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4 a.m.

4 a.m.

I’m not sure how you sleep, but I recently heard that business owners sleep like babies. They’re up every few hours crying. 

I laughed, but, in reality, it’s true. I toss and turn as I think about my business, and what I have to do: payroll, customers, inventory, and all the other things necessary for my survivability. I also make countless mental notes. Being known for my post-it fetish, I often write myself small notes throughout the night. I send text messages to myself and hide the phone in the blanket to keep the “ding” from being heard by my wife sleeping next to me. My dogs get it. The glow from the phone is a chance to look at me and maybe even get me up in the middle of the night to let them outside. All too many times my wife awakens to find me curled in the opposite direction, trying not to keep the phone’s light from disturbing her.

Is this normal? I’m not sure. I can’t speak for others, but it’s a part of my life. I am a small business owner and this is what I do.

Early morning hours bring a stroke of creativity to me. Often my most productive time happens between 4 and 8 a.m. There is nothing to interrupt my thoughts. It’s me, a lot of coffee and my dogs, alone in a comfortable space that allows me to plan my day, my week, and my mission. Not having a daily plan would be disruptive to me. I plan the important tasks of the day, and the week in general. I throw in a few long range goals so as to always have something out on the horizon to work towards. Occasionally, I’ll include a motivational quote in my notes to inspire me throughout the day.  

It is important to me to not only set goals, but to achieve them. I like the feeling of being able to cross them off my list. My notorious yellow pad travels with me seven days a week. It’s always front and center on my desk and it comes home every night to be updated in the morning. My organizational habits are not limited to the work week. I literally do this every day. I have a work list and a home list. The skill applies to all aspects of my life and not just to my business.

I feel it’s important to be current with what’s happening in the world. I have a number of news aggregates that feed me news throughout the early morning. I listen to TED Talks daily because I’ve always had a strong passion to learn. I use numerous digital news subscriptions to gather various viewpoints. Even at this stage in my life, I think it’s important to be open to new ideas, and to hear what others have to say, and to continually learn. TEDs are simply short versions of college lectures, which suits me perfectly. I used to get to the office at 6 a.m. and put in my 11 or 12 hours daily. It took a toll on my personal relationships. I found that to still satisfy my needs of leading my company and have a work-home balance, I had to adjust my sleep cycle to get up earlier than most, put in three or four hours at home, enjoy a cup of coffee with my wife, and then head into work. That way when I arrive at the office, I feel fully prepared to do what I need to do for my day. I leave plenty of room to vary my schedule because my customers drive my daily agenda.

I’ve always employed the 70-20-10 management rule. Seventy percent of my day is simply running my business. Twenty percent should be spent thinking and planning where we are going to be by the year’s end, and ten percent is always spent on long-range vision. Some days the percentages are mixed a little, but I always keep focused on all three. It’s a good tool to employ and it allows me to stay on track. Too many businesses are concerned about the here and now. They lack long-term commitments to work towards. It’s always about the long term.

In the end, my best thinking happens in the wee hours of the morning. It’s dark, the house is quiet and there’s little distraction except maybe from my pups. It’s 4 A.M. and except for the donut maker and barista heading to open the Starbucks, there are only a few of us in this fraternity of early morning risers that feel the benefits of this time of day. Does it set me apart? Maybe, but I think that there are a few of us out there who feel it gives us the heads-up on our day. This, I believe, gives me and my business a competitive edge.