Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. — Carl Sandburg
Early Bird Meets Night Owl
My husband and I live on different schedules. I like to wake up bright and early, before the rest of the family, to read, write, and drink coffee. Those quiet hours are a treasure for me, and when I oversleep and have to jump directly into my responsibilities, I feel off for the rest of the day. My husband, on the other hand, is a night owl. He stays up late, puttering and working. He wishes he could get up bright and early—all of the articles say that it’s what “leaders” do. I, on the other hand, wish that I could stay up past 10:30—I haven’t wished anyone “Happy New Year” at midnight in years. But it turns out that we’re simply wired to be more productive at certain times. Most people are.
Own Your Chronotype
According to Daniel H. Pink, author of the book, When, everyone has their own chronotype, or pattern of circadian rhythms that influence their mood, alertness, and every physiology. To figure out yours, consider what you do on the days that you don’t need an alarm clock to wake up. Write down the time you usually go to sleep and the time you wake up. Then calculate the midpoint of those two times. (For example, if you like to fall asleep at midnight and wake up at 8, then your midpoint is 4 am.)
Early Birds: between midnight and 3 am
Third Birds: From 3:30 am to 5:30 am
Night Owls: From 5:30 am to Midnight
Brain On Fire
One of the most important secrets to productivity is to work on your hardest tasks during the time that your mind is most alert.
One of the most important secrets to productivity is to work on your hardest tasks during the time that your mind is most alert. That’s why I always schedule my writing time for the morning (when possible). Most people are what Pink calls “Third Birds”. These people don’t function optimally early in the morning or late at night, and they shouldn’t try to. If you’re trying to fit in a creative project around your regular work hours, it might not make sense for your chronotype to try to force yourself to get up early or stay up late. You’d be better off settling in for an hour right after dinner, or perhaps during lunch. Or scheduling a few prime hours on your days off.
It isn’t always about working harder or longer hours in the dead of night. Sometimes, it’s about working when you’re most effective. That way, you can get the best work in a shorter amount of time—and, hopefully, enjoy it more.