Early to rise or not? Opinions differ on wake-up time and productivity

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Americans’ desire to get a jump on the day predates … well, America. Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac brought a phrase already known in Europe – “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” – into the mainstream. It’s a refrain we hear often even today, nearly 265 years after Poor Richard’s Almanac was published.  

A recent story in the Wall Street Journal proposes that people who wake up at the abnormal hour of 4 a.m. perhaps aren’t so abnormal. The time before kids wake up and business responsibilities monopolize the clock serves as a way to study, read, and exercise uninterrupted. It’s a personal fortress of solitude, if you will, before going out and facing the day.  

David Mills, senior pastor of Beech Haven Baptist Church in Athens, keeps such a schedule alongside his wife, Michelle.  

“We’re usually awake by 4:30,” he said. “We spend from an hour to an hour-and-a-half in prayer, devotional reading, and exercise. At night we’re asleep by 10 or 10:30.” 

Mills has kept with the schedule since 2013. Typically he splits up reading a book, reading his Bible, and praying into 30-45-minute increments along with an hour of exercise.  

Though not getting up as early, other pastors commented on the benefits to not hitting that snooze button for the fifth time.  

“It allows me the closest thing to uninterrupted thought I’ll have in a day,” said Marcus Harris, pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Molena. “Unless I’m taking vacation, I’m almost always up and reading by 5:30. I’ve done it so long that it’s not really a goal; it’s just a way of life.” 

Comparatively speaking, he sleeps in a little later. But Winterville First Baptist Church Senior Pastor Phil Wages emphasizes coffee as an important part of the morning. 

“I don’t get up at 4 or 5 a.m.,” stated Wages. “Some mornings it’s 6:30, others it’s 7:30. However, I do get up early enough to spend some time in prayer, Bible reading, and journaling. When I’m finished I review my calendar for the day and commit meetings and other issues to the Lord in prayer.  

“I like the benefit of ‘easing’ into the day instead of ‘rushing.’ 

Different people, different productivity 

Steve Parr doesn’t buy into the productivity-only-comes-obscenely-early-in-the-morning logic. 

“There are three kinds of folks you have to take into account when having this discussion,” said Parr, Georgia Baptist Mission Board state missionary in Staff Coordination and Development. “First of all, some people only need a few hours of sleep. Typically we need a minimum of seven hours. Teenagers and others may need more. Seven hours works best for me. I can get by on four hours, but that second night I have to catch up on my sleep or I’m a mess the next day.” 

What the discussion really comes down to, he attests, is productivity. And, that can apply to people differently.  

“The second factor to consider is we all have preferences. My father-in-law used to kid me about sleeping later. He woke up very early, but then again he went to bed very early. Even waking up at 5 a.m., he still got nine or even ten hours of sleep.” 

Darren Talley admitted to the opposite.  

“I’m not an early riser. I’m a night owl and often stay up later than I should either reading or writing,” said the pastor of Jefferson Street Baptist in Dublin.  

A little southwest of Dublin, Pastor Calvin Halcomb of Dexter Baptist Church models a different approach.  

“I’m an early bird. I get up at 4 a.m. with my wife so we can begin our day together in prayer and spend some time in personal prep and study. I’m usually in the office by 7:30,” he said.  

Adjust to what works for you 

Third, you have to look at how productivity relates to a person’s work schedule, said Parr.  

Traveling for state convention business and attending nighttime church events simply don’t leave him the option of “early to bed.” Even when the chance presents itself, he admitted he doesn’t often take it.  

“I rarely get to sleep before midnight. When I get home I like to read, watch a ball game on TV, or just chill to slow down,” adds Parr, who has written on the subject of productivity. “I’ll agree that if I get up at four in the morning, I’ll be more productive. But I don’t wake that early. It’s not about waking up at 4 a.m., but making the most of your time.” 

To emphasize that point, Parr usually exercises in the evening. But if his schedule dictates a morning run is more efficient, he’ll do it then.  

Finding the important thing 

For ministers such as Brad Hughes, waking up early becomes almost a necessity.  

“Lately I’ve been trying to get up earlier to study,” said Hughes, who spends 9-10 hours of his day as a parts manager for a forklift company. “The mornings I get up at 5 are very beneficial to me. As a bivocational pastor, I must prioritize.” 

He admitted to the logistics becoming tough at times.  

“Some weeks are very difficult to get it all done, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to preach,” he said.  

Jim Duggan, senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Macon, begins his day at 5:30, adding that the “him” time usually comes after taking care of the most important people in his life first.  

“I’ll take a shower and have a short quiet time with Bible reading and prayer. I get to take my daughter to school each morning, so after praying I start getting breakfast ready and packing lunch. Then, when I get to the office I block out the first couple of hours.  

“I find if I take a few minutes before bed to look over the next day’s schedule I can be more efficient.  

For Mills, the early morning hours bring benefits as well as challenges. Still, the challenges are ones he’s game to face.  

“I’ve experienced additional strength, wisdom for decision-making, and direction for sermon prep,” he said. “Ironically, the spiritual attacks have also intensified. More prayer is a threat to the enemy.” 

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