Thursday, February 23, 2006

Morning People and Night People

Why is there a virtue associated with being a morning person and a suspicion of vice associated with being a night person?

In my first full time job as a technician in a science lab, people came in at all hours. More of the technicians were 8:30 to 4:30 varieties, except one who came in at 7:00 and left at three, and I who came in at 10:00 and left at 8:00 or 9:00, sometimes much later. The grad students started wandering in around 1:00, mostly didn’t get to work until after most of the techs were gone and often worked until midnight.

I have always liked working late. The place gets quite, one has peace to really work, one can play whatever music one likes, and if you have no commitments one can spend as much time as needed to do something right. I have also liked the company of night people. Night people seem to be more philosophical and contemplative, perhaps in keeping with dark and quiet. In my experience morning people seem to often be more impatient and unwilling to work out the picky details of trouble-shooting and pick their way through complicated processes.

If one IS a night person, forcing oneself to be in early is often very counterpropductive. Getting up early means being short of sleep, groggy and slow, thinking poorly, coordination off. An extra hour or two of sleep can make an enormous difference. Too often we humans short ourselves on sleep and function poorly as a result as it is.

In this first lab job of mine the early morning arriver got chosen to be the tech supervisor. I have always wondered if her early arrival was taken as dedication by the lab head. Soon after her promotion she expressed disapproval about my hours. She admitted that it was ok with the lab head, but she disliked having 3 hours when I wasn’t there, and she wanted to see me getting more work done. As she did not know the projects I was working on I tried to explain all the work I was doing. She shut me up, and told me to write out a log of everything I did, and when I did it, for the next two weeks.

That was a pain, having to stop all the time to write everything down. I did complain a bit. At the end of the two weeks, the supervisor read through my log, and checked up on my experiments. Then she said she was glad she’d made me write everything down, as it clearly forced me to work. I was furious. I had worked no differently than before, she simply had not ever checked to see what I was doing before.

I have seen this happen to many a night person. Morning people seem to suspect that the night people are playing around, not working. They rarely ask, instead the worst is assumed. A friend is currently getting this from her boss.

Interestingly, night people rarely assume that morning people fool around and don’t work when they come in early. We too buy into the idea that being early is a virtue in and of itself. We suspect that we have an almost moral defect in not being able to sleep early nor rise early. Yet it seems that there is no correlation between how hard people work and their prefered hours. The only exception being that if you force a person to work short of sleep they do not perform well.

Night people do their work, and also rarely mind finishing up things for morning people.

Why is the reverse not true?

Ideally there are all types working together early people to get things started then regular hours folks to carry through the middle of the day, then night people to pick up loose ends and work through problems. No one is better than the other.

I like to wander in late, sip at my coffee, come up to speed in the afternoon, and work into the quiet night. I play good music and serve as unofficial advisor for any late working students in the department. It is nice to have the equipment to myself. At the end I leave to a starry sky and empty roads - a lovely peaceful close to a long day.