How Buffer Forces Me To Wake Up At 5:55 AM Every Day

For the past two months, I’ve been using a simple trick with Buffer that forces me to wake up early every morning.

This is a habit I’ve always found extremely hard to get into, so figuring out an external system that actually works is awesome. The fact that it hinges on Buffer is a bit weird – but trust me, it’s effective.

“But wait – isn’t Buffer that social media scheduling app?”

Yep. If you haven’t heard of it, Buffer is a tool that lets you schedule tweets and Facebook/LinkedIn/Google+ posts ahead of time. With it, you can enter your tweets and posts whenever you want, knowing they’ll be spaced out over the day and be posted at times when people are more likely to see them.

Buffer

A pre-set daily schedule defines your posting times, so you don’t have to manually choose the time for every tweet. New ones just fill the next time slot.

Buffer is great because you can schedule updates that you want people to see later. Of course, this also means you could easily schedule updates you don’t want people to see later.

That’s the thinking behind this method – I use the threat of social shame (and monetary loss, as you’ll see) to make myself wake up on time.

Here’s how you can use it too.

  1. Create a tweet in Buffer that contains a message you wouldn’t want anyone to see.
  2. Use the Schedule Post feature (which lets you set a custom time for a tweet) to set the tweet’s time to 10-15 minutes after you want to wake up
  3. Make sure you wake up early enough each morning to move the tweet’s scheduled date to tomorrow.

I make sure to give my self a 15-minute window to move the tweet once I wake up, as I need time to wake up, drink some water, and get to my computer.

When it comes to creating a tweet, it’s a good idea to use something that would be embarrassing or painful enough to motivate you – but not bad enough that it would do damage to your life if it went out accidentally.

There’s always the slight possibility that some piece of technology could be broken when you wake up – your computer, the power in your house, the internet, etc – which would render you unable to edit your tweet.

Even more likely is the possibility of forgetting to reschedule the tweet after waking up. I’m guilty of this. While the Buffer wake-up method has worked 100% of the time at getting me out of bed, there was one (only one) morning when I actually forgot to edit the tweet and it went out.

For this reason, I’ve crafted my tweet so that it will:

  • Cause some embarrassment (but not offend anyone)
  • Cost me some money

This is what my tweet looks like:

Buffer

Crafting it this way increases the potential embarrassment because my followers are much more likely to call me out if it’s going to profit them. It also means that sleeping in just once will probably cost me $25.

No Weaseling Allowed

There’s one other part to my tweet: the caveat. “Assuming my alarm didn’t malfunction”

I think this is a good thing to add, as you never know if something will happen to your alarm. If it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault (though after a couple weeks my body has started automatically waking up before the alarm goes off).

“But doesn’t the caveat give you a really easy to sleep in and just lie about it?” – a friend asked

Nope. There’s no way I’d ever lie about this. In reality, the $25 I keep in my bank account every morning isn’t that big a deal. The fact that this method works 100% is infinitely more valuable.

If I lie even once, this method will be broken FOREVER.

Setting that precedent would mean that the technique would no longer be binding, because I’d know that I’ve lied in the past and got away with it. The moment I lie, it’s broken.

Glass Bridge

My shaky metaphor for the day: It’s like a glass bridge. If you do the impulsive thing and drive a dump truck over it, it’ll break. Hope you know how to swim!

I actually came up with this idea when I was a junior in college; I’d use it only on rare occasions when I needed to wake up extra-early to finish an assignment or study for a final. At that time, it was truly my nuclear option. That meant I definitely didn’t want to break it.

However, using it on a daily basis wasn’t something I wanted to do at the time. As I’ve learned, it can sometimes be just as hard to pre-commit and use a binding tool as it is to actually do the thing you don’t want to do.

Now that I’m done with school and my work is entirely self-driven, I’ve found that I pretty much have to wake up early and follow a morning routine in order to have a productive day. As a result, Buffer wake-up is a tool I use every day, and it’s incredibly valuable.

Tweaking the Method

For me, the potential hassle of Paypaling five different people is also another strong motivator. However, you might not be willing to deal with Paypal at all. Or maybe you’re pretty new to Twitter, and don’t yet have enough followers that would see your early-morning tweet.

I was thinking of a way to completely automate the punishment for sleeping in so Buffer wake-up can be useful even if you fall into those camps. Here’s what I came up with.

