Software

10 survival tips for non-morning people

Some people jump out of bed in the morning, hit the ground running, and leave a trail of creative thinking and focused accomplishment in their wake. And then there's the rest of us.

Not a morning person? Me neither. I can barely put two thoughts together before a triple-shot cappuccino and I've never had an insightful idea before noon. Ever.

I've always wondered what's wrong with me, like maybe my mom dropped me on my head when I was little or something like that.

For decades I've felt like a pariah in a morning-centric business world where everybody else seems to get a half day's work done before my brain even begins to engage.

So when I read author Laura Vanderkam's What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, it just reinforced what I've always known: In the working world, the deck's stacked against people who don't do mornings well.

Luckily, I'm a pretty resourceful guy, and over the years, I've learned what works, what doesn't work, and plenty of helpful tips on how to survive in a morning-centric world.

Note: This article is based on an entry in BNET's The Corner Office blog.

1: Cultivate that sort of all-knowing Zen-like image

Most people appear to be way smarter than they really are before they open their mouths. Depending on the meeting, less can definitely be more. If people don't expect you to talk much, they won't know you're a zombie before noon.

2: Block off early mornings on your calendar

Seriously, make up a whole routine you do every morning and tell people you do it religiously -- such as get up at 6, watch CNBC while you exercise, shower, eat, then stroll into work at 9. If you prefer individual excuses, come up with a dozen or so and pull them out whenever you need them.

3: Don't go to bed early; it doesn't help

I've tried it, so don't bother. It has nothing to do with how much sleep you get. It's just how you're wired. So use your evening time to catch up; that's what I do.

4: Get up early and give yourself a big time buffer before a big meeting

If you must be "on" for an important morning meeting, get up really early and eat a decent breakfast. With any luck, you'll fool your brain into thinking it's later than it is.

5: Capitalize on stress

The only thing that really changes the equation is stress and anxiety. I'm not saying you should cultivate it; that's plain silly. But if you're stressed out, you'll find that once the adrenaline wears off, your mind is more engaged than usual.

6: Be productive with brain-dead tasks

Here I describe 11 Ways to Be Productive When You're Brain Dead, like doing expense reports, letting your mind wander, cleaning off your desk, or holding one-on-one meetings with your staff. Amazing what you can get done even without a brain.

7: Enjoy a glass of wine while catching up at night

You need to get critical thinking done sometime, right? I do most of my inspirational thinking late in the day or in the evening, and I've found that a glass or two of wine helps open up those creative pores. Don't go overboard, though, or it'll have the reverse effect. Don't send emails then, either.

8: Don't super-caffeinate

For years I used super-caffeinating as a band-aid, but that only made things worse by making me hyper  -- so I wasn't just brain-dead but brain-dead and nervous. It also kills your stamina by making you crash early.

9: Play the geek card

Everybody expects geeks to be eccentric and "off" because, well, they're generally thought to be a different species. Since nobody expects them to behave normally, they get an enormous amount of latitude.

10: Don't even try to BS anyone or yourself

Stop trying to be like them. Instead, do what I do in the morning: leisurely catch up on what's going on in the world, respond to emails, schmooze a little, do some social networking, whatever works. Own up to it, be straight with people, and above all, take heart. Non-morning people can make it in a morning-person world.

33 comments
gclifton_BANNED1234567891
gclifton_BANNED1234567891

For those of you who aren't aware, here in Anchorage in the summer the sun rises at around 4ish am and sets around 11ish pm. Just the opposite in winter, 9ish am and 4ish pm. I work 7:30am to 4:30pm, and i'm more of a night person. Sunrises and sunsets don't even come into play. Right now mainlining coffee just doesn't cut it! Good thing my 8am weekly meetings are conference calls to Portland, OR, and I get to listen and only answer direct questions.

javana
javana

Unfortunately for me being a night owl on a 28-29 hour cycle (who to be honest really isn't functional before noon, no matter how much sleep I've had), I work with a team of very cheery morning people - including my boss. So while the company I work for is much more flexible in its hours, my section? No way. I take the view of "ok, yes I can be there by 9am but you ain't getting much sense out of me until 11am"... hasn't really worked yet. Course I can kick their butts in the afternoon/late evening... Since we're mentioning them, the best tricks I've found are: 1) Set my alarm at LEAST 30min before I have to get up - I will without fail, press snooze and/or sleep through all noise for this time limit (seriously, 3 alarms and my body still refuses to get up) 2) eye drops - preferrably the very "runny" ones that feel almost like water (plain old saline works quite well). Keep some at your desk or in the fridge (a cold place is best). I find using them to effectively rinse out my eyes will get rid of that gunky feeling and trick me into being awake and alert for around 10-30mins. Not a permanent solution but it is a great pick-me-up before going into a meeting.

