The Early Bird vs. The Night Owl

For two months, I experimented with waking up early instead of staying up late, to focus on personal development and side projects. I then returned to my old routine for two months, and these are my findings. 👇

Photo by Andy Chilton on Unsplash

By nature, I’m a night owl. Throughout my life, I found myself staying up late, reading in bed, drawing in my sketchbook, or coding experiments way into the wee hours. But recently, I’ve been reading numerous testaments to how an early morning routine sets people up for success, and I wanted to see how that might work for me. So I moved my bedtime up, set my alarm for 4:30 AM, and set out to shift my daily routine to an earlier schedule.

The Early Bird 🌞

Waking up earlier in the morning isn’t difficult as long as I go to bed in time to get at least seven hours of sleep, and I find that rising early definitely sets up the rest of the day for success. I typically start with meditation while brewing some coffee, bullet-journal to plan the day, sometimes sketch, then move on to some side project work.

Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash

The morning window to work is small because the rest of my family usually wakes up within two hours, and then it’s time to make breakfast. So there’s an urgency to work in the morning, but there’s also a hard cut-off. This motivates me to really focus on the important things — but it also has the unfortunate consequence of leaving work unfinished.

Walking away from an unfinished thought process in programming is maddening. Starting my day with unresolved bugs or half-finished features weighs on me. And knowing I can’t return to finish this until the following day rests in the back of my mind like a dull headache.

After productive mornings, however, the rest of my day is a breeze. Productivity is super-high, and I’m much more present and focused on tasks at hand. It feels like peak productivity starts before I get to the office, and lasts through the afternoon.

The Night Owl 🌛

Inevitably, I returned to my old ways. The familiar late-night routine brought back my early morning grogginess. It’s harder to wake up in the morning, and it takes longer to get into the zone during the day. Often I don’t have time to meditate in the morning.

Knowing that there’s no hard cut-off late at night is a double-edged sword. I can work entirely through a feature or bug until I’m satisfied it’s complete. But sometimes that means staying up much later than I should, and I pay for it the following day.

Photo by Alexandre Godreau on Unsplash

Late night productivity tends to leech off daytime productivity. I find myself catching up on work that should have been completed during the day, instead of focusing on personal development and side projects. And because there’s not as much urgency, sometimes I don’t work at all.

However, more often than not, my productivity skyrockets when working late at night. Within two months, I brought one side project right up to be ready for launch, launched another, and have another almost ready to go.

The Ideal Routine 🤷‍♂️

I’m still looking for the ideal within the limited time I have each day. I miss the consistency of my early morning routine and the feeling of peak productivity lasting throughout the day. The anxiety around leaving things unfinished is likely something that can be resolved with adjustments in how I approach side projects. I’m also fighting a lifetime of staying up late.

I’m curious about how others manage their time. What works best for you? If you’re a night owl, have you tried an early morning routine? Does your family’s schedule influence how you plan your day? There’s no right or wrong schedule, and I’ve seen it work both ways.

You do you! ✌️


Craig Phares is the founder of Six Overground, a digital agency in Asbury Park, NJ. His latest side projects include Link My Photos, Icotar, CoinQuest, and dropdrop.