Being a Night Person

I’m not a morning person. I’ve made halting attempts at being one…but only because I thought I needed to. I’m now lucky enough to work at a place where I don’t have to pretend anymore. I can work when I’m most productive – and for me that’s often at night.

Why? Apparently it’s because that’s my “chronotype”…I just read a great New Yorker article that explains what that is, and also confirms something I’ve long suspected. That to be most productive, you should just embrace your inner time preference, rather than fighting it. If you’re a night person, find a way to work at night. I’ve been doing that more lately, and having some very productive days. It’s nice to finally have some hard science to back me up…

I got in touch with my real work rhythm in college. Left to my own devices, I’d not schedule classes before 10AM. I’d spend my days socializing, and being active. After dinner, I’d settle in to read, and often stay awake until 2 or 3AM, in the zone. I always had lots of ideas late at night. Strokes of inspiration, that in the light of day seemed silly and fanciful. I was more focused, less prone to distraction. My productivity flourished.

This changed when I began working. For many very sensible reasons, our society, and particularly our work culture, is set up to revolve around those with morning preferences. Work “starts” at 9AM, or earlier. This is great for daytime workers, but by the time my productive time starts to kick in (for me it’s about 7PM), most “normal” office workers are home having dinner (or stuck in traffic trying to get there).I particularly found this to be true when I moved to California. Maybe it’s because we’re 3 hours behind the rest of the country – but people here wake up at outrageously early hours, ready and raring to go. It was a rude awakening for me to learn that the 7AM (or earlier) conference call was definitely a thing here in Silicon Valley. I always thought this was insane, and could never get comfortable with it.

Early birds aren’t ethically superior. And, to the extent that other research suggests that they are, it may just be that they are luckier: modern society, for the most part, is built around their preferences. We are expected to function well early in the morning. We can’t just wake up when our bodies tell us to and work when we feel at our peak.

We can’t just work when we feel at our peak…Um…why not? And what if we could? Wouldn’t that be better?

At Automattic, we have to get our work done. There’s a lot of it – but there’s no schedule, no office hours. For me, I’ve found that I often slip back onto my old, college schedule: wake up on the later side, have breakfast, go to “class” (which in the working world, for me, means: meet with people, take phone calls, chat with colleagues, brainstorm, do interactive things – anything other than sitting at a desk doing “work”). Later in the day, when things are quiet, I turn my focus to more intensive, thoughtful work: writing, reading, legal documents, blog posts. I find that I spend at least one day per week staying up really late. Those nights are often when I generate a lot of the ideas that will carry me though the week, and get through a lot of the heavier reading and writing that requires uninterrupted concentration. It works for me – and think it probably works for a lot of other people too, who naturally prefer night. Unfortunately, a lot of us need to try to shoehorn productive time into “office hours”… but I think this will change over time as more companies embrace flexible, distributed work models. After all, 40% of the population has a night preference. And 100% of the population hates commuting. It’s only a matter of time.


**PS – writing this post at 3AM…and feeling totally OK about that.

About the Author

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General Counsel @ Automattic

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2 Comments

Your schedule totally speaks to me. I can easily be up very late at night, but I never was good at getting out of bed in the morning. I need a schedule like yours! Unfortunately, the response time on applications to Automattic has been slow recently. Oh well, I’ll jut have to hope it speeds up soon!

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