  1. Set a goal in Beeminder to never sleep in
  2. Create an IFTTT recipe that will tell Beeminder if your Buffered tweet goes out

Beeminder is a goal-tracking tool that allows you to pledge money, which you’ll have to pay if you fail. I use it for several things, including keeping my inbox clean and writing blog posts consistently. However, it’s also pretty easy to set it to punish you if you sleep in.

Beeminder

This is my graph on Beeminder. It’s a “Do Less”-type goal, since the data points that would be entered are the tweets that Buffer sends out when you sleep in – and you don’t want any of those to ever go out.

Therefore, your graph should always be a boring, straight line with no points. I’ve made my graph public, but it’s probably not much fun to look at!

Here’s the process for creating this type of goal for yourself in Beeminder:

  1. When you’re at Your Goals, click New Goal.
  2. Choose Do Less for your goal type.
  3. Name it “Wake Up on Time” or something similar – take note of the goal’s URL.
  4. Units are Mornings Slept In. I committed to 0 per week. 
  5. Add a $5 pledge (you can skip this if you really want)

Boom. Your mornings are now being Beeminded. However, there is one other little task to do:

Click the gear icon to head to your goal’s settings. Click the Terrifyingly Advanced section, scroll down, and uncheck the Pessimistic Presumptive option. This option is only for goals with manual tracking, so you don’t want it.

Lastly, you need to set up a way for Beeminder to be able to collect data from Twitter. You can do this with IFTTT, a service that lets you create if-then integrations with different web apps.

Here’s the recipe:

IFTTT Recipe: Sleep In = Beeminder Sting connects twitter to gmail

To use it, make sure your Buffered tweet contains the same hashtag that the recipe is watching for – in my case, #sleepingin.

The email’s subject should be yourbeeminderusername/goalURLslug – so mine would be tomfrankly/wakeup.

Wrapping Up

Snooze

Leo, one of Buffer’s co-founders, wrote a great post on sleep and productivity that contains another useful tip. Instead of just waking up to your alarm and doing whatever you feel like, tie waking up to an immediate event:

“Keep the alarm, but plan the first thing you will do and tie it to a specific time. Mine, for example, is that I have breakfast immediately at 7:40.”

This is an interesting twist on using if-then logic to form habits; instead of using the initial trigger to strengthen the following action, you’re using the action to strengthen your motivation to do the trigger.

I mentioned that I give myself a 15-minute window after waking up to reschedule my tweet; while this does give me some safety to deal with potential tech issues, it’s also meant to give me time to practice a few immediate events that further strengthen the motivation to get going for the day.

Here’s how the first 15 minutes of my day go:

  1. Get out of bed immediately (this is important) and stretch for a few seconds
  2. Turn on my computer to make sure it’s available
  3. Walk out onto my deck to check the temperature and get some sunlight
  4. Brush my teeth
  5. Take vitamins and drink some water
  6. Reschedule my tweet
  7. Head out the door for a 45-minute walk with a podcast (usually Listen Money Matters)

These preceding tasks help me to fully wake up, which eliminates the possibility that I’ll groggily reschedule my tweet and then go back to bed.

In the end, you won’t know what sort of wake-up hacks will work for you unless you try them for yourself. However, I’ll say that this method has worked better for me than any other. In the past few months, I’ve been much happier overall due to my better morning habits.

What’s your best tip for waking up early?

Images: Randolph Caldecott illustration, iPhone alarm (bonus shout-out to Kodomut‘s work in general; it’s absolutely stellar)

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

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30 Comments:
  1. Hi Thomas,
    thanks charing your waking up hack! Unfortunately iv’e not been able to set it up correctly after trying numberous times. I have to say that i’m only just beginning to understand all these apps and suchs. I’m a noob and have been living under a rock!
    So have got twitter now, set up de goal in beeminder, connected ifttt with beeminder, got buffer to send out the tweet in de morning if I don’t remove it first, but I don’t undertand how to set up de reciepe. So when I set up the e-mail in iftt, I fill in on ‘to address’: [email protected] and then what to do with the subject is somewhat confusing, cause when I follow instructions on ifttt the subject looks like @mybeemindername:wake, is this correct? And than there’s the ‘body’ should I do something here? Fill in something? You don’t mention it in your post, and then lastely what should I do with the ‘attachement URL’?
    I do hope you or someone can help me with this, cause I need to get up really bad. Got to climb underneath a rock and such 😉

  2. I have a really hard time getting out of bed every morning and I’ve tried a lot of things. This article plus a little bit of my own thinking has finally produced a method that works. Since I struggle with self-discipline and self-accountability, I decided the best way to start getting up early is to have somebody to keep me in check. I’m a senior in high school (taking mostly college classes) so I still live with my mom. I used Buffer to send a Facebook status update in the same format as your tweet, except I tagged my mom in it, letting her know that I’m still in bed and owe her $10. After a few weeks, my mom is $20 richer, but I’m finally getting up at my target time. It definitely helps to have an accountability partner who won’t take any of your crap. Mom’s work wonderfully.