InfoSec Master
InfoSec Master

A little caffiene will get you a long way. Go cold turkey on saturday. Sleep/radically - the 28-hour day is fabulous if your job allows (google 28 hour day); but beware, "you either get used to it or have a psychotic breakdown". Sleep/less radical - most geniuses dont have a 8-hour block of sleep. DaVinci, Buckminster fuller, etc. Polyphasic sleep. as simple as the common Siesta. or sleep for an hour or two 4 times a day. search or wikipedia for polyphasic sleep. highly scientific basis. Very helpful if working graveyard shift. Lights (tv) out to sleep; see the sunrise to wakeup. Look for three little birds, by the way (Bob Marley reference) - I find having birdfeeder at window is a great alarm clock as well as highly amusing.

LadyDiTech
LadyDiTech

Love the subject and can't wait to leave a comment, but at 9:50am my brain is still numb and refuses to tackle any coherent thoughts until after noon. I promise to check back later and share my story on this topic!

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

I've ALWAYS done my best work at night; no distractions (or less of them, and the ones that arise are more likely to be welcome ;) ), no rush hour, and best of all I don't have to be around all the grouches that populate the 'productive AM world'! I learned during stints as a writer and entertainer (musician) that daily life is all the more sweet when one joins society after it's wiped the sleepywinks from its OWN eyes. Most people are flat-out jerks before their second cup (or pot) of coffee; I don't want to be in the next lane on the expressway, behind them in line at the bank, or (especially) selling them my wares until they've lost their daily morning-grouch attitude. By the time I'm up and around, the daytime-world seems to have reconciled itself to the day, is on its 'good behavior', and is ready for infiltration by 'creatures of the night' such as myself. Yes, I'm that guy you see at lunchtime in the sidewalk cafe, rubbing sleepywinks, slamming coffee, and smiling at the fresh new day. I get as much done as others; I just did it while you were asleep. If you see me at 6:00AM........I haven't gone to bed yet! Of course, my circadian cycle is enabled by self-employment; if I worked for others I'd be confined to graveyard shift or else suffer swift and reasonable termination.

Duke E Love
Duke E Love

I don't hit my stride until most ppl are ready to call it a day. I consistently do my best work in the wee hours. But they want me to do the 9-5 thing at work. So what if they are squandering the time when I am in the zone and most productive? I go home full of energy and work on the things that I am interested in.

speterson
speterson

I have always said that the only thing mornings are good for is getting a good night's sleep. I work for a school district and most people start their work day between 6 - 7am. These are good tips, although I think there is some variability to #3. I have found that if I CONSISTENTLY get up earlier (7am vs. 8am), I gradually get used to it and shift when my brain starts functioning to be a bit earlier too. I think the "light" thing does help. For awhile I was sleeping in a room where the morning sun shown in the window, and it did wake me earlier and I was more alert from that "natural" wake up. And, over time, I've just trained people to not expect much intelligence from me in the morning. But if they need help in the afternoon (because they're now brain dead), I'm the person they ask.

nyexpat
nyexpat

Seriously. The entire corp. work culture is out of whack. To quote Ricky Gervais, who actually stole my line, What? Are we farmers?! Why not just allow us adults to work on whatever schedule suits us? Sure. There are "flex" schedules out there, although few and far between, but I'm not talking those 7-4, 9-6 b.s. ones. Allow "worker bees" to get there work done according to whatever the deadline is and call it a day. Sure. People can check in on progress, but hopefully, those doing the actual tasks should also keep others in the loop. If everyone does their job, and does it well, who cares when or where they punch in? G-d forbid that I'm able to do the "required" 40 hours of work in probably 30 hours time. Should I be penalized for it? Not! As for workarounds, I always block off time periods on my calendar to try and "dis-allow" meetings when I'm "not in the mood." ;-)

WilfredB
WilfredB

Every time you are invited to an 8:30am meeting, say 'sure, as long as we make our next meeting at 6:30pm' - watch the horror enter their eyes - works every time!

PunkRockGeek
PunkRockGeek

The thing that I've found works best for me is to ALWAYS shower in the morning (taking as much time as necessary), rather than before you crash at night. It gives me a few minutes to wash off the blah feeling ... and it's a MUST for me if I want to be completely out of sleep-mode when I get into work :)

sheila.champion
sheila.champion

I'm going to try one of the light wake-up alarms which is supposed to mimic sunrise. One of my biggest problems is waking up before the sun!

leo8888
leo8888

And number 3 is so true. I've found that trying to go to bed early can be counter productive because I just get mad at myself for not being able to fall asleep and that makes insomnia worse. Now I just sit in bed with a book and sometimes a glass of wine or something with a shot or two of rum or scotch for nights when I'm really wired.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

I was really hoping there was a way to make this work. I have been getting up around 6am every day for months and I figured that I would eventually get used to it. Apparently not. I still can't sleep until midnight and I feel like 5-6 hours of sleep is not enough. I don't drink coffee. What works for me: Exercise! I have been riding my bike to work and I arrive wide awake and ready to go. The blood circulation banishes the zombie until noon. Then I go to lunch after which I feel like I am going to die standing up. The only thing that really helps is if I can get more sleep and more exercise but as Steve says, it's hard to go to bed early. If you don't get enough sleep it will make it harder to get that morning exercise and the downward spiral continues. At least I am not alone in this. Night owls be validated! Hoot!

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

I give myself a 3-4 hour buffer when things need doing before 0900. You left out, work evenings and/or graveyards. Consigned myself to that ages ago. Side benefit? You're always driving the opposite of rush hour traffic. :D

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

but it's 3:00 in the afternoon and my morning-oriented brain is no longer productive this late in the day. :D This is the time I move equipment, pass paperwork off to others, re-image hard drives; all that brain dead routine stuff.

Robiisan
Robiisan

They took volunteers deep into an abandoned, then converted-for-research, mine. They had no clocks or any way to determine the passage of time. The volunteers were established into apartments set up for the purpose, with each having an atrium accessible by both the volunteers and the researchers. When they needed something (food, books, whatever), they would leave a note in the atrium. There were sensors to determine when they were up and about within their apartments, and the researchers could determine how long they were awake and how long they slept, as well as when. Supplies would be placed in the atrium for them while they were asleep. They determined that people have circadian cycles that vary in length, as well as the variations from "morning person" to "night owl." Some of the volunteers had cycles as short as 18 hours, sleeping six and waking twelve, before crashing again. Others had much longer cycles than the earth's rotational period - up to almost 40 hours in length. Almost all of them were on the ratio of 1:2 for hours slept vs. hours awake, within one standard deviation and no one exceeded two standard deviations. In a period of unemployment, I chose to experiment on myself. Ignoring clocks and just listening to my body, sleeping when I felt tired and working on home projects, honing my skills, training, etc. when I was awake, I found that I have an approximately 30 to 32 hour cycle. I am still in the 1:2 ratio, sleeping a bit more than 10 hours, but working for the next 20 or so before I fade out again. That said, I find I am still constrained by the regimen of the earth's rotation that most people use (sigh!). As such, I best fit the profile of a night person. I would love to watch more sunrises, but only if they happen around noon. I am more focussed and alert in the evenings and often find my best inspirations for my projects occur then. I am seldom in bed before 11:00 pm and more often it is 1 or 2 before I tunr the machine off and crawl between the sheets. In self defence, since I am not getting the ten hours of sleep I "need," I refuse to schedule an appointment or meeting (nor do I attend them) before 10 am. I am only marginally functional then, but at least I can cope when asked questions, as long as they aren't more involved than, "How's your wife?" or "Going to the game on Saturday?" Technical requirements usually get a response something like, "Let me research that and get back to you tomorrow." Then I'll spend most of the evening resolving the issue, after my wife has gone to bed, usually around 8 or 9 (she's a morning person and wakes up before the chickens).

tcseattle
tcseattle

These are right on. I find numbers 1 and 2 particularly effective. I do IT at a construction company. It's an early start-industry with a lot of people at work by 6 am (some at 5 am), with 7 being considered pretty late. I used to try to get here by 7 when the office opened, but I usually failed miserably and the more annoying clock-watchers complained about special treatment (even though I worked well after they left). Finally my boss said that I should officially shift my schedule to starting at 9. Since most people don't have a clue about exactly what I do, it's possible to cultivate a bit of an air of mystery and eccentricity. I have a few explanations if anyone asks: - I have to do stuff on the servers after everyone is gone for the day, so shifting my schedule to work after everyone logs out makes sense (true, but a lot more occasional than I imply) - I'm bombarded with questions and issues most of the day and I need a few hours to get my own work done once things quiet down (true) - A lot of my projects are complex and I need to be able to concentrate on them continuously for long periods (true...show someone some SQL code and theyll back off quickly and say theyd never want my job. Also good for justifying work-from-home days since most people don't have that option) - My brain functions better in the afternoon and evening (true, but usually said jokingly) - I'm anti-social until after 9 am (true, but also said jokingly) - I take my brother to school (true, but unfortunately he got his own car now. It helped keep me on schedule) - I like to avoid traffic (true-ish, but more of an excuse) Other strategies: - I don't advertise exactly when I get here and people have gotten used to it being a bit erratic - Answer the early bird emails from my Blackberry whenever possible, since that usually doesn't require much brain-power - Log in from home to deal with bigger things (then casually mention that youre late because of that) - Subtly encourage later meeting times, but come in for the occasional early morning ones without complaining about it

