The key to content marketing is “answer the most common questions you receive from clients and prospects.”  This strategy has shaped our approach in writing over 150 practice management articles related to our core service offerings: RIA Set Up, M&A Support Services, and Operations & Technology Consulting for Existing RIAs.  One non-business-related question I receive quite often from people who receive emails from me at strange hours is, “What time do you wake up?!?”  The sad answer to that question is that my alarm has been set at 3:40am for a few years now.  Even sadder, over 50% of the time I crawl out of bed even before the alarm sounds, unable to sleep and eager to get started on my To-Do list.  Sadder still, I often find myself unable to sleep past 3:40am on the weekends as well.

Before I continue, let me be clear: this is NOT the typical, “If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you must wake at 4am” article – I promise!  Let me try to explain how this sad state of affairs even came to be…

First, it’s important to note that we live in Los Angeles and most of our clients are in the eastern time zone.  Our office (when we had an office) is fully staffed at 7am PST, and it’s not uncommon for me to conduct calls at 6am PST/9am EST.  The stock market opens at 6:30am PST, so everyone in wealth management on the west coast is an early riser – it’s simply the cost for living on the “best coast.”

Second, kids.  When we launched PFI Advisors in 2015, we put the office next door to Luke’s day care, which opened at 7am.  Luke and I would drive in together, I’d drop him at 7:00 sharp to be at my desk, with coffee in hand, by 7:15.   With client calls already beginning, I always felt behind as soon as I sat down, so I got in the habit of waking early, cleaning out my inbox and planning my calendar for the day before Reese and I would get Luke up at 6:00 to get him out the door on time.

Our website went live on September 25th, 2015, and our daughter, Layla, had her first seizure 31 days later.  What followed was a 21-month medical journey before she ultimately succumbed to her brain disorder in July 2017.  As I wrote in this article at the time, Layla turned me into a productivity ninja because I never knew when we’d be making our next trip to the hospital (and some hospital stays lasted 6 weeks at a time).  I became obsessed with uninterrupted time where I could crank out a ton of work.  Not only did she train Reese and I to exist on virtually no sleep, but I learned to truly value and actively seek a few hours of “Deep Work,” to steal the phrase from Cal Newport’s famous book.

I am struggling with the transition from a consultant who performs the client work, to a manager of employees who ultimately perform said client work.  Once 7am rolls around, I spend my time on the phone with clients and prospects and focus on our employees’ development and oversight of their work.  That means my relentless inbox anxiety can overwhelm me by the end of the day, so my first foray into early hours is simply to clean out my inbox from the previous day, ensure no important emails went unnoticed, and delete unneeded emails.

I also use my early hours to review the various industry publications and find interesting practice management articles that can be shared on social media (spoiler: all my social media posts that I share throughout the day are scheduled via Hootsuite in the 5am hour).  As we have increased the number of articles we create and publish on our own blog, I’ve found that the quiet early morning hours are the best time for me to write, especially on the weekends.  In a non-pandemic world, our weekends are filled with karate, baseball, skateboarding, playdates, etc., so I’ve come to appreciate three to four pre-chauffer hours for reading, writing, email cleanup, etc.  While it’s completely insane, I enjoy the productivity of these weekend hours more than the chance to catch up on sleep (and I love sleep!).   

I had promised this wasn’t a rah-rah, “this is how you find more hours in your day” entrepreneurship article – because at this point, I think my 3:40am wakeup is more of an addiction than it is a “productivity hack.”   There are some serious drawbacks to this strategy, which I’m living with for the time being but are impossible to ignore. 

By clearing out my inbox at 4am, I pummel our employees with emails and follow up requests, which means they wake up to a full inbox that they need to wade through every morning.  While I repeatedly tell them that I don’t need responses outside of our normal business hours, this inevitably adds stress to their lives.  I’ve grown so addicted to this 3:40am wake up call, when I traveled to the east coast pre-COVID, I continued my morning routine, which meant employees were receiving emails from me at 1am PST. 

Not only have our employees had to adjust to this nonsense, but my family has been forced to accommodate my schedule as well.  While I try to justify my early wake up as a way to get work done in order to give them more of my attention, in reality, I sleep through every movie we watch together (often not making it through the opening credits), and to say I’m grumpy by 8pm every night would be a massive understatement.  [Editor’s Note: Reese reports that Matt turns into a pumpkin by 3pm every afternoon.] Poor Reese and Luke put up with my shortness/rudeness every night when I’m putting Luke to bed and attempting to read to him.  On paper, this strategy should give me more time to focus on them but trying to operate on less than 6 hours of sleep over a prolonged period of time has my family wishing for less time with me, not more.

Admitting to the problem is step one in addiction recovery.  Transitioning to a Zoom world has not been fun, as I can see how tired I look as I dial into each meeting to find my own baggy and glassy eyes staring back at me.  It’s helped me acknowledge that despite all the benefits, there are true costs to this schedule.  I wouldn’t recommend this lifestyle to others.  That being said, I don’t know another way to feel on top of my daily tasks which lead to my long-term professional goals.  Until I find another productivity hack that provides two to three hours of uninterrupted work, I’ll just have to keep…Zzzzzz.

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