Dedicated entrepreneurs often burn the midnight oil. But how many miss out on the refreshing solitude of watching the office wake up?
For risibly unscientific reasons, I've concluded more CEOs are owls than larks. Over the years I've heard countless business leaders describe their 80-hour workweeks in last-car-out-of-the-parking lot terms. It's an existence of flickering fluorescents; take-out dinners, and the clatter of cleaning staff emptying trash. As these leaders sit nodding over their stacks of reports, the day's stresses, frustrations, and failures hang in the air around them like stale smoke.
If I owned a company I would work long hours too, but I'd burn my candle at the front end. That's because I love offices at dawn. I want to be there as pale light washes slowly over the utilitarian landscape of desks and computers. I enjoy the hush that plays prelude to the soundtrack of workaday activity.
Every place I have worked has had at least one great reading chair. It is soft and deep and broad; but it is often in the preferred spot for small-team meetings, so I'm lucky to steal ten minutes there. At 6 a.m. I can usurp that chair for a full hour and churn through the newspaper in comfort and quiet. Sometimes I take off my shoes or drape my legs over the arms without fear of being discovered in professional flagrante delicto. Night breeds similar solitude, of course. But by then my newspaper is reduced to relic, and all I want is to go home.
I like to make the first pot of coffee. I like to drink the first pot of coffee; then pretend I didn't and start another. Night coffee is queasy making: that burnt smell lingers no matter how thoroughly you rinse the pot. By morning—miraculously—it is gone.
The very early morning is the best time to go desk-browsing. During the day no one spares more than a glance for their colleagues' workspaces. Yet many cubicles are made over into miniature museums of collectibles, galleries of beloved images, scrapbooks of rich family lives. Such exhibits powerfully evoke their curators. As you peruse the idiosyncratic display on a desk, you find yourself looking forward to its occupant walking through the door.
If you walk by an office where a colleague or employee labors after hours, it seems natural to poke in your head and commiserate. But often commiseration devolves into passing the time; and after 6 P.M. another's time is not yours to pass. In the early morning, by contrast, no one is yet late for anything and so conversation is relaxed. During work hours I have argued and gossiped and traded stiff pleasantries with office mates. But my best true "chats" have been with fellow early risers, who usually start to trickle in before 8.
When I gaze out the window at night I see my face floating in dark pool. In the morning I see the world. And I am reminded that everything I do that day will contribute to it.
I'm sure that you know your company better than anyone, that you love it more. Still, try going in some day at dawn and wandering around in the silence. To watch the office wake up is to see it fresh.
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan