Waking up to Productivity: Testing Robin Sharma’s The 5AM Club.

by Deborah Walker

In my last post, I discussed The 5AM Club, Robin Sharma’s early morning protocol to transform your life.  Sharma is a charismatic and enthusiastic productivity guru who coaches very successful people. In his productivity protocol. you get up at 5 am in the morning (actually 4.45 am to give you time to get ready) and undertake an hour-long ritual, the 20/20/20 ritual, which consists of:

  • 20 minutes vigorous exercise.
  • 20 minutes reflection: meditation, journaling etc.
  • 20 minutes learning.

The last third of the book is also packed with wisdom drops. To give you a flavor, I’ll list just one set of protocols, which you can explore in greater detail in the book and in Sharma’s free podcast.

  • Tight Bubble of Perfect Focus. Switch off the internet. Don’t be a data-zombie
  • 90/90/1 Rule. For 90 days focus the first 90 minutes of your workday one thing.
  • 60/10 . . . Then work 60 minutes and take a 10-minute break. Then repeat the 60/10 rule.
  • Daily Five.  Every day write down five things you want to accomplish.
  • 2nd Wind Workout. Do another workout later in the day, perhaps a walk in nature.
  • 2 Massage protocol. Get two 90-minute massages every week.
  • Traffic University. Listen to podcasts and audiobooks while you’re commuting.
  • Weekly Design. Every Sunday create the blueprint of your success.
  • Sixty Minute Student. Study for sixty minutes every day.

But the core message of The 5AM Club, is to get up at 5 am and undertake the 20/20/20 routine.

Productivity gurus love routine and habit. They say you should have a regular bedtime and a regular time to wake up. I don’t do that. But I am an early riser and no stranger to 5 am. It should have been easy for me to test this productivity habit.

I tried it with a serious intention for two weeks. Sharma’s advice is to follow the protocol for 66 days, as some researchers have found that it takes that long to establish a habit. But two weeks was all I wanted to do.

On the days, I did it, I would say it was pleasant to get up early. I’m lucky enough to have a lovely park at the bottom of my road. I enjoyed my early morning walk. I also doubled up: listening to self-help podcasts during the 20-40 minute walk, and meditating (a bit, although I don’t care for it) and listening to the Bible for the spiritual side.

I managed this, off and on, for two weeks. It was by no means a perfect attempt, but it was a genuine attempt, which started off strong, trailed off and then stopped. In Sharma’s framing, I’m a victim who uses excuses, rather than a hero who gets the job done. These are my excuses.

Very early morning vigorous exercise makes me ill.

I tried jogging on the first couple of days. Exercise that early in the morning made me feel sick. I was also exhausted throughout the day, so I switched to walking.

I didn’t want to go to bed early every night.

A major reason I failed was the fact that to get up at five, I needed to go to bed early, at 9pm, to get my 8 hours in. Sharma doesn’t advocate skipping sleep and encourages early nights. And I just didn’t want to go to bed early every night. Hey, I was in Madrid for three nights. We didn’t go out to dinner until 9 pm.

It didn’t work for me.

On the days that I did manage it, I didn’t feel any different, at all. It occurred to me that I might already be happy and productive. Although somewhat worryingly, in Chapter 8, Sharma states that most people only think they’re happy and are fooling themselves.

It felt like a waste of premium writing time.

I didn’t like using that first hour on the 20/20/20 protocol. The first hour for me is very good for writing.

After two weeks, and to give The 5AM Club a good try, I changed the protocol to:

Wake at 5am on the days I felt like it.

  • 2 hours writing.
  • 20/20/20 protocol.
  • Rest of day.

But that trailed away after a week or so. The 5AM Club did not work for me, which is a real shame as I wanted it to, and thought it would be my kind of thing.

I consoled myself with the thought that perhaps I’m already happy and productive, and even if like most people, I’m fooling myself, does that really matter?

Following a twenty year period of procrastination, Deborah is now making up for lost time and writing novels, short stories and poems.

6 Responses

  1. Alex Macaulay

    That “oh, most people only THINK they’re happy and productive!” claim reeks of phoniness to me. That’s an unfalsifiable assertion; you can never prove him right or wrong because both of those are subjective measurements. He’s essentially saying that, no matter what, he’s right and everyone else is wrong. Plus, he’s also arrogant enough to presume that everyone on the planet is the same as him and doesn’t, say, get sick from rigorous morning exercises.

    The guy sounds like a tool, I guess is what I’m saying.

    1. Ms Deborah Walker

      Thanks for reading, Alex. It’s a fascinating topic, lots of people swear blind by these early morning rituals. But, as you read, I like to crack on with my writing, be it early or be it late.

  2. Sylvia Wrigley

    I agree with Alex. Also, I like that you point out the flaw with early-morning-routines, which is that you are just shifting sleep schedules rather than gaining an extra hour. When working in an office, I’ve had great success with getting up early to write for an hour before going to work, but I can only keep it up for about four weeks before falling over in a fit of exhaustion and it completely kills my evenings. Sometimes it is worth it, in that there are less distractions first thing in the morning than there are in the evenings, but I’m not a fan. Certainly, if I have to be up at that ungodly hour anyway, I’d rather be writing than exercising and meditating. That strikes me as much better activities for once I am ready for a break.

    1. Ms Deborah Walker

      That’s the conclusion I came to. Except I’m not a big fan of meditating, either. I often wonder if I’m doing meditating wrong. It does nothing for me. Even though I understand that it is the practice of meditation that is the important thing. Also, I read somewhere that meditation aids focus, specifically that it cuts down random thoughts and distractions interring your mind. Now, I’m the type of writer who just feeds on those types of random thoughts for making interesting connections in my work. That’s a good subject for more consideration.

  3. Zaslow Crane

    This sounded hopeful and interesting, but the more I read of your experiences the more I doubted that it’d work for me.
    I try to wake up and write first thing. 5 am is no real problem. If the sun’s up, so am I. That seems to be when I freshest and most “open” to fleshing out ideas that I’d had previously or writing dreams down in hopes of them becoming a story (though last night’s dream in which I was attacked by a bear and I smacked his head with a long handled shovel seems like not much use for Sci Fi…).
    The scheduling and regimenting of my time doesn’t allow for other activities ( for instance, 3 days per week, for a month I was helping a friend tear off and replace a roof on his aunt’s house- Oh, I got up early, then put on old clothes and a tool belt and simply thought about writing instead of doing any).
    IN THEORY I love this idea, but after reading, considering and trying to dovetail it into my real life, I’ve concluded that I can’t do it.
    Kudos to those of you who can!

  4. Ms Deborah Walker

    Zalsow, I must say I’m jealous of your dreams. I always felt that my sleep time should be giving me good writing fodder, alas I can never remember them.

    For me, too, my the 5 AM club wasn’t a good fit, as you say, kudos to those who it works for. And I’m on the look out for the next productivity technique.

    Did someone say Deep Work?