SKDTech
SKDTech

I can hop out of the bed and get on with whatever I need to do. But on the flip side of the equation, I have a tendency to stay up all hours of the night if I don't watch the clock and I rarely feel tired when I lay down for my nightly five hours. As long as I am actively engaged in something I never seem to notice the passage of time, but the second I start lounging on the couch to watch a movie I start doing my bobblehead impression. Maybe it comes from my years in the Navy, having adjusted to a schedule of sleeping whenever I'm not moving and rarely having more than six hours at a stretch when I was allowed to sleep just destroyed any semblance of a circadian rhythym.

Slayer_
Slayer_

But I am not a noon-afternoon person, from 12:00 to 4:00 I am brain dead. Sometimes in the morning I do good, sometimes its more an evening thing. My brain is broken...

gharlow
gharlow

Early morning types view getting up late as laziness. There is NO way to escape this. I run my own business and it does not matter...

plids
plids

I like your input. What kind of work you do, if I may ask.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

This 9-5 that people call "normal" is relatively new in the history of humanity. Although many people worked 10-12 hours a day during the industrial revolution the consensus among anthropologists, historians and sociologists has been that early hunter-gatherer societies enjoyed more leisure time than is permitted by capitalist and agrarian societies. With "civilization" comes slavery, indentured servatude and an expectation of long work hours. All in the name of a greater good (The King). Our modern corpratocracy is a constant dramatization that uses imagery and illusion to create a status quo or "the norm". By pointing out how bad it is for everyone else they seek to instill a sense of "it could be worse". The middle class Americans are bombarded by the idea that we are doing so well as our true wealth erodes. Those who seek to stop the erosion are labeled greedy by the ultra-rich whose greed knows no bounds.

GSG
GSG

Early meetings are scheduled when we have clinical staff that need to be there. They need to be in the meeting before patients start arriving, and they work until the last patient is taken care of. If there are emergencies, then that could be quite late at night. So, despite me being a night owl, and having to drive for an hour to get to work, I suck it up and make it to the 6:30 or 7am meeting. On the plus side, since I have a flexible schedule, that means I can leave early on Friday.

nyexpat
nyexpat

WifredB, I like that idea!

tcseattle
tcseattle

I've always wondered if these things work. I laugh at people who say they can set a cell phone alarm to wake up. For me, it usually takes a combination of three alarms to get me up in the morning. One clock has two alarms. I set the first to turn on the radio to try to make a dent in my consciousness before the second beeping alarm starts blaring (which doesn't necessarily wake me up either). The third is this alarm I got from the Sharper Image years ago. It has a really obnoxious alarm to start with, but you can also change the volume and pitch of it if you start to get used to sleeping through it. The best part though is that there is this vibrating disk you can plug into it. The theory is that you put it under your mattress or pillow and it shakes the bed. That was only semi-successful, but I figured out if I have it on the bedside table, it makes an extremely obnoxious noise that has always woken me up (if you don't attach it though, it vibrates itself right off and you lose the effect). One or both of these clocks is across the room so that I can't just keep hitting snooze without every waking up. And I???ve finally trained myself to only hit snooze until I???m actually up because it's too easy to shut them off and then go back and lay down.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Us evening people are superior. We can defeat you at night when you are asleep.

mike
mike

Hi SKDTech Do you by any chance have low blood pressure? Do you also feel colder the moment you stop?

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

I've gotten heat for leaving at 15:30, when I got to work at 06:30. The idiot manager gave me a hard time for leaving early.

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

play and teach music, and sell art/crafts I make (at festivals). Disabled veteran since the 1970s; trying to keep busy......routing inlays by moonlight; typical TR enthusiast/commentor, right?!

robo_dev
robo_dev

I do my bidding at night, honing my evil plans to defeat and conquer the morning people. This has backfired a couple of times when I see this bright orange ball rise from the Eastern sky and realize I may have miscalculated a bit.

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