Digital Strategy Insights Marie Poulin

Today is the day I forgive myself for being a night owl.

The last few weeks, or so it seems, I’ve had an incredibly difficult time waking up in the morning. I’ve found myself sleeping until 10am, 11am or sometimes noon.

This morning I set my alarm for 8:45am, and hit snooze until about 9:45am.

Perhaps it’s the change in season; not enough sunshine, not enough vitamin D… Ok maybe part of it is going to bed at 1am…

UPDATE: I Finally rearranged my blinds so the windows now let in much more light, and hey, I’ve actually been able to wake up much earlier than usual!

Either way, I found myself getting increasingly frustrated, as though my inability to wake up early in the morning was symbolic of laziness or un-productivity. I suddenly felt guilty, angry at myself and restless. My partner was quick to remind me: “You DID just launch your new website in 3 days last week, built 2 client website prototypes, went rock-climbing, did an interview, spent the weekend outside…”

I laughed a little. He was right. When I look at what I had accomplished in the last 2 weeks, I was proud! Why was I giving myself such a hard time?

Maybe I’ve read one too many books on productivity and efficiency. In Manage Your Day to Day, one chapter recommends not checking your email first thing in the morning, and instead, doing your best, most creative work first. This way you don’t spend the morning wasting energy on the drudgery of email and administrative tasks, leaving yourself feeling drained in the afternoon.

The problem with this, however, is that I can safely say that nothing about my brain is creative first thing in the morning. That’s not to say that I am not open to the possibility of this, but for as long as I can remember, waking up in the morning has been a struggle. Picture 3 alarm clocks at various places around the bedroom, all going off at the same time, while I zzzzz away. Then, enter irritated family member/flatmate/partner, totally dumbfounded that I could possibly sleep through such noise. Sometimes I feel like I could sleep forever, and the thought alone makes me so happy.

When I worked at Thinkhouse many moons ago, getting to work for 9am was a serious struggle for me. Gordon was so kind and flexible, and never said a word when I strolled in late. Of course I would stay later to make up for my time, eventually working something closer to a 10-6 work day.

Many years later, when I moved to Vancouver, I took on a position at a small digital agency where my work hours were 8-5. The stress of the job was one thing, but believe it or not, being required to be “on” at 8am in the morning was a serious struggle for me. My boss at the time even commented as I stepped through the doorway one morning after yawning:

“Yeah, you can’t come in here looking like that. Were you up all night?”

My jaw dropped. Did he actually just say that? I’m not allowed to come into work looking tired? I only lasted for 4 months before I realized that the stress of that position was going to shave years off my life. It was the job that sealed the deal for me; it was time to be my own boss full-time, and honour my own creative rhythms, whatever they may be.

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If I had complete and absolute freedom over how I choose to plan my day, I know this for sure: I love slow mornings. Slow mornings make me insanely happy. I love waking up to snuggles (whether they be from my partner, or pup). If I have snuggles in the morning, it totally sets the tone for the rest of the day. Then I love shuffling out of bed, putting on my robe, and making breakfast. I enjoy eating it slowly, ideally near a sunny window where I can look outside and breathe deeply.

Wait a second.
I DO have freedom over how I choose to plan my day.

SO, what’s the problem? Why am I beating myself up over not being a superhero at 8 in the morning?

One of the biggest reasons I decided to be my own boss was that I wanted the freedom to choose how I spend my energy each day. And I AM my own boss. So today after much reflection, I’ve decide to go a little easy on myself. I’m forgiving myself for being a night owl. If a slow morning gives me great joy, then I’m going to take a slow morning. If I enjoy a midday climb, because it energizes me, I’m going to do it. If I reach my creative peak at 7pm, and decide to work until 11pm, so be it. I don’t need to be on call 8 hrs a day with my clients.

As long as the work gets done, it’s time to stop feeling bad about when it happens.

I’d love to hear from you: Are you a lark or an owl? Do you have a time of day that you’re consistently “creative” or “on”? When are you most productive and inspired? Do you think it’s in our biology?

