The Night Owl vs. The Early Bird vs. The Office Chimp
There are 8760 hours in a year, and the average employee spends exactly 2000 of them at work. I won’t scare you with the total number of hours you are expected to work in a lifetime but rest assured, it’s a lot of bloody hours.
Small business owners and self-employed professionals can rightly claim to lose many more hours outside of the set Monday to Friday 9-5 routine. Personally, I would bet that I spend up to 50% of my 8760 hours thinking about work. If I’m not brainstorming business concepts, I’m going over accounting figures in my head. And if I’m not daydreaming, I’m battering my keyboard as I speak.
This post is about stereotypes. That means understanding them, acknowledging them and hopefully becoming more productive by living up to them. I’d like to introduce you to my three furry friends, Mr Office Chimp, Mr Early Bird and Mr Night Owl.
Consider them your new messiahs.
There’s a question I get asked a lot – usually by my friends – that relates to staying productive while being my own boss, and it goes simply, “When do you find it easiest to work?” Usually followed by “Or do you not work?” Followed by the snap judgment of my unshaven face and pizza beard “Christ, show me how you make money. It can’t be that hard…”
For the longest time, I thought it was cool to reply that I worked whenever I felt like it. And in essence, it was true. But whether you believe it or not, routine is one of the great gamechangers in the productivity equation. We are designed to function better when there is routine in our lives.
Routine doesn’t have to be the recurring disgust of wedging your face in somebody else’s armpit on the tube, and it certainly doesn’t have to be the sight of the same fake plastic faces at the watercooler during lunch. Routine need only be an environment lavished with the correct ingredients to bring out the best of your working habits.
Mr Night Owl, Mr Early Bird and Mr Office Chimp sum up, quite suitably I think, three very different professional personas that I have encountered.
I often jest that Night Owls are online sleazeballs and bohemian graphic designers, the type who make money in darkened basements while scattering cheesy wotsits over their boxers.
Likewise, I love to ridicule the Early Birds for being psychomaniac marathon runners, the type you catch whizzing past in the park at god knows what hour because they have to get back to their squeaky clean apartments to do some fucking life consulting on why I’m such an unhealthy bastard.
And then there’s the Office Chimps. Those who arrive at their Macbooks by 9:01am with a large cup of Starbucks and the desire to ‘touch base’ over some useless corporate shit, always worth sacrificing a lunch break over, in the distant hope of success while they plan the only two week vacation of their year to Benidorm on a second minimised browser.
Am I stereotyping? Probably, but fuck that, right?
My point is (yes, there’s a point), that it doesn’t really matter which of these personas you choose to adopt for your professional career. What matters is that you embrace the necessary challenges and learn from our three furry musketeers. Take a peek below to work out what the hell I’m talking about.
The Night Owl Lifestyle
He who works between 9pm-4am.
The Night Owl enjoys a working environment of less distractions, less interruptions and more late night Channel 5 porn. He doesn’t have to answer the phone every 5 minutes, but he does have to contend with Ryan Eagle announcing on Twitter in 17 minute intervals that he’s still awake, and still got a bigger dick than you.
Unfortunately, being a good Night Owl requires a perfect knack for balancing your social life with those late surges of productivity. It’s not healthy to lose every Friday night to your work, but then neither is it healthy to batter your liver in to submission while your latest project gathers dust.
Doing it wrong:
Following the Night Owl work routine while courting a demanding girlfriend is a recipe for your balls to look like mashed potatoes by the end of the first week. Be sure to spend a lot of time with friends, family, loved ones and pets in the afternoon hours when you’re not working.
You must be able to distinguish between Night Owling for the right reasons (it’s your most productive working period) against finding a simple excuse for your insomnia. If your problem is that you can’t sleep, work is not the answer.
Doing it right:
If you’re going to be a night owl, you have to embrace the lifestyle and remain in bed until at least 12pm. It’s not feasible to expect to be working at your full potential in the early hours on little or no sleep. If you choose to ignore this advice, please allow me to recommend a local business that can probably serve you well. Just search… crack dealers in *my town here*
On a serious note… maintain a healthy diet, avoid reliance on caffeine stimulants, and use proper lighting to avoid blitzing the retinas of your eyeballs with chronic monitor glare. Working in the dark, every night, is really fucking stupid.
The Early Bird Lifestyle
He who works between 6am-1pm.
The Early Bird sums up a lifestyle I have never quite managed to embrace. The last time I was up at the crack of dawn, it was to retrieve a bag of Argos cutlery from an apartment I was running away from. Long story, but clearly such early activity has never come naturally to me.
