Some time in the past few years, I went from burning the midnight oil to waking up really early – even before the alarm rang.
For as long as I could remember, staying up till the wee hours to cram for exams or complete assignments was the norm, fuelled by coffee and, often times, last minute panic.
But somewhere along the way, my body clock swung the opposite way and I began waking up earlier.
At first, I’d try to go back to sleep but it was easier just to get up and start the day, as I was fully awake.
Somehow, at 5am the day holds more promise than at 7am. The early hours are quiet; it’s still dark outside. There are no distractions, and no need to text or respond to texts in those hours. My daughter is fast asleep and there is no need to see to her needs.
So those hours belong to me.
Some mornings, I use the hours productively, in quantifiable terms. It’s easier to write in the morning when I feel fresh and energetic, unfatigued yet by the day’s demands.
It’s easier to process information and ideas, and focus on research and reading in those hours.
In Japan, companies are recognising the benefits of early morning productivity. One of its biggest conglomerates, Itochu Corporation, started encouraging employees to start work earlier by offering incentives such as better overtime rates in the morning and providing free breakfasts for those who come to work before 8am.
Itochu’s morning-focused hours have been in place since 2013, and the company has reported a 15% reduction in work hours. Two hours of morning overtime is said to be the equivalent of three hours’ overtime in the evening.
Employees are more productive even though they work fewer hours because they get more done in the early hours, as they are not distracted by phone calls or enquiries.
There is also less pressure to linger at work in the evenings simply because subordinates do not want to leave earlier than their bosses, said Hiroto Misawa from Itochu’s Human Resource and General Affairs department.
He leaves home early but he can have dinner at home more often, he said when we joined him for breakfast at 7am at Itochu’s headquarters during an assignment covering the World Assembly for Women in Tokyo in 2017.
Some employees also like the option of working earlier because the commute to work is easier and less rushed.
The Indonesian journalist who was with me at Itochu said the Indonesian Fisheries and Marines Ministry also has earlier operating hours. A friend who lives in Sydney sees his dentist at 6am, before he goes to work.
Another friend who is an early riser regularly clocks up at least 10km runs and sometimes even bakes a cake or two to fulfil orders for her home business before she starts work in the office. And another wakes up early to meditate.
Even when there’s no urgent work to do, a two-hour headstart in the morning is good. Some mornings are just spent mucking around, doing mundane things like putting away dishes from the drying rack or packing lunch boxes.
It’s nice not having to rush through the morning routine, and to not be frazzled by unmade beds and forgotten items. All that calm sometimes dissipates in the morning crawl, of course, but that’s another story.
I especially like early Sunday mornings when it’s quiet for much longer, as there is no rush to get to work. We go for early hikes, almost as soon as the day brightens, and enjoy the coolness of the jungle.
There are also mornings when I need the time to just think quietly – to mull over life plans (more frequently as mid-life crises hits), to plot getaways (funds are depleting, so Ipoh or Hatyai?), to debate decisions (do I need a RM700 steam mop?), and lately to grieve over loss.
My head is clearer in the mornings, and things I worry about at night don’t seem so bad in the light of day.
Every morning is the promise of a new day and new possibilities, and I appreciate that more often when I wake up early.