No, since I have been working from home in lockdown, I have not missed the alarm going off at 5.30 each weekday morning. On the other hand, I still like to be at my desk before 8 at the latest, and get antsy if I’m not.
It’s commonly accepted that people are divided into ‘morning larks’ and night owls’. Without getting too confessional, some of the tenser conversations with my ex- related to his habit of surfacing at the last possible minute on weekdays, and taking an even more leisurely approach at weekends. Days off, I’d rarely see him before 11 am, rested and bathed, by which time I’d completed a string of domestic tasks, grit-toothed and frazzled. By around 10.30, though, I am yawning. My heart also sinks if I open my work diary to see most or all my meetings in the afternoon rather than scheduled before 1 a.m.
This ‘larks versus owls’ tendency evidently has some basis in science – or at least, in our human evolution. The thinking is that ancient ancestral tribes gained benefit from having members that wished to sleep and work at different times of day and night. This created a sort of shift system, whereby someone was always on guard, to protect against external dangers. This ‘sentinel theory’ was developed to explain animal behaviour, but may also explain different preferences in humans ,
There appears nothing to suggest that the early riser gains benefit in terms of their productivity or creativity – however a host of proverbs may have it. There is no universal ‘best’ time of day. More infuriatingly still, there is even a suggestion that early birds’, those an ‘early to bed and early to rise’ approach, are outsmarted by the night owl, with the owls gaining higher scores on intelligence tests in some studies and, apparently, less prone to procrastination. But moving along…
Whether biological predisposition or not, there are only so many hours and so much energy to be had in the productive part of the day. As mentioned, at work, I cannot always control when I do creative or ‘right-brain’ tasks and more analytical, methodical ‘right-brain’ ones, but I do so where possible. At weekends, I know that anything creative, such as writing, has a time limit – once the evening meal is made and eaten, that’s it. I simply don’t have the energy or inclination to go back to it. I’d rather scribble on the commute or get up extra early than do that.
Early-bird writers include prolific Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, whose biography describes his rising at 5.30 a.m., on which he allowed himself ‘no mercy,’ before days working for the Post Office. Kurt Vonnegut described a routine that also entailed rising at 5:30 to work, leaving evenings free from around 5:30p.m. for relaxation and leisure. Ernest Hemingway found he worked best in the morning, too, noting, ‘When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible’ when there is ‘no one to disturb you…’
In an interview about her daily routine, Toni Morrison said that habitually writing before dawn ‘began as a necessity- I had small children when I first began to write and I needed to use the time before they said, Mama- and that was always around five in the morning.’ Wow. Similarly, novelist Alice Hoffman described being ‘very disciplined when I had other jobs and young children and had only X amount of time to write. I’d get up at 5 a.m. to write and the half a day they were in day-care, I wrote.’ Traditionally, that has probably been the case for a lot of female writers.
Night owl writers, on the other hand, include Franz Kafka, who wrote at night from as late as 11.00p.m., and even described writing his story The Judgement (Das Urteil) ‘in one sitting during the night of the 22nd-23rd, from ten o’clock at night to six o’clock in the morning.’ Well, he did have a day job for much of his adulthood. A similar necessity saw F. Scott Fitzgerald write at night after days spent working at an ad agency.
Whatever these anecdotes tell us, it is clear that extra work and sacrificing of down-time are essential to success.
How about you – do you work better early morning or into the evening? And do you get to choose?