How to become a Highly Productive Night Owl
Being an early riser has its benefits, but it isn’t for everyone. Some of humanity’s greatest minds (Voltaire for example) were renowned for sleeping in. Depending on personality, environment, and work schedule, being an early riser may not be practical.
A few months ago I gave early rising a try. I was able to wake up 1-1.5 hours earlier, but I couldn’t adjust to the early bed time. Each night around 10:00, no matter how tired I’d felt that day, my mind became active and I was unable to shut down until after 12:00. After a few weeks, sleep deprivation set in and I went back to my normal sleep pattern.
For those of us who experience a late night surge of mentally activity, waking before 6 a.m. can lead to exhaustion. Sleep schedule depends on many factors and is subject to change, but it’s important to find what works for you. Fortunately, those of us who aren’t suited to early rising can be just as productive by utilizing those quiet evening hours.
Late rising isn’t automatically beneficial. It has a negative connotation because, if poorly managed, sleeping late leads to perpetual grogginess and wasted days. Here are few strategies I’ve developed for effective late rising.
Don’t Over Sleep
The biggest temptation with late rising is to over sleep. Too much sleep is a bad thing. Rather than feeling more rested, it makes you lethargic. Having a regular wake up time is just as important for night owls as it is for early risers. If you don’t set a schedule, you’ll have a hard time being productive.
Don’t Sleep Too Late
Along the same lines, I’ve found that late rising is best in moderation. Sleeping until mid-afternoon can ruin an entire day. It throws off your biological clock, leaving you mentally dull, and makes it harder to get to sleep at a reasonable hour the following night. For me, the ideal wake up time is between 8:00 and 10:00 a.m. This gives me a chance to get the 6-8 hours of sleep that I need without oversleeping or losing too much of the day.
Set a Cut Off Time
The challenge with being productive at night is that it’s hard to wind down. This can lead to late nights that throw off your schedule. The way to manage this is setting a cut off time. I set my cut off time for an hour before bed time, usually around 11:00-11:30. After the cut off time I stop working and wind down. I switch to mentally relaxing activities like minor household chores and light reading. I’d also recommend avoiding television and the computer completely. The brightness of the screen can trick your brain into thinking it’s day. Although there will always be those nights when I ride a rush of creativity until 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., it’s better to make that the exception.
Schedule Around Your Energy Cycle
To maximize productivity it’s important to leverage the natural peaks of your energy cycle. Late rising works best for people who peak in the evening. If this is the case, you should create a schedule that lets you work at night. I’ve found mid-mornings to be productive, so I’ve built my schedule around a morning and evening shift.
After getting up around 8:00 or 9:00, I eat breakfast and work for 3-4 hours. By early afternoon my energy fades and I switch from creative work to less demanding tasks like responding to email, reading feeds, and running errands. Around 8:00 p.m. I have another energy peak and work the night shift until my cut off time at 11:00. Although it can be tough to schedule around a 9-5 job, you can probably figure out a way to take advantage of your evening energy peak by working from home or on side projects.
Take Advantage of Distraction Free Evenings
Early risers rave about the productivity of the wee morning hours before the rest of us wake up. Late risers have a similar advantage on the other end. By working in the evening we can avoid the distractions of meetings, email, and other demands. For me, the evening is when I’m able to break free from the outside world and immerse myself in mentally challenging work. Some people can’t concentrate at night, but I’ve found it’s the easiest time get into creative work flow without interruption.
It’s all about finding what works best for you. As a night person in his early 20′s with roommates who tend to keep late hours, I found early rising problematic. As I get older and my living situation evolves, it’s entirely possible I’ll join the 5 a.m. club. Until then I’ll continue to take pride in being a highly productive night owl.