Do You Know Your Chronotype?
Here on the blog, I’ll occasionally dip a toe into a topic that’s far too deep for me to talk about intelligently. That’s certainly the case with today’s productivity tip du jour, so I’ll lean on the brilliant Daniel Pink, who has assembled more brilliance from other brilliant thinkers for his brilliant book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. (see my Top Ten Quotes post here)
Pink spends most of the book talking about how our personal wiring informs personal productivity. He drills down on chronotypes – our “personal pattern of circadian rhythms that influences our physiology and psychology.”
In layman’s terms, most of us can be divided into three chronotypes: owls (who hit their peak in late afternoon / early evening), larks (who are most productive early in the day), and third birds (who don’t fit neatly into early or late categories, but peak out in less-defined time frames. (Research shows that 60-80% of people are third birds.)
Earlier in life I was an owl: my best work, prep, and energy happened later in the day. Now, I’m an unabashed lark: I’m up at 5 a.m., have my most creative moments before lunch, and by the time 9 p.m. rolls around I’m looking for a good excuse to go to sleep.
Pink gives us a simple way of figuring out our chronotype. To quote him extensively:
…think about your behavior during “free days” – days when you’re not required to awaken at a specific time. Now answer these three questions:
1. What time do you usually go to sleep?
2. What time do you usually wake up?
3. What is the middle of those two times – that is, what is your midpoint of sleep? (For instance, if you typically fall asleep around 11:30 p.m. and wake up at 7:30 a.m., your midpoint is 3:30 a.m.)
When you’ve found your midpoint, you can toss yourself into the appropriate category. I am still [checks notes] a solid lark. (5 a.m. club, unite!)
So why is this important?
We need to know our chronotype and work with it, not against it. To paraphrase my pastor, “I know that 9 p.m. J.D. doesn’t have the mental capacity to deal with most issues. So I hand them off to 9 a.m. J.D., who is going to be fresher, more intuitive, and more confident in the decision.”
Knowing your chronotype has a direct effect on how you map out your ideal week. Owls shouldn’t schedule creative tasks first thing in the morning, neither should larks hold in-depth meetings late in the afternoon.
If you want to explore the idea of chronotypes more, I highly recommend Pink’s When. It’s a fascinating deep dive into how to best structure our days according to our wiring.