“Early to bed and early to rise/makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” [Attributed to Ben Franklin, but really unknown.]
It turns out, not only is this old bromide not accurate, it may be just the opposite. In two recent studies (one of which is abstracted on the net, the other one is not) by the University of Liege and by a Japanese researcher Kanazawa (here is the link to the Liege abstract) night owls are actually better able to handle a day than the “larks,” who are up at the crack of dawn each morning. And according to Kanazawa’s study, they are, generally speaking, people of higher intelligence than the “morning people.” Both studies also showed that night owls tend to get more work done, and resist the pressure to sleep better than the larks.
Night Owls vs. Early Birds
But morning people still have an advantage in the business world. The simple fact is the business world tends to have a superstitious belief there is virtue in being an early riser and we night people are somehow a bit sinister, lazy, or morally deficient.
This is something business should rethink. Why? Well, first of all there are a higher percentage of people who are night owls (20%) now than larks (10%), and a large percentage of people who can do either (70%).
Evolution is against the larks, however. Kanazawa points out in the March 2010 issue of Social Psychology Quarterly that, the more intelligent one is, the more one will adopt “evolutionarily novel” behaviors. In other words, those with higher intelligence are more likely to adopt behaviors that lead the human race forward in evolution rather than doing it the way it has been done for centuries or eons. So the people who moved from hunting and gathering into agriculture were, at one time, radical innovators, probably scorned by their communities. This is the way new behaviors work. They are initially scorned, then become the norm. Much of what we do today will be thought absurd by our children and grandchildren.
There are signs the business world is changing in this arena, too. Many smaller businesses have adopted much more flexible hours. More small businesspeople are, themselves, night owls. This correlates well with the fact more intelligent people have a slight tendency toward being night owls rather than larks. More intelligent people also are more likely to be entrepreneurs or independent professionals, rather than company people.
The current recession is forcing more and more corporate executives and corporate workers into finding alternative ways of producing an income. For most of these folks, depending on friends and family or the government is simply not an option. So the pressure of the recession is creating tens of thousands of new small businesses, most of them much more flexible than the corporate dinosaurs.
Here’s another reality. Younger people are much more likely to be night owls, and do not function, as a whole, well in the morning. As we get older, we tend to fall more into the circadian rhythm of getting up with the sun and going to bed with the sun. This is why really elderly people eat dinner at 4 PM and why assisted living centers aren’t much fun after 8 PM.
But the Boomers are retiring. Younger people are going to be filling positions in droves. And they are not as willing as we were to conform their body rhythms to the slavery of “the company.” They’ll simply leave and find other jobs that aren’t requiring them to get up at 0 dark thirty.
So… night owls of the world — it’s our time to fly! Contrary to old Ben, we’re brighter, we get more work done (and, thus, will be wealthier) and have more time in the day to hit the gym or do recreational sports…and will, therefore, be healthier!
And businesses of the world — wake up and smell the cappuccino! Having workers come in late and work later will result in increased productivity and maybe even eliminate that 2:00 PM doldrums that most offices experience.
John Heckers has over 30 years of successfully helping people with their careers. He has consulted to executives from Fortune 500 companies, five-person companies, and everything in-between.
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