Night Owls, Early Birds, and Variations Thereof


When do YOU Do Your Best Work?

We all know the stereotypes. Heck, most of us ARE the stereotypes.

Night Owls tend to get their second wind about the time most people are going to bed. Around midnight or so, these people hit their stride in productivity or creativity. They tend not to be especially happy to be awake (sort of) to attend a breakfast meeting.

Early Birds are the opposite, of course. They like to rise before the sun. The US Army had a slogan in its advertising some years ago wherein a soldier says, “I do more things by 9:00 AM than most people do all day.” Classic Early Bird syndrome.

I find personal traits like this to be of great interest. As a leader, one of your responsibilities is to enable those who work with you to do their best. If I know someone’s wake/sleep/work patterns and I can tailor to those parameters, all the better. The employee is happier, the organization gets best results.

Unfortunately, these two models do not cover us all. There are two more types out there. Probably more than two, but here are the ones I have noted.

One is the true Middle of the Night Person. I have a good friend in this category. He does his best work on any given day from around 1:30 AM until about 5:30 AM. He is remarkably productive during this period. The rest of us wake up to find half a dozen emails from him, sent in the wee hours. But don’t bother to schedule an 8:30 AM meeting with him.

The other type is what I call the Switch Hitter. These individuals get a second wind around 10:00 PM and work productively until about 1:00 AM. But their natural rhythms wake them up early, around 5:00 AM for another high production round until around 9:00 AM. I confess that I have been a member of this group all my life.

I really enjoy the two stages-in-time process. The downside, obviously, is this does not allow for adequate sleep. Naps help, but that is that is more of a patch more than a fix. Still, I am the catnap master. Anytime, anywhere, even if only for a few minutes.

A couple of years ago, I got a Fitbit. I started tracking several things, including the amount and quality of my sleep. The data brought home to me that while I enjoyed my patterns, I was burning the candle at both ends. Continuing to do so was not a healthy decision. So, I reluctantly made some choices.

I love the predawn hours. For me, it is my most productive time period. More importantly, it is also a wonderful time to sit and reflect quietly (ideally outside), while the world wakes up around you. I always enjoy this predawn time, whether in the city or in the wilderness. I am assisted in attending the awakening of the day by my trusty companion Lizzy the Lab, who insists on a 5:30 AM breakfast.

I have the pleasure of living in mostly natural surroundings. I can see any number of critters, from chipmunks to bears, cross my early morning path. It is an almost daily reminder that we share this planet with others.

I have given up the late evening hours by and large, although reluctantly so. It is, I will admit, nice to have the additional sleep. Not watching the Daily Show live seems a fair tradeoff.

What about you? Have you reflected on your energy and concentration patterns by time of day? Are you making best use of you?

     Bill Clontz

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2 replies to Night Owls, Early Birds, and Variations Thereof

  1. I’m one of those late night communicators and get a second wind at 11pm (or after Amanpour) until 1am. And, so as not to waste the morning my alarm goes off at 8am regardless. I have at 80 started to take a nap in the afternoon (sometime involuntarily) and set a 30 minute alarm as I read a longer nap can be counter productive. My mother, father and sister all maintained a more normal schedule of bed by 11 and up at dawn. This eliminates genetics as the determinant So what sets this internal clock? If you talk to any of my friends, they will joke about receiving emails from me waiting for them to open their computers. If asking questions at midnight, I expect responses by 10pm next day and preferably by noon so as not to lose momentum on projects in process. Not sure when retirement sets in and the pace, and expectations, will change. Maybe never.

    • Love the comment about sometimes involuntary naps!

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