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.


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

Comments are closed.