My Late Night Productivity Myth

I find that, for me personally, the best time to work is late at night - usually from about 10pm onwards I find myself most productive. Often, I'll keep working until I'm physically exhausted - usually around 5am or so. Mentally I'm still sharp at that stage, but my body starts to get tired, and I start to wind down. I've always thought that if I had to pick a contiguous block of work time, 2pm to 10pm or 4pm to midnight would be a good choice for me.

This might be the time that I feel that I'm most productive, but obviously this can really upset the rest of my life - I'm awake when everyone else is asleep (and vice versa), I'm not alive during business hours the day after (and cantankerous if I need to be), and it puts huge a strain on the rest of the house as everyone tries to be quiet whilst going about their day (lest they wake the most angsty bear they've ever met). Not to mention the fact that having one evening like this completely blows out my sleeping pattern completely for the next few days.

It's hyper productive for me at the time, sure, but I doubt it's the optimal solution.

Interestingly enough, I've also found myself to be very productive the past few days that I've been getting up early. Let's get things straight - I don't do early mornings. Anyone that's met me knows that mornings just aren't something that I subscribe to. Ever. As such, getting up before 6am sounded like a big task. However, it's not been as bad as one might expect.

However, this post isn't meant to be about me getting up early per se, but rather a revelation that I've had with regards to my "super productive night-time mode".

I've recently noticed things that suggest that my evening productivity "rule" is a great big myth, like the tooth fairy or honest politicians - I don't think that the time of day has absolutely anything to do with how productive I am. However, I do think the rest of the day has a very large impact upon how productive I am.

I posit that I am productive at night not because of the time of day, but rather because there's nothing left of the day. During the day, my mind is filled with things that are coming up. Right from the first thing in the morning, there are things coming up in the day - I need to eat, I need to make some calls, I need to go out, there are things that I need to think about, emails I need to write. You get the idea. I know I have all of these things to do (and a task list to remind me) and that's exactly the problem I think - I know that I'm going to have distractions, so my mind is already trying to get ready for them. I consider this a sort of premature optimization type problem - I know that I have to make an email later, so in the back of my mind I'm already keying up for it. I know I have at least 2 more meals in the day, so what the hell am I going to cook?

I guess you could say that were my brain a computer, it's in "swap city" at that time - thrashing between what I'm working on, and all of the other processes polling every now and again going "oh man! is it time for me yet? am I ready?".

At 10pm though, there is none of that - I'm effectively clear for the rest of the evening. I have no more meals to worry about, I can't make any more calls, I have nowhere to go. My brain is clear from all of that clutter. Again with the computer metaphor, I have one process running and it can take as much of the memory as it likes without things needing to swap all the time.

So, is there a way to get this "single process" mentality during the day, when there are other things coming up? I'm not really sure yet. I'm mainly happy to realise that I don't have to keep making late runs just to be super productive, however I do need to find a solution that actually works for me. I'm going to experiment with a few different options in limiting the "background processes" in my mind, and I'll be sure to post how it goes. Hopefully, there'll be something interesting in it.