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Evening Ritual Challenge Day 1: Reverse Alarm Clock

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alarm clock in front of sleeping woman

Sleep is all about performance. Physical performance. Mental performance. Social performance. Performance at work. Performance in sports.

How well you perform during the day starts with the night before. One person stays up late watching TV and messing around on the internet. Another plans their next day, stretches, grabs a book and is asleep before 10pm.

Of the two, who do you think will have the better day? Compounded, who do you think will have better physical health or career?

You are a mental athlete

Imagine your days are being watched by thousands of adoring fans. You’re an admired professional athlete with commentators discussing and analyzing every move you make.

I know what the play-by-play commentary would sound like for me with that first late night scenario.

Jon, “Zack’s already going for his second cup of coffee. This does not look good. I don’t know if this is procrastination or an energy management issue for him.”

Rob, “Let’s look at his stats, Jon. Oh no! What was he thinking? I can see from his FitBit that he is only working with 5 and a half hours of sleep. That is not enough recovery to do the mentally taxing writing he was hoping to get done this morning.”

Jon, “It certainly isn’t Rob. Zack should have gotten five or six 90-minute sleep cycles in. That’s what’s required to consolidate his memories and flush out the toxins that build up every day in his brain. That means at least 7.5 hours of shut-eye. With only 5.5 hours, he wasn’t even finished with his 4th sleep cycle. To top that off, he likely woke up in deep sleep… that will leave him groggy for hours.”

Rob, “Here we go, Jon. I see what the problem was. His Rescue Time stats show that he watched Game of Thrones. The program finished at 10:45pm. But that show contains too much stimulation for ol’ Sexton. It generally takes him another hour to settle down after watching those intense fight scenes.”

Jon, “Let’s see what Zack can do in his sub-prime condition. He’s opening up the laptop now. Looks like email is still up on his browser. Will he close the tab without…? nooo! He’s in his email inbox. Something looked urgent. This is not the way to start the day. I’m not optimistic about his productivity levels Rob.”

Rob, “Neither am I, Jon. I also notice he neglected to write his most important tasks down the night before. Without that kind of daily prioritization, you can’t be Asian Efficient or effective. This is going to be a long day for Sexton.”

The announcers are more optimistic about the results of an evening ritual that prepares me for the next day and gives me 7 to 8 hours of sleep.

Jon, “Zack’s had his breakfast and morning joe and is opening up his laptop now.”

Rob, “Looks like he is going right to his to-do list to make sure he is working on his most important task for the day.”

Jon, “That little play was made easier by Zack’s evening ritual. He makes sure to close all his computer programs down the night before. This process, which Asian Efficiency insiders call clearing to neutral, saves him the willpower of resisting email or potentially distracting websites.”

Rob, “That’s true Jon. But I have a feeling Zack could have resisted the cutest of puppy videos this morning. Look at these stats. 8 hours of recovery according to the FitBit.”

Jon, “I agree, Rob. But no point in draining his reserves on puppy pics. Let’s see what he does with that extra reserve of willpower.”

Rob, “I like where this is going. Yep. He’s opening Scrivener. Now he’s turned on his focus music. And yes. Fullscreen writing mode. He’s started the day with a writing Pomodoro session on the article for next week.”

Jon, “This day is looking good. I wouldn’t be surprised if all his frogs are eaten before noon.”

Rob, “I love seeing this. You can tell that he’s about to get into flow.”

Jon, “It’s all about preparation. Those small tweaks the night before always pay off big. If Zack can keep his evening ritual strong, I have no doubt his career will lead to the hall of fame.”

Jon, “You said it. In fact, they should get his picture for the hall of fame today. He looks so vibrant and well rested. A smile on his face, no bags under his eyes, he looks good and he knows it.”

The Evening Ritual Challenge

Silhouette of runner on ridge at sunset

That’s what this challenge is all about. We want to improve your performance. We want you in the hall of fame. And we want you to look good while being inducted.

To get there, we’ll help you create an evening ritual that will increase your performance. You’ll do this with a good night’s sleep and a few productive routines to set your next day up for success.

What is an evening ritual?

