Not setting an alarm has truly been the single largest improvement to my quality of life in recent memory
The Challenge of Equidistance
One of the primary challenges of being (currently) the only team member in Asia is the time difference. Our team is split across several time zones, but primarily:
- I’m in GMT +9 (JST)
- HQ is in GMT -7 (PDT)
- The Western Europeans are in GMT +1/+2, depending
This makes for roughly a 1/3-day time difference between everyone, especially with varying daylight savings rules from country to country.
I’m extremely lucky to have a flexible work schedule. As long as I get my work done, nobody cares what hours I keep (within reason). I have made it a personal goal to keep in good communication with the rest of the team while I’m abroad, so being able to attend meetings is important to me, and there is something to be said for being able to get someone “live” on Slack when you need to ask them a question about a blocker.
“Stay Completely on Vancouver Time”
When I was in Osaka, the plan was to stay 100% on Victoria/Vancouver time. A typical weekday looked like this (Tues-Sat because of the international date line):
- 12:30am | Wake up
- 1:00–9:00am (i.e.: 9–5 PDT) | Work and try to be super quiet so that neighbours aren’t disturbed in high-density Japanese housing with thin walls
- 9:00–10:30am | Typical “morning routine” stuff (shower, breakfast, &c)
- 10:30–11:00am | Take train to downtown Osaka
- 11:00am-3pm | Sightsee, people watch, drink coffee, side projects, &c
- 3:00–3:30pm | Take train home
- 4:00pm | Sleep
This was unsustainable for a variety of reasons, but was nice in that it gave me a good chunk of the day free. I was also shifted by one day, so I could sightsee on Mondays when nothing was busy.
…sometimes compromises have to be made if one wants to travel the globe…
Sadly, my schedule started drifting. During one particular long weekend, I stayed up “late” (~9pm) several nights in a row, and it was brutal trying to get back to sleeping at 4pm without jet lag to help me along.
“After (Victoria’s) Lunch”
I experimented with the same schedule, just shifted forwards a few hours, until I just started working “after lunch” PDT. The schedule is exactly the same, except that I was working from 1:00–8:00pm PDT (5:00am-noon JST), and skipping my mid-shift “lunch” to make up the missing hour.
Getting up around 5am is not that unreasonable; I’ve done it before, back when I worked in restaurants and retail. My problem is that I’m not in any way a morning person, and have a hard time getting into context first-thing. I was miserable for the first few hours of every day, and was pulling through this stage by making liberal use of the canned black coffee from the vending machine outside my building.
Finally, while the Victoria crew made a tremendous effort to accommodate my schedule, it wasn’t always possible when we needed to meet with the team in Europe. This lead to some 2am meetings, which really didn’t help my sleep schedule… but sometimes compromises have to be made if one wants to travel the globe ;)
This style of schedule allows me to work around the parts of my schedule that are fixed, while still meeting my base needs and getting in time to sightsee and be close-ish to the local schedule for the relevant parts of the day.
A typical weekday looks like this:
- Waking | usually ~11:00am, but could be 8am-1pm | Wake up naturally
- Waking +0.5 | ~11:30 | Exercise (run/yoga) & shower
- Waking +1.0 | ~noon | Shower, brunch, typical “morning routing” stuff
- NW +2.0 | ~1:00pm | Sightseeing, side projects, shopping, &c
- 7:00pm | Dinner + Netflix
- 9:00pm | Work; most of the Europeans are online
- 12:00-1:00am | Most of the Canadian team comes online
- 2:00–3:00am | Prime video-chat meeting time (on meeting days)
- 3:00am | Prep for bed: brush teeth, wind down, &c
- ~3:30am | Fast asleep
[We’re] almost equidistant […], so there’s roughly a 1/3-day time difference between everyone
I generally have a bazillion side projects on the go at any time, and this schedule looks a lot like what I’ve been doing on weekends for over a decade. Also note that this is almost exactly the same as the original “stay on Vancouver time” strategy from Osaka, just with the am/pm reversed.
International Date Time “Trick”
An added benefit is that instead of having to track the International Date Line, I can start Monday on my Monday, and work through into Victoria’s Monday (actually my Tuesday early morning). This little trick makes it easier to think about the Monday morning meeting as actually being on Monday.
I feel like I say this about a lot of things as time goes on, but not setting an alarm has truly been the single largest improvement to my quality of life in recent memory, and I only had to move continents to discover it ;)
It’s extremely liberating to not need to set an alarm, be super groggy, worry about sleeping through my alarm, and rush to get to online. I’m able to wake up naturally, and feel relatively refreshed.
I also have the control to be as rigid or strict with my time as I want until the late evening. I’ve always had a hard time getting into a routine of running in the morning because I have a really hard time getting out of bed, and am often pretty wiped in the evening (or engrossed in a project). Of course I’ve made the effort in the past to force myself into more traditional workout schedules, but it’s so much easier with this schedule!
Since almost everyone on the team is asleep until around midnight JST, I can split up work throughout the day if I’m so inclined. For instance, if I want to attend an evening event, I can simply work a few hours in the early afternoon to make up the hours ahead of time. It also feels much better to do this than to work late and play catch-up. If I’m on a roll at work and want to continue working late, I can work (until say, 6am), and sleep in the next morning, and it’s not a big hit to my level of rest.
Everyone will have different parts of their day that are immovable, and different natural sleep patterns. This has been such a positive change overall that it I really encourage people to experiment with their schedule. Don’t just fall into the default 9–5 followed by evening free time; choose to wake up refreshed and be more productive :)