TalentMEDIA: How Your Internal Clock Affects Your Productivity At Work

A few years ago in July, I was up, awake, and going through my work email at 4 a.m. You don’t often find me at my desk in the middle of the night, but I was fortunate to have just returned from a nice vacation in Europe and it would be at least a week before I got back on East Coast time. An hour later, I heard barking outside. I looked out the window and saw the beam of a flashlight moving across the lawn. It was my neighbor taking his miniature collie for a walk. I had no idea my neighbor was a lark because I typically saw him in the evening, my usual time to take a walk. This pre-dawn sighting was possible only because I was masquerading as an “extreme lark” until my body clock reset and I returned to my normal life as a hummingbird.

Did I lose you already? Let’s back up then.

Humans are diurnal—we’re active during the day and sleep at night. Within this 24-hour cycle, everyone fits into a “chronotype” depending on our natural preference for “morningness” or eveningness.” “Larks” skew toward morningness and “night owls” skew toward eveningness. Those in the middle are called “hummingbirds.”

We don’t go around talking about our chronotype, right? Actually we do, but we don’t use that fancy word. You may have a friend who says, “My husband gets up at 4:30 in the morning so he can tackle his inbox, by 6:00 he’s at the gym, and by 7:30 he’s at the office.” He’s the classic early bird or lark chronotype. Approximately 1 out of 10 people is a lark. Or, a friend may say, “My wife stays up till well past midnight, reading, writing, and working.” She’s the night owl chronotype, which represents about 20 percent of the population. Hummingbirds occupy the perch in the middle and represent 7 out of 10 people. They can cope with early or late hours without getting their feathers ruffled.

Our chronotype influences our daily lives, from our behavior and personality to the type of work that we are good at and the kind of work and workplace we enjoy.

You can probably see some of the connections between larks, owls, and hummingbirds and telecommuting and freelance work. Regardless of whether you are a contractor or a full-time employee, you are probably doing what you can to match your work with your lark, hummingbird, or night owl preferences. If you are a lark, you will wake up early and have a steady flow of energy through the middle of the afternoon, making these hours the best time to do your work. If you are a night owl, whenever possible, you will rise at least an hour or two later than the lark, but your energy, mood, and alertness will continue to rise during the day, peaking around 9:00 p.m. and lasting through the late hours. You have a much longer time frame to work at peak performance but will need a lot of coffee to cope with the earlier morning hours.

If you know or sense your chronotype, you can take advantage of it and more easily get your work done based on your natural circadian clock. I’m a contractor for Vector and, as a hummingbird, I definitely enjoy having a more flexible schedule than the typical 9-to-5 norm. It allows me to plan my time around other tasks as well as my personal body clock.

Is one chronotype more successful than the other? All chronotypes include successful people, but your chronotype points to when and where you are most likely to find success. One study found that larks are well-positioned for work success because they’re more proactive, rising early and getting a jump on the competition—the hummingbirds and night owls. This trait helps them excel in a business environment; CEOs and other top business executives are often larks.

Don’t feel sorry for night owls though. Because they are more creative and original in their thinking, night owls are successful in jobs such as writing and design and in environments that require problem-solving skills and reward creativity.

What if you don’t like being a lark and want to become a night owl? Good luck. Our chronotype is 50 percent hard-wired based on our DNA, so don’t expect a major transformation. But there are steps that you can take to move toward morningness” or “eveningness.”

Many people have taken one of the various personality inventories, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which explains the different ways that we gather information and make decisions. If you would like to know your chronotype, there’s an inventory for that! I always used to wonder why people would want to get up at 5 a.m. and what they actually did then. Learning about chronotypes helped me understand why this is the perfect time for larks to do the things that I do later in the day: Use the quiet time for planning and exercise.

As technology continues to transform our lives and as we move away from our agrarian roots, there will be more opportunities for flexible work schedules. One in five full-time American workers now has flexible hours. An article in the New York Times noted that over 20 percent of workers are at work, at least some of the time, before or after the normal working day of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Recognizing chronotypes, and their related strengths and behaviors, is another aspect of diversity in the workplace. We can expect that our differences, based on our chronotype, will increasingly be recognized and reasonably accommodated in the workplace, in addition to the traditional diversity measures.


Written by Jeanette Smith, a former freelance writer/editor for Vector TalentMEDIA. For more Information about grammar and editing and to see how the TalentMEDIA team can help you, contact Tara Madison at tara@vectortalent.com today!

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