How I Changed My Most Productive Time of Day

posted by Andrea | 05/20/2013

evening clock

Over the past 12 months, I’ve been on a mission to change my most productive time of day from the early morning hours to later in the evening (keep reading to learn why.)

For those of you who are night owls, this concept might seem ridiculous. However, for those of you who (like me) are early birds, you understand all too well the difficulty of accomplishing anything productive after 9:00pm.

Dave and I are both early birds. We prefer to go to bed early, wake up early, and do most of our focus work in the wee hours of the morning.

For the first 5 1/2 years of our marriage, our perfectly productive schedule included going to bed by 10:00pm, waking up (often without an alarm) by 6:00am, and accomplishing more before noon than most people would in an entire day. This left us with several blissful evening hours available to work on house projects, yard projects, volunteer for local groups/organizations, and (gasp) just sit and relax.

Then we had a baby!

But not just any baby — a baby who refused to sleep. EVER.

Obviously we knew things would change with a baby around, but our naive pre-baby productive selves had absolutely NO idea just how humongous those changes would be.

For a long time (probably too long) I desperately tried to retain some shred of my old productive self. However, after months of little to no sleep, it was virtually impossible to continue waking up at 6:00am every morning.

Even if I did force myself to get up at 6:00, I wasn’t nearly as productive because I was just SO tired.

I finally decided that if I was going to continue doing the job I loved, taking care of Nora, and staying sane in the process, I would have to change my most productive hours from the morning to the evening. I wasn’t super optimistic that I could change, but I figured I had to give it a try.

So as I mentioned above, for the past year, I’ve consciously focused on changing my most productive time of day — and I’m happy to share that it worked! 

I no longer think twice about staying up until 11:30 or midnight to finish my work… and I’m sleeping in as long as Nora lets me each morning. My days are less stressful, I’m happier, and I’m still ALMOST as productive as I was before Nora :)

Obviously, I’m not implying that it’s better or worse to be more productive during the morning or evening hours — do whatever works for you! However, I do think it’s interesting that I was actually able to change my most time of day, and I figured some of you might benefit from this idea too.

Here are 4 simple steps that helped me change my most productive time of day and LEARN be more productive at night.

1. I forced myself to stay in bed.

I’ve never enjoyed sleeping in. Ever. I absolutely hated middle school sleepovers because I was up at the crack of dawn while everyone else slept until noon. I woke up at 6:00am without an alarm every day for high school. And I was one of those weird college students who requested all 8:00am classes.

I know. Crazy! So you can probably imagine how difficult it was for me to learn to sleep in.

In fact, I could NOT sleep in. Even though my body was so tired, my brain was still waking up every day at 6:00. I figured that since I was awake, I might as well get up and get going — but after a while, I realized that wasn’t such a good plan. I was basically exhausted all day long and didn’t accomplish anything at night either because I was just too tired.

So even though it took a LONG time before I was actually able to sleep in, I forced myself to stay in bed, laying down, with my eyes closed until Nora woke up. Now I can easily stay sleeping until 7:00, 7:30, and even 8:00!

Nora often wakes up by 7:00, but there are some days where she sleeps until 8:30 — which means I also sleep until 8:30!

2. I changed the way I write my to-do lists.

I used to write all my focused tasks at the beginning of my to-do list so I could tackle them all first-thing in the morning. Then, after my focused tasks were finished, I would spend the rest of the day working on house projects, yard projects, running errands, cooking, baking, etc.

Now, I’m doing just the opposite — and it’s working marvelously!

For example, after we wake up, I’ll quickly start a load of laundry, clean out the dishwasher, and check my email while Nora watches an episode of Curious George. Then we’ll go to the grocery store or run another errand. She has fun waving at everyone in the aisles of the store, “flirting” with the cashier, and riding in the car.

Then we’ll play outside for a bit (I might pull a few weeds while playing), eat lunch, and take a walk. Since we can walk to many different places I need to go anyway, we might walk to the bank one day, the library another day, and hardware store a different day — which means I’m able to get a few things done while Nora enjoys lovely stroller rides, fresh air, and pointing out EVERY SINGLE car that passes us ;)

Obviously I don’t spend all day working. We still have plenty of time to swing, blow bubbles, and read books. However, Nora is old enough that she can sometimes entertain herself for small amounts of time — which gives me short windows of opportunities to cross smaller tasks off my list. Glorious!

