The benefits of getting up early are endorsed in self-help literature on time management. It is not only a question of getting up early, but focusing on getting the hardest stuff done first. The is the principle of Brian Tracy’s bestselling book Eat that Frog; to be successful you should learn to prioritise the most challenging tasks. Getting up early does appear to work. The testimonies of successful authors suggest that on balance if you want to write a novel then don’t think about burning the midnight oil but get up at the crack of dawn and stick to this routine. Unless you want to emulate Jack Kerouac; beat writers defied the convention of early rising.
Getting up early is all well and good but what happens if you have other morning responsibilities? In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less Greg McKeown lists one of his 12 successes of being an ‘essentialist’ that he chose, for eight months, to get up at 5am every morning and work until 1 in order to finish his book. His also lists playing with his children rather than attend a network meeting as another essentialist characteristic. But these are choice unfettered by responsibilities. Playing with children is not the same as taking responsibility for childcare (and I assume he wasn’t doing the morning school run when he was writing the book).
If you don’t have the freedom of early mornings to focus on getting difficult tasks done, then you have to be resourceful about how you find time to do stuff. Maybe we are not surprised to hear that JK Rowling did not keep to an early morning writing routine; she had to get writing done ‘in spare moments here and there’.
As the feminist Nancy Fraser argued time is a feminist issue, but this is not just because of how tasks are distributed but because responsibilities are configured through time. Increasingly both men and women are juggling responsibilities for the self and others over the day; which is maybe why the questions of managing everyday time are particularly pertinent. It is not just caring for children that takes time, looking after parents, parents, neighbours or friends require being able to oscillate between autonomy and obligation.
My suggestion that time gurus’ endorsement of getting up early is a masculine aspiration does not imply that only women that have complex morning routines. Gender divisions, whereby men get up to get stuff done and women get up to look after others, are changing. However the advice on how to manage time remains gendered. Strategies for prioritisation that depend on being able to make choices will only work for those in positions of power, who are able to delegate and defer tasks. From this perspective getting up early to eat that frog will continue to be a man’s world.