Night owl or morning person? Do morning people have the upper hand?

Let’s accept it, there are morning people and there are night owls and you are either one or the other. Some people say there is a group that falls somewhere in-between. But if it exists it is rare as the people I’ve met tend to lean one way or the other. I very clearly fall into the latter group. Does being in one of those groups guarantee success ?

I think so, but it may not be the group you think of first.

Circadian rhytms are the biological process inside us that oscillates in a series of about 24 hours. These clocks are built in, they’re our internal clocks, but they can be adjusted by external factors or cues, like light and temperature. Studies have shown that almost every cell in our bodies has its own internal clock. That’s a lot of ticking going on inside us.

Which group you fall in tends to determine your morning routine.

So which one are you ?

Do you bound out of bed with a big smile, ready to meet the day head on ? Do you jog to the kitchen, activate your Nutribullet and smoothie your way to a healthy breakfast, before striding off to work, greeting everyone on the way ? Do you have that big smile with you all the way through the morning ?

Chances are you’re a morning person.

Or do you rather have to get dragged out of bed by your spouse, grumbling all the way. Or is it that 10th alarm clock hidden deep in one of your drawers that does it ? Is the first thing you reach for a strong cup of black coffee and do you need to be left alone as you slowly wake up ? Do you scowl on your way to work as you see the morning people bound past you ? And do you keep telling yourself that you should experiment with going to bed before midnight to see if it changes anything ?

Chances are you’re a night owl.

night owl morning person success
Night owl

So what are the main differences between morning people and night owls ?

Some basic characteristics of a morning person

  1. They wake up early
  2. They are more productive in the morning
  3. Some studies have shown that they have more positive emotions
  4. Some studies have shown that they get slightly better grades

Some basic characteristics of a night owl

  1. They tend to be more active throughout the day and be more active later
  2. Studies have shown that they are more fun at night
  3. Some studies have shown that they have more active sex lives
  4. Somes studies have shown that they have higher IQs and are hence smarter

So the above short lists tell us a few things :

  1. Studies almost always generate contradictory results. That’s the power of statistics and why you need to find contrarian views on everything to form your OWN opinion
  2. Both personality types gets things done but just at different times of the day
  3. A more active sex life depends on whether the researcher asked you if you have more sex at night or in the morning

In my previous company, a Global fortune 500 company, the CEO prided himself on his persona of waking up at 3am every day to go to gym and then be in the office at 5am. It was almost mystical.

What a joke. I always thought.

Here’s a guy that gets into the office 3 to 4 hours before the rest of the company. He can because he doesn’t have to get the kids ready, take them to school, drop them off and then head to work. He obviously had people who did that for him. I won’t go into a rant on how important family relationships are to your success right now. But they are.

However, he can read his emails and shoot off responses, you might say, and then start the day with all of that behind him.

Yes certainly, but emails should be the smallest part of the CEO communication toolkit. You should already know that people always think senior leaders are more busy than they actually are.

The CEO I’m talking about, actually even told me that. He said he gets a lot of down time as his global teams believe his is busier than he really is, so they don’t dare distrub him. Related : How to get promoted to the C-Suite

So how was he spending all this time. He couldn’t talk to anyone. Reading, catching up on things all alone in his office watching the sun come up ?

And then when did he go home ? If you wake up at 3am you’ll certainly start getting tired before the rest of us who wake up later. No late nights for our CEO, going over the next day’s board presentations. You’ll have to hope the team anticipates really well.

And that really is it, in my opinion. If you’re a leader who is a morning person, either you surround yourself with morning people and anticipate extremely well or you won’t succeed.

Life and business aren’t predictable. You need to be able to operate and perform at any hour.


My life as a night owl

I battle to wake up – always have. I’ve been told by a succession of teachers, professors and managers that I should try work on my morning skills. That’s never happened and never will. I don’t operate well early.

I need time to reassemble myself in the morning.

Being a night owl has never stood in the way of my success. My managers saw that and eventually overlooked my late arrivals. Mind you, I never miss a start to a meeting.

When everyone was sleeping late at night during university, I was studying. When the lawyers and bankers were getting tired as we raced against the clock to get that recapitalisation, listing or refinancing completed, my head was clear and I was able to make great decisions.

I had the stamina to get the job done.

I saw my morning collegues drowning in the late night air.

Being a night owl has been one of the characteristics that has allowed me to excel.

So does that mean morning people aren’t made for success ? What about the CEO you just mentioned. He was CEO of a fortune 500 company.

On the contrary, morning people can have great financial and business success, but I don’t believe they have the upper hand, as a lot of studies might lead you to believe.

Night owls have the stamina to keep going, the courage to keep pushing forward no matter the hour. As one great night owl, Winston Churchill, said « Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. ». Keep pushing your limits and use your stamina as a strength, when those pesky morning people start to flounder.




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