Your brain works at an optimum level at some point during the day, categorizing you as either a lark, owl, or hummingbird. The main difference between the bird types are when they feel energized to work. Larks are raring to go from the moment their eyes open in the morning. Owls feel their creative juice flowing when the sun goes down. Hummingbirds are ready for action at any time of the day. Figuring out which type of bird you are will improve your productivity. At different times in my life, I’ve been each type.
Owl in College
In college, I was a night owl. I had classes throughout the day and worked two jobs. The only time I had left for homework was either very early in the morning or after my shift ended at 10 pm. I never liked getting up early, so I did my work at night and went to sleep around 3 or 4 am. This schedule was hard on me physically and mentally. I got sick more frequently than usual and didn’t feel like anything was my “best work”. I often thought I would have enjoyed the material more if I’d had more time. After college, I learned I didn’t need more time, but that I needed to work at a different time.
Lark in the Office
In my corporate position, I started work at 8:30 am each day. I felt most productive from around 9 am – 12 pm. I developed the routine of doing my most creative work, a newsletter and website content, first thing in the morning. I quickly figured out that after lunch, I was more easily distracted. The room was louder, people were chattier, and I found it harder to concentrate. As my attention span waned, I’d work on things that required less brain power like copying & pasting information and answering emails.
Hummingbird at Home
Working from home, I’ve had to adopt a more flexible schedule which has transformed me into a hummingbird. I’m able to work whenever I have the time and usually feel just as creative and motivated at 6 am as I do at 1 pm.
On weekdays, I work before my daughter wakes up. I get up around 5:45 each day and work until Norah wakes sometime around 8. Since I typically have more than two hours of things to do each day, I use her afternoon nap as another working session. Norah consistently naps from 12 – 1:30 each day. Sometimes, she sleeps in, or takes a supersized nap, and I get a ton done; other times she’s up at 6 am and I have to adjust my schedule and my expectations for the day. I also work in the evenings while my husband does the nighttime routine and on weekends. For the most part, I feel sharp and inspired throughout the day with my only major energy dip occurring around 2 – 3 pm. A soda usually fixes the problem!
I prefer to do my creative writing, like this blog, in the early mornings. My ideas flow more freely and my concentration level is at its peak. I play ambient music like Soundrown or Brain.fm while I write. I leave administrative work for the afternoon and return to creative work at night. I use the time when I’m mentally depleted to get things done around the house, return calls and texts, and schedule social media posts.
If you told me in college that I’d be intentionally waking up before 6 am to work, I would have laughed hysterically at you. Had you told me even two years ago, I would have scoffed. However, necessity is the mother of invention. When you have to do something, you find yourself more willing to do it, and even growing to like it, as time goes on.
If you need to transition from one type of bird to another, how should you go about rewiring your brain? Here are some tips that have helped me make the transition.
Make a Tiny Change
One of the best ways to change your routine is to incorporate small changes in your daily life. BJ Fogg offers free week-long email programs on adding tiny habits to your life. I used his system to start each day with a positive affirmation and to make flossing a habit. BJ suggests that you create new habits that connect to existing habits. This can help you slowly put together a routine that moves you from one type of bird to another.
Create a Morning or Evening Routine
It can be helpful to add a five minute morning routine to the beginning of your days. A morning routine can be as simple as brushing your teeth, making coffee, and spending five minutes listing your goals for the day or it can be a 15 step process; it’s up to you. My morning routine varies, but I like to start with a short meditation session, have my first of two coffees, read blogs and the Medium digest, then work on personal writings for at least 20 minutes.
An evening routine for winding down and getting ready for bed is also a good idea no matter what type of bird you are. Many studies have shown that blue light is terrible for sleep. My husband and I both use f.lux on our devices. We also try to spend 10-20 minutes reading (paper books) in bed before turning out the lights. This helps me decompress and make steady progress towards my reading goals for the year.
Go With Your Strengths
Ultimately, you should go with your strengths. It’s always easier to do what feels natural and make small, gradual changes. Organize your day so that your most creative work is done at the time when you are at peak performance. Time blocking your schedule on Google calendar is a good way of managing your day. Save your administrative tasks, busy work, and email responses for points in the day when you feel less sharp.
Whether you are in a traditional career path or are a freelancer, discovering your bird type and doing your most important work when you are in the zone will make a huge difference to your success. Figuring out when you should work will improve the quality of your work and increase the enjoyment you get from it.