I’m not a morning person.
Given the choice, I’d rather sleep in and work after lunch. Like most people though, I don’t have that choice.
But am I under-performing because my brain isn’t fully awake yet?
I have a typical 9 to 5 job. I often come in earlier to accommodate my global team’s timezone differences (but offset by leaving early as well). I’d come in all bleary-eyed, head floating in the clouds, rushing to get my first shot of caffeine.
At one point I questioned,
Am I under-performing because my brain isn’t fully awake yet? Am I selling myself short just because I’m forcing myself to work against what’s natural?
I asked a few colleagues and even my manager, and they assured me I wasn’t under-performing at all.
Paranoid as I am though, I decided to put numbers to my feelings so I could make some logical analyses.
For 3 to 4 weeks I measured my productivity, hour by hour, by evaluating my energy, focus, and motivation with a number between 1 to 10.
I limited myself to weekdays because I knew my weekends were too spontaneous to measure. I also wrote little notes to give context to my scores, such as “drank coffee” or “back-to-back calls”.
The data by the month’s end was revealing.
Since I have to have a morning cup of joe, all three traits start to climb after breakfast until they peak at around 9 AM. From there, the three diverge.
Energy is consistently high while motivation and focus start to dip. I suspect focus relates to a caffeine crash, while the other two to my morning schedule.
Why? Because my mornings are usually reserved for meetings. Whether its physical meetings where I hop from room to room and floor to floor, or virtual meetings where I talk to people over the phone or video.
This is my most physical part of the day, hence the high energy.
Yet, its also in those meetings that issues come up. Hearing bad news is never a good way to start the day. It’s a possible source of demotivation.
There’s no obvious pattern in the afternoon as the three traits tend to change behavior hour by hour. This is already telling in itself.
I usually have a cup of tea (or a second cup of coffee, if I’m desperate) at around 2 PM. Compared to mornings, there’s no discernible change after the caffeine stimulant. This tells me that I’m not as affected by it anymore.
The only noticeable pattern, if you can call it that, is focus behaves opposite of energy and motivation. i.e., When I’m energized and motivated, I’m unfocused, and vice versa.
I don’t know the cause, but I sure can maximize the effect. Afternoons are best for task-based work.
The high-energy-motivation time suits menial tasks that don’t need a lot of thinking. e.g., Administrative and mechanical-type work such as reports and documentation.
I reserve the high-focus times for more creative-type tasks, such as coming up with solutions to the issues from the morning meetings.
Focus dips at 4 PM, the lowest it gets throughout the workday. There’s an easy explanation for that: It’s almost time to pack up and go home!
If I’m not a morning person, then based on the chart above I should be an evening person. I have high levels of all three traits from 5 to 9 PM, where from there it dips as I get ready for bed.
What does this mean in terms of activity? It means I should be doing my most important work in the evening.
For me, this is the perfect time for studying as its when my brain is at its most active. It’s also when I do my most critical work-related decisions, even if it means taking some of my work home.
Other things worth calling out:
- The convergence of traits seem to support my theory that this is THE most productive time of day, bar stimulants.
- On Fridays this corresponds to my commute, which means a great chunk of my productive time is wasted on the road. Damn it traffic.
I took productivity to mean the average of energy, focus, and motivation.
The data showed my suspicions were right: I am NOT a morning person.
It’s interesting to note that I could simulate high productivity whenever I drink coffee, but these were just peaks that immediately dropped off after. Also this is not an effective method in the long run, as I’m having to drink a stronger blend of coffee year by year.
So coming back to my original question: Am I under-performing because my brain isn’t fully awake yet?
I think not.
For one, I’ve managed to move my work tasks around to match my natural rhythm. High energy tasks in the morning, alternating high-low focus tasks in the afternoon.
Also, it would depend on how you define under-performing. If I wanted to be 100% all the time at work, then I would need to switch to a job that would allow me to work evenings.
Personally, I value investing in myself over my job, so it feels right to reserve my highly-productive evenings for learning.
The ideal situation would be I’d be in a job I love and learn a lot from, that also allows for flexible hours.
But that’s another story for another day.