What happens at 4 am?
That's a question I often get asked at Psychotactics, because I've been waking up for well over 25 years at 4 am. In this article I answer the question and you also get a bit of a peek into how the day unfolds.
Let's head into the world of the 4 am crazy person (that's me). Hope you enjoy the journey.
The morning routine
For the longest time, I've believed in the power of the clock.
Everything needed to be according to a timetable and my endless to-do lists.
Then I discovered energy is more important than time
It was a precious moment, because it signified that time isn't irrelevant. It's just that energy is more important. But no one can create more energy. You start off the day like a phone and then you keep losing battery. The only thing you can really do is to turn off the apps that drain your energy.
And that's what I had to learn. That by losing less energy, I could get a lot more done every day. And the only sources of energy I have are sleep and meditation. Sleep restores the body, but meditation prevents me from losing my cool. It's not like I never lose my cool, or never get frustrated, but it's infrequent and it's all due to meditation bringing in energy.
It's ironical that to gain that energy you need time
Normally I'd wake up at around 4 am (sometimes 3:50 am) and then head to the office. It's a great walk to the office even though it's next door. The stars are all up in the sky almost every day. I pause, look up at the stars, contemplate the growth and the death of the universe.
I say hello to the Southern Star—that I always do—and then I make my way to the office. It helps that I don't feel the cold either, because on some days the weather can be around 5°C-8°C and I don't feel the cold at all. I'm still in my t-shirt and shorts and the winter has little or no bearing and neither does the seemingly early hour of the morning.
But things change
I say late, but it's on purpose. At 3:56 am, every day my alarm goes off. The alarm isn't a harsh ring. Instead it is tied to the meditation chant. An important point to note is that I've never used an alarm in over 25 years and I would wake up around 4 am, no matter where I was on the planet. I know the sound of 4 am, and yet once I started meditating, I needed the alarm, possibly because I sleep better; deeper.
Anyway, I let the alarm play. It will keep rolling for 15 minutes before it stops and I've usually done my first session of meditation. When it stops, I have to put on the rest of the chant. Sometimes I will do 30 minutes, sometimes less, sometimes more. My brain is racing out of the train station at 4 am, and it's all I can do to slow it down. But it slows down at some point, once I've stopped thinking about every possible item on my to-do list. Which is why I tend to go for a longer session than a short one.
As you'd expect, I had no time for meditation
No one I know has an extra 30 minutes every day, let alone 45 minutes. But I've found that my life and focus is better. More importantly, I don't lose as much energy. That's a big payoff, so I will put in the 30-45 minutes. I suspect that I'd skip the meditation if the alarm wasn't tied to the chant, but because it is, I will meditate almost every day. Sometimes I'm too sleepy. On those days, I won't fight my brain. If it wants to sleep, let it sleep.
However, I'm what you'd label a morning person
I don't need coffee or tea. I'll have a couple of glasses of warm water and then it's time to get to work. If I've planned my day well, I'll launch right into creating content. This might be writing a book, or recording a podcast. If a course is in progress, it's all go-go-go, because the assignments need to be seen and advice needs to be given.
If I've not worked out my morning plan the night before, I'll end up on a forum or with e-mail. The trick is to avoid anything that will derail me, and I'm not always successful in staying away from the temptation of e-mail.
Then once I've run out of steam, I'll switch to lower energy tasks
Email is one of those tasks. If I start off with e-mail, I've gone about the tasks in the wrong sequence. But if I start with work and get to e-mail, I know I'm on the right path. High to low energy and then it's time for a break. By 6 am it's time for a walk and a coffee (at the cafe).
The coffee is just the pit stop and a bit of a reward. My wife, Renuka and I talk until we get to the traffic lights and then I turn on my earphones.
I listen to audiobooks and podcasts. Some audiobooks are plainly boring. I'll listen anyway. I try to pick a single point instead of remembering the entire content. I feel that I need just a single point to make it worth my while. So I don't try to remember anything, but that single point. Podcasts and learning Spanish is what I take on on the walk back home.
Some days, however, it's just time to chat
These walks are often idle chatter, but some of these non-learning walks can be super productive. It's almost like having a walking meeting with no agenda. Some of the best ideas and clarifications come from these random conversations.
For instance, a few weeks ago, we decided to keep the first six months of the year clear of any live courses and to do all live courses in the second half of the year. A plan like that seems so logical now, but we've run our business for close to 17 years and we never once thought of an idea like that. So the random talk helps.
It's then time for breakfast and a bit of painting
I make breakfast every day, usually a dosa, though it's super-easy to make upma as well. And then it's time to paint. Renuka used to make breakfast before and I'd paint, which meant I was less likely to skip the painting bit. But now that I'm on breakfast duty, I have to find time after breakfast to get to my watercolours.