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21 Comments

  1. Hey Marie, I love your honesty here and I’m glad someone else struggles with this!

    I wish I was the kind of person who leapt out of bed at 6AM every day and had everything done and dusted by 6PM, but I’m not. I usually start work before 9, but then I’ll often work late into the night and that actually feels more natural to me.

    I’ve always loved my bed. Even when I was a kid. My dad used to call me “his little door mouse” because I was never the kinda kid that would come barging into their parents’ bedroom in the early hours.

    I’m still not totally happy with my “flow” and I know I’ll master it one of these days, but what I love about this post is that you reminded me that I don’t need to keep beating myself up about it. I can work ANY hours I choose. That’s the beauty of being self-employed. And that’s OK. Really.

    So . . . thank you. :)

    xo.

    Nikki

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    • Hey Nikki,
      Thanks for chiming in!
      I think we tend to feel guilty because this world is really geared toward morning people (not saying that’s a bad thing). If we wake up and see that other (morning) people have already gotten so much done, I think we end up feeling a bit guilty, like we’ve been un-productive, and it’s easy to beat ourselves up.
      I’m personally really curious if this is something that can be learned or adjusted over time, or if it is indeed just our biology. I know our ultra-connectivity plays a role as well, and I’m always working on keeping the smart phone and laptop out of the bedroom, and turning off all social media notifications on my phone, and making sure to leave time to unwind before going to sleep.
      It’s certainly interesting to note that many people feel a natural inclination one way or the other… so why should we fight it if we don’t have to?
      I do still fight it though, and am always on a quest for the perfect “flow,” but I’m also open to the idea that I may never find it. There may not be a formula, and I’ve just deciding to accept that, forgive myself, and go with the flow :)

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    • Hi my favorite Nikki!
      Don’t beat yourself up, we all can do however we please. As long as the work is done, we’re golden!

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    • I know you wrote this post some time ago but this truly hits home for me and the similarities are absolutely stunning. I have struggled my whole life with being a night owl. It has affected my classes in school, my jobs, my family and roommates/partners. I feel I have alienated people due to my inability to be functional in the mornings. I too had a small design firm job that I had to be up for from 8 to 5 and it drained me completely. I only lasted 4 months and then he told me that I didn’t look like I was happy there and that I might be better doing contract work for him as my own boss. Wow what a dose of reality that was. I have been working for myself ever since and it has been about 6 months.

      Truth is I am at my creative peak at night no matter how long I have been on. A switch or a spark just lights me up as soon as the sun goes down, but I hate the effect it has on my partner. She works a day job and there are times being awake at night keeps her awake and makes her day difficult and thus causing friction between us.

      I suffer with so much guilt that I am not working the way everyone else says I am supposed to work and have been called lazy and a disappointment for sleeping during the day. It utterly destroyed my last relationship. I suppose I am on here tonight reaching out because its another one of those nights. I had to leave my partners house at 12am so they could get proper rest instead of being able to curl up fall asleep and wake up beside them in the morning.

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  2. It might be a family thing, but I’m with you on that rhythm. I feel like I’m more productive in the late afternoon and after dinner, but it’s hard because Martin works until 6:30pm and then all he wants to do is relax and watch shows.
    For now, until I have the flexibility of my own schedule (I work at 7am) I try and get the work done when I can.
    I definitely enjoy slow, leisurely mornings though. I just wish my family understood that. They don’t know how to wake me up nicely. They’re slowly learning though!

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  3. I too appreciate the honesty here. It feels awesome to hear another entrepreneur admit that they’ll sometimes sleep till 11am. I’ve ALWAYS been a night owl and although I once managed to get the 8-12 thing going (up at 8am, in bed by midnight) it didn’t last very long.

    I am also a very big fan of the slow morning. I need time to wake up and process. I need time to do things that I truly love – like journal, read my affirmations, have a nice breakfast & yes – kitty cuddles are also a part of that. I like to sit outside and DO NOTHING for as long as I can.

    I like to sit inside and DO NOTHING too. I find I am way more productive if I have a little “me” time in the morning than if I run around trying to “be productive” before my brain even knows what’s going on.

    I suffer from anxiety and think that it’s worse in the morning, too. So if I jump right into creative work and business before I have had time to settle my nerves, I go bonkers.

    Thanks again for your honesty, ladies!

