Heather Nowlin
Jan 8 · 5 min read

This dizzying contradiction threatens to bring some of us to tears

Photo by Amanda Jones on Unsplash

There are a lot of life hacks out there.

One of the most popular is an exhausting checklist of all the things you should do first thing in the morning in order to have the best, most productive, kick-this-day’s-ass day you can possibly dream up.

Another one of the most popular tells us to just get enough sleep, already. Over and over and over, medical experts and Ariana Huffington tell us how important that is. It’s good for your body. It’s good for your brain. It’s good for your productivity.

I’m a night owl. Always have been. I’ve also (almost) always worked a “traditional 9 to 5” as they say.

Which means that even my best mornings are the worst part of my day.


To this day, I don’t know how I made it through high school.

Homeroom bell rang at an ungodly 7:13 a.m., and I lived in a rural part of the county. If I rode the bus to school, that meant a full hourlong ride from the bus stop (which was a 5-minute sprint from my house) to the school doors. So, I awoke at… 6:04 a.m.? Probably.

Once I was able to drive — and my mom was nice enough to find me a crappy car — I was able to make the drive in about 23 minutes (though it really should have taken me 34).

I don’t know how I survived that...

But I also don’t know how I managed to get out of bed that early for that long — while I was a teenager, who, let’s face it, all suck at getting out of bed.

All of them.

You know they do.

I remember my mom RAGING at me for what felt like hours. WHY wouldn’t I get out of bed? Didn’t I know I was just making things worse? The longer I waited, the more hurry I would be in, the more dangerous a drive. The more she had to yell, the more miserable I was making her… and everyone in the house.

I remember finally getting up and turning on the shower… then falling asleep on the toilet for 20 more minutes. More railing, weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. You’re wasting the water! You’re wasting the heat! Do you not have any respect for how hard I have to work to pay those bills?! Get ready and go to school you lazy $@#&!

Ok, my mom was nicer than that… but not much. (And we all know she was thinking it.)

I somehow made it through, and off to college.

College was a dream! I could schedule all my classes to suit MY schedule (and body type). (Which might have meant it took a few extra years, since most classes do not start afternoon 12 noon… but I digress.) I was able to do it how I wanted, and for several years I found myself very happily drifting to bed around 1 or 2 in the morning, and sleeping till about 10 or 11am.

That felt perfectly natural for me. And, in the convening life cycles where I’ve been able to pick my own schedule — including working at bars/restaurants after college, working in theatre during, and a couple of unemployment stints in the years since — that schedule is largely the one my body naturally gravitates toward, and has for a couple of decades now.

That’s right: decades.


I was walking into work in my usual morning fog the other day and I heard a mom on her phone with her teenager: “You had better get your lazy butt up and go to school right now, mister. I don’t want to hear anymore. I’m at work already, so get. Up.”

I could have punched her. Not only because it was morning and I was awake for it, but also because laziness isn’t the only possible reason for having trouble with mornings on a daily basis.

So, when I read advice articles and productivity hacks that hand me a to-do list that starts at 4:00 a.m. and ends with breakfast before the workday even starts, I just want to cry. Resolving to exercise, drink 3 glasses of lemon water, meditate, and plot out my day in my cross-referenced, cross-tabbed, pivot column of a daily planner while I enjoy my freshly made protein-packed smoothie is just setting myself up for pure, unadulterated, and consistent failure. Plain and simple.

Early to bed and early to rise… “If it’s so hard for you to get up early, why don’t you just go to bed earlier?” Ah, the logical protestations of the perfectly reasonable morning person! I hear you. I do. And I’ve tried.

My significant other is also a night owl. But we both are energetic, enthusiastic, and relatively successful people in our chosen fields. And we’ve both tried the early to bed, early to rise formula for health, wealth, and wisdom. And when we go to bed at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. with visions of morning dreams dancing in our heads, it usually goes something like this:

9:00 p.m., lights out! “Night, honey.” (Quick kiss.)

9:01 p.m. Dog barks. Yell at dog.

9:04 p.m. “Did you set the alarm?” “Of course.” “Thanks, honey. Night-night.” “Night.”

9:05 p.m. “Oh! How was your production meeting? I forgot to ask…” “Really good!! I have a GREAT team on this show — it’s kind of exciting, actually…” (40-minute dialogue on the intrinsic virtues of new talent vs. comfort and familiarity in the workplace)

9:45 p.m. Conversation morphs into discussion of whether or not our generation’s concerns about those young’uns coming up now are new or just new to us… ending in the light coming on and one of us looking up MLK quotes for an hour.

And then some version of this continues until about, you know, midnight. Which is an hour earlier than either one of us actually gets tired, so I guess that’s something.

Here’s the thing. All of us are different — and that’s ok. Different isn’t anything to be afraid of, or to look down on.

Some people try getting up at 4 a.m. and checking all the life hacks off the list, and then they feel amazing and wonder why they never did it before.

That works.

And some people get out of bed after a few times hitting snooze and yelling at the dog, with only the thought of downing several gallons of coffee to make them feel ok about the future. And when they get through that rough patch and get to work with a full night’s sleep under their belts, they still manage to have amazing, successful days.

That works, too.

If you want to be productive, find what works for you. And don’t feel bad about yourself if your picture looks different in the morning from Mr. Perfect Morning Life Hack’s.

Different is great.

And happy is even better.

Heather Nowlin

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Including: Productivity, creativity, personal finance, business, corp comms, movies, books, TV, mental illness, addiction, dementia & whatever strikes my fancy.

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