It's a diary of my life, these watercolours, and I'm not too happy to skip it. However, I can't say I've been as diligent as before, and that needs to change and will change. It's a matter of making a goal and keeping to it.
The day is then divided between high and low energy tasks
Time scampers on, but I'll take on something which involves high-energy at about 8:45 am or 9 am. By 11 am, with a few breaks in between, I'm ready to stop. I don't achieve that much if I keep going, so I'll just head back home (no stars in the sky on this journey) and cook lunch.
I'm not sure why I got this idea of having to cook lunch every day, but it's what I do. I turn on Pinterest and see what recipes show up. Then I pick a random recipe and make the dish. I'm not sure I could do this magic trick which involves a random recipe, but now I can do it, so I do.
I'd sleep most afternoons for an hour, maybe more
I don't do much of that any more. After I went to India in 2016, I was told to avoid sleeping during the day (to keep the body's digestion going). But sleep in the afternoon is a great joy for me and sometimes I'll ignore the advice and take a nap. But most days I'm back at work, and sleepy.
Hence I need to do low intensity stuff. I can draw, do some editing, or anything that doesn't require me to think and create. That's fine in the afternoons and because of the meditation, my energy is still reasonably high. I can't say I'm running around at high speed, but I'm not crashing to the ground either.
The energy does pick up around 4 pm, though.
But before that it's a school pick up and time with my niece, Marsha. Renuka will make some tea (we drink Matcha, which comes in from Japan). And then it's back to work.
Will I take on a high energy activity or lower level?
It's hard to tell by this point, but I can manage one high energy task until around 5:30 pm. That's when my work day ends and I work with Marsha.
Ask any business owner and they're working pretty much all day.
They have more of an ability to work, not work, or just take the day off if needed, but they're usually putting in a complete day at work. A job slightly complicates the problem because you have to put in a full day and then find time around the job.
Maybe it's just 30 minutes every morning or 30 minutes later in the evening. Either way, there needs to be a plan in place so that the 30 minutes is focused writing or creation time.
30 minutes may not seem like much but it's about 3-4 hours every week (including weekends)
Those hours and minutes add up over the months and it's possible to create a small report in a month. A book may take 4, 6 or 12 months, but it can be done if you're persistent. I used to work in a web design firm and got back at 5 pm every day.
The very switch between a job and home caused my body and brain to slow down. To get anything done, I'd have to work before the day rolled out. Which is why the mornings are good, but it's important to do a disciplined 30 minutes. Having something like the Taking Action forum is also a good idea because it forces you to report back.
All of this—and meditation?
So maybe you can't meditate at 4 am, but maybe you can meditate for about 30 minutes in a lunch break at the office. The key is that it helps you reduce an energy leak, or even eliminate it completely. Which is why I'd use it even at the cost of having a shorter break during the day.
And that's the day, more or less.
Except when I'm on vacation. Then, all bets are off. I sleep at 1 am, wake up when I want. Eat, drink and sleep again. It's good to get refreshed on vacation and then come back to work fresh and eager to go.
The method I use for meditation
If you think of meditation, you're likely to think of someone sitting down, often crosslegged.
That kind of meditation doesn't really work for me. It's far too easy to get out of bed, then feel like I have to do something else and find myself at work. It's better to start the meditation while I'm still in bed. Which is why I pull the duvet close to my chin and meditate while still in bed, yes, while I'm still lying down. And it works for me because my brain is going at two hundred and twenty three miles a second.
If you're the kind of person that just falls back to sleep, this early morning sleep meditation might not be the best thing for you. You may need to get out of bed and sit, just so you don't fall asleep. However, the key to this weird “lying down meditation” is to pick a time of day when your brain is also going at two hundred and twenty three miles a second. Then you too could pull that duvet or sheet and meditate while lying down.
Which means that my flow is:
– High energy work
– Low energy work
– Back to high energy
– Low energy
And so on.
And the evening plays a big role in how the morning pans out
Before I go to bed, I write down what I'm going to do first thing in the morning. Sometimes that task is written down on a piece of paper or in Evernote (so I can access it on all my computers). Or I may use an app to make that note. I seem to swing between paper, phone or computer, but somehow I will write down what I have to do. It's usually just one thing and therefore I'm clear what needs to be done.
Some nights I'll end up watching a series on Netflix
Which means that I'm more than likely to have a disturbed sleep. To make sure I get a good sleep, I need to turn off anything that will keep my brain active. An hour before bed time is probably the minimum amount of time to tune off, but more than one hour is even better. Winding down allows me to have a restful sleep and that allows me to function better once I wake up the next morning.
The better I sleep, the more energy I have the next morning. It's easy to get sucked up in a great TV series, and sometimes that's exactly what I end up doing. It's a big mistake because your energy and output is definitely affected the next day.