Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
September 20, 2010 7:39 AM

Early Morning

When are you most inspired to create, tinker and experiment?

I have memories of being a very young child and not being able to sleep. I would stumble downstairs in the dark and sit in front of the television waiting for something decent to come on (it felt like hours until something finally did come on... it probably was). I remember my parents always encouraging me to try to sleep in a little bit longer. At worst, to just lay in bed instead of wandering around the house. I used to think that waking up early is a problem. Sometimes I still do.

I like the quiet of the early morning.

The alarm was supposed to go off at 4:10 am this morning (I had a 6 am flight to catch). Like most people, having an alarm set that early creates a low-level amount of stress that I'll miss the alarm or not hear it, which usually keeps me tossing and turning. By 4 am, I was off to the races (ok, that's a little bit earlier than my regular wake-up). When Twist Image first started to happen, I made myself a personal, entrepreneur's promise (one I have yet to break): I would go to bed when I was tired and I would wake up when I was no longer tired without the aid of an alarm clock. Yes, there are some odd occasions when the alarm beats me to a wake-up, but it is a rare occasion. I've learned to embrace, love and be inspired by the quiet of the early morning and the silence of the world.

Head out on the highway.

As my car rolled towards the airport, I was at peace with the pre-dawn darkness and the glare of the eighteen wheelers' tail lights making their way to parts unknown. Three different ideas came to mind and one business issue I had been grappling with resolved itself. I took the nearest exit, pulled over and got to work on Evernote so that this moment of ideation could be captured.

Nobody knows where ideas come from.

We do know that ideas happen in our subconscious and - for some - the best stuff happens when our minds are quieting down. For some this happens in the shower for others it's right before bed or right after waking up. Others have the capability to unlock their creativity while listening to music or reading. A lot of uber creative types encourage others to try meditation. It's different for everyone. The only way you're ever going to unlock new corridors of your own creativity is to change your schedule and life rhythm.

Try waking up early.

It sucks to say that - especially if you are a night owl, but try it. Not once... try it for 30-days straight. The only way this will work is for it to become a habit. For it to become a habit, you're going to have to do it, consistently, until it no longer feels like you're doing something different. In my personal case, I've recently given myself permission to be up as early as my body wakes itself without feeling bad about it. I no longer think that I should be getting back to bed. I no longer worry that I may be causing long-term damage to my health. The body is one amazing computer. As long as I either go to bed or relax when I'm feeling tired, it should adapt accordingly. There are stories that Albert Einstein didn't sleep through the night, but he often took cat naps whenever the mood struck him.

But, it's not just about waking up early.

Along with giving myself permission to wake up early, I've also made a personal agreement that I will use that time to be creative and inspired. To focus on writing better Blog posts and books. To spend that time working on some of the issues that our clients are grappling with and to, ultimately, use that time and space to be a Media Hacker. To re-imagine media, marketing, advertising and communications. In doing so, I've also realized that this is one of the pillars to my own personal success: it's a time when I am working, doing and thinking while others are either sleeping or doing things that add little value to their lives and those around them. It's the perfect time to exercise: the body, the mind and the spirit.

Your turn: when are you most inspired to create, tinker and experiment?

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Buzz
    Mitch Joel

    Early am is the best. I can get more done before 6a that I can ever do in an afternoon or evening.

    The shower is where my creativity comes. I drift away and come up with my greatest ideas. Then, like you pulling over, I scramble out dripping wet to scribble it down.

    (Aside: wish I could "get" Evernote, still dont use it properly)

    Reply
    • They have this amazing whiteboard for the shower (not joking)... you should try to find it.

      Evernote really clicked for me when I realized how asynchronous it is. I update a note on my iPhone and it's done all over the place... can't beat it.

      Reply
      • Posted by Sylvie
        Mitch Joel

        Went for a run last Sunday. Listening in full blast to "Another Star" by Stevie Wonder.
        Images of a video I wanted to make just unravelled in my mind.
        From the first image to the finale. Inspiration. Ideation happens when our mind is free from our control. Its like meditating. The practice of allowing your mind to wonder without control. Being in the here and now. Try that

        Reply
      • Posted by Eric Pratum
        Mitch Joel

        I started using Evernote largely because of this...well and because it makes all of those PDF documents, books, etc that I have easily searchable.

        Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    One book that has had a huge influence on me is Twyla Tharp's, The Creative Habit. While its true we can't tell for sure where ideas come from, she makes the case that creativity is a habit that we facilitate through rituals ... like early am time.

