How To Lead Yourself Bright and Early: An Interview with Jeff Sanders, 5am Miracle


How do you start your day each morning? Are you rushing out the door with barely a bite of breakfast? Or do you have a deliberate process? Over the course of 2015, I have learned the value of following a morning ritual. It puts me in command of my day. Starting the day on my terms also makes me happier. It’s one of the best ways I have found to lead myself to success.

Today’s featured guest on Project Management Hacks is Jeff Sanders, founder of The 5AM Miracle. Sanders has a great podcast (listen to the podcast here) and has written many great articles. Of his articles, I have found his Mornings 101 series, the how to train for your half marathon article and the 7 Essential Elements of Productivity series to be helpful. In this interview, Jeff shares his advice to become more productive by taking charge of your morning.

1. What Is The 5am Miracle And How Did You Start It?

The 5am Miracle Podcast focuses on early mornings, productivity, healthy habits, and personal development. This project started a few years ago when I registered for a marathon. I had a full time job and a side business – it seemed like there was no time left to train for the event. I started waking up at 5am so I could get my marathon training done.

After I completed the marathon, I adjusted the focus. I started to work on the theme of waking up early in order to work on important projects (e.g. How To Improve Productivity With Personal Projects or Your Guide To Starting A Summer Project At Work). I then wrote an ebook based on what I learned and started the podcast. Over the next few years, the podcast has focused on the question – how can you domination your day before breakfast?

2. What approach do you recommend to start a morning ritual?

There are generally two approaches to getting started with an early morning. For most people, the most effective strategy is to gradually adjust your wake up time. For myself,. I have adjusted my wake up time in 20 or 30 minute segments: smaller changes are usually easier to manage. The other approach is to change your wake up time tomorrow to 5am (or whichever earlier time will help). This approach does give immediate results. The downside is that you will likely be very tired for several days as you adjust.

As you build the early morning habit, there will be bumps along the road. There will be weekends, some late nights and that’s fine. You’re seeking to instill a general pattern, rather than meeting the habit 100% of the time. Over time, you will start to want to get to bed when it gets dark. For more consistent results, create an evening routine that includes a set bed time and put away your technology. At 8pm, I turn off my computers, phones and other material and start to prepare for bed.

3. What habits make the difference for leaders who want to become more effective?

Highly effective leaders come to work with energy and focus. Without energy, there’s no way to get work done. That’s why I emphasize health and fitness habits. I start the day with exercise, drinking lots of water and preparing yourself mentally for the day. How you treat your body directly impacts your ability to think and work productively.

4. Handling distractions during the work day is a major challenge for many project managers. There are phone calls, emails, and people asking questions. How can we overcome these distractions?

The first point is to identify how exactly you are being distracted. In my experience, I distract myself most often. I will check my phone, visit Facebook and so forth. It makes sense to understand yourself because it is easier to change. By changing your environment, distractions can be managed. You could turn your phone off for an hour or use software to block social media.

Regarding working with distracting people, proactive communication is the way to go. If you are someone who needs focus time to get significant work done, then simply explain that point. You could say something like, “The interruptions are making it hard for me to focus. Can you please schedule a short meeting with me when you have something you would like to discuss instead?” That approach strikes the balance between individual and team productivity.

5.  How can project managers communicate effectively and persuade people at the office who do not report to them?

In one of my previous jobs, I faced this challenge. My approach was to emphasize open communication and goals. I would sit down with people one-on-one, tell them about my goals and ask about their goals. Those conversations made it easier to work together. Without that kind of interaction, there will be a lot more conflict and disagreement.

6. What approach do you recommend for career goal setting?

In career advancement, there are certain factors you can control and certain factors you cannot. You cannot control whether or not the company has an open job that suits your goals.

If you are seeking a new job, first you need to clarify it – the job title, the pay level and the organization you are interested in. Next, look for the factors you can control such as earning a certification. Finally, look for factors that you can influence such as how you are perceived at the office. Taking all of these steps will move you closer to your goal.

7. On your podcast, you have advocated the concept of 12 week goals instead of annual goals. What are the advantages of working on 12 week goals?

In podcast episode 88, I covered Fewer Goals and Better Results with a 12-Week Year. Working a goal with a deadline twelve months away is challenging for many people. A better approach is to use the “12-week year” approach to make progress on an annual goal. Let’s say you had the career advancement goal of earning your MBA degree. Your first 12 week goal could be to study for the GMAT exam. Your next GMAT exam could be to research and apply to several business schools. In that case, the 12-week goal is a milestone that shows progress toward a long term goal.

The 12-week goal system works because it feels limited and encourages a sense of urgency. If you follow this process each quarter, you will make significant process through the year. It’s a great way to prevent procrastination.

8. What apps, websites and other resources do you recommend to enhance your productivity?

I switched over to an all digital system a few years ago. I use three main productivity tools: Google Drive (for documents), Evernote (for notes) and Nozbe (for task management). I have also heard good things about Asana and Ominfocus. Nozbe also has the capability to support a team environment so it could be used on projects.

9. For readers who want to know more about your work, where should they go?

The best place to find out about my work is – the blog, the podcast and everything else. In December 2015, my first book will be published by Ulysses Press. For more information on the book, sign up for updates at

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2 thoughts on “How To Lead Yourself Bright and Early: An Interview with Jeff Sanders, 5am Miracle

  1. Thank you Bruce for sharing this morning message! I am going to check out Jeff’s podcast since I am interested in building my own morning ritual. This will help me to integrate the processes that I am studying from the PMBOK guide to boost work/life productivity. Perhaps you can shed some lights in this area?

    • David,
      I’m happy to hear you found the article interesting. Starting your day with good habits makes it easier to get work done, so that is the connection I see there.

      I suggest starting gradually in building a morning ritual. The first week, set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier and gradually increase it until it is an hour earlier than your current time. For further detailed guidance on making mornings effective, I recommend the book “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod.