With a list of tasks she hoped to accomplish before leaving town for the holidays, Julie Yue set her alarm for 6:45 a.m. one day last week. The alarm went off, but Yue didn’t get out of bed until 8:15.
It wouldn’t take a data specialist to determine that Yue is not a morning person. But because she is that data specialist, for Seattle-based augmented writing platform Textio, Yue used her waking hours to dive deeper on whether early risers or night owls are more prone to being productive.
Part of the idea came to Yue after reading answers to one of the standard questions in GeekWire’s recurring Working Geek column — profiles of tech and business leaders who offer their insights into how busy professionals get work done. In an entertaining post on Medium, Yue wrote about her own lifestyle and her findings related to what “productivity” even means and whether waking up early would contribute to how she measured her own.
“I want to be a morning person because it feels virtuous,” she wrote. “In those hours before the day begins, I can carve out me-time, deep-thought-time, personal-project-time, meditation-time, exercise-time, all the time that seems to get lost during the day.”
Yue told us in a phone interview that before analyzing the Working Geek data, her hypothesis was that morning people are more productive, and it was almost like a causal relationship — if you’re successful and productive it’s probably because you get up early and do things. For her own sake — and her desire to blow off her alarm — she hoped to disprove her hypothesis.
And she did. The Working Geek data showed a near split between night owls and early risers.
“So that means that I’m not condemned to a lifetime of unproductivity because I can’t get up earlier or I don’t have an affinity for getting up early,” Yue said.
In a city where young tech professionals seem destined to work long hours in the pursuit of building the next big thing, Yue’s definition of productivity isn’t necessarily tied to doing more “off-hours” tasks related to her job. In her blog post she showed previous lists she’d made for how to fill make-believe early mornings. They included things such as making and drinking tea, reading, making her bed, practicing yoga, watering plants, thinking about the day, etc.
She had equally ambitious plans on the day we spoke.
“Oh, I had a list of everything I was going to do,” she said. “I was going to get up. I was going to do all the dishes I didn’t do last night. I was going to fold all the laundry I didn’t fold this weekend. And then I was going to clean my bathroom. Then go to the locksmith, and the post office.”
Despite getting up an hour and a half later than she planned, Yue still managed to have a semi-productive morning. She didn’t get the dishes or the laundry taken care of, but she cleaned the bathroom and made it to the locksmith and post office.
And she got to work around 10:20 a.m.
For those reading this who have already put in three hours by the time post-post office Julie Yue gets to work an hour or so before lunch, understanding the culture of the modern tech workplace is part of the equation. More open work schedules are the norm. There is a trust that work will get done without tracking hours, and Yue appreciates that she’s on a flexible team that doesn’t sweat the need to run an occasional errand and so forth.
Her blog post makes it clear that she’s dedicated a bit of time to understanding what makes people productive and whether the time of day we dedicate toward any pursuit really matters. And those who appreciate data insights would even argue it’s all been a productive use of Yue’s time. It’s especially worth reading what she learned regarding successful men vs. women, including when those women are mothers, and how often tasks related to child care come up in articles about business superstars of the opposing sexes.
“The message is clear,” Yue wrote. “If you want to be productive, you need to fill every waking hour with productivity. Especially for women and especially for moms.”
Yue cuts herself some slack at the end of her piece by realizing she doesn’t have to work a specific way in order to succeed. She references creative minds she admires who have their own routines.
And when she sets her alarm at night and lays her head on her pillow there’s no time left to ponder whether she’ll actually get up. She doesn’t lie there asking herself if she has what it takes to be a productive morning person.
“By then I’ve probably fallen asleep,” she laughed.