The (Un)Productive Night Owl: An Experiment

Your Friendly Anarchist on a Nightshift (Symbolic Representation)If the early bird catches the worm, the best thing the worm can do is to sleep in, and leave his home late in the evening – until he gets caught by a night owl, that is. Yet although there are probably more people that prefer staying up late over getting up early, our society isn’t ready to accept that just yet. This is not only true for the typical office environment, but also for us web workers and micropreneurs: While there are a myriad of free and paid resources available online on “how to become an early riser”, information on “how to become a night owl” is surprisingly thin.

As a semi-professional idler, I have always been more on the night owl side of life. Still, evenings generally were reserved for, well, idling, meeting friends, going to cinema or having some drinks. But as I’d like to increase my output a little, I thought that there might be some value in experimenting with a lifestyle of late-evening productivity: Is it possible to get up whenever I like, spend the day doing fun and relaxing things, and then, when sun sets, start working and get more things done than David Allen on coke?

Terms and Conditions of Nightowlism

  • No coke. (I had to write this as you guys know I’m in Colombia and I just mentioned it. I will do fine without it, thanks, yet YMMV, Paris.)
  • A night owl doesn’t have to hunt from dusk til dawn. While, again, YMMV, I just don’t see the need to be working 10 or even 12 hours each day. I prefer to be really productive for three or four hours, just like many great writers do, and use the rest of my day for other things, like getting inspired while having a Cuba Libre cup of coffee at the beach or preparing a delicious plate of pasta with shrimps.
  • Thus, nightowlism doesn’t have to be about getting up at 4pm and staying awake until other’s people’s breakfasts. I better don’t even say YMMV anymore, but my approach to nightowlism is this: I tend to love mornings, but I suck when when it comes to working early. Thus, I’ll try to get the best of two worlds: Get up in the morning whenever I feel like it and enjoy the early hours. Do beautiful things. Take a nap in the afternoon. Get working at 7 or 8 or 9pm and get stuff done until midnight or whenever I feel it’s enough.
  • This experiment starts officially today, September 14th, and should last 30 days for starters. (If it totally sucks, I might end it earlier, but after some preliminary tests, that’s not very likely. Rather, I might want to expand it thanks to incredible success.)
  • I will keep you updated on how it goes here on the blog.

Issues

My biggest potential issue with nightowlism is its social awkwardness. I really wouldn’t want to be some kind of nerd who only sees people when buying frozen pizza at 3 o’clock in the morning in the 24 hour store. Thus, this issue should better get addressed: Let’s have the nightowlism without the nerdism.
The problem comes down to this: “Normal” people get up early and work from 9am to 5pm. They’ll then have a cocktail to feel alive again after a day of boring meetings and sour office coffee, and be ready to go. If you join them to have a couple of drinks immediately before your start working, you’re doomed already. And as a night owl, you will die of hunger.

My ideas to solve this issue are the following:

  • Reserve some days for meeting “normal” people. This is a no-brainer and not too hard to do for someone who manages to work both less and (thanks to nightowlism) more efficiently than the average citizen: You don’t have to work each evening, but may have a four-day work week. That’s three days to hang out with the early birds.
  • Communicate what you’re up to. Be it gender reassignment or engaging in an experiment of nightowlism, talking to your peers about your plans will always help to prevent misunderstandings. Thus, I’ll try to make it clear to everyone around that I’ll be weird some nights of the week when it comes to Bacardi and beach parties opposed to hacking stuff into my computer.
  • Beach parties might be fine, but skip the Bacardi. Depending on the hours, it might still be fine to go out to some after-work party or stuff like that. Just skip the drinks, unless you’re up to writing some weird stream-of-consciousness stuff. The Buke could do it, and so might you. Yet if the plan is getting something serious done, as in my case, then the rule is to stay sober so you’re ready to work when the time comes.
  • And no, I don’t attend too many beach parties, really. I hope I would.
  • They don’t even drink Bacardi here. Much better rum available!
  • I’m disgressing, sorry.

