How much is your time worth? Do you enjoy traffic jams or waiting in line? How much different would your life be if you made one small change?

Let’s face it, time is an enigma. You can’t touch it, smell it, or see it. It can seem to fly by or stand achingly still. It’s a finite resource with no good way to know how much is left, yet it is the most valuable thing you will ever have in your life. What would you give up to have more time?

What is an early bird?

First coined in the late 1600’s by John Ray the phrase, “The early bird catcheth the worm” was meant to symbolize someone who increases their chance of success by rising early or being first.

Early bird gets the worm
Be the Early Bird

Flip open Google and do a quick search of the benefits of rising early. You’ll find a long list of everything from having less distractions and less anxiety, to feeling as if you can finally accomplish your goals.

Why you should start early.

For every second you waste doing something you hate, you are forsaking a second which may bring you joy beyond your wildest imagination.

Here are some of the top benefits of starting early and being first.

Less distractions

Reducing distractions in your life is one of the most important steps you can take to meet your goals. Distractions come in many forms and seem to get worse as the day drags on.

For example, I rarely have meetings before 8 AM. After 8, emails pour in, meetings stack up and Skype chats multiply like rabbits. I get most of my work done before 8 and after 2 PM when the meetings finally die down.

Do you ever find yourself rising early to have a few moments to yourself before your family gets up? A few minutes of solitude and quiet meditation can mean the difference between having a focused intentional day versus a crazed and unproductive mess of a day.

Another benefit of getting up early is you aren’t getting bombarded with memes or hilarious group chat discussions. Fortunately, most of the people sending you these messages are probably still asleep. Nothing is more distracting then shooting the breeze with your BFFs in cyber space.

Benefits of less distractions:

  • Increased productivity
  • Being present and in the moment
  • Focusing on your top goals

For more reading, check out “Deep Work” by Cal Newport. Cal dives right to heart of how distractions are ruining our productivity and preventing us from reaching our goals. I highly recommend taking the time read it and gaining perspective on how your time may be better spent.

Things take less time

This is my absolute favorite reason for starting the day early. Everything takes less time. Crowds are less, traffic is lighter, parking is easier to find, and lines are shorter.

Going to the grocery store

I hate going to the grocery store. To me, it’s one of the biggest time wasters out there. I save time going to the grocery store by getting up early before most people are willing to go. The shelves always are stocked, the employees are refreshed and more willing to help, the lines are non-existent, and I spend a fraction of the time shopping than if I go right after work.

Yes, I know they have special delivery services that will bring you all your groceries with the click of a button. If anyone can figure out how to bring me the perfect cut of meat or the exact ripeness and size of bananas I adore, then I’m all over it. Until then, I’ll be heading off to the grocery store bright and early to ensure I get what I want.

Maximize your vacations

Vacations always seem to be in short supply so it should come as no surprise there is a huge desire to maximize your time when your getaway arrives.

Pre-purchasing tickets for major attractions such as the Eiffel tower or the Vatican, or simply showing up when it first opens, can save massive amounts of time and headaches during your visit. What’s not to appreciate about shorter lines, more parking options, and less crowds? Bonus, some places offer discounts for showing up early or coming late. More money and less time spent? That’s a winning combination.

Traffic

It’s no secret that traffic is worse during high commute times, but how much worse is it? As an experiment, I mapped a typical commute between two points in Seattle at various times according to the average times estimated on Google maps. To keep things consistent, I choose 12 AM as a baseline to show a time of “zero” traffic.

  • 12:00 am: 28 to 35 minutes (baseline)
  • 4:00 am: 28 to 35 minutes (+0%)
  • 5:00 am: 28 to 40 minutes (+0 to +14%)
  • 5:30 am: 30 to 40 minutes (+7% to +14%)
  • 5:45 am: 35 to 70 minutes (+25% to +100%)
  • 6:00 am: 35 to 85 minutes (+25% to +143%)
  • 6:15 am: 40 to 100 minutes (+43% to +186%)
  • 6:30 am: 40 to 110 minutes (+43% to +215%)
  • 6:45 am: 40 to 120 minutes (+43% to +243%)

The person who leaves at 6:45 am is going to arrive at the office around 8:45 AM. There went two hours of their life spent commuting. Later that night on the return trip home it would take another hour and 40 minutes to fight traffic after leaving the office at 5 PM.

The same person who arrived at the office by 5 AM? They saved 1.5 hours on the way in and it only took 35 minutes to get home (after leaving the office at 1 PM). The later arrival employee’s daily commute time is three hours and 40 minutes versus one hour and 5 minutes for the early arrival employee. The early bird has an extra two and a half hours to do what they please in their life. Over a month with 20 working days, that’s 50 extra hours of free time.

Who cares right? Your situation is different and there is no way you’re going in at 5 AM. Even if you did, your boss would laugh if you tried to get up and leave at 1 PM. After all, you can’t afford a house close to work or to pull little Jimmy out of his favorite elementary school and your boss needs you to be at work from 9 to 5 everyday.

