Spoiler alert: there really isn’t a right answer.
Eggs or Pizza (the when of work)
Late night people (the pizza people) think early morning people (the egg people) are lazy for checking out early. Morning people think late night people are lazy for coming in late. The problem is neither of them really sees how much the other works. There can be highly productive egg people and highly productive pizza people, just like there can be unproductive people in either category.
The issue is not necessarily when they work but what they accomplish. If egg people can be more productive in the morning, then give them coffee and get out of their way. If pizza people thrive at night, then let them keep company with the owls and get stuff done. Hoo cares?
Fluorescent or Incandescent (the where of work)
People who prefer to work in an office (the fluorescents) can be tempted to think the people who prefer to work out of the office (the incandescents) aren’t doing anything. People who prefer to work out of the office can be tempted to think the office folk aren’t doing much more than punching in, punching out, and staying at their post. The problem is neither of them really knows how much the other works.
Where are you?
So, where do you fall on the graph? Are you an incandescent pizza person or are you more of a fluorescent egg? Maybe you are some other mixture altogether. Which one is the right or best one?
Of course some of this is a moot point for those jobs where there isn’t much room for flexibility. The “what” of work can often determine the “when” and “where.” For example, if you work at a bank you might not have a whole lot of options. But if you are in a situation where you are able to carve out a work schedule that caters to the when and where of how you can be the most productive, here’s some quick summary thoughts:
One: Focus on your strengths.
I’ve bought into the leadership principle that it is more productive to focus on your strengths than to burn a ton of energy trying to strengthen every weakness. I don’t mean this in terms of moral strengths and weaknesses but in terms of productivity and giftedness. An hour spent building your strengths is generally more beneficial than three hours spent trying to beef up an area where you are weak.
But there’s another side to focusing on your strengths, it keeps you from obsessing over others’ work habits. Maybe you’re an egg: you get up and grind at 4AM. Well done. But you’re asleep by 8PM. Admit it. Though the pizza person might not roll in until 9AM, they were cranking out work four hours after you crawled into bed.
My point, don’t focus on the difference. Focus on working in your sweet spot and leave the pizza person alone. You might even encourage them when you cross paths in the middle of the day — since that is likely the only time of the day you will see each other.
Two: Find your groove.
In order to focus on your strengths you have to first figure out what they are. Related to productivity, most people learn pretty early in life what time of day they are at their prime. Discovering what environments you are the most productive in can take time and may depend on your employer.
Some jobs can’t be done off site (plumbing for example). In my line of work, academics, most schools have a specific load for teaching, a minimal set of office hours, and set expectations for publishing. That’s one of the reasons I love being a professor. It forces me to do something I love (teaching and writing) and allows flexibility to spend significant time in optimal spaces where I can blend productivity with creativity.
Full disclosure: I’m a incandescent egg kind of guy. My optimal work time is the morning and my optimal work space is in a coffee shop full of strangers and ambient noise.
Whether your ideal setting is a tidy office illuminated overhead by fluorescent lights, or like me, you prefer the creative vibe of a coffee shop and incandescent uplighting, spend as much time as appropriate and allowable in those spaces that help you to the get the most done with the highest quality.
Three: Free yourself from unnecessary restraints and misplaced expectations.
You have a limited number of breaths. Only God knows how many you get. But there is indeed a limit. Don’t waste a single one of them.
At the end of the day (or night if you are a pizza person), we all want to use our life to make the greatest impact. That means we want to spend our time being productive doing things that really matter. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
God has good works for us to do, things he planned before he made the world. Let’s get after it. Let’s find the best way to be the most productive doing the very things we were created to do.