Tim Cook famously rises at 3:45 AM. That sounds impressive and productive and all that until you realize that for Cook to get up that early and still get 8 hours of sleep, he needs to be in bed by 7:45 PM.
Hey, what kind of lazy, low-energy loser goes to bed before the sun sets? Cook touts that he gets the jump on everyone else by getting up so early. Well, ha-ha, when I'm up and writing at 1:45 AM, I'm getting 2 hours worth of jump on HIM.
To my mind, these sad, sorry souls who rise before dawn miss the most creative part of the day--the two hours on either side of midnight. That's the perfect time to innovate; you know what happened during the day and most people are asleep so you won't be bothered.
OK, I'll bet that right about now, some readers are going "but.. but... but... sleeping until noon is crazy." Nope. Late rising is genetically normal for about 30% of the population. What's crazy is that CEO demand work hours that force night owls to be early birds.
Whether you're a early bird or a night owl (or somewhere in between) is hard-wired into your genetics. So hard-wired, in fact, that it shows up while you're still a fetus and have never seen sunlight (or any other kind of light.)
According to Dr. Matthew Walker, the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California at Berkeley, night owls pay a huge cost when they're forced to rise early. As Walker told the New York Times,
"their prefrontal cortex, which controls sophisticated thought processes and logical reasoning, remains in a disabled, or 'offline,' state. Like a cold engine in an early-morning start, it takes a long time before it warms up to operating temperature."
Ain't that the truth? (30% of you know exactly what I mean.)
CEOs who insist that everyone should be rising at dawn are being ridiculous. Expecting a night owl to be fully awake and functioning for an 8:00 AM meeting is as unreasonable as expecting a giant to work at a kindergarten desk.
What's even more annoying about these expectations is that early birds are so damn self-righteous about it. They act as if something is wrong with ME when I tell them I can't make an early meeting. How would they like it if I expected them to meet with me at 11:00 PM?
The workplace prejudice in favor of early birds is particularly stupid considering that, on average, night owls are score higher on generalized intelligent tests) and are more creative than early birds.
Why would companies claim that they want to hire smart, creative people and then hobble the brains of those exceptional people by expecting them to keep a farmer's hours?
With that in mind, I have three suggestions about how companies can stop wasting high-priced brain power:
1. Allow employees to work from home.
As I've explained previously, working from home makes employees happier and more productive. That's especially true of night owls who often use work from home as a way to control their sleeping schedule.
For example, I have always gotten far more accomplished when I've been free to work late and sleep in. The two decades I worked in a regular "9 to 5" office were comparatively unproductive because half the time I was only half awake.
2. Only call meetings between noon and 4:00 PM.
Anything earlier than noon is unfair to the night owls and anything later than 4:00 PM is unfair to the early birds. If you can't fit all of your meetings into a four hour window, you're having WAY too many of them.
3. Stop shaming your night owls.
Treating night owls as lazy losers because they can't function in the morning is as stupid as treating early birds as lazy losers because they're tired by early evening. Bosses should strive to get the best out of every worker, which means adapting to some degree to what works for them, not what works for you.
Finally, if you're a night owl like me, stop apologizing. Instead, craft a career (as I have) where you can work as late as you want and sleep in when you need to. I made the leap to full night owlishness over two decades past. I've never looked back.
Quick note: I'm writing this at 10 PM. My wife has been asleep for over an hour because she's got a job where she must rise at 5:30. Luckily, she's an early bird. Meanwhile, I have at least 4 hours of productive time yet to go. Hey, it works for us.
Another note (added 8/29): Entirely by coincidence, my fellow Inc.com blogger Tom Koulopoulos wrote yesterday night on this exact same subject, also admitting to the world that he's a night owl. Funny thing: I've known Tom for 30 years and neither of us had any idea that the other person was a night owl. Which is sad, in a way, because it shows how much us night owls have had to closet our owlishness.