An evening ritual is how you wind down your day. It is the step-by-step sequence you go through to get quality sleep.

We will post a new piece of the evening ritual formula each day for the next 5 days. Each day will build on the last. It will all come together with an effective ritual that will allow you to perform at your best. This evening ritual will give you an edge on the millions who have sporadic or unhealthy evening routines.

There are going to be hundreds of fellow Asian Efficiency fans from across the world participating in this evening ritual challenge. Should you be one of them?

Who this challenge is for?

The evening ritual challenge is for you if you…

  • want more energy during the day
  • want to get your work done faster
  • want to be more creative
  • want to hit the pillow each night satisfied that you’ve given the day your best and you’re ready for the next one

The challenge is especially for you if you…

  • have difficulty getting to bed on time
  • have difficulty falling asleep once in bed
  • hit snooze 2 or 3 times most mornings

If the evening ritual challenge sounds like a good fit for you, commit now and commit publicly. Research shows that committing to friends and family helps people follow through on a new action. So Tweet, text, or Facebook the following message to a loved one (especially the loved ones you share a bed with).

Tweet: I’m committed to higher performance and more Zzz’s. Today I’m starting my 5-day #AsianEfficient evening ritual challenge!Tweet: I'm starting my #AsianEfficient journaling challenge!

Once you’ve committed, feel free dive into the first evening ritual challenge.

Challenge #1: Set your reverse alarm clock.

How does it feel when you wake up naturally? You open your eyes and you are ready to roll out of bed and begin another day. You’re fresh. You’re rested. You’re in a good mood. The problems of yesterday don’t seem so big.

I love waking up naturally. Especially when compared to scaring myself out of bed with the jarring noises and vibrations of my cell phone’s alarm clock.

When you wake up to your internal clock, you know you have gotten enough sleep because your body only takes what it needs for optimal performance.

For most, rising naturally only happens on weekends or during vacations. It doesn’t have to be this way. Waking up to your body’s clock can be an everyday occurrence. Here’s how to kill the snooze button.

Kill the snooze

The snooze button can be a thing of the past with a reverse alarm clock. You can wake up naturally every day. This may seem like a borderline mystical feat. But waking up naturally requires only one not-so-magical ingredient.

You. In your bed. At the right time.

The math is a can be a little tricky. You need to know your takeaways (also know as subtraction). But don’t worry, I’ll walk you through it with a few examples.

Let’s say you need to wake up at 7am. You want 7.5 hours of sleep. You give yourself 20 minutes to drift off. Let’s round up and say you need to bed in bed an even 8 hours before your desired wake time. That means you need to be in bed no later than 11pm.

Not bad huh?

Wait what if you need to be up at 6am to prepare for the day or get in an early morning gym session? That’s fine. You need to be in bed by 10pm to wake up naturally.

What about those 5am miracle peeps? 9pm is your be in bed time.

Here’s a chart for those who don’t like to do takeaways:

morning wake time

With most of the math out of the way, it’s time to set your reverse alarm clock. To do this you need to go into your phone’s alarm clock settings and set an alarm for 9 hours before your in bed time.

I use a specific iPhone app called Alarmed to give me a message that lets me know I have an hour to do what I need to do to get ready for bed.
Alarmed set

Action Items

We’ll talk about what you can do with that extra hour after your reverse alarm but before your in bedtime tomorrow. For now, all you need to do is:

  1. Decide what time you would like to (or need to) get up.
  2. Subtract 9 hours from your desired wake up time.
  3. Set a repeating alarm on your phone that lets you know you have an hour to get to bed.
  4. Be in your bed and ready for sleep 8 hours before your scheduled wake-up time.

Note: You’ll still want to keep your standard alarm clock operational. Even if you get to bed on time, you may not fall asleep right away. You may also be catching up on some sleep debt you’ve accumulated from too many late nights and early mornings.

The live challenge is over, but you can follow along to the next day here. You can also enter your name and email address below to join us on our next challenge! 

Discover the 1 Lifehack of Highly Successful People

This one lifehack led to the biggest breakthrough of my career. People like Steve Jobs and Oprah have used it to catapult their success, and now you can too.