Energy Management

That’s the last thing to consider for now, and it’s a real biggie. Now, I know, you all have heard about managing your energy rather than your time and stuff. (At least if you’re addicted to productivity blogs. You’re probably not. You’ll get it anyway. I know, because you’re smart.) But this becomes so much more important when we’re talking about nightowlism!

While the theory was pretty clear to me (“Save your energy for when you need it”), I never, ever put this into practice (“Oh well, I ran around all day long and I myself got a nice sun burn hanging out at the beach and I swam until exhaustion and now I really want to work but, nah, fuck it, I’ll just go to bed.”). Until I read the Dojo guide, that is. The authors make a clear point concerning this, and I am really, really thankful for that: If you rise (kinda) early, say 10am, and want to work (kinda) late, say 7pm, then you better make sure you don’t waste your precious energy during the day.

That doesn’t mean you have to sit idly, or meditate, or eat salad and gorp and drink green tea all day long. But it does mean that running around like crazy and filling your day with non-stop action isn’t good advice. Rather, make the day a combination of different kinds of enjoyable activity and passivity. For me, this comes down to reading stuff on the web and in books, walking around the city, taking some photos, staying hydrated, meeting friends, having good coffee, painting a picture, preparing and eating tasty but not too heavy food, taking a nap, watching a movie, stuff like that. A decent combination of these things and I’m pretty much ready to go, that is, to write. Writing is the main thing I want to do in the evenings, and it will be my main output as a night owl, if everything goes fine.

And You Guys (and Gals)?

So, my experiment starts here and now. (It actually already did, with the writing of this post.) What about you? Anyone of you has got any experiences to share about being a productive night owl without turning nerdy and losing all your real-life buddies? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions, so please leave a comment or shoot me a mail! Also, if this post was entertaining or interesting for you, help me spread the word by sharing it on Twitter!

In other news, I am glad to announce the winner of the Paid to Exist give-away: The amazing Anne Archista! It was a tough decision, and I really, really hope I could give a spot to everybody who applied. You certainly deserve it all! That said, I think that Anne is on the right track when it comes to getting her word out, and that’s why I ultimately decided to give her the spot. I’ll get in touch with you soon, Anne!

Sales for Paid to Exist are open now. If you want to buy it through my affiliate link, please go ahead. The commission I get supports my work here on The Friendly Anarchist!


Amazing photo CC (BY-NC-SA) saharsh.

Comments 10

  1. Ruben Berenguel September 14, 2010

    Congrats Anne! I hope you get the most out of the course :)

    Fabian, I’m more of an early riser than a night owl, thus I am trying to get up earlier and go to bed sooner. So far, it is not working quite correctly (I have trouble getting up early some days, like today). But I am terribly more productive in the morning than in the afternoon, thus, I’ll have to keep trying.

    The good point about this is that now we will be in closer time zones :D Maybe it is time to crank up another guest post ;)

    Ruben

    • Fabian September 14, 2010

      Ruben, I think the process of adaptation – either way – will always take some time, but I hope it’ll work out fine for you! If I remember correctly, Oscar from Freestyle Mind successfully became an early riser, so in his archives there will certainly be some experiences on this.
      And yes, I might definitely get closer to European Standard Time if I manage to expand my night owl experiment! :)

  2. biofutur September 14, 2010

    Hy Nocturnal Bird of Prey.
    Unfortunatly it seems i’m living a lifestyle totally opposite to yours. But as I’m a senior now, maybe that should be the one reason.
    · Hours from six thirty in the morning to past midnoon.
    · A nap of lewd 2:00 in the afternoon.
    · 4 hours of working in my Urban-Garden
    . From two to three hours during summer to prepare and congelate the vegetables for the off season.
    · one hour at least for the poultry and geese and dogs and women care.
    . three hours down in the village for the connection to the public Wifi, for my Mag and my Forum and chating with all the marmosets trying to reach me.
    · three hours for thinking dreaming writing creaming.

