Early Birds, Night Owls, and Getting It Done

Early BirdsI hate mornings. I pretty much always have (see photographic evidence below). That said, as an adult I’ve had to force myself to shift my natural sleep cycle quite a bit earlier than I’d like it to be, on account of pesky factors like “having a job.” Lately, as my evening commitments have grown more intense, I’ve even been able to bang out the occasional a.m. workout. It makes me feel like I don’t even know myself anymore.

All of this is to say, I am totally on board with any ideas to squeeze more quality out of my day. So of course I clicked on Peter Shankman’s post earlier this week on Medium about finding time for the things that matter to you. And I agreed with his central point: That if you make something a priority and get creative about your schedule, you can make that priority activity happen. Where I found myself shaking my head was his assertion that a great way to do this is by becoming a morning person. He even linked to a 2011 post of his with 10 ways to become one, including having a pet who wakes you up early (Pro tip from my cat to yours: This does not net you extra treats or affection and you might wind up cloistered in the guest bedroom for hours).

Nope, no thanks, no mornings for me. Around 13 months old.
Nope, no thanks, no mornings for me. Around 13 months old.

As a lifelong night owl, albeit one who does try to adapt to early morning activities, I believe it’s not just about the time of day. It’s also the quality of my energy and mood at that time of day. As a data devotee, I know that my early morning runs are typically slower than ones in the afternoon or evening and feel less satisfying. I may be able to get reasonably decent work done in the morning, but I have my best focus and creativity later on. What I do find helpful is to use those morning hours when I am feeling groggy and grumpy to take care of boring, rote tasks. It’s a good time to do dishes, for example.

I don’t think it’s an accident that when she made a list of personal preferences that might influence habit formation in Better Than Before, the very first item Gretchen Rubin included was whether one is a lark or an owl. A lark herself, she writes, “Larks are likely to be happier, healthier, and more satisfied with life than Owls–in part, because the world favors Larks. Owls fall asleep later than Larks do, and because work, school, and young children start early, Owls get less sleep, which makes their lives harder.” Rubin’s advice? Take your personal preference into account when trying a new habit to increase your likelihood of success.

This lifelong Owl agrees. Sure, I could force myself into a regular morning routine, and sometimes do when left without other options. But a happier and healthier me is one whose challenging tasks coincide with the times that I am most alert and focused: The afternoon and evening. More isn’t always better. That’s why if something really matters to me, I try to experience it as my best self, later in the day.19