Waking Up at 4 in the Morning Won’t Make You a CEO

A man talks to a woman in front of drawing board with multicolored sticky notes on t.
“I woke up before I even went to sleep!!!!” Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

It’s resolution season! Across the country, gym rats are preparing for the onslaught of neophytes come January 2nd, and Tinder profiles that haven’t been updated since the last time you got wine drunk (just me?) are getting re-activated. And at work, plenty of us, because we’re ambitious or frustrated or just because we live in a capitalist society where our worth is determined by our output, are hoping to get more done in 2019. Luckily, the Twitter feed for Inc. magazine is here for you, as earlier this week the magazine recirculated a 2017 story about getting a “fast start to your day,” gleaned from the wisdom of billionaire tech entrepreneurs. Their advice: Wake up before dawn and sacrifice your mornings to the gods of productivity.

People on Twitter had things to say!

“Certain insanely successful people,” like Apple CEO Tim Cook or Virgin America CEO David Cush, “start their workday somewhere between 3:45 a.m. and 4:30 a.m.,” says leadership coach Marce Schwantes. So if the rest of us rubes want to become billionaires, a little sleep deficiency is a perfectly acceptable sacrifice to make.

What makes the pre-dawn hours so great? Well, basically, no one else is awake to bother you. With email and Slack and all the various innovations that Silicon Valley has so graciously blessed us with comes an underlying expectation that if you have access to the internet, you should always be available. Of course, most of us weren’t hired specifically to reply quickly to emails, but instant response is one of our only outward-facing measures of productivity. Jill from human resources doesn’t see the report you spent hours on for your boss, but she does know that you took long past the socially accepted 24 hours to respond to her non-urgent message. So what are you, an overworked employee, to do besides send yet another “sorry for the delayed response”? Obviously, the answer is to wake up with the sun, long before anyone else has even begun to blink the sleep out of their eyes, and get your actual work done so when Jill’s email arrives you’ve got the time to write “I’m bringing a +1.” (Seriously, get going on that Tinder profile.)

The responses on Twitter suggested just how unenthused most of us are by the idea of becoming a super-productive human worker bot. For my money, though, people weren’t angry enough. It’s completely insane that “successful” people think that to be your most productive self, you must not only work through every waking moment but add more waking moments to your day, then work through those. Never to be questioned are jobs whose tasks cannot be finished within a normal 40-hour week or a work culture that romanticizes burnout. If never-ending chains of emails prevent you from actually doing your job, that is a problem that should be solved by your higher-ups, not by waking up before anyone can email you. If you’re getting bogged down by useless, menial tasks, your morning isn’t what needs to be restructured. If you can’t get your work done because Tim from marketing talks too loudly in your open office, the solution isn’t to get there two hours before Tim does.

The way our workplaces are set up, the way we lionize individual success rather than functional companies, puts the onus for a bad workplace environment on workers rather than where the blame should lay: with executives. And too often the individuals we lionize have lucked into their fame with a bit of white male privilege, a dash of narcissism, and a whole lot of truly detestable choices that have laid waste to minor things like user privacy or democracy that can’t be sold to the highest bidder. Those are the “insanely successful” people whose self-help advice we prize, or whose lifestyle we seek to imitate. But why are we looking at the schedules of CEO’s without looking at the ways in which their companies are built off of underpaid labor or their lifestyles are made possible by the healthcare benefits that they don’t extend to their personal assistants? The ability of people like Tim Cook or Jeff Bezos to amass huge fortunes, with little checks on the empires they build, is not a reward that can be earned through ascetic discipline—it’s a symptom of a toxic work system that desperately needs to be overhauled.