Posted by Colin  | August 22, 2016 at 7:08PM | Reply

I had an idea to improve on this—I set a song as my cell phone alarm clock. When it starts going off, I have until the end of the song to finish what I’m doing, make sure I’ve IDed the next morning’s MIT in Omnifocus, and then close email/slack, etc., and close down my computer. I leave the song playing until I’ve closed my computer.

So—does anybody have a good recommendation for a song for this purpose?

Posted by LynnK.  | August 4, 2016 at 9:31AM | Reply

My reverse alarm is set for 8:30pm since I, too, have a 5:30am wake up time! :~)

Posted by Katie  | August 4, 2016 at 9:20AM | Reply

Jumping in a couple days late thanks to an out of town wedding and family obligations this week, but better late than never.

Alarms are set for 9pm for a 5 am wake up. I find I do best with 7 hours instead of the traditional 8 hours so my maths accoiny for that. As a stay at home mom with kids who ease up at 7, it’s tempted to keep hitting that snooze button when I’ve had a late night. Hopefully a new ritual will help with that!

Posted by Su  | August 3, 2016 at 2:23PM | Reply

Saw the AE mail late… sort of failed day-1 ritual…but what the heck! Gonna do it properly from now on!
Namaste from India!

Posted by Francesca  | August 3, 2016 at 3:13AM | Reply

Setting the alarm to go to bed to have 8h of sleep, instead of the well-known alarm to wake up is so smart.
My Withing alarm is now set.

Posted by Suzanne  | August 3, 2016 at 2:02AM | Reply

getting the app and starting my evening ritual…

Posted by Melissa  | August 2, 2016 at 8:35PM | Reply

Pressing snooze ONLY 2-3 times? Unless I’m trying to wake up at the last minute before I need to go somewhere, I could potentially press snooze for 1-3 HOURS. It’s a very bad habit. So I’m hoping this routine will help. Because that’s of course a HUGE problem, for many reasons.

Also, sleep debt is a myth. Sleeping more will not help you “catch up”. So instead of trying to catch up, “reset” by getting the correct amount rather than trying to overcompensate.

Posted by Randy Heinz  | August 2, 2016 at 8:07PM | Reply

Setting a reminder to get my self to bed on time is already paying off. I was able to get up as soon as my alarm went off this morning and not hit the snooze.

Posted by Anita  | August 2, 2016 at 6:19PM | Reply

Have been trying version of this but alarm was set at time I really need to be in bed ready to get to sleep not an hour before. This is a great idea! I know I am consistently sleep deprived based on my Fitbit stats. I had a two week holiday and was only time I had two weeks of consistent 8hrs sleep in more than two months.

Posted by Amy  | August 2, 2016 at 5:39PM | Reply

I set my alarms. I didn’t do well following through but there’s always tonight!

Posted by Jay  | August 2, 2016 at 3:46PM | Reply

Reverse clock used last night and going for second night tonight.

Posted by Phill Coxon  | August 2, 2016 at 1:36PM | Reply

Alarms set and ready to rock on improved evening routine. Thanks! :D

Posted by JL  | August 2, 2016 at 12:50PM | Reply

I’m late for the challenge, but I’m in!

Posted by Duncan  | August 2, 2016 at 12:00PM | Reply

1 night down, setting the reverse alarm last night made me realize how much time I waste puttering around indefinitely before bedtime.

Posted by Mat  | August 2, 2016 at 11:02AM | Reply

Yeah, it kinda worked for me. I know that I need around 7h of sleep and scheduled bedtime accordingly (22:30 for 5:30 early bird). Alas, I got somehow delayed and only got in bed around an hour later. Pointedly I got out of bed at 06:30.
Just because I mess up schedule my sleep should not suffer. The hour of awake time is of less value than the quality of time I get from enough sleep.

Posted by Shawn  | August 2, 2016 at 10:52AM | Reply

I failed this challenge.
I sleep around 12am each day and wake up at 530am each morning. I’ve got a lot of stuff to do and night time is my best time to be with my family. Gee..

