *am* a morning person :-), but that was so difficult that after a few days I switched to working on my side project at night, from 7:30-9:00, and then winding down for bed after that. But that’s meant missing out on time spent with my husband, so I’m going to experiment with waking up at 4am again and try it for longer than 3 days. They say that it can take up to 6 weeks to 3 months for a new behavior to become a habit, so I just have to push forward. At 4am I’m a wee bit groggy upon waking, but within a few minutes, once I’m at my computer and drinking tea, I’m fully awake and engaged with my work. And then I have the rest of the day to accomplish everything else. Sorta. :-)

    Great post!

    • Hey there old friend!

      This makes me want to experiment with getting up even earlier and trying to go to bed even earlier. Like trying to sleep from 8:30pm – 5:30am. I’m only two weeks in this though so baby steps :).

      How many hours of sleep do you need? And what’s your side project?

      • Hiya, Matt! So sorry for not responding sooner! It’s that whole *time* thing…

        > This makes me want to experiment with getting up even earlier and trying to go to bed even earlier. Like trying to sleep from 8:30pm – 5:30am. I’m only two weeks in this though so baby steps :).

        Yeah, the big challenge isn’t getting up earlier but rather going to bed earlier. There’s always something else I want to do, and it’s *always* a good reason, too! Like talking more with my husband, or baking something real quick (I’m a big baker, and the cooler weather is making me want to scratch that itch again), or just reading one. more. chapter. So the discipline is required at both ends of the sleep cycle.

        I definitely need 9 hours of sleep (I’ve learned this about myself), but if I can get 8, I’m still happy. Most of the time though I can get by on 7 and still be okay, especially if I ran that morning. So 7-8.

        My side project is a novel I’ve been working on for years and years and which I’m determined to finish by the end of November 2017. National Novel Writing Month is upon us, so I’m going to have to keep up the 4am routine for at least that long. Your post has definitely inspired me to keep it up!

  2. I’ve had a lot of insomnia recently (for a bunch of reasons). I’ve been experimenting with preparing projects so that they are started enough that I am capable of working on them when I can’t sleep at night. Starting in on a project when I’m tired but can’t sleep doesn’t work, but working on something that I’ve already planned out and I just need to crank out some code on works pretty well. So I have a short list of projects that are “ready” to have me work on in the middle of the night.

    Not quite a habit yet, but it’s been interesting to experiment with.

    • Love that you’re experimenting with it to see how it works for you.

      It sounds like this gives you something to do when you can’t sleep, but does it wind up helping with your insomnia? If you’re anything like me, it may make it harder to fall to sleep later. Better than just laying there, but it could actually make the insomnia worse.

      I don’t have the answers here though because I frequently can’t fall to sleep (or back to sleep) either. Let me know if you find anything that works well for you.

  3. I’ve been trying to figure out the best rhythm for side projects for some time now. I, unfortunately, have zero brain power at night. I am in bed by 9:30 / up by 5 am kind of person. I used to wish I was a night owl, but no longer. I see the most beautiful sunrises on the weekends and am outside hiking, having coffee, etc. when the world is peaceful. :)

    Some of the refinements I’ve made to make the most of my morning include introducing Pomodoro technique and exercise to my mornings. The exercise can be as short as 15 minutes. Think sprints in the driveway or burpees inside or yoga. Both of these have helped me significantly.

    • Yeah, I’m enjoying waking up early too. At some point I should also try doing non-side-project things like you do. It sounds really nice. Do you do Pomodoro for just Automattic work or are you using it for your side projects as well? And what kind of side projects?

      • I tried Pomodoro for work. It didn’t last. 25 minutes is too short for me to make significant progress. Side projects ATM are on pause. I’m into DataCamp.com so learning is my side project ATM. I’d like to start a site that sells custom length t-shirts. It would be aimed at tall men who can never find comfy, cool t-shirts that are long enough. :)

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