    And like you, I use Evernote to capture.

    Reply
    • The link between creativity and turning it into a habit has to be a reality. Some people worry that they will "run out" of ideas. I believe (and I could be wrong) that the more you do it and turn it into a habit, the more creative you can (and should) become.

      I'll be sure to pick up that book.

      Reply
  • Posted by Mike Brewer
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch

    It's early morning for me. 5:00 to 5:30AM and usually after a two to three hour run. There is something about opening the head up to some very fresh morning air. It seems to loosen the cobwebs.

    Thanks for the timely post -

    M

    Reply
  • Posted by Dan York
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,

    For all of my life, I have been an early-riser and, like you, always found mornings to be an immensely productive time. 6am was always the time when I snapped wide awake and was raring to go (usually to the immense annoyance of whomever I was living with, including my wife).

    Then a funny thing happened 8.5 years ago... my oldest daughter was born and in what can only be described as perhaps cosmic revenge she turned out *exactly* like me in terms of an early riser - only EARLIER! Her sister 7 years later seems to have also received the early morning gene. The result is that our household is now moving at 4:45 or 5am and there is definitely NOT quiet in the house. That once peaceful "time to get things done" is long-gone. ;-)

    Enjoy your early mornings of creativity! Some year I will see those again. (But in the meantime I will treasure and relish the insanity I have now)

    Dan

    Reply
  • Posted by John McLachlan
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, I love early morning and have not used an alarm clock since I was 30 (I'm now 50). I regurlay wake at about 5 am but it's my time to read and digest blogs and such but also get ideas then.

    For me, my most productive time has become 3 to 5 in the afternoon. I pick up from my sleepy feeling earlier in the afternoon (and if I'm smart, I've taken a short nap... But usually, I'm not smart) and I put music on and work like mad, in the flow, you name it. It's great.

    In my case, I wish I could sleep later. At one time I didn't feel this way, but like you, I don't beat myself up about getting up early.

    Reply
  • Posted by Joe Sorge
    Mitch Joel

    Lately the realization of fear is very close to the surface for me. I find that I can be inspired, can learn, can create whenever I can quiet that fear.

    Great post to start the week.

    Reply
  • Posted by Will Burns
    Mitch Joel

    Great post, Mitch. I've devoted an entire blog to "untangling the mysteries of the elusive idea." Just posted a podcast on "Brain Food," in fact. But for me, there is no single time of day that I'm best at ideation. It's the random times, where random connections are made, when incubating problems bubble up with solutions because of a sign I see or something someone says or something I read. That's why those iPhone apps designed to capture ideas are so important.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    I couldn't agree more. My early morning dog walks inspire lots of meditative thinking about work, challenges, life, sunrises. I take photos of sunrise, leaves changing, often use voice memo on the iphone to remember ideas and not stop the walk. I had the same 4am wake up on Friday and same sleep and wake pattern. Also find great inspiration and subconscious starts working, especially when trying to solve a challenge, in the shower...suddenly a solution or idea will come to me. No Evernote in the shower, but fortunately enough brain power to remember.

    Thanks for your great post and inspiration. Great start to the week.

    Reply
  • Posted by Shalini Bahl
    Mitch Joel

    I could feel the stillness in your post.

    I am not a morning person at all but since you were so convincing I am going to try what you said because most of all I don't like the word discipline and you allowed your body to speak, which is way better than discipline.

    Most of my creative thoughts do come when I still my mind in meditation and am not thinking about the problem - the ideas just drop in.

    And I have also received inspiration, when I simply asked for it, instead of struggling on my own. How I do it is I stay open to receiving and ask who I believe is my Source of Knowledge and inspiration. I think distancing oneself from the creative process allows for more ideas to flow...

    Reply
    • Try it for 30-days... and report back... I think you'll notice some interesting changes.

      Reply
      • Posted by Eric Pratum
        Mitch Joel

        Mitch, you sound like the guy (Howard Lyman), who convinced me to go vegan for so many years. I was already vegetarian, and he said, "Just try it for 60 days. If you don't have more energy and feel better at the end of 60 days, go back to what makes you happy right now. I'm willing to bet though that you'll feel better within 30 days, and the rest of the time will just be confirmation." I'm no longer vegan, but his approach was an important lesson for me.

        Reply
  • Posted by Townsend
    Mitch Joel

    very well written and thoughtful post... there is an Asian proverb (referenced by Malcom Gladwell in Outliers) that says 'No one that can rise before dawn 360 days a year fails to make his family rich.'

