Transitioning from a Night Owl to a Morning Person to Get More Work Done, Better

Garfield Comic from April 13, 1998

Wowie zowie. It’s been a busy couple of weeks! Following two fun, but hectic weekends, overflowing weekdays, a baby too fascinated by exploration to sleep, and a travel-heavy Thanksgiving holiday (including two Thanksgiving dinners and my cousin’s fabulous wedding), it’s no wonder I didn’t update the blog last week, or that I’m running late this week. The explosion of activities that comes with the autumn season, combined with colder weather and shorter days (plus the possibility that my first year as a dad is finally catching up to me) means I am more exhausted than I have ever been in my entire life. I always have high hopes for productive evenings once wife and baby are asleep, but I rarely make it another hour before I’m in bed, myself. Not only that, I am so bleary-eyed and unfocused by the end of the day that the hour before bed has been devoted to devouring old G.I. Joe comics and Nintendo Switch rather than getting any work done. I just can’t think.

As a result, this whole “daily workflow” thing:

daily workflow

This thing that was doing a reasonably good job of keeping me on task just a few short weeks ago, is kinda in the garbage, at the moment. These days, I’m barely squeezing in chores and exercise, much less anything else. (Well, except games, of course.)

However, the fact that I have been so tired lately—and going to bed early more frequently, as a result—is actually the key to getting over this end-of-the-year slump. Something magical (well, probably just logical) is happening. Since I’ve been going to bed earlier, I’ve also been getting up earlier, and all of a sudden, I have some extra time in the morning to get things done. It’s been a slow start, but I am gradually getting used to waking up early and being productive in the mornings.

Unfortunately, I can’t claim that this is a perfect plan. I’ve experimented with waking up early before. It only takes one late night or one slip in willpower (and gross abuse of the snooze button) for 5am to gradually become 5:15, then 5:30, then 5:45, and then I’m back to waking up at 6am or later again every day. Back to where I started. The transition from night owl to morning person is not easy, especially when I’ve been staying up late pretty consistently since high school. But I’ve made a hard, fast, and terribly reckless decision to start getting up early all the time. I think it’s what I’m supposed to be doing.

C’mon, Brian. You’re throwing your life away. Why do this to yourself?

I found a great YouTube channel called Brookes Eggleston – Character Design Forge. I’ve gotten a lot of insight from the channel, overall, but one video, in particular, spoke to me in a way the others have not:

There’s a lot of solid advice in this video about maintaining an art versus life balance that was especially helpful to me—valuing patience, accepting that you won’t always have time to get the things done that you want to get done, and prioritizing. It’s all good stuff, but it’s the stuff I tend to forget during times of high stress (like right now), so this was a timely video to review. He even mentions that he’s noticed that parents are especially good at getting much more work done in a shorter amount of time than they could before they were parents. For me, that’s sometimes true, but I am struggling right now.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. my biggest takeaway from this video is at the 4:38 mark, where Brookes suggests waking up an hour or two earlier than you normally would to squeeze some extra work in before starting the day. I thought it over and decided I was really taken by this idea, so I have been trying it out, though I’ve had a few missteps along the way. I operate without an alarm clock because it wakes the baby up, so my wake-up time fluctuates between 5 and 5:30. But, I’m gradually getting that closer to the 5:00 mark.

So, what’s my reasoning behind why I think this is a good idea?

Fresh off a good night’s sleep seems like the most logical time to work on the things I am most passionate about

Why would I wait to work on the things that I love until the very end of the day? Why not start the day with the good stuff? If I’ve already exercised and written or drawn something by the time I go to work, I can approach the day feeling accomplished, confident, and ready to tackle whatever obstacles are put in my way. If I wake up late and drag myself into work, barely dressed and having accomplished nothing and skipped breakfast, it’s usually the start of a long, groggy day of feeling sorry for myself because I had to put off the thing I wanted to do. Plus, I never want to play video games or take in any kind of media in the mornings. The itch just isn’t there. However, the motivation to get some work done, exercise, and otherwise better myself is there, so why not get to it as early in the day as possible?

Working on the things I am most passionate about first thing in the morning means I am not under the same pressure to work on them later in the day as I could have been.

If I knock out my passion projects right away, it means I don’t have to stress over finding time to work on them the rest of the day. If I do have more time later, great. If not, no worries. There are plenty of days, especially at this time of year, that just fill up. Hey, an emergency task has come up at work. Hey, these errands just popped up and I have to use my lunch break (which I would have used for writing or drawing) to get them done. Hey, a friend is in town for the holidays, but this is the only day they have available to go out and see people, and they want to see us. Life happens, and things rarely go as planned. But, with an early morning start, I can ensure I am dedicating time and focus to my passions, no matter what happens during the rest of the day.

My lack of focus at night comes from already having put in a full day of work and responsibility

This goes along with working fresh off of a good night’s sleep. Working at night means working through the mental exhaustion that has already set it from a day at the office and being a responsible [sic] adult. Some nights, this is no problem, and even a joy. Other nights, the last thing I want to do is a drag a computer out of its bag and onto a desk to try to slap together some subpar work. On the other hand, if I get up early and crank out some work first thing, and if I’m completely unable to focus by the end of the day, it’s no big deal—I already made some progress that I can feel good about. Sure, maybe it wasn’t as much as I would have liked, but when time is at a premium, any progress is important.

The morning sun has vanquished the horrible night.
From Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest

It’s the responsible thing to do

On one hand, in the short-term, getting up early to get work done is a band-aid. It’s my solution for not feeling well enough or motivated enough in the evenings to do it, then (or whatever other excuse I can come up with to not work in the evenings). However, in the long-term, I’m setting myself up for a better routine and better self-discipline, and when my life calms down enough that I can work evenings back into my creative process, I’ll really be in a good position. Now, I just have to stick with it.

Wish me luck, and thanks for reading.