How COVID Changed When We Work, Freeing Night Owls to Work When They Want

From a story on by Mike Allen, Erica Pandey, and Jim VandeHei headlied “Night owl gets the worm”:

COVID didn’t just upend where we work, but when we work.

  • Why it matters: That frees night owls from the cages of 9-to-5 societal rhythms.

What’s happening: Research shows roughly half of people are night owls, dictated by genetics, not choice. Not having to go into the office allows them to work — and often sleep — later.

  • A staggering 76% of global companies are allowing hybrid work, meaning most employees can work from anywhere, at any time, on their own terms.
  • The 9–to-5 workday is fading, with more people hopping on their computers at breakfast time and past happy hour, a Microsoft Work Trends report found.

The three of us are each early birds: Mike gets up at 2:30 a.m. (not a typo), Jim at 4:30 a.m. and Erica at 5 a.m. So we’re in bed by 9ish.

  • Erica switched to an early, consistent wake-up time mid-pandemic.
  • She saw immediate benefits to her physical health, with more time to exercise … work, with hours of uninterrupted focus before the world logs on … and mental health, since rhythm and routine kill anxiety.

But for the majority of adults, natural bedtime is after midnight, the National Institutes of Health says.

  • “Each of us has a personalized rhythm known as a chronotype — an internal timer that governs when we naturally fall asleep and when we are most alert,” Emily Laber-Warren, a longtime science journalist, writes in a New York Times op-ed.

Zoom out: You have 351 genes, expressed in your brain, your retinas and beyond, that control when you feel sleepy and when you’re alert, per a study published in Nature Communications.

Enter night owls:

  • Alphabet/Google CEO Sundar Pichai told The Wall Street Journal he gets a second wind around 9 p.m. and is most productive after 10. He’s still up early enough — between 6:30 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. But he saves the morning for reflection.
  • Prolific author Michael Lewis says his ideal writing hours are from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. It’s all about the peace and quiet, he told Robert Boynton in his 2005 book, “The New New Journalism.”
  • Singer Christina Aguilera says: “If it were up to me, my favorite time to work would be between 3 to 4 a.m.”

The bottom line: One of the best ways to improve your life and work is to get in tune with your internal clock. And now you can live by it.

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