    Reply
  • Posted by Mike K
    Mitch Joel

    As a recent university graduate, I would have to say that I am a night hawk. My creative juices and drive kick in around 10:00pm right after I've cleaned and organized my work space, made myself a cup of tea and turned on some ambient music.

    As much as I would like to be a morning person, there is something about working under a low light setting after taking in all the days experiences that fuels creativity and productivity.

    Reply
  • Posted by Just a reader
    Just a reader

    Actually, night owls are just as creative and productive as morning people. But they face a lot of discrimination - in the workplace and elsewhere - from people who believe that early risers are more industrious. See this article in the Globe and Mail for a study that was conducted on the subject a few years back:
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/article796501.ece

    Reply
  • Posted by Mark Dykeman
    Mitch Joel

    I definitely vote for early. I'm always up no later than 6 AM and there's time in there for me to be creative before the day's rush really kicks in.

    Reply
    • By the end of the day, I'm baked. I'm better at responding to email and Blog comments at night. That being said, sometimes I do get creative in the evening as well. I'm open to inspiration... whenever it may strike.

      Reply
  • Posted by Jenn Willmetts
    Mitch Joel

    What a fitting post to start the week, especially since my plan was to get an early start to the week. My alarm was set and somehow I was still unable to get myself out of bed like I had planned.

    I am trying to make a habit to become an early riser because I have noticed that I am starting to get more done in the mornings as opposed to late at night.

    Like Mike K, I know the feeling of creativity after 10pm. During my own college days I was a nighthawk, but have since realized that my favorite time was the quiet of the early morning, just as the sun is rising.


    My goal for the next 30 days: 1) Wake up early, when my alarm goes off so that I can enjoy the quiet of the early morning.

    Thanks for your great post and inspiration. Today is going to be a great day!

    Reply
  • Posted by Dean Johnson
    Mitch Joel

    I have been up at 5am for the past decade and my most creative moments arrive at the breakfast table and in the shower - both ends of the day. As always, your words sum it all up.

    You've made my activrightbrain Ultimate Agency list by the way - http://tinyurl.com/3azsoet

    Reply
  • Mitch, loved this post man. Very insightful. Although I appreciate the early riser, I find that because I work a regular day job and want to see my kids until they go to bed around 9pm, I get all of my web/content production done from 11pm-1am. This is the time when things are quiet and it also works well because I'm not taking any time away from being with the kids . Regardless, I loved this post and how it gave me a little glimpse into your daily affairs as as splendid author and thinker for that matter.

    Keep up your greatness....

    Reply
  • Posted by Kneale Mann
    Mitch Joel

    It began about a decade ago. Ideas would roll around my brain and wake me up. I didn't spend a moment trying to get back to sleep because I knew that was not possible. And with the exception of an extra early flight or business trip, I have not needed an alarm clock since.

    As the busy day can consume us, early morning is time no one else can steal because most people are still asleep.

    I'm not a morning person or a night person, I am a wake up when I'm inspired and sleep when I need rest person.

    Great post!

    Reply
  • Posted by Jeremy Miller
    Mitch Joel

    Very useful insights Mitch.

    I've been reading Tony Schwartz's new book, "The Way We're Working Isn't Working." In the book he references Anders Ericsson's study on what makes an expert. This is the same study Malcolm Gladwell referenced for the 10,000 hour rule.

    Schwartz writes, "All three groups rated sleep as the second most important activity when it came to improving as violinists. On average, those in the top two groups slept 8.6 hours a day – nearly an hour longer than those in the music teacher group [the lowest potential group], who slept an average of 7.8 hours. By contrast, the average American gets just 6.5 hours of sleep a night. The top two groups also took considerably more daytime naps than did the lower-rated group – a total of nearly three hours a week compared to less than one hour a week for music teachers."

    Creativity uses up a lot of mental horsepower. If you don't get enough sleep, you won't be refreshed enough to operate at your best. I like your structure Mitch. It focuses on getting sleep, but it also focuses on listening to what your body needs.

    Thanks

    Jeremy

    Reply
  • Posted by Evan Savelson
    Mitch Joel

    How do you feel about the security of your data on Evernote...Would you leave your next book's outline there...or Twist Image's new segment killer idea?

