An owl’s morning

Only the ‘Hitlers of the world’ work at night; no honest artist does.” — W. H. Auden

I’m writing this for other owls who cannot (or don’t want to) follow their natural tendency to wake up late and go to bed late.

I’m pretty sure I’m an owl. I never am at my best the mornings, I only did OK, even as a kid going to school in the early morning. During my 20s I enjoyed the freedom (and the associated excesses) of staying up late and waking up even later. My rule of thumb became to never wake up after 12pm, no matter how tired I was. That kept the chaos at bay.

Now, in my mid-thirties and with a baby, this approach is simply untenable. I tried early rising quite systematically during the past year, and it didn’t work either. At 5-6am I do have creative energy and it can be a productive time of the day. The problem is the inevitable slump that comes afterwards, even with a good night of sleep before. The other problem is that I love working in the evening, and I hate having to interrupt it to go to sleep.

Even a good early morning work session pales in comparison with a good evening session for me. I function best at night in terms of work. Creative ideas do happen in the morning, but the night is where I can lay the best brick.

After a couple of years of experimenting, I found something that works. I start the morning as late as I can (which these days is usually 730am, but if it was up to me would be 9am) and have a slow start to the day, but still quite systematic: meditation, logging, and then an hour of learning. Not jumping right into work and having a set of pleasant (or routine) activities gets me going. By the time 9am-10am comes by, I can start work.

Something that supremely doesn’t work for me is working out in the morning. It can be done and it feels good, but it burns an inordinate amount of willpower. I can get the workout done at noon with half the mental resistance. (interestingly enough, it also becomes harder to work out in the afternoon or evening; noon or very early afternoon seems to be the point of least resistance).

At 12-13, I have already some work done, plus the learning, and usually the workout. My brain kicks in more fully and work happens much more naturally.

Work in the afternoon and evening happens bimodally: before dinner and after dinner. The after dinner work is tricky if you wake up at 730am, but it’s possible. I’m experimenting with a small ritual to go back into work mode after dinner – a main part of it is stopping looking at my phone.

Sleep is essential, so unless I’m churning out exceptional work and can’t stop, I’m in bed with lights out by midnight. I usually stop half an hour before to unwind a bit. Still, it’s interesting to go to bed thinking about work in case solutions pop up during sleep. I schedule my most creative and deep work in the evening.

So, to summarize what I’m doing that seems to work well for me and perhaps for other owls that cannot have an owlish lifestyle (but have some flexibility on their work schedule):

I should note that I used to have a higher octane morning routine and I realized I’m happier with a different, lower octane one, that lets me hit the gas when I’m really ready for it.