There’s about a million pieces of advice about how to improve your workplace productivity. But one tip that you’ve likely heard before is one you can skip.
The suggestion goes back ages, but one of my favorite versions is attributed to Benjamin Franklin:
Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
(By the way: Franklin popularized this quote but it’s actually much, much older.)
The statement is designed to emphasize the value of being the first one up in the morning, as if that will improve your productivity. And the truth is that it might, if two things are true: you are a morning person, and also, your workflow is well-suited to whatever is happening (or not happening in the morning.)
An article from the website Riskology explains:
What time of day do you feel most alive?
This is your productive time and it’s the greatest opportunity you have to crank out your best work. If you don’t feel like you’re very productive, it’s probably because you’ve been out of sync with your natural energy levels.
Pay attention to when you really come alive each day and use that window to do your most important work, not check email or surf the web. I can do those things half comatose, so I reserve them for my least energetic times just after waking up, right after lunch, and just before bed.
The problem a lot of people run into is that there are too many distractions during their productive time. Maybe you have to be at work (you know, the one that pays the bills…for now) or have some other commitment you’ve made.
If that’s your case and you’re trying to juggle other commitments with your most important work, then I’d actually recommend trying out the early riser routine. Hey, I said it’s popular because it works – it’s just not the best option for a lot of people.
What I’d recommend even more is that you really work on making your most important work the primary commitment during productive hours.
This advice does match up to what science has to say about sleep patterns:
Mounting research suggests that differences in lifestyle, personality, brain functioning, and even brain physicality define two distinct chronotypes (a person’s characteristic sleep pattern), which could roughly be defined as “night owls” and “morning larks.” Morning larks, those who naturally wake up early and are energized in the pre-lunch hours, are more suited to the typical American work schedule, while the propensities of night owls put them at odds with it, leading them to suffer from chronic social jetlag.
What’s important then is not when you get working, but how much you respect your own body and the needs of your workflow. Here are some tips to consider:
- Follow a set schedule, but make it your own. – If you like getting up early, do so! If you prefer to sleep a bit later, try that! And if you benefit from a nap during the workday, put it on your calendar.
- Listen to your own rhythms. – Some people do well after eating. Others tend to slow down. Schedule your work with the food you eat in mind.
- When you break your pattern, ditch your expectations. Need to catch a flight that’s outside of your usual sleep schedule? Don’t anticipate getting anything done that day.
- If you’re tired, rest! – When you feel your eyes drooping, head straight for bed. That’s a sign you should already be asleep.
There’s lots of great productivity advice out there. But “early to bed, early to rise” is not all that helpful. Instead, get up whenever works best for you, and you’ll do best overall.
If you see Ben Franklin, let him know.