On Finding Time for Freelance Writing Work or Why I Don’t Wake at 4:00 A.M. Anymore

alarm clock

I credit much of my freelance writing success to being a morning person. If not for the ability to wake each morning at 4:00, I wouldn’t have been able to find quiet blocks of time to work undisturbed. I woke early almost every day for five years – until my son was in first grade and I had the house to myself full time to work on projects.

It looks good in theory, doesn’t it? “Wow, that Deb’s so disciplined she wakes every day at 4 and works for three or four hours straight through while it’s quiet.” The truth is, there’s no better way to emulate a zombie and alienate your family than to wake every morning at the most unGodly hour possible.

Mind you, I’m not discouraging the 4:00 AM wakeup call if that’s your thing, but if you’re considering trying this at home, at least let me spell out what you’re getting yourself into:

  • You’re always tired:  It doesn’t matter what time you go to bed at night, you’re always going to be tired. If you have kids, you don’t necessarily have the luxury of taking a nap in the afternoon. You’re ready to go gangbusters at 4:00 AM, but five hours later, you’re ready to call it a day. You fall asleep while reading, while watching TV and while carrying on a conversation with your significant other. Your neighbors think you’re rude because you yawn while chatting.
  • You miss out on the fun stuff: If you’re waking up at 4, you’re ready for bed at 6:00. You can’t stay up as late as you’d like, even with good intentions.  You end up falling asleep soon after the kids. You miss your favorite shows and don’t always get to read a good book. Parties? You’re home by 10:00.  If you have time for naps and TiVo, there’s probably no need for you to be waking at 4:00 in the first place. Those things don’t usually happen for very early risers.
  • You make mistakes: When you’re very tired you make mistakes. Sometimes your tired eye doesn’t catch things during the final proof. If you’re waking before dawn, proofread with a fine tooth comb. You’ll be surprised at some of the stuff you miss.
  • You become forgetful: When you’re tired you forget things – not just work but general day to day things. You can’t find your glasses, you put the ice cream in the fridge and things just slip your mind. Making sure to get enough rest is key.
  • You’re cranky: If you don’t get enough sleep you’re cranky and you take it out on everyone around you. Think about if you want to be in a perpetual bad mood every day before making the decision to rise before the rest of the world each day.
  • You’re unhealthy: When you’re not getting enough rest your resistance is lower. You get sick more often than when you get in a full eight hours each night.
  • You’re going to hit the snooze button. A lot.: Next thing you know, it’s 7:30.

Did I mention you’re always tired?

Now, at the moment I don’t have to wake at 4:00, but I’m still an early riser, usually about 6:00 or 6:30.  I don’t know if I could have managed my career while my son was young if I didn’t wake early. However, if you’re thinking of rearranging your schedule to accommodate your career, keep the above in mind. Plan for eight hours of sleep and know that you may miss out on a few things.

Do I have any regrets? Absolutely not, I managed and you will too. Just know that waking hours before your family has its benefits. For example, it’s quiet, you can work undisturbed and you can still care for your family and build your career. If you don’t get enough rest it can backfire.

If you’re planning an early rise:

  • Get enough rest – If you’re waking early, you need to go to sleep early. If you’re waking at 4, you’ll have to go to bed no later than 8 or 9. You need your rest to be healthy and to adequately take care of your business and your family.
  • See if you can schedule in a nap – It’s easier said than done, but if you have the ability to take a nap, do so for your sanity and your health.
  • Take one or two days during the week when you can catch up on rest – If your spouse can wake up early and deal with the kids one day so you can catch up on your sleep, this can help you catch up on your rest. You’ll still need enough sleep each night, but having a sleep in one or two mornings each week does wonders for your demeanor…and your health.

How do you find blocks of time to work undisturbed? If you rise super early, how do keep from getting too tired and cranky? Share in the comments…


  1. says

    I wrote an article about the links between sleep and good health a few months ago, and the research is amazing. Lack of sleep is related to diabetes, metabolism, and has even been shown to be as dangerous when driving as alcohol.

    I have the opposite problem than you, though: I stay up too late working and feel exhausted the next day. Thanks for the post. This isn’t an often-addressed topic.

  2. SatuR says

    This post reminds me of when I was living in India studying yoga, and was getting up before 4 am every morning to go to my yoga class. I had to go to bed at 9pm! Now I’m back in the West and happily sleep until 9 am. I think I’m catching up on all that missed sleep. One thing I’ve noticed is I write a lot better when I get enough sleep. On the other hand the morning is the best time for me to write, so I’m aiming for 6.30 or 7 am now. Sleep is so important.