I guess it’s the way forward for those who enjoy a good pre-breakfast workout, love the smell of morning dew, and don’t like late night Channel 5 porn.
The great appeal of getting work done early is to be able to enjoy the rest of the day. This may require a streak of independence, since most of your friends are likely to still be working when you’re finished!
Doing it wrong:
If you’re going to be a professional Early Bird, stick to your guns and obey the cut-off point in the day when work becomes secondary. The Office Chimps will be trying to badger you in to conversing after their 3pm pub lunches, but don’t be having any of it. If you become the pushover who is first in to his home office and subsequently last to close down Outlook, you have to question the merits of your lifestyle.
I always feel a little pissed off when I see that even the Americans on my Twitter have finished work, while I’m still plugging away in the UK. Thankfully I don’t have the fist in the balls of knowing I got up at 5am to add to the bitterness. Take note, Early Birds.
Doing it right:
The smooth sophisticated Early Bird doesn’t just do it right, he looks like he’s doing it right. These are the kind of bastards you see chipping on to the 16th green at 2:30pm because their work is dealt with and they’ve already maxed out the MuscleBlaster.
The successful Early Bird wakes early with a fresh mind, plows through the to-do list and crucially manages to maintain the momentum until his work is done. A fake Early Bird, a Finch in Disguise, may start off brightly at 6am. But when 9am comes, he’s such a virgin to the sudden rush of distractions and attention stealing emails that his best laid plans crumple and fail. He retreats to his natural environment and far from having the golf clubs out at 2pm, he’s drowning in a mug of caffeine and wondering where the morning went.
To be an efficient Early Bird, you need concentration levels of steel, Ivan Drago-esque discipline and the ability to give me those snotty looks as you sprint past in your sweat stained jogpants.
I admire you, Early Birds, but I hope the sunrise swallows you whole.
The Office Chimp Lifestyle
He who works between 9am-5pm.
If there was a God, the Office Chimp would clearly be his projection of how employment should proceed. Right from an early age, we are nurtured in to a routine that for 95% of the suckers on this earth, will become ‘The Routine’ for the rest of their lives. Monday to Friday, 9-5, with the occasional token gesture of holiday to avoid a certain mental breakdown.
The Office Chimp is scoffed at by those of us who are no longer constrained to the traditional work day, and yet many of us choose to work those conventional hours regardless. Oh, but we carry our work through the evening and the morning too. So who is laughing now? Just us unfortunately.
The Office Chimp is encouraged in all of us from an early age. There’s no shame in working to the tune of a lifestyle that regularly brings out the best in our performance. Unless it doesn’t, of course.
Doing it wrong:
As effectively as we are trained to work during the 9-5 grind, we are just as seasoned in the art of wasting time. Most of us have nurtured the skill through years of dossing around at school, pretending to be hard working students and browsing Facebook while the boss isn’t looking.
I can plead guilty to all of the charges above. But the moment I started my own business, the old adage became true. The only person who paid the price of those crimes was the idiot who was guilty of them. Procrastination is like masturbation, you’re only ever fucking yourself.
Adapting your work ethic to that of the Office Chimp requires that you be prepared to immerse yourself in the traditional work day. The phone will ring, emails will arrive and there’s bound to be that annoying queue in Tesco to separate Man from his Meal Deal. Can you stay focused?
Running your own business and still managing to waste time means that you’re definitely doing it wrong. But hey, at least you still have that sense of camaraderie with your fellow chimps. It’s always somebody’s fault but never your own, right?
Doing it right:
The successful Office Chimp is distinguishable by the fact that he looks like everybody else, but he’s a lot richer, a lot happier, a lot healthier and spends a lot more time basking in the sun on vacation. But how does he do it?
The tale of the successful Office Chimp is usually told with a recurring detail, and that detail is hidden in the actual nature of his work. Unlike most chimps, he will choose to only devote his energies to work that is high-value. You’ll never find him processing spreadsheets of meaningless data entry, or ‘touching base’ on matters that could be solved in an instant with a little common sense.
He starts his work at the conventional hour, and just like you and I, he finishes in time for an early evening drink. The difference is simply the value he places on his time, and thus the value he generates from his work.
You won’t catch the Office Chimp galloping through parks at a ridiculous hour, and you probably won’t see him covered in cheesy wotsits in the recess of the night. But just like with these other critters, there is method to his madness.
So which are you? And more importantly, are you doing a good job of being him?
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@Jason - It'd definitely have to be a ferret or a badger. I like the term "ferreting around between jobs".