I’ve read quite a lot of articles lately that try to convince people to be a “morning person” per se.
Looking at my own workflow and having watched it closely for the last five years, this is a really interesting topic to me that deserves more in-depth study.
A look at research
Current research concludes that
- genetics between “morningness” and “eveningness” isn’t as straightforward as some authors of the blogosphere suggest.¹
- Also morning types are relatively rare among young adults according to a recent study.⁴
- Defining factors are the
- solar-clock (light & temperature)
- your social-clock (appointments)
- and your biological-clock.¹
Findings also suggest that
- on workdays the timespan to fully feel awake increases with later chronotypes
- where women qualify themselves as slightly earlier chronotypes than men.¹⁺³
In addition to endogenous factors that affect morningness/eveningness, research suggests that the dissipation of sleep pressure (in terms of increasing Adenosine-levels during the awake-period and decreasing levels during the sleep-period) may result in preferences for an early or late sleep schedule.² Adenosine is best known in combination with coffee, where [simplified] the caffeine blocks the adenosine from binding to specific cells, what would normally tell the brain “to slow down”.
Regarding my observations over the last 5 years I experimented with different settings over time:
- University (2 1/2 years) & Startup (simplora.de, 8 months)
- Schedule: all-nighter
- Working-time approx. 10am/11am to 6am/7am.
- Got a lot done while working long hours with excellent results
- Productivity plunges after some time, especially in the afternoon
- overall happiness plunges as well
- Client projects / Single founder – Part 1 (6 months)
Being the “evening-person” for a long time, I tried the early-bird-approach for over half a year.
- 7am – get up, grab something to eat and run to the gym (approx. 2,5km)
- 7.30 at gym till 8.30
- 9.00 till 9.30 breakfast
- 9.30 to 8pm working (with breaks/lunch)
- 8pm to 11.30pm relaxing
- 12pm bed
- you feel good once up early
- in harmony with “normal” working hours (e.g. girlfriend/boyfriend, wife/husband, friends )
- gym’s empty
To me, being a morning-person is really tempting. Over the course of 6 months I always met my goal to get up early, even if it was still hard in the end.
There is a really important point though, that I realized after 6 months. It’s not about “being able” to be a morning-person in terms of the act of getting-up. If you have enough self-discipline, that shouldn’t be a problem.
It is really about if you can profit from being a morning-person. Be it productivity for example. I got up early every single morning that 6 months, did my routine, sat down really disciplined to start working… and the ideas just didn’t start flowing, everything needed more time than normally, etc.
More than that, I have my best ideas and productivity peak after 6pm every single day. Finishing with work “early” kind of killed my creative-process since executing on these thoughts was always postponed to the next day, when half of the original idea was forgotten and every enthusiasm gone.
- Client projects / Single founder – Part 2
Realizing the above I found the schedule that fits my needs best.
10am – get up, breakfast, preparing lunch
10.30 – 12am – work (typical to-do tasks that distract you from “real” work)
12am to 2pm – gym & lunch (1/2 hour run, 1 hour workout)
2pm to 5pm – relax (read, social, museum, coffee, etc.)
5pm to 3am – work (with breaks)
Deploying this schedule has had a major influence on my overall productivity and happiness. Productivity has at least doubled. Compared to the all-nighter-approach this is a sustainable strategy.
Nevertheless there are some important points to pay attention to in order to make this work:
e.g. gym, grabbing a coffee outside (something more than a “quick 1-minute break”). Those will split your day in smaller chunks and really help to keep your productivity on a high level.
go to bed at your specified time. Good sleep is priceless. Sticking to this will ensure you don’t end up pulling all-nighters for no reason.
inspired by Buffer-founder Joel Gascoigne I started to take a walk just before going to bed. It is one of the best things I ever started doing. It gives you time to reflect on the past day and clears your head before going to bed.
to your schedule. Don’t feel bad because other people do it differently. Results matter.
I have started working out when I was 14 (crunches 3 times a week back then) and never stopped doing it ever since. Now hitting the gym 7 days a week. It gives you something you come back to every single day, be it a good day or not. It gives you structure. Find something that does that for you.
As research indicates there is a difference between morning- and evening-persons. It is not just about saying “be an early-bird or be a night-owl”. If you want to maximize your output it is important to take the time and find out what type you are so you can profit the most from it. A couple of hours of complete focus on work trump almost everything in terms of getting things done.
This post covers a topic I really care about and experiment with a lot. Have you made similiar experience regarding your workflow? What type of morning-/evening-person are you? I’d love to here your thoughts on this!
- Till Roenneberg, Anna Wirz-Justice and Martha Merrow (2003) – Life between Clocks: Daily Temporal Patterns of Human Chronotypes – Journal of Biological Rhythms, Vol. 18 No. 1, P. 80-90 – Link to PDF
- V. Mongrain, J. Carrier and M. Dumont (2006) – Circadian and homeostatic sleep regulation in morningness–eveningness – Journal of Sleep Research, Vol. 15, P. 162–166 – Link to PDF
- Antoine U. Viola, Simon N. Archer, Lynette M. James, John A. Groeger, June C.Y. Lo, Debra J. Skene, Malcolm von Schantz and Derk-Jan Dijk (2007) – PER3 Polymorphism Predicts Sleep Structure and Waking Performance – Current Biology, Vol. 17, P. 613–618 – Link to PDF
- Rene´e K. Biss and Lynn Hasher (2012) – Happy as a Lark: Morning-Type Younger and Older Adults Are Higher in Positive Affect – Emotion 2012, Vol. 12, No. 3, P. 437–441 – Link to PDF
Photo credit: Robert Deutsch - USA TODAY Sports