A No-Alarm, Inverted Work Schedule

Brooklyn Zelenka
Jul 18, 2016 · 5 min read

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.

Strategic Advantages

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.

Prior Strategies

“Stay Completely on Vancouver Time”

  • 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”

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 ;)

Inverted Schedule

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”

Waking Naturally


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!

Extra Flexibility


The Monad Nomad

Travel, functional programming, and (of course) caffeine

Thanks to Jessie Pepper

Brooklyn Zelenka

Written by

λ♥ Programs with functions 🏳️‍🌈👭

The Monad Nomad

Travel, functional programming, and (of course) caffeine

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