Posted by Sascha  | August 2, 2016 at 10:17AM | Reply

My alarm is set!

Posted by Bob S.  | August 2, 2016 at 9:44AM | Reply

I did a bit of light reading then fell right asleep. I had a great night’s sleep and have hit the ground running this morning.

Posted by Cherie  | August 2, 2016 at 9:05AM | Reply

It worked for me. Wanted to be up by 6:00, was in bed, lights out by 10:00. Woke up on my own at 5:50a. I’m ready to go. :-)

Posted by Diane  | August 2, 2016 at 7:04AM | Reply

I have gotten up at 5am for many years and know that I have to go to bed at 9 at least to feel good. I hadn’t realized how important the “ritual” is until AE. I now don’t bring my computer to bed any more and listen to an app called “Breeze” with wind chimes and birds. Much better at getting to sleep.

Posted by Peter  | August 2, 2016 at 4:12AM | Reply


Posted by E. J.  | August 2, 2016 at 1:30AM | Reply

Did amazing and got to bed on time at 11 but I bolted out of bed now at 11:29 because I forgot to post. Lol, I’m sure it’ll be better tomorrow on day 2!!!

Posted by Kimi  | August 2, 2016 at 12:45AM | Reply

Didn’t do very well. I did not get to email until after 11p so did not read the blog until 11:15p. I get up at 4:45a every day. I guess I need to get home well before 8p to make this all work.

Posted by Marty  | August 2, 2016 at 12:02AM | Reply

I’m in and am therefore saying “good night!”

Posted by NN  | August 1, 2016 at 11:52PM | Reply

10pm alarm is set for 6am wake-up time. Twilight light is on.

I know I only need ~6h but wanna leave more time to adjust and due to long night ritual

Posted by Bruce  | August 1, 2016 at 11:15PM | Reply

In bed by 8pm and up by 4am is what I try for and I usually do it. But tonight I am up past 11pm.

Posted by Catherine S.  | August 1, 2016 at 10:52PM | Reply

Excited to give this a chance. Thanks for the walkthrough, alarm now set for tonight!

Posted by Jody  | August 1, 2016 at 10:22PM | Reply

I want a 6am wake up. I should be in bed by 9. However, life happens. Hoping to get 7 hrs of sleep in.

Posted by Lachlan  | August 1, 2016 at 10:15PM | Reply

Great. Alarm set for 1 hour before bed time to get up at 7am. I’m currently getting up at around 8am, but it’s just sets the day off an hour too late.


Posted by Kate  | August 1, 2016 at 9:40PM | Reply

Done! Thanks!

Posted by Eric  | August 1, 2016 at 9:36PM | Reply

This sounds like a great first step. While I pretty much wake up without an alarm, it’s helpful to think about the front end (I.e. Bedtime)

Posted by Pamela  | August 1, 2016 at 9:32PM | Reply

Okay…. I have set my reverse alarm for 9pm, but I did not read the article until 9:30. So I will be heading up without the alarm. Looking forward to tomorrow! Can’t be perfect !

Posted by Rachel  | August 1, 2016 at 9:20PM | Reply

I loved the post and the alarm is set, thank you!

Posted by Thomas  | August 1, 2016 at 9:16PM | Reply

It’s in my calendar with an alert

Posted by Wayne  | August 1, 2016 at 9:12PM | Reply

Reverse alarm clock set!

Posted by WJ  | August 1, 2016 at 9:03PM | Reply

Just downloaded Alarmed and will get is set up tomorrow. Going to bed at 9pm tonight, waking up at 5:30.

Excited to complete this challenge!

Posted by catherine  | August 1, 2016 at 8:57PM | Reply

I think this is a good and simple method for me to get enough sleep.

Posted by Kathleen  | August 1, 2016 at 8:15PM | Reply

Okay. Downloaded the alarms app and set for 7:30 pm. Yes you read write I have to catch a 5:38 train in the morning to get to work so I get up at 4:30 am! Insane! In fact I did not get back till 7:30 pm today so we will see. Hopefully this will get me out of work on time.

