Are You Meant For The Dark?

Ask most people, and they will probably say the world runs on daylight hours. And this is mostly true for the financial and corporate world. Working late there means you don’t leave the office until after 5pm. Maybe you don’t get out of work until 6 or even 7.  So what if you were working at 11pm?  What if you were still working at 2am?  Well, either you are a workaholic, have a horrible deadline crunch, or you are one of the billions of people who are working to make those daylight hours possible. Then again, there is even another possibility. Maybe you were made for it.

The PRB (Population Reference Bureau) notes that 2 out of every 5 workers work non-standard hours. That is more than a ⅓ of our entire workforce. I want to take a brief moment to recognize them for their efforts.

Back in my 20’s I worked for the U.S. Navy.  And for most of the first 4 years of my time there, I worked some variation of a night shift. During the day they did the majority of the mission critical flight training. Pilots trained, planes flew, meetings were held.  At night was when the heavy hidden work happened. That was when most of the gear was inspected, repaired, replaced and maintained so that the next day’s flight schedule could happen.  It wasn’t a quiet time for slackers, it was a time of dedicated effort to ensure the continued function of the system. Without the efforts of those 2nd and 3rd shift workers, day shift literally wouldn’t be able to get itself off the ground. The same goes for your stock person, your janitorial services, innumerable service workers, and many of our greatest creative humans.

Now for the fun part, which shift were you meant for?

You probably know that the 5am club isn’t everyone’s idea of success? But did you know that trying to join that exclusive club may actually end up holding you back! You’ve probably heard about the circadian rhythm. If you haven’t, it’s the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24 hour cycle. Typically, it responds to light and dark along with some other stimuli.  Now the interesting thing is that you can train your circadian rhythm through habit. Your body will do its best to sleep and wake according to a schedule you set for it. So, if we can train our circadian rhythm, why wouldn’t the 5am club work for everyone? Well, the answer to that is in your chronotype.  

You’ve probably never heard of chronotype before, but it is a real and researched aspect of your life. In fact, there is even a neat little quiz you can take here.  What is most interesting about chronotype is that unlike your circadian rhythm, it can’t really be trained, or considering that the types are named after animals, tamed.  Your chronotype is biologically hardwired.  Because of this, maybe people, potentially high performers, may consistently seem to under perform. And to a point, it’s true, they probably are under performing.  It just may not actually be their fault.  Even if we are talking about the early riser/morning person/wakes up chipper human that the corporate world was designed around, because of our natural energy rhythms, we might still be sabotaging productivity.  An article published by the Harvard Business Review (check it out here) noted that for those folks, there is typically only one peak time of day in an entire 9-5 shift for performance.  That time, ironically, is right around lunchtime at approximately noon. The rest of the time we are either ramping up or winding down in our energy levels. This means that the timing of tasks matter.  Give someone a tough task first thing in the morning or at the end of a shift, and we are sabotaging their performance.  Now, I want to be clear, there is nothing wrong with the 5am club if that time works for you.  The truth though, is that it is less about the time, and more about the timing. 

If you are looking to create your best life, in the end, it is all about energy. And your energy is as unique as you are.  Take some time to discover your chronotype and consider the way you structure your days. Use them to find the right job, or schedule for you.  We are not cookie cutter human beings. We were never meant to be.

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