In Praise of Night Owls

By Stephanie Hammerwold

As I was driving to a seminar that started at 7 a.m. this morning and grumbling about the early hour, I got to thinking about how the workplace is set up in a way that favors morning people. If it was not obvious from my opening sentence, I am a night owl. I always have been. I find that I am most productive during the later hours, and I have always had a hard time working a standard 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule. No amount of coffee makes interacting with people at 8:30 a.m. tolerable for me. Yet, for most of my working life and even going back to my school days, my schedule involved early mornings. I think night owls are sometimes misunderstood because we don’t always fit well in the morning person world.

Being a Night Owl Doesn’t Mean You’re Lazy

Years of having to be at work by 8:30 or earlier have ruined my ability to sleep in. I would much rather stay up until 1 or 2 a.m. and then get up around 9 or 10 a.m., but that’s just not the way the world is set up. Attending meetings and seminars, talking to clients and running errands often requires morning availability. Over the years I have received grief from others when I talk about sleeping in—there seems to be this assumption that I enjoy sleeping in because I am lazy. I think I speak for a lot of night owls when I say, we are not lazy. We just happen to be more productive when all the morning people are already retiring for the day.

Despite the fact that not all of us are on friendly terms with the morning hours, workplaces (particularly office jobs) rely on a schedule that best suits morning people. Granted, we have established that business hours are roughly 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., so this makes sense. But working for myself has taught me a lot about when work can be done. I typically have calls and emails that need to be done during daylight hours, but quite a bit of my work involves writing, researching and drafting policies and other similar projects. Being able to plan these projects so that I do not have to complete them during the early morning hours has made me much more productive. I am no longer dragging my feet the way I would in the corporate environment when I was working traditional business hours.

Working without Distractions

One thing I enjoy about getting things done later in the day is that there are fewer distractions. The phone rings less, and people are less likely to email. By 10 p.m., the world is peaceful, and even the traffic noise in my neighborhood has dropped to almost nothing. In the calm of the night, I find that I am at my most creative. When all the hustle and bustle of the daytime has disappeared, it is a world of possibilities.

I recently participated in (and won!) National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). My favorite time to write was at night. I have produced some of my best writing when it is dark out. By contrast, trying to craft coherent sentences in the early morning hours is a fruitless endeavor.

How to Work in a Morning Person’s World

So, how do night owls adapt to a morning person’s world? For me, I have been lucky enough to leave the corporate world and focus on building my own business endeavors. I am less tired than I used to be and happier because I can often set a sleep schedule that is more in line with what my body craves. But not everyone is in a position where they can work for themselves.

For business owners, I think offering flexible work schedules, when possible, is a good start. If you have an office where most people work a schedule that requires an early morning start, ask yourself if it is necessary to have everyone there at an early hour. Staggering start times has its advantages beyond accommodating night owls. You can keep your office open longer hours because not everyone will be gone by 5 p.m. Also, to the seminar planners out there, I would not mind having a few seminars in the afternoon rather than all these early morning times.

Night owls, how do you cope with being in a morning person’s world?