    Reply
  • Posted by owen
    Mitch Joel

    without an alarm clock i'd sleep until 9 or 9:30...but gotta get the kids out the door to school around 7 so it's alarms for me! i usually go to bed around 11 or 12...

    the beauty (and the curse?) of being self employed is that i can live the einstein way...i have a couch in my office and nap if i need too...no boss to yell at me! i work hard when i have to but find that many thorny biz issues are best solved while walking the dog around 4-5 in the afternoon. i take notes on my iphone, or dictate into it. late afternoon/early evening seems like my creative time. if i'm in the office at that time of day, my desk is clear and the day's issues largely resolved...i can have a cup of tea (or a beer) and sit back and think unstructured thoughts...the whiteboard is there. late night, after the kids are in bed is a good time for me too...that's when i do my blog reading, etc. which often triggers thoughts and ideas.

    Reply
  • Posted by Charles
    Mitch Joel

    You know, you might be onto something as I've noticed that most of my "creative" time happens when I'm in the shower, an early morning shower that is.

    Most of my evening time has been spent on the couch with my wife at the control of the tv and me with my laptop on my lap trying to get some "creative" time in and work on a few client projects.

    But I really struggle to focus (distracted by TV) and can't seem to get any creative juices flowing. I'm thinking your idea of going to bed when I'm tired and waking up earlier could be quite beneficial.

    I'm going to try this tomorrow...thanks Mitch.

    Reply
  • Posted by Claudio Alegre
    Mitch Joel

    I love it in concept, and it works when I've done it. Just wish I'd be more disciplined about getting to bed at a decent time, say b/e 11-12am.

    Working on quieting down my mind by that time, if not I'm still going ... not healthy!

    I've started to ignore my laptop and phone when getting home, just time with my boys, homework, baths and reading, a bit of TV, nice convo with my wife.

    ... it's just that I don't consider what I do a job, so I love it! So it's so easy for me to blend it with other non-digital tasks.

    Doing that, quieting my mind, getting to bed at a decent time and a quiet morning space for writing ... it all ties in!

    Pretty neat stuff Mitch!

    Reply
  • Posted by Alice
    Mitch Joel

    Always when I wake up, I get random ideas or solutions that I was looking for :D It's funny but I never thought that so many people get so creative in the morning.I tend to believe it's because during sleep time we let go or our logic left brain part and immerse ouserlved in funny experiences while dreaming just pure imagination... Maybe thats why when we wake up we r mire likely to be creative - nô bonderies to our thoughts. We should do some more research on that! Great post Mitch!

    Reply
  • Posted by Beth Jennings
    Mitch Joel

    Ah! Genius! For me it's on the balance scales...all the senses need to be stimulated and then the sixth sense can kick in, or third eye if you want to call it that. If I'm rested, eaten well, listened to some good music, done some dancing, hugged someone, then the deeper part of me can move to action more easily. (I'm a photographer)...thanks for a great and insightful post Mitch

    Reply
    • Funny, while mood can be important, there are times when I am feeling totally ill (like the miserable cold I had when writing this Blog post) and sometimes that brings out the right emotions and creativity too.

      Reply
  • Posted by eunjungleeidea
    Mitch Joel

    I will try it.
    by the way . I guess you may sleep just during time 4.!

    when time are you go to bed?

    Reply
  • Posted by Eric Pratum
    Mitch Joel

    I seem to be most creative when I'm on the move. I'm either walking to the train, out on a bike ride, or somehow otherwise in motion...maybe cooking dinner. I'm definitely not creative when I'm devouring a book or podcast even though those often inspire me. I drift in and out of a habit of keeping small notes on whatever I think of during these times. The difficulty I have of course is making use of them, but I suppose that will be a continual struggle.

    Years ago, I resolved one night to sit up in bed as soon as my alarm went off the next morning. That next day, I suddenly had an extra 15-30 minutes to use as I saw fit as a result of not hitting snooze and getting right to eating, showering, etc rather than being slow to do all of that. Since then, I don't think I've stayed in bed longer than 5-10 seconds past my alarm more than 4-5 times, and even then those have been times I've been up until all hours of the night or been ill. Whether this has directly made me more productive or not, I do not know, but I feel more productive, have more time due to getting out of bed earlier, and have even more time on top of that due to getting my morning routine out of the way faster...so, I continue to hope that this has given me more time to be creative and inspired.

    Reply
    • Interesting that you are making the correlation between productivity and creativity. I do too... it seems like if I am feeling more productive, that makes me more creative.