  3. says

    I don’t. I’m at my computer by 6:45 a.m., but that gives me only about 45 minutes before it’s time to start getting the kids up and moving. I have “work time” in the morning, but between DH, homeschooled son (sometimes my responsibility) and the laundry… then I get a couple hours late afternoon (though need to start supper); then by 9:30 I’m pooped. I’m asleep by 10:30, in time to get up around 6 and start again.

    Maybe I really should aim for 5.

    I’m permanently behind.

  4. says

    Anybody doing what it takes to actually succeed gets socially savaged by everyone around them… until they succeed. Then it’s “You’re so lucky!”

    I’ve lost almost all my salaried friends now, and building new friendships with more entrepreneurial-minded people.

  5. says

    I have the opposite situation also. I work late while everyone has gone to sleep, then get up with them in the morning. But I have to pay attention to the time, as I will stay up far later than I should if I’m in a zone.

  6. says

    I can’t get up that early and be productive! My kids are usually up at 5 am, though, but usually my hubby will get up with them (if he’s home). Instead, I work late at night, as well as during the day. Like others here, I have a problem with not getting enough sleep because I stay up too late. If I can, I’ll nap in the afternoon with my youngest, but most of the time that’s not a possibility, so I’ll end up running on 3-5 hours of sleep. Not good!

  7. Kim says

    I’m with you James. I often write late at night, after my daughter has gone to bed. I can get carried away with this too though, and then have a great deal of trouble getting up in the morning. Even when I do stop writing at a decent time I often can’t relax and get out of ‘working mode’; I just keep running through projects in my mind.

    I think either way it’s a struggle!

  8. Kathleen says

    I’m anther late-nighter. If I could sleep in past 5 or 6:30 that would sure help. Fortunately, my kids aren’t the ones who wake me. It’s my dogs. :( The kids like to sleep in! I also homeschool but we don’t exactly have a solid schedule.

    So I’m always tired too because I stay up late and get up early. Yes, sleep is a wonderful thing if you can get it. I know I’d work more effectively if I could sleep a bit more.

  9. says

    I get up at 7 every morning. I do some cardio and simple pushups/crunches, then I spend 30 minutes or so checking e-mails, having a yogurt, 2 cups of coffee, and settling in. I usually start work by 8 a.m. I edit articles from the previous day, and outline the day in front of me. By 10 a.m. I start into the routine, and I generally work until 2 p.m., although November has seen me working until 4 p.m. most days. Rest of the evening is for me to use as I please, and I’m in bed no later than midnight. Most nights by 11 p.m. Same routine every day.

  10. Phil says

    My naps aren’t scheduled. But when I’m brain dead, it’s time for the lazy boy, unless I have something concrete scheduled.

  11. says

    I threw out the alarm clock long ago.. I sleep when I’m tired and wake when I’m rested – but I am lucky. It is just me and my teenage daughter vagabonding in Europe.

    Still, it took a lot of discipline to be that lazy! I realised that not only do I want to take on all the work I can, I also love my job and could be a workaholic if I wasn’t careful. So now my deadlines revolve around my life, rather than the other way around – mostly…

  12. says

    I couldn’t get up at 4AM if my life depended on it. On the contrary, I’m just going to sleep at 4 AM some mornings, but a typical night ends at 2 AM for me. I used to be able to sleep until 10 AM, but for some reason daylight savings time has my 1-year-old getting up at 7:30 every morning. I’ve been taking naps with her to get more rest so I’m not a zombie all day long.

  13. says

    This post brought back painful sleep-deprived memories. When my 3 children were young I also started work at 4am most days. Since I require utter silence to write, my workday was kaput by 7am when my kids awakened.

    They attended a half-day nursery school three days a week–ostensibly I could have work for a few hours those days. But by the time I ferried them to and from school and perhaps ran a quick errand, I only had an hour or so leftover.

    I made peace with my situation by limited the number of clients with whom I worked–and accepting I could only work part-time.

    Even so, I was always tired and cranky. I remember my eyes burning constantly. One time my husband bought expensive theater tickets for our anniversary–and I nodded off soon after the curtain rose!

    Today with my oldest child in college and two in high school I work full time without guilt. And I rise at the (relatively) luxurious hour of 6am.

  14. says

    This thread has made me feel like an official weirdo. I’m basically on a nocturnal sleep schedule. Being up at 4:00 AM is no big deal for me because I’m still up from the night before. I sleep during the day, work during the night and wouldn’t have it any other way. Although I should also mention I don’t have children either.

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