  3. How will beeminder receive a trigger if beeminder is not apart of the recipe in IFTTT? In the recipe given, what if the email address that it is sent to?

  4. It’s funny, I have a “wake up method” that is similar on the principle but way less tech-savvy! Basically, my alarm is the radio turning on on my sound system. It is programmed to progressively (but quickly) get louder and louder. My bed is on a mezzanine and the sound system is “downstairs”, at the opposite side of the room. So in the morning, I have to literally jump outof bed and quickly walk to the sound system to turn my alarm off. 1) I can’t “sleep through it” and 2) if I don’t get up quickly enough, the sound gets so loud that it could wake up my 9 housemates and make them hate me for at least a couple of days (which is not desirable) and 3) since I have to “get in action” immediatly, I am barely ever tempted to get back in bed after turning it off. And when I am, it usually is an indicator that something is wrong with me (e.g.: I’m getting sick,..) so that rings an alarm to take care of myself.

    In the past 3 years, this method has never failed me!

  5. Thanks a bunch for this idea Thomas, just set it up, going to give it a run in this upcoming week.

    Quick question: Now that you’re out of school and you’re making your own schedule, does that mean you have a definite bedtime also? Do you have to be in bed by say 11pm to be able to wake up at 5:50am or do you just sleep when you events/time permits and just always wake up at the same time?

    Now that I’m out of college and working for myself, I find that I’ll stay up till 1 or 2am working on a project and then end up sleeping in. My worry is that this sporadic in-bed time will nullify any of the benefits of waking up early.

    Then again, there is some research that suggests the most important factor in a healthy sleep cycle (and REM) is predictability, so maybe by waking up at the exact same time every morning with this method will allow the body to adjust (regardless of sleeping at 11am or 1am).

    Looking forward to your input.

    Thank you!

    • Typically I’ll go to bed around 10:45-11:30. If I get to bed by midnight, I’m usually fine, but it’s pushing it. I think, as we get older, getting at least a good 6 hours is important 🙂

  6. Hi Thomas,

    thanks for the recipe, but I guess that it needs some additional information to make it work.
    Firstly, you should mention that the email address of beeminder is [email protected].
    Secondly, when I click “Add” on your embedded recipe, by default one only sees the field
    for the email address and not the fields for the subject line, where one has to specify the
    goal.

    Thanks, O.

  7. Love this so much! There’s a discussion about this going on on Akratics Anonymous right now, which prompted me to reread this. One big simplification you can now make to the Beeminder part of the instructions is that we have direct Twitter integration now so the IFTTT glue isn’t necessary. http://beeminder.com/twitter

    But wait, that isn’t *quite* true, since we didn’t think anyone would want to beemind *fewer* tweets, which is the whole point for this oversleeping setup. But if you create the goal and then email [email protected] we’ll reverse it for you so it’s a Do Less goal instead of Do More. If many people ask for that then we’ll build that option in to the interface.

    Thanks again for an awesome post, not to mention the Beeminder love!
    Danny of Beeminder

    • Daniel,

      Great to see you chiming in here, and thanks for pointing me to Akratics Anonymous! I actually hadn’t heard of that group before. I’ll add a note to the blog post to tell people about the update 🙂

  8. Thomas – This is one of the most creative uses of Buffer I’ve seen! You are awesome and I’m certainly inspired to try something similar. 🙂 Thank you for the incredible shoutout! 🙂

    Nicole, Community Champion at Buffer

  9. This article was extremely timely. I just got called out on my inability to wake up early during the summer months (I tend to press snooze a lot). Looking forward to the extra time and the look on that person’s face when they wake up and I’ve been working for an hour!

    • I love that feeling! Being alone for a while in the morning is actually another huge motivator for me. I don’t necessarily want to “stick it” to people who sleep in, but I definitely feel better about myself when it’s 8:00 AM and I’ve already gotten a bunch of stuff done.

