For a long time, I considered myself as a misfit in this era of competitive waking.
Yes, competitive waking in which everyone from CEO, CFOs to wannabe achievers brag about how early they get up and how much productivity they are able to squeeze in the morning hours.
Whether or not you want to admit it, rising early in the morning is linked with higher productivity and a brighter mood. Early risers are punctual, creative and healthier as per various studies. And as per an article in the New York Times, being an early riser is a mark of social success among the elite.
That said, it was not as I like sleeping late. My biological clock since childhood is built in a way that I get my sleep only in the later hours of the night, in spite of my best efforts to sleep early. Mornings are never destined for me, as I could never succeed truly in getting up early to write, exercise or even meditate as my peers brag proudly about. And the few times I attempted to toggle my biological clock, I ended up tired, irritated and burned out, for days together.
Is something wrong with me? Am I lazy? Am I not destined for success? These were some questions that tormented and made me feel like a misfit in today’s early rising world.
Until that day, when a friend advised me.
Early risers often quote Benjamin Franklin’s adage, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” as the mantra of early rising. But they conveniently ignore that, Franklin lived in the 18th century where early rising was a necessity rather than a fad. In those times, without electric lights, people would structure their day around the rising and setting of the sun. Sleeping late meant you would lose precious time to plant or harvest crops, travel, or do all of the other work that required daylight.
Franklin never ever advocated early rising to be successful. However, he did mention about resolution.
“Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”
Therefore, the key to productivity is to decide what you want, know what you need to do, and be determined to follow through on those actions. Resolution is the single action that separates the dreamers from the doers. Productivity only depends on how you complete your goal. When you do (day or night), it does not matter.
And here is how night owls can be productive.
Devise a schedule.
Stephen Covey has rightly said.
The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.
You would have read about CEOs and whiz kids in the Silicon Valley who only claim to sleep 4 hours a night. All that is bullshit. A healthy body needs 7–8 hours of sleep to function properly. Therefore, as a night owl, you need to figure out the sleeping pattern that works best for you and work out a schedule around that.
For example, I sleep around 1.00 am every day. So my most productive hours are between 9.00 pm-1.00 pm where I can work without distractions on my writing and my side hustles. I also use this time to work on the most difficult tasks of the next day so that I can be better prepared for the upcoming day. In the same manner, I changed my exercise routine also from 6.00 am in the morning to 7.00 pm in the evening. There is no reason to believe that exercising would be ineffective in the evening. In fact, I have always felt more creative to write after a vigorous exercise routine.
The key is to find out, whatever works for you best and build your schedule around it. Fighting against your natural energy patterns is futile. Instead, make use of them and embrace them to realize your full potential.
Make it feel like you are at work
Ali Krieger hits the nail on the head when he says.
You can control two things: your work ethic and your attitude about anything.
The problem with attitude, whether good or bad is that it reflects on your work and ultimately your productivity. So if you half-sleeping on your bed, lounging in pajamas and attempting to write a killer serious piece, you will never be able to do that. If you are serious about anything to be achieved, it should reflect on your demeanor. Simple as that.
For example, you might think a TV blaring in the background might be a good idea. But every time you switch channels, it might break your creative flow and you might end up wasting precious hours.
Similarly, if you are working remotely, it is very hard to feel good about yourself if you are working in a dirty t-shirt and sprawled across in bed. Dressing to work is as important as doing the doing to work itself.
Time wasters like checking your cell phone every few minutes, getting sucked into new social media posts or doodling horns on a picture of your girlfriend on Instagram can kill your productivity and dilute the seriousness of your goal.
Let’s not forget, Apple’s Tim Cook, Disney’s Robert Iger, and Starbucks’ Howard Schultz, all of whom reportedly start their days between 3:45 and 4:30 in the morning, do so because they are able to get focused, distraction-free time in the morning. The key here is focus.
Lastly, schedule your most difficult tasks at a time when you perform your best
William James has rightly said.
It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task, which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome.
It is ultimately attitude, which makes us procrastinate and avoid difficult tasks. And it is the same attitude again which enables us to complete the difficult tasks in our most energetic times.
For example, I hated going to the gym because I was forcing myself to wake up at 6.00 AM, which went against my natural circadian cycle. However, once I rescheduled it at 7 pm in the evening, I started enjoying it as it boosted my energy levels and improved my mood.
That is why Business consultant and Coach Brian Tracy asks us to “eat the frog” in our most energetic hours
“Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long. Your “frog” is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you do not do something about it. First thing when you start working, eat that frog.” He says.
And before you go to sleep, plan out the next day in advance. As productivity expert Mike Vardy explains in his book, Night Owl, end the day with least consumptive, mindless tasks so that you can save complete time for the hardest tasks the next day.
Remember, your greatest successes will come from leveraging your strengths. Broaden and improve your strengths by finding new ways to use these strengths by changing your work schedules and pursuing meaningful assignments in your best hours that bring the best out of you.
And with some careful planning and a great routine, you can harness the creativity of late nights and make them super productive. Being an owl is a sign of success. Wear it proudly on your sleeve.
As Urjit Patel has rightly said.
An owl is traditionally a symbol of wisdom, so we are neither doves nor hawks but owls, and we are vigilant when others are resting.