Good morning, brain

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.

Night owls may not catch worms, but they are handy with a mouse

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?


Image thanks

Main image by Ameen Fahmy on Unsplash
Smaller photo Photo by Ahmed Badawy on Unsplash

34 thoughts on “Good morning, brain

  1. I am a morning writer. My brain shuts down about 330

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s about my limit for work that involves any original contribution!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m the total opposite. Trust me, I’ve tried to get up earlier for YEARS! Nope, still sleepy until about 9.30-10am.
    However, with the whole working from home situation, I found out that having proper motivation does help. Waking up early to go to work? Nope. Waking up earlier to work out and get in better shape? It was a struggle at first, but after a couple of weeks, it became second nature. Still, not early. I still can’t do anything before 7am, no matter what it’s for. I only get up earlier when I have to travel (for pleasure).

    My productive hours 10am-2pm and then in the evenings 6-10.

    I like how you mention the need for shifts and standing guard. I never thought of it that way, but it totally makes sense.

    Yes, I know that only if I woke up at 5, or stayed up past midnight, I could write more, but…

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    1. At least the science suggests not benefit in starting earlier. And as long as people don’t rise late and retire early, I guess they get the same number of hours to work – and play – with. The trick seems to be to understand your own rhythms and what works for you.

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      1. I have to say that your article was probably the only one I’ve read that did state all the scientific reasons of starting early.

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  3. I’m not a morning person, but if I don’t get up early, my brain thinks it’s a day off, and I seem to be lagging at everything I do. Like I’m mired in molasses. *laugh*

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    1. I know what you mean. I find it a longer ‘take-off’ if I am up late, or even if I get to my desk late on weekdays.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I envy people (writers) who can wake up (I mean regularly!!) at 5:30 or 6am, because by 11am they are often done or added at least 2k to their book or story lol

    I can wake up 5-or-6am ONLY if I have to HURRY UP and finish the story, novel, editing (max I can wake up like this for a week, no more). Otherwise its usually between 8-9am. I always sleep 8-9 hours, too (mmm, minimum 7). Maybe that’s why I’m not so prolific 😂 :))) otherwise I’d write and publish 5-6 books a year.

    Always been an owl.

    ps. and discipline is everything 🙂 but unfortunately, nothing for me 😂😂😂

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    1. Judging by the research, late risers have no disadvantage – e.g. refer to https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886909002177 !

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      1. Yay 😀 it feels better now haha

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  5. I wake at 5.45am each weekday morning to begin working at 7.30pm and return to my home at 5.30pm, yes an early riser and contradicting lol your posting, I do get a great deal more productive work done. However when it’s cold and raining outside and the bus is late, I’m honestly beginning to envy all the University staff (95%) who are working from home. Sorry envy is the wrong word, I’m feeling resentful about it because I can’t help feeling they’re on to a good thing……… put it this way no one seems to be complaining at Friday’s Teams meetings!

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    1. I am a university staff member working from home and honestly, whilst it’s a mixed picture, there is a lot of benefit. Any colleagues who say you’re so lucky to be getting out the house and seeing colleagues, getting a change of scene, is probably being truthful. But as you say, not getting up at stupid o’clock for the morning commute, especially in winter, plus seeing more of kids and having that bit of down time at home (rather than on the train) are definite plus points. Think we’re all hoping we’ll be going back to a hybrid of home and campus working. Academics tend to have this, but less so other staff in the past.

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      1. I shouldn’t have been so negative librepaley, I’m lucky having a job I enjoy especially in the midst of a crisis when so many have lost there’s………I just hate the bus ride to and from Oxford lol! I’d guess this pandemic has changed the way we work forever, as you say I’d hope the future employment landscape is a hybrid of working with colleagues on campus and working from home several days a week, the best of both world’s, more time at home also socialising with colleagues for our mental sanity……….. finger’s crossed hey 🙂 .

        Btw I blog at my most creative between 7-10pm………. blogging has been a real eye opener, sometimes I can sit staring at a laptop screen and cannot type a word, other times stories of women I’ve met on the internet are downloaded from my memory in a frenzy of excitement. For a non writer it’s been an education.

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        1. It doesn’t come off as complaining in the least. Working from home has all the benefits that we imagined, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Though admittedly, it’s easier for the introvert! I hope the HE sector survives this and we all come out with our jobs.
          Your experience with writing is interesting. A lot is said about the discipline of writing, writing if you don’t feel like it, but I guess that’s for those who write professionally – or aspire to. For us hobbyists and part-timers, there seems little reason to write if the urge isn’t there at that moment. It’s one of the things I ponder in keeping a blog – it’s a sort of commitment, and if you skip too many times, you can end up not going back. Still sorting out all the pros and cons of that.