Posted by Lindsay  | August 1, 2016 at 7:41PM | Reply

I’ve been doing this for over a year, so I will again tonight. I’m looking forward to tips on how to get everything done so I can actually start getting ready for bed when my bedtime alarm goes off.

Posted by Barb  | August 1, 2016 at 7:37PM | Reply

I get up at 4.30. I know I really need to be in bed at 9.30 at the latest, based on this to get 7 hours sleep, but I can’t quite get there. So I’m working with 10 pm for now.

So reverse alarm telling me I’m getting up in 8 hours set for 8:30 pm, reminder to finish up what I’m doing at 9.20 and another one for screens off at 9.30. I’ll see how this goes!

Posted by Lachlan  | August 1, 2016 at 7:22PM | Reply

I’m going to need to tap out of an evening meeting to be able to make this happen. Let’s do this.

Posted by Anna  | August 1, 2016 at 6:48PM | Reply

My friends and I use f.lux too. You can change the settings for how early you want the screen to start dimming and for how much it will alter the color. And it’s free so that’s nice :)

I tried a trial version of this sleep app that you put on your bed and it tracks the phases of your sleep cycle by your sleep movement. Did not work at all. Would not recommend.

Posted by Jennifer  | August 1, 2016 at 6:03PM | Reply

New alarm time set, lots of old alarms deleted.

Posted by Rachel  | August 1, 2016 at 5:33PM | Reply

One hour until bedtime … closing screens now!

Posted by Javier  | August 1, 2016 at 5:23PM | Reply

Ok, alarm is set
I’m in :p
greetings from Chile

Posted by Anick Globensky  | August 1, 2016 at 5:12PM | Reply

I get up at 5, am asleep at 10 and my evening routine is set to 8pm :) I read from 9 to 10 in bed

Posted by Brian Ramdhan  | August 1, 2016 at 5:05PM | Reply

This sounds good in theory but what about people like me who get up sometimes 2 or 3 times a night and struggle to fall back asleep???

What should we do???

Every night I get up around 2 am……….

Posted by Ellen  | August 1, 2016 at 4:20PM | Reply

Reverse alarm clock set!

Posted by Jens  | August 1, 2016 at 4:07PM | Reply

I’ve read the Email just a few Minutes ago. Now I have to go to bed, my One-year-old daughter wakes up at 5, after a can of milk she sleeps again and I stand up then for my Morning Ritual… Good Night from Germany

Posted by Shi  | August 1, 2016 at 3:43PM | Reply

I can’t believe what I’ve been doing for years is the first step to set up a good night ritual. I need to wait up at 7, so my alarm was set to 10pm. I have a questions about weekends though? Do we set up the same routine for Friday night and Saturday morning, as well as Saturday night and Sunday morning? Currently my alarms are only active for Sunday night through Thursady night, and I’m wondering should I keep it activated also for weekends. Thanks

Posted by pamela  | August 1, 2016 at 3:33PM | Reply

9:30pm alarm for 5:30am wake up :)

Posted by Kate D.  | August 1, 2016 at 3:08PM | Reply

I’ve had a reverse alarm for awhile but I either snooze it about 10 times or just turn it off. I get up at 8 am and take about 45 min to get ready to go to bed, so I have to start by 11:15. So now I have an alarm at 10:45 that says “Screen off by 11:00.” Here’s what I hope will help me really do it — I scheduled my computer to sleep at 11:00. Then I will have time to tidy up, get a glass of water, etc. and be upstairs by 11:15 to run my bath.

Posted by Milos  | August 1, 2016 at 2:46PM | Reply

I use my mi fit to track my sleep, and I have avg sleep time of 7h21m with 1h21m of deep sleep. It time to improve that. Looks like I’m going to bed early tonight :)

Posted by Allen  | August 1, 2016 at 2:11PM | Reply

I’m in for the Evening Ritual Challenge. My Fitbit will now remind me at 8:15pm that I have 1 hr before lights out at 9:15 – I’m up at 5:15 for the 6:00AM start of my workday. I am hoping to remove my 1 or 2 snooze button uses every morning.

