“The early bird gets the worm.”
I’m not sure where this quote originated, but I have been hearing this for about as long as I can remember. In a practice that has since ceased, I was part of the “Early Birds” in elementary school. The Early Birds came to school an hour earlier than the “Late Birds” and left an hour earlier. It was not advertised, but it was well-known that the Early Birds were the students that were put in advanced curriculum. And no, I am not tooting my own horn here – it is an example of how we are taught to think that starting your day early is a virtue, while starting your day later may be a signal of sloth or laziness. This is a cultural and a societal influence.
Why am I writing about early versus late risers, and how does this relate to careers?
I recently read an article on the Harvard Business Review entitled Defend Your Research: The Early Bird Really Does Get The Worm, which reveals a recent study done by Christoph Randler on human Chronotype.
Human chronotype describes a person’s tendencies towards “morningness” or “eveningness”, or when that person feels most alert. In the study, Randle surveys 367 students, who have self-proclaimed their tendencies to be more active and productive in the morning or evening. The study was designed to see if there were some key personality differences between morning and evening people. In the sample of students that participated, morning people were more likely to set aside time “identifying long-range goals for myself” and “feel in charge of making things happen.”
As Randler states, these actions suggest “proactivity.” His study suggests that there are discernible differences in personality between morning and evening people: his diagram shows morning people to be more agreeable, optimistic, stable, proactive, conscientious, and more satisfied with life. He reports that evening people are more likely to be creative, intelligent, humorous, extroverted, pessimistic, neurotic, and depressed.
Now, before you decide that you are depressed and neurotic, remember that this is one study. This study is based upon a sample of 367 college students. It is, by no means, definitive, nor is it conclusive. And even if you were to accept the findings, you would know that there are always exceptions to every rule.
That said, it does raise interesting questions:
- Are there inherent chronotypes in human beings?
- And if so, does this circadian clock affect our personalities?
- And if this affects our personalities, how does this affect our workplace, and how do we manage these differences?
I personally subscribe to the theory that we all have a “human clock” and that there is a significant chunk of the population that identifies with being either a morning or an evening person.
And if every person has a different personality, with many factors (think nature versus nurture) contributing to one’s overall persona, perhaps one’s own circadian clock is one of those factors contributing to the overall personality. Again, these may be translated as tendencies more than the rule, i.e., not always true. But for the sake of argument, let’s suppose there is some truth to Randler’s assertions.
In his study, Randler finds that morning people tend to wake up around the same time on weekdays and weekends. Evening people are more likely to wake up later on weekends, typically two hours later. In studying chronotypes in the workplace, he finds that more morning types climb the corporate ladder than evening types. His theory for this, is that corporate schedules, school schedules are more in tune with morning types, thus catering more to their liking. Whereas evening types must make adjustments.
He also notes that people tend to shift chronotypes over their lifetime. Children tend to be morning types, then shift more towards evening around puberty, then begin to shift back towards morning sometime after the age of thirty. He also points out that students were able to change their tendencies gradually over time, with some persistence.
I think studying whether people have a human clock is a fascinating topic, and it may be controversial. But I am more interested in a very basic question and how that relates to your quest for a career that brings happiness, satisfaction, and value to your life. Part II of this post will delve into how a study on circadian clocks relate to your career. For now I leave you with a question to ponder:
If you made a long To-Do list, would you tackle this list in the morning or later in the afternoon or evening?