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  6. I don’t seem to be either a lark or an owl when it comes to when I have my writing session for the day. With that said, however, I’m more likely to start writing in the morning, usually by 10 o’clock as opposed to sometime in the afternoon or evening. I wonder what bird I’m like.

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    1. Think I read that as well as nesting late, the goldfinch rises relatively late. whatever the case, that would be a good bird to be, sociable and with a charming song.

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      1. I do like the goldfinch. Thanks for the idea. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Not an early bird. I wake up around 8-8:30. And I worked well, late a t night. there were times when I had my company when I would come home around 10PM. You spend the day attending clients and staff needs. And start your own works around 6PM…
    All good?

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    1. It must be hard to have a job that has no fixed time boundaries – or at least, it’s not for everyone. mine is flexible, to a degree, and can mean working ‘over hours’ during peaks. but not too bad.
      We’re all fine – if the worst thing is occasional boredom or lack of variety, than that’s doing well.
      Hope this finds you well, too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. When it’s your company in a very competitive environment, there isn’t much choice. Freedom (not taking orders from anyone) has a cost. It’s all right.
        And flexibility is always good.
        Boredom is not good. Means you haven’t read all the books on your bedtable… (But even that has a limit.)
        We’re ok, thank you. Waiting for the bloody vaccines… 💉
        Cheers

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        1. Universities are increasingly competitive, and are very different environments from 20 plus years ago. The academics often have a hard time with that – I don’t blame them; universities should primarily be about learning. But we have to offer a fuller experience now and diversify – the toothpaste, as they say, is not going back into the tube now.

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          1. You are in academia, right? I can imagine how universities have changed. I had a university group as a client a few years ago, it was amazing.
            Toothpaste now? Hadn’t heard that phrase in a while…
            Fact is, the virus will finish revolutionizing all teaching. e.g. our grandson, 4 and a half is now learning to read and write on-line. the French school had not resumed in-class teaching. read & write!
            Stay safe my dear.

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            1. Yes, we’re all wondering how both the work environment and schooling / studies will change when we ‘go back’. I worry for my children studying online only though, lack of developing social skills.

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              1. There will an immediate economic impact. All those huge buildings on the Thames or at La Défense in Paris, and the financial products based on them will go “half bankrupt”. The big corporations renting them, will soon realize they can make huge savings by cutting their office space in half?
                Then Paris has a major housing shortage. There is an opportunity. As a consequence real estate prices may plummet… Fascinating. Divest yourself of real estate of derived products. 😉
                Social skills now are a major issue. I was home schooled. Until senior HIgh. Schockkkkk! 😉 Social skills were developed – a bit – a t the club. I took school smack in the face. I learnt.
                What we have to think about is to provide alternatives to kids. Sports? From fencing to horse riding. Community services? With masks? Lots of areas of opportunities…
                Let’s be creative…
                Take care my dear friend.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. The trouble with the sports is that the most democratic ones have a lot of contact – football, for all its money today, is some people, a space to play, and something to kick. Hence it has produced working-class heroes. In UK, we have succeeded in international competition at sports like rowing – because well-off kids do those at school and university.
                  Interesting on buildings – universities (again) in UK have had big capital projects – we’ll probably see those die off, investment in more digital, etc.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Contact. Hmm. True. Yes, rowing is oh, so “Oxbridge”. 😉
                    Buildings… There is a shortage of housing in all major cities. Convert those… Drive prices of real estate down. Invest in something else.
                    We are seeing Taïeb’s biggest black swan… fascinating.

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                  2. It’s true, we build monstrous blocks whilst some buildings lay derelict. In terms of response to outlier events, there is unfortunately little to suggest we will find the opportunity following this global challenge or apply creative solutions – ‘Put it back just the way it was before’ seems the main feeling.

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                  3. ‘Put it back just the way it was before’ You are so right. Despite my – advanced – age, KI disagree totally. I think it is just the right time to make radical changes. At peace. Otherwise there will be war.
                    Like I said: turn half the huge corporate building on the Thames into housing… (And take away the land privileges of the Duchy of Cornwalls…) 😉
                    Again, let’s take advantage of the situation, and start anew.

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  8. Interesting discussion. It’s good to know that working hard mornings is really no more effective than afternoons or evenings. Me, I start at 5 am and am asleep by 9:15 pm. Good day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like my kind of routine! Secretly disappointed that my preferred early starts give no advantage, but it works for me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I like the perceived quiet of morning, before cars and people wake up. It’s peaceful.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Agreed! You get to ease into the day.

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