Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Ya Snooze, Ya Lose: One of the enduring myths of the working world is that there is a correlation between waking up early and productivity. This particular form of insanity is left over from the days pre-electrification, when to make the most out of a day you needed to make the most of the sunlight. (The face-slapping irony of this being that, if you work in an office, maximizing your time working during sunlit hours often means you see a minimum of the sun.)

An article in today's WSJ sums it up well (can't link -- it's for paying subscribers only):
Of all the gulfs in understanding at the office, among the most difficult to bridge is that between morning and night people. On the one hand, think bushy-tailed company lawyers who eat lunch at 11 a.m. On the other, consider the bleary-eyed techies for whom the only thing as bad as waking up early is the people who enjoy it so loudly.
The conflict between the morning larks and the night owls would be the office equivalent of the Bloods versus the Crips if, at any given time, one gang weren't so pooped.

But we're not talking about a fair fight here. The 9-to-5 shift overwhelmingly favors larks. When has anyone complained that employees show up too early? Owls, on the other hand, are frequently stigmatized as recalcitrant slugabeds who fritter time and resources on the company's dime.

That stigma is just another sign that shallow emblems of productivity impress American managers more than results. After all, the 9-to-5 shift has become an anachronism in the 24-hour global economy. It fails to take into account the impact of e-mail and other technologies in making traditional work hours less relevant.

It also ignores biology. High schools and colleges have finally woken up to that fact, increasingly delaying the beginning of classes to better suit the biological clocks of students whose sleep cycles naturally slip later into the night. "It is absolutely crazy to expect high-school and college students to learn things at 7 a.m.," says Timothy Monk, director of the Human Chronobiology Research Program at the University of Pittsburgh.

Similarly, he says. "it makes more sense for [employees] to work during hours they are productive than some artificial 9-to-5 schedule."

Amen. I can state pretty accurately that my most productive hours at work are between 3-6 pm. In fact, back when I used to have to work enormous amounts of overtime, I would regularly leave work for dinner and come back to put in two or three more hours in the evening because it just felt much easier for me to do that.

The truly annoying thing about morning people is the priggish attitude they carry. The office world is designed for them and they can't fathom why anyone would be any other way except weakness of will. Drag yourself in anytime later than 9am you will no doubt encounter someone who has already been at work for three hours and is pressing you for an answer to some horribly complicated question before you have even made it to the coffee machine. They preen like this in the hopes you will be shamed out of your slovenly habits by their early-bird sanctimony.

In a more civilized world, these people could be maced. They are like nagging spouses who can't understand why you are like you are so they just nag and harp on it in the hopes that you'll see the light and reform yourself to be more like them. Their thinking is inflexibly dogmatic: "You're more productive in the afternoon? How can that be? That's just crazy talk. You're gonna need to get yourself motivated."

Morning people are worse than Hitler. There, I said it.

Well, to all of you early birds reading this let me just say congratulations, you got the worm. Hope it was tasty. Oh, by the way, I've scheduled a staff meeting for 6pm, you don't mind staying late, do you? You do? Well, you're gonna need to get yourself motivated.