5 reasons night owls outperform early birds

Full disclosure: this is partially a self-serving post. I’m a competitive night owl and thus gravitate toward studies that support the underrated and unsurpassed brilliance of night owls.

We recently discussed the trend of extreme transparency in the workplace, focusing on Buffer, where employees know the sleeping habits of their colleagues. Night owls still tend to be regarded with a little bit of suspicion. Sure, even the most old-fashioned bosses tend to be impressed by the occasional burning of midnight oil, but what happens when midnight oil is the norm and 8am coffee is the exception?

Often times, those night owls are outperforming the early birds.

Why?

Superior focus

Here’s where night owls and early birds agree: it’s a special sort of feeling to be locked in a productive groove while the rest of the world sleeps. In the morning, though, the disruptions and distractions are waking up all around you. At night, they’re all fading away. We’re less likely to fall into the trap of multitasking (which hardly anyone does as well as they think). Night owls can generally sustain focus for a longer amount of time than early birds, who tend to hit walls in the late afternoon. Plus, night owls don’t have to waste any time telling their coworkers about how long they’ve been in the office.

The night time is the right time for creativity

Collectively, we’re slowly learning that not everyone thrives equally under identical work conditions. You may notice some correlation between schedule preference and type of job. “Evening types tend to be the more extrovert creative types, the poets, artists and inventors, while the morning types are the deducers, as often seen with civil servants and accountants,” Professor Jim Horne told the Independent.

Creativity and nocturnal habits go so well together that there’s even a Wikipedia section devoted to it. Proust and Joyce are on our team. So is Churchill. So is every musician you love. So are Hitler and Stalin, but shush. Moving on…

It’s evolution, baby

Night owls may be faster to adapt to challenges and changes in your workplace. The proof? They’ve already evolved faster than their peers, shaking off a schedule that once was much more closely tethered to success and survival.

Your circadian rhythms are missing a beat

It’s a lovely idea that an early schedule keeps you connected to your primal self and the tides of the ocean or whatever. Here’s the thing, though: your analytical skills aren’t especially impacted by time of day, but when you need a flash of inspiration to solve a routine-thwarting challenge, you may benefit from ditching your “natural” clock. Marieke B. Wieth and Rose T. Zacks go into (way more) detail in “Time of day effects on problem solving: When the non-optimal is optimal” in the Thinking & Reasoning journal.

Night owls no longer have to fly off the radar

The real lesson for businesses is to let people work to their individual strengths as much as possible. When it comes to schedules, these preferences may even be embedded in our genes. Especially in this new era of workplace flexibility, the focus in many situations should be on the quality of work, not the when or where related to work. If your company can’t quite let everyone off the leash completely, collaboration tools like iMeet Central offer a range of features to assist in oversight and accountability.

Adam McKibbin
Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.

8 Responses to 5 reasons night owls outperform early birds

  1. Isaac Garcia

    For such a self-serving blog article I feel compelled to post an equally self-serving comment. : )

    I am an night owl and have been as long as I can remember. While many parents struggle with their children sleeping – my parents recall story after story of me “not going to sleep at night.” I never made the correlation until I was in my 20s analyzing my productivity cycles. (Unfortunately, my daughter has inherited my same genes…and oddly enough, my son didn’t.)
    All of that being said, there is a strong correlation to early risers and business success. It is not coincidence (at least I do not believe that it is coincidence) that so many of the uber-successful CEOs are early risers.

    See here:
    http://www.businessinsider.com/successful-early-risers-2012-1

    http://www.theguardian.com/money/2013/apr/01/what-time-ceos-start-day

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/17/the-first-thing-these-suc_n_3588482.html

    There is also a strong correlation to success and “lack of sleep.”
    The trend with many of the CEOs is that they are up early….and up late as well.
    Personally, I usually hit the hay sometime between 1130pm-1am. I’m usually up at 6am as well.

  2. New Barbarians

    Thank you, Adam! You’ve made me feel much better about my feeling so good during the later hours! Awakening for a short time in the middle-of-the-night is also quite nice . Early morning? A good time for an hour-long power nap.

  3. Dru

    It can be easier to feel productive at night – partly because you are not having to deal with the same things that your day-time co-workers are interacting with …those pesky things called customers…

    • Slacker Not

      You are correct. If you work with people, they can be a serious distraction. I get more done from 5pm – 6:30pm than from 8am – 5 pm, mostly because my important tasks always get lower billing than others “emergencies” during the day. I’ve been wondering if I just don’t need to adopt a 12-8 shift schedule. I can spend 5 hours solving others issues, then 3 solid hours of the work my company actually pays me for. I am especially protective of my post 5pm work time. When the sales guy sees me in late, he lights up because he seems to think I stayed late just to help him with the quote he is late on or whatever. Bursts his bubble when I tell him I don’t have time and he will need to schedule something for later in the week. I wonder if most people think late workers aren’t somehow doing anything?

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