Harley Bauer always preferred to stay up late. Growing up in Smithtown, Long Island, his parents were always on his case to go to bed at a reasonable hour. In middle school, in high school, in college, he was a night owl: he just didn’t get tired until the wee hours, and preferred to rise late as well. “I didn’t have the need for Adderall,” he says of his college days (during a phone interview he elected to have just before midnight last Thursday). “I had that natural energy to stay up late.”
Many of us may have felt this through our youth, then found our ability to pull all-nighters (or, OK, even late-nighters) fading rapidly as we rounded 30. Not so for Bauer, who is about to turn 38. “I still find I have zero issues staying up late,” he says (admitting that being single and childless may offer him reserves of energy his married-with-children friends find tapped). Nor is he even a caffeine addict; he’ll have an iced coffee in the morning, but nothing past noon.
When he was 19, Bauer dropped out of school to head west and pursue an interest in entertainment. He wound up in William Morris’s famous mailroom, where he had to be in around 8:30 a.m. “It was rough, no doubt,” he recalls. “I’m just not a morning person, and I don’t function that well. No matter if I got three hours of sleep or 10 hours of sleep, if I wake up early, it’s the same effect.” He remained in entertainment for about eight years, gradually burning out on the long (and early) hours. Meanwhile, his brother and sister-in-law opened the first Crumbs Bake Shop in Manhattan. Bauer began helping out with PR and marketing, eventually becoming a partner in the company, while based in L.A.
Bauer seized the opportunity to alter his schedule. “One morning, I just wasn’t reachable. I put my phone off to the side. I was probably having a mental breakdown from overload of work. I didn’t look at my phone till 10 or 10:30 a.m., and I don’t know how many missed calls and emails I had.” By that time, it was 1:30 p.m. in New York, and when he got on the phone with his brother, the conversation may have been a bit heated. “It was a little hard for my brother at first” to come around to the idea that Bauer needed to alter his hours. “But he started to see it was for the better.”
So Bauer had the green light to start working atypical hours. He slowly adjusted them, gradually training those who worked with him to alter expectations of when he’d be available. On a typical day, he might wake up around 9 a.m., and simply loaf about: eating, reading, watching Jon Stewart. While others are commuting to work in their suits and ties, he’s lounging about in a T-shirt and sweats.
Then, around 10:30 or 11 a.m., he starts to rev up his day (now based in New York, he usually makes his way to the subway around that time). He’ll work till 6 or 7 p.m., then take a break: eating dinner, going out, socializing. Then by around 11 p.m., he hunkers down for what he calls his most productive time, working until as late as 2 a.m. (His back-of-envelope assessment is that about two-thirds of the best ideas he’s had in his working life have occurred in these late-night sessions.) Sometimes, he says, he has to “force” himself to go to bed by 3 a.m. He had to train colleagues to know that just because he sent an email at midnight didn’t mean he expected an answer right away: that was just when he sent emails.
He speaks about these hours the way many early risers—more common, it seems, among the entrepreneurial set, even though people with higher IQs tend to be night owls—speak about their 5 a.m.-8 a.m. period: as a haven of noiselessness. No emails, no calls, no tweets and posts and follows—and the serene feeling of being productive while everyone else is asleep.
Yet why do we think of the early risers as wholesome, while ascribing derogatory words like “vampire” to people who are simply wired the opposite way? Bauer thinks it’s a double standard. “One hundred percent,” he affirms, launching into a satire of the sort of people Fast Company often celebrates. “A lot of people in your magazine always talk about how they were up at 5 a.m., then they ran a marathon, then they ate something healthy and read four books before the day started. I’m still sleeping at noon, and they’ve completed a whole day’s work. But to me, it never mattered, as long as I felt accomplished and productive inside.”
In 2012, Bauer left Crumbs to pursue a new interest, cofounding LIQS, a pre-mixed cocktail company. (The exit was well-timed; Crumbs went bankrupt in 2014 and shuttered all locations, though it has since restructured and reopened a Manhattan store.) Being in the cocktail business, suffice it say, is very well suited to his body clock, and Bauer often finds himself coming straight off an evening event that LIQS has co-sponsored, then riding a wave of energy into his 11 p.m.-2 a.m. work session.
Bauer acknowledges that the particulars of his career have been unusual: he only began to futz with his hours while working with his brother, and he now works in a nightlife-related industry. But he says that everyone should try to argue for hours that suit their own cycles of productivity. “If you’re good at what you do and have a successful track record, I think it’s something you can push for,” whether or not you’re answering to a family member. For what it’s worth, research has shown that night owls have larger incomes than people who wake up early; the two chronotypes also score roughly the same on cognitive tests and tend to be in similar health.
And if you’ve been living the morning zombie life for so long you can’t imagine another way, why not experiment? “Sometimes change can be scary for people,” he says. “But if you take the plunge, you might find a much better way to use your time than forcing yourself to work in the morning.”