The More “Professional” Version of the Night Owl

The Beauty of Waking at 4am

In essence, there are two tails in the normal distribution representing the time at which people go to bed. One group (or tail) goes to bed super early, and wakes between 4-6am, and the other tail goes to bed super late between 1-2am, waking at perhaps 10am. A large chunk of people go to bed at between 10pm-12am, waking whenever the hell they can in order to maximize their sleeping time before waking to the horrible sound of their alarms, wishing they had made better choices beforehand, and hating their morning routines.

For me, there is a beauty to working late into the night. It’s quiet. I can finally find my stride and be left the hell alone from the hustle and bustle of the world. I can maintain a steady state of concentration before I realize that I’m the part of something greater—a society if you will. For a good amount of time through high school, and while consulting, I could absolutely crank out some amazing work during the late night and early morning hours, but I would always pay for it later, since society as a whole operated on a schedule that was out of sync with my preferences.

Recently I was on a trip to Hawaii, and during my trip, I maintained my Pacific Time sleep/wake cycle, but this was nice since it meant that I would be waking up at around 5-6am in Hawaiian time. My wife and I would go for nice walks through downtown Oahu that were pleasant because it was quiet, and the sun hadn’t quite begun to rise yet. We would grab a nice breakfast and have wonderful conversations, finally returning to our hotel sometime past 7am. It was fantastic, and made me feel ahead of the curve somehow. I liked that I was able to experience life before society had risen, because it felt like I was getting the drop on the world.

I was reading a few articles about “famous people who wake at the ass crack of dawn,” like Tim Cook, who apparently wakes up at some time around 3am in the damn morning—and goes on to run the damn show. I found it inspiring, though a part of me wants to call bullshit on the way articles can paint an unrealistic picture of high-achieving individuals—making them seem holier than though. In a more simple way, I can really appreciate, and really admire one’s ability to wake at 4am or so, and have a few hours of blissful silence and concentration prior to the rest of the world forcing their inanimate carcasses out of bed at the beck and call of a howling electronic device.

Today I am writing this a little after 6am. I was able to get up much earlier than normal—while still not 4am, and am reminded of the beauty of my time before dawn in Hawaii.

The reality is, there is only a minute difference between night owls, and morning owls, and that is that morning owls are getting their drop of the world by waking ahead of the curve, whereas night owls are giving up their mornings for quality work that is latent—or lagging. I am reminded of the idea of leading and lagging indicators from stock market parlance, and logically align more with the idea of a morning owl. The secret is that they’re the same thing, only one group is trading their time while the other is controlling it.

There are definite advantages to the morning owl philosophy as well. For me, I often have important meetings super early in the morning across town with groups like venture capitalists, aka, meetings you need to be 100% on your game for. It’s incredibly challenging to be at a 7-9am meeting across town when traffic is insane, have time to find parking, and then also appear to be a normal professional human being. This is perfectly realistic if I wake at some time around 4am, but nearly impossible if I go to bed late—which can also be tricky if you have trouble falling asleep from stress.

All-in-all, I’m fascinated by this morning owl idea, and curious to see if I can integrate it into my schedule successfully, without alienating my friends who want to grab a late dinner. Time will tell.

Nick Warren

Nick is the Founder & CEO of MetaSensor, a venture-backed internet of things startup located in Silicon Valley, and a Behavioural Product Designer at Duke's Center for Advanced Hindsight (with Dan Ariely et al.). | Read Full Bio »

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