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Waking Up Early: A Crash Course for Software Engineers

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7 min read

Introduction

Let's rewind the clock to the 27th of March, 2020. A year that changed a lot about life as COVID descended upon each and everyone one of us. That day, a Friday, was the first day of the hard lockdown in South Africa. Like many of you reading this article, I was shocked and wondered how long I'd be left to survive the jail sentence handed down to me.

On the Thursday afternoon before lockdown struck, I was in a bookstore and picked up "The 5 AM Club by Robin Sharma". I was instantly intrigued. I had read one of Robins's books (The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari) some years before and enjoyed his storytelling. I purchased the book and read it through the first weekend of lockdown.

I had heard about the concept of the 5 AM Club multiple times leading up to that point, always knowing it was something I wanted to find out more about. Adapting to the 5 AM Club gave me a sense of control, considering how much of my life was now out of my control.

I wasn't born a night owl. In fact, by 4 PM, I'm usually pretty useless to the world. However, waking up has always been easy for me. I have boundless energy in the morning and, to be honest, quite enjoy the peace in the world during the early hours of the day. I know, right? It's the complete antithesis of what software engineers are accustomed to.

What if I told you, though, that following the practices of the 5 AM Club has helped me gain two promotions over two years, learn new technologies and languages, and even set up a side hustle or two? There are many benefits to waking up early, both professionally and personally, and I intend to convince you of them!

What is The 5 AM Club?

So what exactly is The 5 AM Club? First and foremost, it's a book. However, I would say it's now closer to philosophy or methodology. The 5 AM Club follows the 20/20/20 rule, as set out in the book:

  1. 20 minutes of intense exercise
  2. 20 minutes goal setting
  3. 20 minutes learning a new skill

While the premise of The 5 AM Club is based on these three tenants, once you understand the reasons for each tenant, you can easily change, arrange and update them to suit your needs or align with your goals.

As the Dalai Lama said: "…know the rules well so that you can break them effectively."

Waking up at 5 AM allows you to make space in your day before the world gets busy. The 5 AM Club has gained popularity among business leaders and entrepreneurs, and it can be elegantly applied to the careers of software engineers. Let's discuss some of the significant benefits of practising The 5 AM Club.

Benefits of the 5 AM Club

  1. Achieve your career goals: in my own experience, I leveraged the 5 AM Club to achieve my career goals. In 2020, I was a humble Senior Front-end Engineer; a year later, I became a Lead Front-end Engineer and, one year after that, an Associate Director of Front-end Engineering. This was a choice I made, dedicated to my career. Luckily, good fortune came into play, but I used my early morning hours to go the extra mile at work, and it paid off.
  2. Balance your personal life: not everything in life is about work. Your health, relationships and family are just as important. I don't have kids, but I have a committed relationship with my partner, two dogs to look after, and a house to run. You can use the early hours to spend time with your partner, exercise together, take the dogs for a walk, and plan travel/life goals.
  3. Learn a new skill: another great way to leverage the 5 AM Club is to spend time learning new skills. Whether that's a new programming language, a new library or a tech stack, even dedicating an hour a day to learning something new that will help your career or personal life can take you very far and make you more valuable in your position.
  4. Increase productivity and efficiency: as I had focused on my career, waking up before everyone else allowed me to get a jump start on my day. I would deliver project requests or feedback before anyone had even woken up. Code reviews were done before my colleagues were awake, and I could solve difficult bugs in solitude. Trust me; this makes project managers love having you on their team and makes you stand out as an overachiever.
  5. Improve your health: you can also dedicate the early hours to improving your health. Coupled with intermittent fasting, you can get a head start on weight loss, exercise, planning meals or researching healthy alternatives. In my experience, it allows me to catch waves or run 10km without feeling the pressure of needing to be available on Slack.
  6. Start a side hustle: software engineers have a tremendous competitive edge over many would-be entrepreneurs - they can build and execute websites or applications for free! This makes starting a side hustle easy enough if you have a great idea. The other problem is time, which the 5 AM Club solves. Consistency is key; dedicating an hour or two a day to your side hustle can pay huge benefits in the long run.

Breaking Old Habits

Perhaps the most challenging part of achieving "5 AM Club" status is breaking the habit of waking up late. This barrier to entry is difficult for most people, never mind tired software engineers who have been staring at a screen and debugging complex logic problems.

Recent studies show that it takes around 28 days to break a habit. Thus, if you're serious about breaking your sleep cycle, it's going to take nearly a month to get used to waking up at 5 AM. This wasn't all that hard, as South Africa has relatively mild seasons. Don't get me wrong; winter is still cold, so I would not advise you to begin forming this habit in the dark. Wait for summer to arrive and let the sun help you out. It's far easier to rise with the sun than without it.

Be patient with yourself, and begin with the 20/20/20 method. It's far easier to get used to than dedicating yourself to one direct benefit, as listed above.

Conclusion

The 5 AM Club has many benefits that can help software developers improve their health, advance their careers, balance their personal lives and help them achieve greatness. Breaking the habit of waking up late will be difficult, but you'll soon reap the benefits of this widespread practice.

The 5 AM Club is a way of gaining control in a chaotic and disruptive life for all of us. It's a philosophy and practice that can take you as far as you want. Buy the book, read it and start waking up early!

Profile of Daine

Written by Daine Mawer. Thanks for reading! Im always posting new content. If you liked what you read, please subscribe to my RSS feed or follow me on Github, Twitter or LinkedIn. Im also always on the look out for new oppurtunities, engagements, contract work or just coffee! So please dont hesitate to reach out.