  10. Awhile ago I took an early morning exercise class that started before the sun came up. It got boring and I quit, but I discovered that I actually enjoy getting up super early and watching the sun come up and that I can get a lot of things accomplished for “me” without interruption before the craziness of the day starts in. It’s very invigorating. Call me crazy, but I just wake up (via phone alarm) and get up.

    • I’m glad the simple alarm method works for you (and maybe a little jealous).

      I think one of my problems in the past was staying up too late. If I didn’t have a hard wake-up time, I’d easily get distracted with work or reading and stay up past midnight. Since I feel like my day is wasted if I’m up after 8:30 or so, this was a problem.

      Now that I’m using this method, I know I have to go to bed around 11 🙂

  11. I actually use your if-then logic to get up early. When my alarm goes off, rather than hit snooze, I turn on a podcast (actually a lot of the time it’s the CIG podcast). It pretty much forces me awake because it’s pretty difficult to sleep when there’s someone talking to you. Then once I get up the first thing I do is lay out my yoga mat, then I do all my bathroom things like brushing teeth while I listen to the podcast (another if-then is if I go into the bathroom, then I brush and floss my teeth) and once I come out of the bathroom I do yoga. It’s a great system! However I do get lazy and sometimes i’ll turn my alarm off when i’m extra tired, so maybe this’ll force me to not be lazy.

    • That’s an awesome system! Is your yoga mat next to your bed?

      For me, one of the most important things I quickly getting away from my bed. If I ever have my computer in the same room that I sleep, I may have to build in some modifications that make me leave the room first.

      • Yeah, my yoga mat is beside my bed because the main task I want to achieve is working out every morning which is a tough one. But that’s a really good point, I didn’t think about the computer thing. I’m really bad and I pretty much sleep with my laptop, iPad, and phone surrounding me. So actually removing all that from my general sleeping area is probably a really good idea to force me to get up.

      • That’s probably a good idea! I generally just bring my phone and a book to bed with me (though I typically only read for 5 minutes before getting sleepy).

        I don’t really read blogs on my phone, so I don’t need the Buffer app on it – which is good, because I’m forced to actually go to my computer to reschedule my tweet.

  12. Really loving the info you’ve put out about Beeminder. I’ve heard before about the idea of having an accountability partner whom you have to pay money if you don’t complete a goal by a certain date, but I like the Beeminder idea even better. With another person, you could both end up failing to complete your goal and then just agree to call it even, but having an automated financial “sting” removes that possibility.

    Also, the Beeminder menus are hilarious. “Terrifyingly Advanced” is priceless. Love it when software designers have a sense of humor about their programs.

    Keep up the killer content.

    • You’re exactly right. I actually tried the accountability buddy thing with a friend of mine. He was going to start a blog, and I was going to update an old, huge post. We both bet $30 to keep each other accountable – and of course, neither of us finished, so neither of us lost money.

      I’d say that if you’re going to use an accountability buddy, you should draw up a contract that forces you to donate the money to charity or something instead of giving it to that friend.

      Beeminder is awesome, though; the author Nick Winter actually pledged over $7,000 in order to finish his book on time. I don’t know if I’ll use that high of an amount, but I’m definitely using his idea for my own book!

  13. This is a really interesting idea, and one I should consider seeing as I have issues with waking up early.

    One problem that I can foresee though is that I would just get up to re-schedule the tweet and then go back to bed, like I do with my normal alarm clock.

    The only way I’ve been able to tackle this is by sleeping on the floor, rather than my bed, because the idea of waking up and going back to sleep on the floor is just so unattractive haha. I’ve only really done this in extreme cases though, like during exam season, although it might be a good idea to bring it back again and get into the routine of staying awake after my alarm goes off 🙂

    • I’ve always had that exact same problem. Even when I slept in a loft bed and put my alarm on my desk, I’d still climb all the way back up after hitting snooze.

      One of my ideas during college was to form a “wake-up club”, which would be a student organization that did nothing but take a large sum of money from each member as a deposit and require you to meet at a certain location on campus every morning to check-in. If you didn’t miss too many days, you’d get your deposit back at the end of the semester.

      The last part of the post details how I solve that problem now. By doing a few things before rescheduling my tweet – getting a bit of sun, drinking some water, etc – I lessen the temptation to go back to bed. It’s all about getting over that initial few minutes of grogginess.

  14. Hey, this is an awesome idea! I think I’ll try it out once I get a Twitter; since I’ll probably have few followers for a while, I’m going to go for the Beeminder idea.

    If I get stuck, mind if I ask for help?

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