Posted by Sonja  | August 1, 2016 at 2:08PM | Reply

Andrew beat me to it. The iOS10 beta offers this feature in the alarm clock. I’ve been using it for a couple weeks, and it’s extremely reliable.

Posted by Madhusudhan  | August 1, 2016 at 1:36PM | Reply

This is really a good idea to wake up early. Hmm…I don’t have problem waking up early as I sleep early. From couple of weeks I’m sleeping lately, thanks for reminding me to hit the bed early. Waiting for next email.

Posted by Janeira  | August 1, 2016 at 1:29PM | Reply

Awesome post! I’ve got my nightly alarm set and am ready to start getting to bed on time!

Posted by Jane  | August 1, 2016 at 1:23PM | Reply

I get home from work at approximately 11 pm. Winding down enough to go to sleep is a real problem. Do you advise waiting until midnight to go to bed? or 1 hour after I get home? I’ve been shooting for 11:30 with mixed results.

Posted by Cecilia  | August 1, 2016 at 1:02PM | Reply

My phone alarm is set at 9 pm! Tomorrow I will at 6 am!

Posted by Toetsie  | August 1, 2016 at 12:57PM | Reply

yep, i love Flux too for that. Tuning down the screen light, and reminding me how long till getting up.

I have an alarm now an hour before automatically turning off my phone.

Lets do it!

Posted by Debra  | August 1, 2016 at 12:38PM | Reply

Ready for the next step. Looking forward to tomorrow’s email.

Posted by Susan  | August 1, 2016 at 12:19PM | Reply

This is a good idea and I will try it out tonight. I am generally waking up right before my alarm goes off in the morning as is, but it never hurts to have something remind me to get to bed before time gets away from me!

Posted by Nguyen Huu Duoc  | August 1, 2016 at 11:49AM | Reply

I will download that app and begin my new ritual.

Posted by Lori  | August 1, 2016 at 11:44AM | Reply

Just got a new UP3, and it tells me when to go to bed based on my sleep patterns. I started this yesterday, and its calculation seemed good. Will see how it goes through the week.

Posted by Janeson  | August 1, 2016 at 11:40AM | Reply

Set my phone alarm to go off at 9:30 PM so I can get up at 6:30 AM.

Posted by Roxanne  | August 1, 2016 at 11:30AM | Reply

I will wake up at 6.00am tml:)
I have planned what I want to do tomorrow.

Posted by Hema  | August 1, 2016 at 11:06AM | Reply

Okay Ive done my reverse maths!

Posted by Adele  | August 1, 2016 at 11:00AM | Reply

Flux on my Mac tells me when I have nine hours to go before my morning alarm.

Posted by Anh  | August 1, 2016 at 10:23AM | Reply

I have created a calendar event named “Screen off” at 9 pm everyday. If I go to sleep at 10 pm then the sun can wakes me up at 6 am. My approach doesn’t seem like an alarm but that can keep me more committed. My goal is to wake up at 5, so I’m going to go to bed earlier everyday. Just afraid the alarm sounds will be needed to start the day that early.

Posted by Peter  | August 1, 2016 at 10:23AM | Reply

I learned through trial and error that I function very good if I have a number of 90 minutes sleep blocks (4, 5 or 6). Of course I won’t go for 4 blocks for a longer period of time.

I use Sleep Cycle app to wake me up. It does, after the initial “training itself”, a great job waking me up at the appropriate time (optimal moment in a window of 45 minutes before alarm time).

I use the 10-3-2-1 rule to prepare for bedtime. Serves me well to get prepared.

Posted by Julian  | August 1, 2016 at 9:43AM | Reply

Alarm setup with 15-minute snooze so I know that on the 4th alarm I should be brushing my teeth or else! Feeling a bit of sleep debt might get redeemed tonight.

Posted by Andrew  | August 1, 2016 at 9:15AM | Reply

Great idea

The new iOS 10 – still in beta version has this feature attached to the alarm clock

It is a good way to remember that I need to go to bed soon

The awareness is key here :)

Posted by Katie  | August 1, 2016 at 7:04AM | Reply

I have a 6am wake up, so my alarm is set for 9pm!

Excited to get started!

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