A Massively Productive Day Starts with These 3 Things (the Night Before)

It’s a fact.

Waking early is NOT correlated with success.

The proof is in the research. 

According to the Huffington Post, “nearly 50% of self-made millionaires wake up at least three hours before their workday actually begins.” [1] 

Okay, that’s not a lot of research, but read that quote again if you need to. While it suggests rising early contributes to success in a matter-of-fact tone, less than half of self-made millionaires are early birds. Which means the other half aren’t. 

This article goes on to list a dozen or so wildly successful business owners, executives, and entrepreneurs who wake up before the crack of dawn, as if this is correlated to their success.

It’s not the only one.

Self-improvement gurus publish dozens of listicles daily on the benefits of rising before dawn. Success experts scream of the benefits of an early start. We even hear of historical figures like George Washington who “the sun never caught in bed.”

All this pressure to set an early alarm, get your butt out of bed, and get moving before the rest of the world... its enough to make you want to try.

But when you do, you feel groggy, cold, and it takes you an hour to warm up for the day. Then, when afternoon arrives, sleepiness strikes, and it’s all you can do to keep from nodding off (let alone get anything done).

If the point of waking up early is to crush your day, why does getting up early suck so much life and productivity out of you?

And, if getting up early is not correlated with success, what truly makes a successful day?

I’ve got three answers to those questions, and they all start the night before.

You’re Setting The Wrong Alarm

Sorry to say, your morning alarm is ignoring one terrible, no good, very bad reality: it doesn’t take into account how much sleep you need.

Think about it.

How many times have you set your alarm for 6:30 am or earlier but not gone to bed until midnight or after? How a many times do you leave the same morning alarm set regardless of when you plan on going to bed the night before? 

Sure, you can push yourself through one day of sleepiness. Maybe even two or three. “I’ll catch up on sleep this weekend,” you say. But the long-term drawbacks of sleep deprivation (even in small amounts) are drastic. The productivity losses you face by getting less sleep than your body requires is astounding.

Case in point, researchers found that after being awake for 17 to 19 hours, your brain starts to operate as if it’s had a few glasses of wine. After 24 hours, your brain is less effective than having a blood alcohol concentration of .10 [2].

You can’t legally drive anywhere in the US (or nearly anywhere in the world) under this level of influence!

You need sleep, and you need the right amount. But setting a morning alarm won’t help you get to bed on time. To do that, and to set yourself up for a day of success, you need to begin the night before. 

That means setting a bedtime alarm instead of a morning one. 

A bedtime alarm isn’t meant to alert you when your head should hit the pillow. It’s not meant to ring the second you need to nod off. It’s meant to warn you that bedtime is coming and you should begin your nightly routine in preparation for that moment. 

Think of it as a “wind-down” alarm.

When it fires, that’s your signal to make coffee for tomorrow morning, lay your clothes out, get your workout gear ready, let the dog out to pee, brush your teeth, and spend a few minutes reading or meditating before feeling sleepy enough to doze off.

For me, this routine takes 45 minutes. It might take you more or less.

If you need to be up by 7 am, and your body needs seven hours of sleep, and it takes you one hour to settle in for the night, set your alarm for 11 pm. When that alarm goes off, start winding down for the night so. This way, when midnight hits, you’re ready to pack it in for seven solid hours of shut-eye. 

Do this a few nights in a row and you just might find yourself waking up without an alarm—rested, recharged, and ready to crush your day. 

If You Don’t Know What You’re Doing, You’ve Already Lost

Imagine two driven, focused, high-achievers like you.

The first wakes up and goes through his morning routine. He’s not moving lethargically, but he’s not hustling either. Work starts soon, and he can flex his time a bit to begin when he’s good and ready.

Eventually feeling he should get his day rolling, he starts by doing what comes easiest: checking email. Thirty minutes later, tired from making a dozen trivial decisions and composing responses that will only result in more emails to triage later, he takes a quick break at the coffee machine to refuel. 

Except the coffee break isn’t quick. 

High-achiever #1 — Stressed without a plan, busy without getting anything done.

High-achiever #1 — Stressed without a plan, busy without getting anything done.

High-achiever #2 — I don’t know who this is, but she’s clearly crushing it. Probably had a plan and everything…

High-achiever #2 — I don’t know who this is, but she’s clearly crushing it. Probably had a plan and everything…

He chats with a colleague about his weekend. He spends a few minutes looking at social media notifications on his phone. Before he knows it, meetings have started only to be interrupted by lunch. 

The day blows by quickly, and this first guy is left wondering how he spent the entire day working but didn’t get anything done.

High-achiever #2, on the other hand, wakes up and tackles her morning with aplomb. She confidently moves briskly through her routine, not wasting time transitioning between activities and not getting distracted by social media or morning news. She isn’t stressed, but doesn’t want to waste time because her day starts at 8:30 am, and she knows if she misses that start time, everything behind it will slip.

When work begins, she closes her door and dons her headphones, doing everything in her power to focus for an hour or more on meaningful work, work that will help her achieve her weekly goals. She takes a quick coffee break, and even has time to chat with a co-worker, but gets right back to it after 15 minutes to tackle the next highest priority task in her list.

When the meetings hit, she’s already done more than anyone else but is still motivated to keep on track. So she kicks off every single meeting on time and ends each one on time too. Her meetings are back-to-back (because she planned them that way), so doesn’t waste time in between when there’s never enough time to do anything productive. 

