Nightowlism: The First Two Weeks

NightowlismIt’s 11:24pm and I am working. I must be doing something right. In three words, nightowlism is awesome. It’s also quite challenging, to be honest. Here are a few remarks, two weeks into my experiment of working at night.

Get earplugs. The first day was… well, the first day. Highly motivated, highly engaged. I got a lot of stuff done, in just two hours from 9:43pm til about midnight. It was a huge hit, but then the morning came. Movement began around me, the dogs started barking and running through the apartment, the kid next door woke up screaming. The day started way too early and I could feel already that the second night wouldn’t be so easy. In the evening, I was tired early on, and day 2 was the first day of skipping.

People and peers.
I tried to explain what I was up to to my wife. She smiled and nodded friendly and then asked where we would be going at night. Hmm. Not easy. What’s more, she goes to bed pretty early, and thus also gets up right with the sun. This is, for me, the toughest thing when it comes to nightowlism. As much as I enjoy the atmosphere of working at night, this kind of lifestyle seems to be more appropriate if you are living with other owls, or as a single.

Day 3 of #Nightowlism: I’m getting used to it already. (Plus: A cold, cold beer CAN help productivity!)

Silence. As it turns out, the silence at night is pure gold. Twitter is quiet. (I love leaving it open just to get rid of some thought from time to time, or chime in with the thoughts of others.) There are no kids playing outside, and much fewer cars. It’s also cooler, here in the Caribbean, so that helps a lot.
A cold, cold beer is great in these moments. And yes, it also helps to get the stuff written. I never believed in the theory of rewarding yourself after finishing a productive day. But I do believe that making the productive time more enjoyable by treating yourself nicely while you’re at it can help indeed. Beer is the nightowl’s cup of coffee, or so it seems.

Different times for different tasks. Editing sucks. There’s just no way for me to get it done at night. While this bothered me at first, it’s really a great lesson: Different tasks require different times. Different environments, different flows of energy, different moods probably. A different focus. For me, writing at night comes easy, and it feels totally natural – but when I have to focus on grammatical and spelling errors, or on taking out what’s just not good enough or useful for the post, nights don’t seem to be the right time to do it.

Early bird productivity. This leads to doing things during the day. For example, although I wrote this piece during my night owl sessions, I am editing it now, at 6:48am. This early bird productivity once led me to be unwilling of working at night because I had accomplished so much during the day. I just skipped the evening. (Yes, I’m an idler.)

Two sides of energy management. One thing is not to go swimming until exhaustion right before starting your night shift. Sun is a real killer, too. We all know it: Run around a day sight-seeing or doing errands and you are ready to sleep at 7pm. Not helpful, if you want to become a productive night owl.
The other thing is sitting in front of a computer all day long and then trying to work in the evening. Don’t laugh, it can happen. I was reading about ten hours or so (books are hard to get here, especially if you have an eclectic taste, so it’s 90% ebooks for me), and then wondered why I wasn’t willing to write anything in the evening. Maybe it was because my eyes were bleeding… I couldn’t probably have known that from the start, could I?

I will continue with the experiment. There are still two weeks to go. I don’t even want to talk about this yet, but it seems as if we’re up for another lesson on balance: Instead of trying to work only at night, I’ll probably end up consciously splitting up my tasks over different hours. This seems to be the most productive approach, and with some experimentation it should be doable. What I’m lacking, for now, is an intelligent napping schedule. Sounds like something worth trying…


  1. Well Fabian, it sounds like you are really being aware of what you’re doing and discovering when you work best and at what kind of task – for me, I can’t function at work if I stay up late so first thing would probably be the best time to get my writing done. I can sit down and do my 750 words in the evening but that’s just banging them out, not really taking time to edit and improve, so I’m going to try and do it in the morning during October.

    If I wasn’t working though, I’m pretty sure I’d be a night owl too, but it might also affect my relationship because my girlfriend is definitely an early bird also!

    1. Hey Milo, thanks for sharing your thoughts! 750 words can always be done indeed… early in the morning, late at night, it doesn’t matter! The important thing is to get them written… :)
      But yes, the real trick with this whole early bird versus night owl stuff is managing your social life and your day job, if you have one. When I was working in Germany, thankfully it was in an office where everybody could come and go as he/she wanted. The important thing was getting the job done, so normally before 10 or 11am things were reaaaally quiet around there…

  2. Glad to see that this experiment is proving somewhat successful! It’s funny that I came across this post after working from midnight-4:00am last night. And I had one of my most productive nights in a while.

    I have yet to try the cold beer method so thank you for sharing that advice. Usually, I use the chocolate brownie method which seems to keep me wide awake for the right amount of time to get enough work completed.

    1. Chocolate brownie sounds great, but what about the liquids? (Should we write an ebook called “Brain food for night workers – The comprehensive guide”, or something like that?)
      My dogs are doing their best to ruin the experiment these days… waking me up at 6am to take them for a walk, now that my early-riser wife is traveling… ouch…

      1. For liquids…I stick with water. Plain, boring water.

        And I could see how the dogs would present an additional challenge. I’m not sure I would survive nightowlism if I had to wake up before 10am!

        1. The last night was tough. Too much rain, driving one of the dogs crazy… I’m totally sleepy today. So much for that. :-/

  3. This post strikes a chord with me as you know, getting increasingly nocturnal, although went to sleep at 10 last night and up at 9am on a Sunday, for me, unheard of!
    Sounds like you’re getting a lot out of it Fabian. I love the stillness and quiessence of late nights too, perfect writing time I agree, so long as you swithc twitter off cos that never sleeps! The hardest thing is the lack of harmony with your partner. A special effort has to be made to make the most of the time you have together I find, but it’s not easy.
    Good luck with the rest of your experiment. Jools

    1. As for Twitter, it depends certainly a lot on how many people you follow, plus the time zone differences. For me nights are rather quiet, so I love to log in from time to time to see who else is still working. A bit like my time of night office… at my last job, there were many night owls, and we would arrive there at 4pm or so, have coffee, and then smoothly get going. It’s nice to be accompanied by similar-minded people! I agree with you on the need to calibrate things with your partner, of course… still struggling here! ;)
      Thanks for stopping by, Jools!

  4. Hi Fabian,

    I love your experiment with nightowlism. Who says we should all work 9 to 5? A basic tenant of the “Slow Philosophy” is to Tempo Guisto or finding your own rhythm. A friend of mine is naturally a night owl, he struggled for years trying to work and live “normal” hours, but eventually gave up and works almost permanent night or late shifts. He has found getting into his own rhythm has increased his energy and he sleeps a lot less, he only needs around 4-6 hrs a night, which means he is often up and about by midafternoon giving him time in the “normal day” to catch up with things.

    1. Hi Matt, thanks for your comment! I believe that tempo giusto is really an important concept that should be applied in daily life. The example you describe is so typical! There are millions of people struggling with it because the think they are “wrong” – just because we live in a (mostly) early bird society. Still a long way to go, then, but here we are. :)

  5. Hi Fabian, I was intrigued by this because so many productivity posts are about getting up early! I like how you are bucking the trend :) I have tried to get up early but the peace of the night when almost everyone else is sleeping calls to me. I have to stifle a laugh when the dentist’s office asks if I want that 8:20 am appointment. Even though I’m productive at night I try not to get too out of sync with the rest of the world so I can still meet people for lunch!

    1. Haha, gotta hate these morning appointments! A good strategy, though, to get up early enough to meet people for lunch! :)
      Thanks for passing by and commenting, Jennifer, it’s much appreciated!

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