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Posted: September 11, 2012

Productivity tips from a night owl

You can catch the worm at midnight, too

Derek Murphy

The early bird catches the worm.

I hate that phrase.

I find it irritating because of the origin behind it, the idea that to succeed, you must wake up and get to work early. I’m going to have to disagree with this concept.

I’m a night owl. I have little desire to be up at 6 a.m., unless I absolutely must. I’ve tried many times in my career to be like the rest of the working population by being a morning person and one of the first to work. That concept got old real fast.

I’ve learned that I’m most productive anywhere from 10 a.m. till midnight, sometimes even later. Truthfully, I used to feel in the minority about this viewpoint.

After all, many respected business leaders abide by the idea that success comes right after the sun rises.

What about those who consider themselves night owls? Are we left to starve while the birds eat all the worms?

Luckily, the answer is no.

The productivity of night owls and early birds (otherwise known as people) was conducted and the results were published in the journal, Science. The research stated that while all of the participants slept about seven hours a night, the early risers woke up about four hours earlier in the day than the night owls.

The results showcased that both groups seem to perform similarly on the tasks during the day, but after about 10 hours, the early birds showed lower levels of activity relating to attention when compared with night owls. Apparently these early birds felt tired and didn’t react as quickly. The researchers claimed that early birds might actually need more sleep than the night owls.

The conclusion? Those who have an inner night owl clock aren’t less efficient and may actually be more productive throughout the day.

Sounds about right to me. Now I do understand some people hold positions where it makes sense for them to be in the office first thing in the morning. For jobs that don’t require an early morning presence, I’m very much in the mindset that people can and should work when they feel most productive.

If you’re a fellow night owl, make sure you maintain high energy levels. Here are some productivity tips to keep your energy levels up no matter what time it is. 

• Make sure you are meeting your own performance expectations. When people see you working hard and meeting your expectations, they are more likely to use you as a role model. Your team members look to you to set the pace and provide a role model for hard work and quality.

• Make sure you have a clear-cut, long-range goal for yourself. Then establish what you will need to do and what attitudes you will need to have in order to achieve it.

• Put your action step for your development goals on your daily "to do" list and make it the number-one priority. Do one thing every day, even if it is a small step, to move toward your goals.

• Typically, your greatest successes will come from leveraging your strengths. Broaden and improve your strengths by finding new ways to use these skills and by pursuing assignments that stretch your skills even farther.

Energy is actually contagious and it can inspire people to get them moving toward achieving their goals, which may actually help them catch that worm. Or something.


Derek Murphy is CEO of TBC, a global assessment company with over 4 decades of experience, specializing in 360s and survey customization. Our hosting platform, TruScore®, allows you to manage all of your talent management assessments in one central location. Request a demo to discover why some of the most recognized brands in the Fortune 1000 chose TBC.

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

Great article. I, too, am a Night Owl. Another study showed that Night Owls are actually MORE productive than Morning Larks. We also are more adaptable. Those who are Night Owls are utilizing a strategy that is recent evolution (since the advent of lights at night) rather than being tied to the Sun (which would be quite hot...) So....I've put it to my advantage. I don't see people before 11 AM, but I CAN see clients after work and even on weekends (so long as it is Saturday AFTERNOON, not morning....). I still work 10 hour days (or more) but have those days scheduled during my "awake times." By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2012 09 11
I agree that each individual should find their most productive hours, but I think our culture makes this a little challenging. I'm a morning person but if I were not, my business still needs to respond to client needs during normal working hours so becoming a night owl isn't really an option. I can't imagine it would go over well to advise my clients that I'm happy to be responsive to their needs, but it'll have to be after 10AM. Good thoughts though for people who can captain their ship more independently! By Sandy on 2012 09 11
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