How Night Owls Can Be a Success

It's not just the early bird who gets ahead

Early birds often get all the credit, but night owls also prosper. Research shows that while morning people, or larks, are more active and goal oriented, night owls do more right before bed than most people do all day. Famous night owls have included Steve Jobs, Craig Newmark of Craigslist, and David Karp, founder of Tumblr.

Research by the London School of Economics and Political Science discovered significant differences in sleep preferences and found that people with higher IQs are more likely to be night owls. As our economy changed from an industrial to a technological one, it resulted in an evolutionary shift from being active during the day versus the night.

Switching from being a night owl to a lark isn't an easy task, because there are actually differences in the brains of the two types, according to research from scientists at Germany's Aachen University.

Here are 10 ways that night owls can be successful despite their schedule being the opposite of much of the world.


Catch up on emails

Roy Cohen, a career coach, best-selling author, and self proclaimed late night person, said he does his best thinking and work in the wee hours.

Here are his examples of what those who stay up late have the potential to accomplish:

Send emails when your colleagues are asleep. They are date-stamped to announce to the receiver that you were toiling in the middle of the night to squeeze even more time out of the day on behalf of work. That always impresses bosses.

Catch up on reading and professional development. I find that I typically fall far behind on journals, web-based information and reports, and industry publications. It is easy when we are bombarded by enormous amounts of information to process and dozens of emails daily. My clients expect me to be an expert on matters involving their industry and the roles they play. They will not tolerate learning on their dime. Late at night, I have virtually no interruptions and, hopefully, the reading will eventually lull me to sleep.

If you know that your best thinking and work happen late at night, arrange for a flex schedule which allows you to productively leverage your energy and attention. Just make sure that you don't disappear altogether from your colleagues and that you are in the office and on the job for a good chunk of the day. Say late morning onward. The truth is that out of sight is often out of mind when important decisions are made regarding headcount and participation in more exciting projects. To remove yourself from the loop will make you more vulnerable.

As a late night person, that may be the time to work out. Successful people typically devote some time to maintaining their good health. Career “health and fitness” begins with a plan and a commitment to healthy eating, exercise, professional development, and enough sleep. Looking and feeling good never goes unnoticed. We have more energy, confidence, and passion. Our brains work better, too.

Find your niche

Night owls often function best in careers with off-peak hours. This could include event management, hospitality, emergency care, shift work, music or theatre, said Robin H-C, an author and behaviorist.

Here are her two best tips for night owls:

Resist distractions. You have far more potential distractions out of office hours. Have a pre-recorded voice mail stating you will call people back at a designated time once a day. Encourage people reach out through email. Let people know the best hours to contact you. This can be a big time saver.

Be flexible. Just because you think it's a great idea to meet at Starbucks at 10 p.m. doesn't mean others will agree. Honor your life choices while understanding others may operate on a different schedule that they deem normal. Be willing to depart from your timelines occasionally, despite your time preferences to accommodate others.

In a nutshell, time manage with peak performance in mind. Have a routine, most of the time, and honor the non-night owls by being flexible, she said.

Stay focused

Night owl and entrepreneur Tanner Agar, founder and CEO of The Chef Shelf, said he prefers going to bed between 2-4 a.m.

Here are his tips for success:

Many of the reasons that morning people get so much praise is that getting up is terrible, and they get a lot done during those hours. For night people, we can get the same things done. For example, I can get a whole day's worth of work done from 11 p.m. - 4 a.m. if I work overnight. No one calls, emails, or distracts me and I am able to focus.

What I have found makes my schedule most effective is to have a list of items that need to be finished, and to make sure I clear them every night. This means that all the morning people can get working/respond to emails. When I come in at 10 a.m. I have a lot to do. As long as a person can stay focused, there is no reason you would need to be a morning person.

Don't fight it

Anna Ranieri, MBA, PhD, a career counselor and executive coach, said she's actually a lark, but has many Silicon Valley clients who are night owls. Here are her tips for night owls:

The best thing you can do about whatever your internal clock veers toward, is to try to work with it, not against it. That may mean working out a schedule with your colleagues or manager, and structuring your day to include, work, family and exercise time at the hours that make sense for you where possible.

You also have to consider your current stage of life and array of obligations so that you can tweek this system as needed. When I was a PhD student, working full time and co-parenting two small children, my daily study hours, for four years running, were 10 p.m. till 2 a.m. This is not the ideal schedule for me, but that was the time left to me after classes, clients, and children. I was glad to get back to being a lark once I finished my dissertation and collected my degree.

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