    Maybe I made a longer list of hours than authorized, but all depend of the days. In fact alternatives are self allowed. As you can see Fabian it´s a little far from your schedule. But every thing is a choice. Idling really self-opted is a choice, thus according time for it might be taken into accounts of life.

    Cheers Man

    • Fabian September 14, 2010

      Haha, Jacques, I love the line of “poultry and geese and dogs and women care”… :)
      Maybe I will become an early riser myself in my older days, who knows? Thanks for sharing your schedule… I’m not sure how this night owl lifestyle will work for me, but I’ll keep you updated!

  3. Nate September 16, 2010

    Fabain – this is an interesting experiment indeed! I guess I’m in the minority…..I LOVE mornings and waking up early. I generally don’t stay up much past 11pm…actually, much past 10pm on weekends. Even if I didn’t have a typical ‘day’ job, I would probably be like that. So, I totally agree on all the stuff out there on being an early riser so you can be super productive. Again….and I rail on this a lot…it’s not about being someone else or thinking ‘oh, if I become an early riser…then I’ll be productive, then I’ll get more done, then I’ll be able to start a business…..to then I’ll be happy.’ It’s just bs. Everyone has natural cycles and some people are more morning people while others are more evening people. Most of my energy comes in the earlier part of the days, while yours comes at night. Either way, it’s all good!

    I’m looking forward to here some of your results from this experiment. It should be super fun (well, hopefully) and provide you with some good insight on your natural energy cycles.

    • Fabian September 18, 2010

      Hehe, apparently you’re not a minority in the group of TFA readers, Nate! I got a lot of feedback from early birds… :)
      But of course I agree with you that everybody should go for what works best for them. Until now, the experiment has been quite a success. I will write an update someday the next week! :)

  4. Earl September 20, 2010

    I think you’re going to love nightowlism! I am not a morning person at all and unless its absolutely necessary, I refuse to turn on an alarm to wake me up. Since I began working on my online projects about two years ago, I’ve discovered that time and time again, I am at my best in terms of productivity between the hours of 10pm – 2am. And so, that’s when I do the bulk of my work.

    I don’t stick to this schedule religiously, but if I have some important stuff to get done, I make sure I work on it at night. There’s something about the quiet and lack of distractions that gives me an extra boost of energy and clarity of thought, even if I had spent the entire day running around. It’s now almost as if my brain is trained not to get tired during those hours!

    It also helps that I don’t attend too many beach parties either, although I will admit that I am probably a little more socially awkward as a result of this schedule. But hey, I’ll take that sacrifice in order to get work done in less than half the amount of time by doing it late at night!

    Good luck and enjoy the experiment!

    • Fabian September 20, 2010

      Ahh, I KNEW there would be SOME owls among my readers! Glad to hear of your experiences, Earl… my first week has been going really great! I still need to get used to it, of course, but the first days have been a pleasant surprise on the productivity side. As you say, things just get done a ot faster in the ease of the evening… I’ll report in more detail soon… :)

  5. James October 2, 2010

    It’s good to see somebody is covering nightowlism. All I ever read about is the virtues of getting up early. It seems to be the holy grail of being productive, every top blogger and writer on the subject seems to push the idea. I think that’s nonsense. It certainly might work for some people, but it’s a scientific fact that people sleep at different times. How can it be beneficial to somebody who is naturally a nightowl, to get up early?

    Unfortunately, as you say, the world is geared towards the early bird. Businesses start early, schools open early. And because I have a four month old baby, I don’t really have much choice regarding what time I get up :D

    Personally, I feel you need to figure out your own routine. Listen to what your body is telling you and sleep as appropriate. It doesn’t matter whether you’re going to bed at 2AM or 10PM, as long as you’re getting enough sleep to feel fresh and alert each day.

    Good luck with your experiment!

    • Fabian October 2, 2010

      Thanks man! While I don’t have kids, two dogs are helping to make this project harder for me (they insist on going for a walk around 6am…)! Still, the experience has been both interesting and quite productive til now, so I’ll probably stick with it, at least to some part, as outlined on my last post on the matter.

Comments are closed.