5 Tricks for Night Owls to Be as Productive as Early Birds

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The best job of my life was also the worst.

I loved the assignments and my co-workers, but reporting at 5 a.m. was pure torture. My mornings were a blur of staggering around like a zombie. I clocked out each day at 3 p.m., but I couldn’t enjoy carefree afternoons and evenings – a benefit everyone assured me would come with an early shift. I was too tired to do much except to try to sleep earlier so I could be fresh in the morning. It never worked.

If you’ve also tried to force yourself into early morning routines with no success, don’t blame yourself. Blame biology. New research reported in Cell shows that genetics can determine your early-late preference via a form of insomnia called delayed sleep phase disorder. The bottom line – you may be wired to be a Night Owl.

While you can’t change your genetic makeup, you can adopt some strategies to make your days — yes, even mornings — more palatable and productive.

Never leave work without a plan for the next day

Man's hand writing on white board.
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No, don’t spend hours writing a report, but do write at least a few lines about people to contact, projects to fine-tune and appointments to keep. It allows you to use your day’s-end clarity to prioritize your tasks and keep track of details you might forget when you arrive a little bleary in the morning. You’ll be surprised at how a simple note, such as “Call Sally Jones at 233-333-1111 to discuss our meeting. Notes in Folder A,” can make your life easier and mornings more productive. I’ve done this for years, and it’s saved me plenty of wasted hours.

Plan to work evenings

Young woman working at desk in low light
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Before you balk, consider that early risers always gloat (Well, they do!) about how productive they are before everyone else starts work. You’ll reap the same reward if you flip the script and work late after others have clocked out. I have found the evenings — when people are eating dinner, exercising or spending time with their families — are the perfect time to delve into intense work. Worried you’ll miss out on personal fun and family plans? Limit your evening work hours to one or two nights a week, at least to start. If you are lucky enough to have a very flexible schedule, you may want to keep evenings open for family time and work later into the night.

Prepare for low-energy times

Woman at desk organizing papers.
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Schedule your work around your energy patterns. Use mornings to work on the must-do items on the list you made the night before. Some things just can’t wait. Many people – even night owls – prefer to complete a major task first thing so it doesn’t get waylaid. (For some inspirational thoughts on the subject, check out “Eat that frog!” by motivational consultant Brian Tracy.) No pressing deadlines? Spend mornings on mundane but essential tasks like sorting email, organizing files, reading work-related reports and returning calls. Plan your most detailed work projects for afternoon and evening. The caveat is that you must make sure tasks that arise throughout the day don’t distract you from your critical projects. Just because everyone else signs out at 5 p.m. doesn’t mean you should. They may have started work hours before you did. Remind yourself you have a different schedule.

Resist the urge to stay up all night

Woman falling asleep at desk.
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Yes, you’re a night person, but a lot of the world isn’t. Don’t stay up all night working, though your energy level may tempt you to do so. If you succumb, you’ll want to sleep later than you should the next morning and will be completely out of sync with everyone else. Set a time to stop working at night and stick with it.

Spend some time at night on mundane personal tasks

Men's clothes laid out in an orderly fashion.
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Take a shower. Set out your clothes. Pack your briefcase or organize your handbag. The goal is to prepare so you spend as little time as possible on such tasks in the morning. You want to get up, grab what you need and go. Morning people get all the credit for productivity, but night owls can accomplish just as much when they devise a routine tuned to their natural rhythms.

Are you a night owl or an early bird? Share your experiences with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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