Early to rise

Maybe the most effective way to get work done at night is to go to bed early.

The other night, I had a bunch of projects I needed to work on after I got home. This is always challenging for me, because I need — and want — to spend quality time with the kids and my wife. 

The college version of me would just stay up all night.* The 40+ year old version of me isn’t as good at that anymore.

So when I have a bunch of work to do, I go to sleep early.

The sun isn't up yet.

When our first child, Norah, was born over a decade ago, I would often wake up when my wife woke up to feed her. Our oldest did not sleep very well. It was helpful for me to be awake to get my wife a glass of water or, honestly, just provide emotional support. It was seriously a rough couple of months.**

For several months, in the wee hours of the morning, I would work in my office, next door to the nursery while my wife fed our infant daughter. Surprisingly, I got a lot of work done in the middle of the night and early morning.

Thankfully, after six months or so, Norah started to sleep through the night and we went back to our normal sleeping habits. But I never forgot that I could be really productive in the early morning.

So I developed a new procedure for working on significant projects at home. When I really need to dedicate a couple of hours to a project, I go to sleep right after the kids do. I’m in bed by 9 p.m. 

Then, I wake up at 3 a.m.*** After 6 hours of sleep, I’m not mentally exhausted from the day I just had. And I find that the two and a half hours before the family wakes up is some of the most creative time I have during a day.

I’m more productive, too. If I stay up late, I often stay up until 1 a.m. working, but then often can’t go to sleep right away. My brain is in overdrive and I stare at the ceiling for a couple of hours. I end up getting less done and only get 3-4 hours of sleep. 

I blame the industrial revolution

As a quick aside, research suggests that this early morning creative period is something that humans developed with the advent of electric powered lights and that the continuous 8-hour night of sleep is a modern invention. So maybe there is a scientific reason for my insanely early morning productivity. Or maybe not...

Set your alarm

I don’t do this every night. But when I’ve got personal projects that I really want to work on, it’s better for me than staying up all night. 

There are drawbacks to my early morning approach. Sometimes, the alarm doesn’t go off. Or you need a larger chunk of time than you planned for. Sometimes you finish quickly and try to go back to sleep, which doesn’t always work so well. And trust me, if you send a bunch of emails at 3 a.m., people will think you are crazy.

But next time you’ve got a chunk of design work to do and you need uninterrupted time, go to bed and give waking up early a shot. 

* In college, I didn’t sleep that much.
** Thankfully, our other two were much more consistent in their sleep patterns.

*** And as an FYI, television at 3 am is really bad. Procrastination is that much harder…

Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he writes wakes up at weird hours of the morning and works on personal projects. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.