    Post a Reply
    • Yes, I definitely need time to wake up and “process” in the morning — it takes me a long time to feel “awake” as well. This was something my grandmother never used to understand, as she used to ask so many questions in the morning while we were eating our breakfast, barely alive/awake. All I could think was: pleeeease stop talking, I can’t even think! haha.
      Similarly, I am much more productive when I’ve had some “me” time. I’ll have DAYS where I feel a creative high, and I churn out so much awesome work… and then I hit a wall. I’m drained, tapped out, tired, burnt out, and I just have to roll with it. Go with the highs, and go with the lows… don’t fight it 😉

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  4. Ouch!

    I said my story on Facebook, but just want to add something.
    I was just listening to the latest interview with Alex Franzen on blogcastfm and a bit of the previous one with Greg (backstage). They were chatting about the people who’ve chosen “smaller” (not less meaningful) practices/strategies. So, one man who has always dreamed about having a hotel started renting a room and is now operating a charming boutique place for rent (instead of acting on his initial hotel vision he had in mind) .
    Alex was talking about how we don’t need to live via grid. Greg was talking about similar stories.
    This got me thinking about how for the past few years the success meant 1. early rising(you could read about it EVERYWHERE!!!!) 2. 6 digit income in 1 year 3. steep growth 4. big names as clients.

    But today, after this 3 mile walk, reading your post, after few years working for myself and knowing my rhythm, I know that I don’t need the above. That my life can be designed around my own schedule (as long as I spend those evenings with my hubbs :) , my own idea of what success is (maybe it’s 10am rising instead of 10:30..BTW, I’m usually out of bed at 9am) and my own productivity grid, which often means : 3 days of hard work and chilling out the rest, painting for myself, buying silk for scarves to paint paint and paint….

    Not 5 days of rules (not looking at your email before any work etc..). No judgement. No shame. No more productivity books :) Just some responsibility and feeling good combo will do.
    Hugs girl!

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    • Thanks so much for chiming in, Marta!
      Agreed — it’s so easy to get caught up in the “rules”! We learn and are taught that there’s a way that things are supposed to be, and then we spend the rest of our lives unlearning it all 😉
      The beauty of a freedom based business is that we have the freedom to choose how we spend our days, and you are right that it’s time to let go of that guilt/shame/judgement.
      Cheers, and keep up the beautiful, inspiring work :)

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      • Agree! So many rules worth unlearning!
        If I’m getting the vibe correctly, you are your own worst nightmare boss!
        Maybe it’s not that drastic, but. BUT, you know what I mean..I think.

        Because I’ my own worst critique and boss, so I understand why we look for rules and how to accomplish the most, the best, the brightest.

        Which is where this idea of early rising comes from, right ? It’s something more perfect than the night owl (who says it anyways?!) , because when you read about James Altuchers and so on, they all are in bed by 10pm, they all founded another company by 9am.
        On the other hand, since besides being a web designer (which is more structured) I’m also a painter, whenever I look at painters, they all drink absinthe until 4am :)
        So, I think I’m done with comparing myself.
        I’m actually very ok with my own grid right now, which took me 2 years to accept.
        And, yes, from time to time, I take a look at the “how to become an early riser” article, but it happens rarely and doesn’t prompt me to reorganize my biology anymore.
        And — you’re awesome — morning or night!

  5. Fabulous message… I have gone through the same thing, but then I tell myself I have 3 children at home with me all day and I am still proud of what I am accomplishing… Great message.

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  6. I loved this post, Marie. As I sit here working on a Sunday morning :-), your words remind me of the blessed flexibility that being self-employed offers, and support me in giving myself permission to take an afternoon off this coming week to get outside for a vigorous hike!

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    • Thanks so much for comment, Benjamin. I think we collectively need to stop being so hard on ourselves! Hope you enjoyed your hike :)

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  7. I just found your site via the Uncaged Lifers group and ok wow, you must be reading my mind.
    I’m from Houston, TX and I’ve been living abroad in europe for the past 4 months and this very same thing has been happening to me. Same schedule you’re describing in fact.