The afternoon rolls around, and she’s got time to triage emails and knock out a few more tasks before clocking out early. She feels great about her day. She crushed it, is on track for the week, and doesn’t feel the slightest draw to bring work home. She spends the evening relaxing, hanging out with friends and family, and planning her tomorrow. 

Which is the second activity that leads to a massively productive day.

The first high-achiever had great intentions but didn’t have a plan, so found himself distracted, unfocused, and unmotivated to move things along. 

The second high-achiever had great intentions and a plan for the day. She had scheduled her most important work, moved meetings into blocks to avoid dead time, and had a good idea of the types of tasks she’d work on when she had an extra moment or two here or there.

With a plan, created the night before, high-achiever #2 didn’t have to think about what to do. And, she didn’t feel the need to comply with every request or demand by others. 

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!
— Benjamin Franklin

Her day was booked. She was busy working on important things. Others’ requests could wait.

A good plan created the night before gives you the luxury of a productive day. It sets the tone before you even wake up. Your plan keeps you focused on work that matters, the highest priority tasks that will get you closer to your goals. And, it will give you a reason to ignore distractions that would otherwise force you to take work home and end the day feeling like you got nothing done.

Luck Favors the Prepared, So Prepare to Fail

Preparing is different than planning.

When you plan, you’re prioritizing what’s important for the future.

When you prepare, you lay out a framework for making your plan a success.

You know the tricks to use to prepare for tomorrow. I’ve listed a few of these in the first section of this very article:

  1. Lay your clothing out.

  2. Get your workout gear ready.

  3. Make the coffee.

If you use these, great. These tricks will help you get your day started with minimal effort while eliminating decision fatigue. But the most effective thing you can do to set yourself up for success tomorrow is by preparing for failure.

Great days don’t happen magically. And it’s rare that everything in your day will magically go right. Something always comes up. Something always blocks your path forward. It’s the people that are prepared for those roadblocks that can plow through them and reach greater levels of success. 

As Brian Tracy states in his article, The Right Stuff, “Preparation is the mark of the professional in today’s competitive environment.” [3]

Sure, you may be able to show up and just get to work, but the second something gets in your way that you’ve never encountered before, all momentum is lost, and all gains grind to a halt.

Take sales, for instance. 

Fortune favors the prepared mind.
— Louis Pasteur

Presenting to a lead without taking the time to prepare for their objections will only result in wasted time and lack of confidence. On the flip side, thinking through possible objections to your product or service in advance will allow you to respond with confidence and move the conversation closer to a sale. 

In other words, preparing for failure gives you the confidence and tools to succeed, so failure is less likely to happen. 

This is true for nearly everything in life.

Giving a speech tomorrow? Prepare today to make sure nothing breaks down and, if it does, you have an immediate backup plan. 

Writing an article tomorrow? Prepare today by making sure your research is done, your writing tools are ready, and your environment is arranged so you can sit down and get right to work. 

No excuses. No roadblocks. No objections or thoughts of “coulda-shoulda-woulda.” 

Preparing the night before to clear roadblocks before they hit will pay off dividends on your productivity and happiness tomorrow. Preparing makes it far more likely that a great day does happen.

Putting a Point On It

Want to wake up early? Fine. Go for it.

Just remember, it’s not going to bring you success automatically. 

Without getting the right amount of sleep, rising early will only make you tired, irritable, and generally unproductive.

Without having a plan, beating the sun out of bed will only give you more time to mess around with tasks that ultimately don’t matter. 

And without preparing for the failures that will inevitably happen through your day, you’ll find yourself distracted, putting out fires, and working through chaos.

All of which will lead to being extremely busy, but getting nothing important done.

Instead, set a bedtime alarm to give yourself time to wind down. When that alarm rings, start your nighttime routine. Brush your teeth, make the coffee, feed the hogs. But also, make sure you take time to plan.

Plan your day in advance so that you know what your most important priorities are before for tomorrow. Shuffle your meetings into a large time-blocks so you’re don’t lose time in between. And, set a general schedule so you can move through your day with purpose. 

Finally, prepare for failure. Brainstorm all the roadblocks that could prevent you from crushing your day, and think through how you’ll prevent each roadblock from becoming an issue (and what you will do if it does).

By giving yourself time to wind down, plan your day, and prepare for any obstacles that may get in your way, you’ll find that you don’t have to get up early to achieve that next level of success…

Unless of course, you’re glutton for punishment :-). 


  1. Merle, A. (2017, July 17). This is When Successful People Wake Up. Huffington Post. Retrieved August 24, 2019, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/this-is-when-successful-people-wake-up_b_596d17a3e4b0376db8b65a1a

  2. Hindy, J. (2014, January 8). The Science Of Sleep: 8 Secrets About Sleep And Productivity I Wish I Knew Earlier. Lifehack. Retrieved August 26, 2019, from https://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/the-science-of-sleep-8-secrets-about-sleep-and-productivity-i-wish-i-knew-earlier.html

  3. Tracy, B. (2008, February 13). The Right Stuff. Brian Tracy’s Self Improvement & Professional Development Blog. Retrieved August 26, 2019, from https://www.briantracy.com/blog/brians-words-of-wisdom/the-right-stuff/

About the Author


Michael Mehlberg


I help high-achieving entrepreneurs organize their brain and schedule so they can organize their life and business.

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