      Reply
      • Posted by Eric Pratum
        Mitch Joel

        I feel like (and of course this is an observation from afar) you are a good example of time + focus = creative productivity. I say this because you are trained and experienced in producing creativity...whether that is a written piece, a talk, or a campaign of some sort. Now, if you have the time and the focus on day 1 and put that toward what you are most passionate for, you can replace focus with inspiration in that equation on day 2 because you could very likely be inspired by your productivity from day 1 and only want to keep that momentum going into the future, which is in my mind inspiration.

        To maybe put it more concisely, I think we can inspire ourselves to do what we do best without even realizing it. For you, that might be producing creative content. For me, that might be producing analysis...or creativity, but I feel I still need some practice on the creative side.

        Reply
  • Posted by Eliza Huie
    Mitch Joel

    This was a little liberating for me as I am often awake in the middle of the night haunted by inspiring ideas (last night was no exception) that are no respecter of time or sleep. It's not the manic type of sleeplessness just busy-brain syndrome. Though I prefer a good nights sleep it is nice to know I am not the only one up at those witching hours...misery loves company.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    My comment will be very quick, and to confirm that problems, for me too, are best solved either during sleep or immediately after waking up. Things that seemed unsolvable just the evening before, will suddenly make sense and find the only plausible solution.
    Apparently, the brain is much more awesome than we all think (and after I read http://t.co/4RmESwK I kinda opened my eyes as well).

    Reply
  • Posted by mckra1g
    Mitch Joel

    I am a night owl. However, I honor my Muse. If she shows up at 3:30 a.m., even if I've only been asleep for a couple of hours, I roll out of bed and write. That's why God invented coffee.

    I'm not sure if switching your schedule for the sake of switching it would work for me, in terms of generating/spurring creativity. More applicable and accurate would be for me to hone in on the times when inspiration strikes and to honor that.

    I've also followed "The Artist's Way," and have found that "manufacturing" a scheduled time to write, regardless of whether or not inspiration is present is also effective for me.

    My body rejects dawn. I think that it's great for others who are Morning People. Pas moi. Interesting post. I appreciate the time you took to draft it. Best, M.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jim Raffel
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, Every post of yours that I read inspires me to move a little further forward (sometimes when I don't want too). This morning I slept in (6am), as I took the same entrepreneur's pledge 16 years ago. It felt good and I'm glad I did. I also felt a little cheated as that time from 4:30am to 6ish is when I normally get most of my real work for the day done (both sad and scary at the same time). For me it's the quite time when I can read, write and respond to my highest priority business partner needs. Oh, did I mention uninterrupted? Ya, I'm with you the early AM is where it's at :)

    Reply
  • Posted by Gavin Llewellyn
    Mitch Joel

    Thanks for another great blog post, Mitch.

    Unfortunately, I don't think I'm a natural morning person (I say 'unfortunately' because I regularly envy those who can wake up and embrace the early hours whereas I never seem to be able to switch off until late at night and consequently find it difficult to wake up!).

    Nevertheless, I often find that I am more creative in the evening, after work or at the weekends. A few months ago I read something about 'life-splicing' http://bit.ly/bFcd1I, where people mix up their social life and work life. I sometimes find that there are moments in the middle of the day during the week when I'm struggling for inspiration, and yet I'm there, at my desk being paid and expected to work and create. But the frustrating thing is that I'll get home and in the evening or at the weekend the ideas will suddenly come! It used to bother me but I just accept that this is just the way I am, and I use the energy I get to either brainstorm ideas for my job or work on some of my personal projects.

    After reading your blog post I do like the idea of the 'entrepreneur's promise' and that early mornings are a habit. When I can work up some courage I think I'll try the 30 straight days of early starts and see how it goes. I have to admit that when I've gotten used to early(ish) starts in the past there is a certain feeling of satisfaction I get from being up and about and getting a head-start to the day.

    Reply
  • Posted by Susan Murphy
    Mitch Joel

    You just described my exact process (even the Evernote part ;), and framed it in a slightly different context that now makes even more sense.

    I was the same as you when I was a kid. I would wake up super early, before anyone else, and attack the craft box - construction paper, glue, crayons, you name it. Before my Mom had her first cup of coffee, I'd have created some sort of artwork to hang on the fridge. My mind has always worked best early in the morning.

    What you've made me realize is, I too need to give myself permission to rise when I wake up, and sleep when I'm tired. As crazy as my life is these days, as many hours as I am putting in with work and other commitments - I perform best when I am working on my own sleep/awake cycle. Thanks for reminding me!

    Suze

    Reply
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