    I keep judging myself about it over and over and I work from home also and have the freedom to make my own schedule but there is this huge desire in me to be up early in the morning. I love the feeling of starting the day before most people, getting stuff done and then getting to witness the day unfold. But I’ve never really mastered it and I’ve always had a hard time getting out of bed to be up and alert. During fall and winter, it’s even harder to do that because I just want to stay in bed all warm and cozy. I don’t like the feeling of missing the day otherwise, I wouldn’t really care :)

    Since I’ve been on the Portuguese time zone, I realized that my schedule is actually the same as going to bed at 10 pm houston time but it’s really 2 am in Portugal and I’ll be returning to Houston in 5 weeks for good.

    I wonder if this time I’ll return home and by some jet lag schedule miracle be able to truly be up by 6:30 or 7 and start my mornings the way I’ve dreamed of for years?

    And if that doesn’t work, I’ll just have to cave in and truly admit that I’m a night owl?

    Loved this post!

    Sofia

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks so much Sophia! It really does feel good to get this stuff out and remember that others can relate. I am also curious how much of the morning tiredness is related to caffeine, or water intake, or food, or even sunlight! I know I definitely have more energy in the summer.
      Anyway, yes, let’s stop judging and find ways to work WITH our nature, not against it 😉

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  8. My two cents worth?
    I think it’s awesome that you are a night owl, because I am an early riser and together with our 8 hour time difference, this just works PERFECTLY! Haha :-)

    Love your authentic honest style of writing Marie!

    Jana xo

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  9. Hi Marie,

    I went through the same thing as you did, but let’s just say I took my time to come to the same conclusions. For months, I did not understand the late mornings and I really thought being a night owl placed “failure” on my forehead. The heaviness of my sleep overpowered me, no matter how angry I was at myself for not being on track with myself. Eventually, I did change my habits, slowly. And eventually, like you, I started to believe I could once again have a productive mind.

    One thing I reminded myself of before commenting is that if you want to be your own boss, it’s not just a possibility, it does eventually come together, sometimes at a faster pace than you believe in it. I also adore that you used the paraphrase -creative-: for me it’s not a word it’s more a verb, in all contexts’.

    Believe it or not I’m still working on getting my daily work done, but I hate myself less for it, because once a rock star always a rock star, right? 😉

    Bless,

    Myriam

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  10. Hi Marie,

    I read this post at the EXACT right time. I’ve never been a morning person, but I’m usually up by 8 AM. Lately, I’ve seriously struggled to get out of bed before 10 AM. I wake a few times before then, only to fall right back to sleep (in serious REM). I was beating myself up: I’m lazy, I won’t be as productive if I don’t wake up earlier, the day gets away from me when I sleep in, what’s wrong with me…and so on.

    A few weeks ago, I decided it didn’t matter. I asked myself, “Why does it matter what time you wake up as long as your responsibilities are met (dog fed and walked, client deadlines met, etc.)?” And they always are.

    I’m well studied in integrative medicine and my physician (brainiac, author and THE BOMB) recommends to sleep as long as you need, and that an average night of sleep should be 10 hours! That’s right TEN!

    And if you’re worried that there could be an underlying issue to your sleep, look into adrenal fatigue and other adrenal-related issues.

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks for chiming in Ramona!

      I am always researching this stuff too, as so many productivity blogs/articles etc talk about how important it is to wake up early, and how everyone does their best work at 6am, yada yada,… and it’s just not true for everyone. In fact, similarly to how each of our bodies has different food/exercise requirements, we all have different sleep needs.
      A range of 7-10hrs of sleep is considered “healthy/normal”.
      Funny that we need to give ourselves “permission” to operate our schedules differently than the 9-5 norm… and the only reason that became the “norm” was because of Henry Ford:
      “Surprisingly, Ford didn’t do it for scientific reasons (or solely for the health of his employees). Rather, one of the main reasons he came up with the idea to reduce the working hours of his staff was so employees would have enough free time to go out and realize they needed to buy stuff.”!
      https://ooomf.com/blog/why-you-shouldnt-work-set-hours/

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  11. I just want to mention I am just very new to weblog and actually loved this web-site. More than likely I’m going to bookmark your website . You actually have impressive posts. Many thanks for sharing your blog.

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