Productivity Tip: Set Yourself a Bedtime


For my first three years out of college, I worked evening hours. At first, that was great. I stayed up until 2 or 3 am watching TV and working on my blog and slept until noon, which was similar to my schedule in college. Working the “swing shift” did make doing anything besides work difficult, though. If I needed to go to the post office, the grocery store, or the dentist, those places weren’t open when I got off work, so I’d have to get up early and run my errands in a zombie-like state, or try to run more errands on the weekends.

I’ve been working regular daytime hours for almost four years now and I’m still working on trying to become a “morning person.” I’ve always been a night owl, which doesn’t mix well with an early wake-up time. In elementary school, my dad had to literally drag me out of bed by grabbing one arm and one leg. Getting up for school was an issue for me until college, when I could take later classes. People say that you can train yourself to become a morning person, but I still feel most alert and productive in the evenings and grouchy in the mornings.

One of my biggest takeaways from The Happiness Project was that getting enough sleep is incredibly important for happiness as well as productivity. Even though I can’t control when I’m most alert or productive, I can control how much sleep I get, so for the past two weeks I’ve been making a conscious effort to go to bed early. I can’t be both a night owl *and* a morning person. so it’s been harder than I thought.

A Good Morning Starts With a Good Night’s Sleep



I’m not one of those people who can jump right out of bed in the morning. (Seriously, who are those people?) I’m a big fan of my snooze button. I set my alarm for 6:20, but I usually don’t get out of bed until 7. I need some time to wake up, or just some extra sleep. The problem is that getting out of bed at 7 doesn’t leave me enough time to get out the door when I need to, which is 7:25. Having to rush in the morning is the worst.

I like my sleep, so I’m never going to be one of those people who eats breakfast and reads the paper before work during the week, but I would like to be less rushed and stressed out. I figured that getting more sleep would help me fix that so I can get up on time.

Side note: check out this great post on the “slow morning” on Ilo Inspired.

A Conscious Effort

I made it my goal to get in bed at 10:00pm and have the lights out by 10:30pm. It sounds simple, but going to bed earlier takes work.

On a typical weeknight, I get home at 7pm, go to bed between 11:30 and 12:30, and am grouchy the next day. With a 10:00 bedtime, I have three hours to eat dinner, go to the gym (or not), watch TV (or not) and shower (or not) before 10. Even though I usually mark my Google calendar with the shows I want to watch each night, I decided to make a more conscious effort to schedule my three hours well. I realized I could save a little time by hurrying to catch an earlier train home.  Even though my train options don’t have a lot of flexibility, I decided to rethink my occasional mindless window-shopping before heading home. The week before my experiment, I had to run an errand after work, and decided to go grab dinner and browse in a few more stores, and that was my night. I didn’t get home until 10pm, so I ended up going to bed late.

On the weeknights when I don’t have a class or plans, I unwind by surfing the internet for a while, watching Seinfeld or Law & Order. It’s easy to let several hours fly by before realizing I haven’t showered, done any cleaning or gotten ready for bed. Surfing Instagram and Facebook is a black hole for valuable time. It’s not the way I would plan an evening ahead of time, but sometimes that’s how I end up spending my night. So if I get sucked into browsing something, I try to stop and think, is this how I want to spend my night when I only have three hours of free time?

Aside from wasting time, the biggest challenge in getting to bed on time is my TV schedule. I like Veep, but it’s on at 10:30 on Sunday nights, and I really wanted to watch the Teen Mom 2 reunion, which was also airing after 10, so I marked my calendar to catch up on those shows later in the week. It was a little annoying, I have lived to tell you that the world will not end if one misses a night of live-tweeting Jenelle Evans’ latest arrest. I want the way I spend my time to reflect my values. 

Here’s another great article by Gretchen about setting a bedtime on Refinery29: How to Finally Get to Bed on Time.

The ripple effect

 On the first night of my get-to-bed-early effort, I went to bed at 10:30 and I felt totally refreshed the next day. I wish it were easy to get to bed at that hour all the time, but it isn’t. The second night, I zoned out and watched TV and all of a sudden it was 9:30, also known as too late to do laundry or go to the gym and still get to bed on time. I took a shower and went to bed. For the rest of the week, my bedtime fluctuated between 10:30 and 12:00.

When I get in bed at 10:00, I’m not tired. It feels counter-intuitive, but I’m trying to make it a habit to go to bed around the same time every night because of the difference it makes for me the following day.

me before 11:00 AM

I know it won’t be possible every day, but getting more sleep has made my mornings significantly more bearable. It might sound obvious, but I noticed a huge improvement in my mood and outlook when I went to bed earlier. Waking up rested changed the tone of my whole day. I had enough time to put on makeup. I got to the train on time. I got to work on time. I can reply to the unfailingly chipper people who say MORNING!!! HOW ARE YA?! and say “good” and mean it. It’s nice to be able to function with the rest of the adult world before 11 am.

The most important change I made was to prioritize sleep above other things. Wasting time, watching TV, doing my nails and talking on the phone are all enjoyable, but when I let them get in the way of getting enough sleep, I felt unhappy. Sleep is something you have to protect. I haven’t had a bedtime since elementary school, so having one again is weird, but worthwhile.

I’m trying to get to bed earlier on the weekends as well. Today (Sunday) I got up at 8:30, cleaned my entire apartment and took a shower before meeting friends for lunch. Now that’s what I call progress.

A woman whose children I used to babysit told me that she always woke up early, at least an hour before the kids, and she liked to have her own quiet time before the day started. I’ve read a lot about productive people who get up early to write, paint, etc., and one day I’d like to be able to do that, but let’s not get crazy.


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