Does the Early Bird Really Catch the Worm? Increase Your Productivity by Following Your Own Personal Body Clock

You’ve probably heard Benjamin Franklin’s saying, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

In Ben’s day, it made sense to be a morning person. There was no electricity, and only lamps, candles, and fireplaces to provide light at night. Getting up with the sun and working during the daylight hours was the smart thing to do.

But, if Ben were around today, would he still be singing the merits of rising early? With electricity, you can be up and working any time you want. And, the Internet lets you access information instantly at any time of the day or night.

So, does it still make sense to be a morning person — or force yourself to act like one if you’re not — just to be productive? Or, can you get just as much done during other parts of the day?

First, let’s take a look at what makes a person love mornings, nighttime, or somewhere in-between.

Your inner body clock is run by your circadian rhythm. This is a 24-hour cycle that determines when you sleep and when you wake up. Scientists believe your personal rhythm is determined by your genes, with a little help from external cues, such as sunlight. But for the most part, your natural waking and sleeping patterns are hard-wired in you.

We tend to think of our patterns as extremes, such as early birds and night owls. However, researchers estimate that only about 10 to 20 percent of the population perfectly fits either category. The rest of us are somewhere in the middle.

But, if you feel you were born a night person or a morning person, you’re probably right. According to a study published in ScienceDaily in 2009, scientists found that early birds had brain functions that were different from night owls. The morning people in this study had brains that were most easily stimulated at 9:00 a.m. The night people’s brains were most easily stimulated at 9:00 p.m.

The big question is: Do you need to be a morning person to be more productive?

Well, no, not really.

But, if you have to be at work early because of your job, it’s a good idea to act like one. For those of us who aren’t at our best early in the day, there are ways to reset our internal clocks so we can be more productive in the morning.

Going to bed earlier, being exposed to plenty of light during the day, eating breakfast, and exercising in the morning all help you reset your internal clock. Keep in mind that this is a gradual process. Just like jet lag, resetting your body clock takes some time to get used to.

A better idea is to follow your own internal schedule as much as possible. Start your day when it’s best for you. If you’re a freelancer, this is much easier. If you work for somebody else — check with your boss … you may be able to adjust when you have to be at work. Plan your tasks so that you work on important projects when you feel awake and energized, and schedule other tasks like checking email for when you have energy lulls.

You can keep a journal for a couple of weeks and make note of when you feel ready to work, and when you’d rather just sit and relax. After several days, you should see a pattern emerge.

Ultimately, the most productive pattern — morning, midday, or night — is the one that works for you. By the time we’re adults, most of us have a sense of whether we prefer to be up early, or up all night. But, there are different degrees of being an early bird or a night owl, and it can change over time.

As for me, I’ve never been a true morning person or night owl. But, I find I have a higher energy level earlier in the day. I try and take advantage of this by getting up early and checking my email while I wake up. After a cup of coffee and a run, I’m ready to start my workday.

I write and do creative work in the morning and early afternoon, and then switch to editing and any studying or reading I need to catch up on. And whatever I do, I try to go to bed by 11 p.m. Anything later than that throws me off the following day.

How about you? Do you function best in the morning or at night? Or, are you somewhere in-between? Let me know in the comments below.

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Published: March 13, 2012

3 Responses to “Increase Your Productivity by Following Your Own Personal Body Clock”

  1. Hi Li, Thanks so much for sharing this. I have been guilt-tripping myself like crazy because I just can't get up in the morning.

    I have been trying to reset my clock by 5 minutes every day--the goal being 7 am. But now, I feel a lot less guilty if it doesn't work out.

    I wonder if as one gets older, one's body clock shifts more toward the early morning as well? I am 22 and still in college, and it seems to be a law that college kids wake up at 8 (or later!) and go to bed really late.

    Thanks again!
    Rae

    Rae RMarch 13, 2012 at 12:32 pm

  2. Rae's comment rings so true with me. Even though I keep late hours, I feel best when I get up around 8 a.m. and have breakfast immediately after. Usually, until around 12 p.m. or 1 p.m., I'm in "work mode." After that my inner kid kicks in, and nap time commences.

    My first two years of college are to blame. I always scheduled my classes to begin at 8 and be over by lunch time. Immediately after, I'd go back to my dorm to take a nap.

    I'm trying to wean myself. Thanks for sharing this.

    CoachNikkiMarch 20, 2012 at 11:43 am

  3. Good article. I'm generally morning guy. I got from the military. It also help when their physical training involved with it. I feel it set the tone for the entire day.
    Especially my First Lady comes from work. I own it to her be attentive while she goes through her debriefing and decompression process. But their moments when I think of ideas of things and projects I wish to start. I try to keep the Ipad next my side the bed next to night table. And jot ideas and thoughts. until get my office.

    Otis A DrakefordNovember 7, 2014 at 4:11 am


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