Moving closer to work may not be an option, but your commute time can be controlled. Arriving to work at a 5 AM would net an extra 4 hours of productive time before your official start time.

Use your new found time
  • Does your office have a fitness center?
  • How about finding a day-care closer to work and spending quality time with your kid in the morning?
  • What about taking a class, learning a language or improving your skills before you start working at 9 AM?
  • Need extra time to take your boss’s pet project to a new level and be promoted faster?

The possibilities are endless. Don’t waste your precious time with unnecessary commuting. Seek out an alternative, more efficient use or your time, even though it may be challenging at first.

You can save money

Most businesses prefer to have a steady stream of customers throughout the day. This can be a challenge for restaurants in between meals, tourist attractions early in the morning or late at night, or many other business with normal busy times.

This lull in operations provides opportunities for savings.

Many businesses offer discounts for people are willing to come at odd times. Early bird special anyone?

  • Tourist attractions – Many tourist attractions offer discounted tickets for early risers or late night specials.
  • Happy Hour – Not only is the restaurant usually less busy, you get to enjoy a nice discount.
  • Movies – Going to an early matinee can save up to 20% per ticket and you can show up right before it starts and still get a good seat.
  • Parking – Many parking facilities offer “early bird specials” for early risers.

Other reasons you may want to get up and at em’ early:

  • Losing Weight – After a long day at work, the last thing most people want to do is head off to the gym for a sweat sesh. Not when there is left over pizza and Family Guy waiting for you at home. Sound familiar? Working out in the morning takes away the excuse of distraction, allows you to establish a predictable and reliable routine, and sets your day up for success. Don’t lose your resolve to workout in the evenings. Knock it out in the morning and you’ll be on cruise control from there.
  • Studying – Many studies have shown that your brain is the most alert and productive in the early morning hours. Why not use that quiet time in the morning to prepare for your big exam?
  • Resolving billing issues – If you live on the West Coast as I do, you may find that things are always closing at 5 PM EST. Getting up early allows you to cross those phone calls off your to-do list without taking time out from your normal work day. Bonus: You may spend less time on hold waiting for a person to talk to.
  • Doctors Visits – Snagging the earliest visit of the day at your doctor means less of chance they’ve gotten off schedule during the day. Medical care providers are constantly getting derailed and this ensures I have the best chance to get in and get out in a reasonable time.

Still not convinced? Watch this quick video about the benefit of waking up early.

Trade offs of being an early bird.

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve likely muttered to yourself something about how unrealistic this seems. I get it! It’s not all roses and candy being an early bird. Everything has a price. There are trade-offs and downsides to shifting your schedule earlier. After all, there’s a reason crowds gather when they do as it’s usually the most convenient time.

Downsides of being an early bird

  • No more late nights – Late nights will become a thing of the past. Unless you’re good surviving on 4 hours of sleep every night, days of late night weekday drinking and watching the late show will no longer exist.
  • Isolation – When your friends are all hanging out at night playing cards and catching up on the latest reality TV show, you’re going to be sleeping. It may not be comforting to know you are likely to make new friends that keep a similar early schedule to you. You may begin to feel isolated or alone.
  • You’re bucking tradition – You may be criticized by others or feel like you’re missing out on doing activities at a non-traditional time. Maybe going up the Space Needle at 8 AM to save $10 just isn’t worth it.

Is it worth it?

Ultimately, you have to decide if being an early bird is right for you. For me, the benefits of getting up earlier, beating the crowds, and saving a few bucks here and there far outweigh the cost. Then again, I was never a big fan of late nights out.

As with anything in life, once you understand your goals and motivation it becomes easier to make hard decisions about where to spend your time and effort. So consider this, if your goals include saving money, being more productive or reducing the pain of wasted time, then you might want to become an early bird.

How to be an early bird.

Step 1: Determine how much your time is worth

Knowing how much your time is worth helps you understand the opportunity cost of making different choices.

How do you calculate your worth?

There are a couple of ways you can calculate your hourly wages. The first way to use your gross salary.

Gross Earnings Per Hour Example
$65,000 Annual Salary
2,080 Average Work Hours per year
$65,000 / 2080 = $31.25

The second way is to calculate your net hourly wage.

Net Earnings Per Hour Example
$65,000 Annual Salary with 20% assumed Tax Rate
2,080 Average Work Hours per year
($65,000 * 80%) / 2080 = $25.00

I prefer using the net earnings per hour as you get a better idea of exactly what you’re trading your time for.

The power of opportunity cost (examples)

Now that we know how much our time is worth, it’s time to make it real.

Example 1: If you spend an extra hour per week of your life at the grocery store mired in crowded aisles and waiting in the checkout line because you didn’t want to get up early, it could end costing you $1,300 per year (at $25 per hour).

