Let’s face it, the corporate world is friendlier to early birds than to night owls–even though the latter is the true predator.
The stories are legend–Jack Dorsey of Square reportedly gets up at 5 a.m. to meditate before work. Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo says she wakes up at 4 a.m. and begins her workday. Disney CEO Bob Iger says that he doesn’t just wake up at 4:30 a.m. each day, he’s already read the news, worked out, answered emails and caught up on work before most of us have blindly reached out to smack the snooze button.
But in truth? The manic early bird myth is just that: a myth.
“People buy into this idea that they need to be at their desks at the crack of dawn because they hear that’s what you need to do to make it,” said Linda Rottenberg, author of Crazy Is a Compliment: The Power of Zigging When Everyone Else Zags. “It’s totally unrealistic, especially if you’re starting your own company and working around the clock. Frankly, it’s a recipe for burnout.”
For night people, getting to that 8:30 a.m. meeting can be a horror. Especially if you have been up late working the night before, traveling between time zones, or just aren’t at your best before 10 a.m.
Here are some tips from successful people who often stay up all night hashing out a killer proposal but cringe on how to be more effective in the morning:
Devin Voorsanger, the cofounder of JuntoBot, a mobile business predictive analytics startup, is an avowed night person who has honed a strategy to make his mornings a little less bleary and hellish.
“I pre-plan everything the night before, from what I’m going to be wearing the next day to what I’ll need to bring with me when I leave the house,” he said. “I write and schedule all of my needed emails using Right Inbox for Gmail to go out at 8 a.m. and then hit the sack.”
He also praises the Sleep as Android app for the way it tracks his REM sleep and wakes him up at an optimal time for him to get up and get going.
But Voorsanger admits that sometimes even the best-laid plans go awry and he has to rely on a backup plan.
“My wife will sometimes have to shove a quadruple espresso with two tablespoons of sugar in it into my hands and force me out of bed when I absolutely have to get out of bed,” he said. “She’s my morning superpower.”
Chris Hyams, the senior vice-president of products and engineering at the jobs site Indeed.com said he became a morning person out of a desperate desire for an hour of distraction-free quiet time, not to get a lightning start to the day’s work.
“Through the majority of my career, I was raising a family. Driving carpool, making lunches, taking out the garbage,” he said. “When I wake up before my family in the morning, I’m not out to be productive. I don’t check emails or answer calls. In fact, I don’t do any work until I get into the office.”
Hyams credits this routine for helping him arrive to work in a focused mood without having actually worked all morning.
Mainlining coffee isn’t the best answer for everyone. He learned the hard way that chugging the caffeine isn’t always the way to go, even on the bleariest of mornings.
“You drink a ton of coffee and you’re wide awake at 8:30 a.m. but then you’re crashing at 3 p.m.,” he said. “You’ve got to plan your wake-up strategy so that it works for you all day, not just in the morning.”
Companies, especially ones in the tech sector where the hours are long and the nights longer, may be able to accommodate scheduling for people that really just can’t bring the inspiration at 9 a.m.
In fact, many managers would rather see you stroll in at 10:30 a.m. looking refreshed and ready to go than clinging miserably to your venti Starbucks cup.
Hyams, who works with engineers, is sensitive to the fact that the many of the people he works with tend to do their best work late at night.
“It’s about output,” he said. “I have no issue with allowing people flexibility with schedules. What works for a person with a family may not work for a person who’s single and works better into the late hours.”
If you’re in New York and your daily team call is at 7:30 a.m. from the San Francisco office, you should consider proposing that the time be pushed a little later in the day. But if you’re the only one with an issue, you might not be able to make a change, said Shahrzad Rafati, the founder and CEO of the digital entertainment and technology company BroadbandTV.
“I don’t have an issue with someone starting later in the day if they’re putting the hours in and they’re really adding value to the business, but it can’t impact the wider team,” she said. “If you’re managing a team of 30 people and you arrive half way through the day it obviously doesn’t work.”
That said, asking for a flexible schedule comes with proven performance power and experience. In short, if its’ your first three months on the job, don’t ask for a later schedule.
“I have found that a structured environment is best for employees that have not proven they can handle the responsibilities of hitting deadlines on their own,” said Voorsanger. “Once they have proven they can, then rolling out the flexibility is a given as I can trust them to manage their own time and productivity.”
—Lindsay Goldwert is a freelance journalist, stand-up comic and ghostwriter. Her work has appeared in the New York Daily News, Slate and many others. She lives in Queens, New York.