Now I know what you’re thinking, “No one is going to give me an extra $1,300 because I saved an hour at the store once a week.” You’re right. The money “lost” in time wasting events doesn’t lead to direct money loss, it leads to lost opportunity cost. What else could you be doing in that hour? Working out? Spending time with your family? Going back to school or perhaps watching your favorite reality TV show?

Like it or not, you’re giving up something by choosing to spend that time waiting in line.

Example 2: Let’s go back to the commuting example we talked about earlier and examine the opportunity cost of sitting in traffic vs driving in earlier.

  • Person A: Commute took 220 minutes.
  • Average wage: $25 per hour
  • Commute time cost: $91.67 (excluding the cost of transit)
  • Person B: Commute took 70 minutes.
  • Average wage: $25 per hour
  • Commute time cost: $29.16
  • Opportunity Cost: $62.51 per day or $16,252.60 a year.

Still want to take that commute?

Stop to consider opportunity cost

The next time you’re stuck in traffic, waiting in line or wasting precious time on your vacation, think about your hourly wage and how much you’re giving up in opportunity cost for starting your day later.

Pro-tip: Know what your time is worth and make conscious decisions where to spend it.

Step 2: Keep a journal of your typical day or week.

Once you know what your time is worth, it’s time to figure out where you’re spending it. The easiest way to accomplish this is to keep an informal journal of everything you spend your time on in a typical day or week. It might look something like this:

  • Getting ready in the morning – 1.5 hours
  • Commute – 1 hour each way
  • Work – 8 hours
  • Picking up the kids from school – 30 min
  • Cooking dinner – 1 hour
  • Watching TV – 2 hours

The more specific you are the better. If you keep a log for a week you’ll quickly start seeing patterns and places you may be able to optimize.

Step 3: Run through a checklist of time optimization.

Now that you have your list in part 2, it’s time to start optimizing.

The hour and half you are spending getting ready every morning, if you make $25/per hour, that will cost you $37.50 every morning. What if you could optimize it? How would you spend the extra time?

Sample optimization

There are many ways to optimize and improve time spent on various activities. Ultimately some things can’t be changed but be honest with yourself and dig deep.

  • Getting ready in the morning – 1.5 hours
    • The night before:
      Choose your work outfit (iron if necessary), Make your lunch, set out
      anything you need for the next day.
    • The morning of:
      Get up before everyone in your house to begin getting ready.
  • Commute – 1 hour each way
    • Leave earlier in the morning before traffic gets bad.
    • Inquire about compressed work options or telecommuting.
  • Work – 8 hours
    • If anyone knows how to convince their boss to work less hours, call me. 😎
  • Picking up the kids from school – 30 min
    • Coordinate a ride-sharing program with nearby neighbors.
    • Enroll your kids in before/after school activities they might enjoy to reduce time spent in high traffic times.
  • Cooking dinner – 1 hour
    • Meal prep on the weekends to lessen the time spent during the week.
    • Trade off dinner nights with your spouse or kids.
    • Work out a meal-sharing program with your next door neighbors.
  • Watching TV – 2 hours
    • Are you watching TV because you’re exhausted and need a distraction or is it because you truly love the Real Housewives of Orange County? Entertainment and passion is one thing, laziness and escapism usually means something needs to change.

After you’ve been brutally honest with yourself on where you can save time, add up all the potential savings you think you’ll get. Is it one hour? 5 hours? How will you thoughtfully and intentionally spend your new found time?

More time with the kids? More time on your hobbies? Time to read that book you can never get around to? More time working on that promotion?

Whatever you decide, think of your time as a precious resource and be thoughtful about what you are getting versus what you are giving up.

Step 4: Implement one new time saving tactic every month.

It’s go time. Choose one item from your list above and start. Don’t overthink it, don’t wait until the plan is “perfect,” just start. The road will be bumpy and it will take time to create your new habit. You may find it takes longer at first as you adopt your new routine. Don’t give up. Change is messy and hard, but rewarding.

Ready to get started? Here are a few suggestions you might want to try.

  • Work out 3 days a week in the morning
  • Go the grocery store at 7:00 AM
  • Do your meal prepping on Sundays for 1 month
  • Be on the trail for your hike by 7:30 AM, instead of your usual 11 AM.

Need more help?

Check out these apps that may help:

  • Todoist: A free app that helps manage your to-do list. Check them out here or download for your desktop, IOS or Android.
  • Focusme: A free app that blocks notifications and keep you from distractions. Check them out here or download for Android.
  • Morning Routine: An app that helps organize your morning routine. check them out here or download in IOS.
  • Momentum: A free app that provides motivation and encouragement to help you reach your goals. Check them out here or download on IOS or Android.
  • MealBoard – An app designed to help you plan your meals for the week. Check them out here or download in IOS.

Time is the most valuable thing you’ll ever have in your life. Spend it wisely.

The information contained on this website is for entertainment purposes only and references only opinions of the author. Nothing contained within should be considered professional, financial, legal, tax, psychological, safety or investment advice. Seek advice from a duly licensed and/or registered professional that can help with your specific situation.