Then, once Dave gets home, I can do more of my focused work without constantly being interrupted.

3. I started taking a shower in the early evening.

I realize this might sound like more crazy talk, but honestly… it works!

I’ll often take a shower soon after dinner (if we’re not planning on doing more yard work at night), change into comfy clothes, and prepare to be productive. I suppose it’s like anyone else who showers in the morning before work — it wakes me up, gives me a bit more energy, and gives me a chance to clear my head from everything else that has been going on during the day.

Plus, if the opportunity does arise where I can go to be early, I’m all ready.

4. I limited evening and weekend activities.

For the past year, Dave and I have both been pretty ruthless about keeping our nights and weekends free — partially because these are the times when I can actually get stuff done, but also because if we we’re gone nights and weekends, we would NEVER see each other!

We have done more than our share of volunteer and committee work over the years, and I’m certain we will do more again in the future, but for right now, we’re saying ‘no’ and letting other take their turn. Dave coached basketball and I’m on a 2 committees at church, but that’s it. Other than that, we stay home as much as possible.

Obviously, we are not at the stage of life where soccer, t-ball, piano lessons, and youth group consume our nights and weekends — soon enough though :) For now, we’re enjoying our (somewhat) quiet nights and weekends at home — as well as the productive hours they offer.

When I look back over the past year, I can honestly say that these 4 changes have helped me to successfully learn to be more productive at night — and I did have to learn!

It wasn’t easy, and there are still days when I wish I could wake up at 6am without an alarm. But for now, my lazy mornings and ultra-productive evenings are working well.

I still laugh every time a friend or family member calls me around 9:30pm asking if it’s too late to call or if we’re already in bed — little do they know, I’m in the middle of my work “day”!

Have you ever tried to change your most productive hours? How did it go for you?

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19 comments

  1. Jennifer

    05/20/2013

    This is really interesting. I’m usually a morning person as well; I not only feel more focused and alert in the mornings but just much happier (and thus more willing to conquer unpleasant tasks instead of being crushed by depression at the thought of them!). I don’t have any children yet, but one thing that has always concerned me is hearing parents talk about how they do their main work in the evenings when the kids are in bed; I’m usually so useless by about 8pm, I worried if having kids would just ruin my ability to do anything focused, ever. It’s encouraging to hear that patterns can be changed.

    You say that you sometimes stay up till 11:30 or midnight – do you work right until you go to bed, or do you have any time to unwind or transition from work to bed? Sometimes, when I’ve worked right up to bedtime, I actually can’t sleep because my mind is switched on. The gains from working in the evening are often undone by the lost productivity due to tiredness the next day from being unable to sleep. Do you have this problem or do you just go to sleep straight away without needing to unwind?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Jennifer — don’t take this the wrong way, but having kids WILL ruin your ability to do anything focused (but not forever!) If you’re anything like me (and it sounds like you are) You will go through a month or two of sheer overwhelming exhaustion. And then you’ll figure out how to adapt and change so you can keep living your life.

    It will be an adjustment period for sure, but you sound pretty “on top of things” so I’m sure you’ll land on your feet again :)

    Also, at this point, I’m usually just working until about 11:30pm and then go straight to bed. I spend the last 10-15 minutes thinking through the next day, making my to-do list, and writing anything else I don’t want to forget. Once that’s all out of my brain, I can pretty easily fall asleep the moment my head hits the pillow!

    [Reply]

  2. susie

    05/20/2013

    This is interesting! I have always been more productive in the evening and have been trying to become more of a morning person, so i get up early then I am tired all day long! Guess I can keep what works best for me.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Susie, Keep in mind that it took me a year to fully make this transition — it definitely didn’t happen in a few weeks or even a few months. Also, I was FORCED to change due to Nora’s sleeping habits and that’s a totally different type of motivator :) I’d say keep doing what works for you — however if you really do want to be more of a morning person, start by waking up just 15 minutes earlier (but getting out of be RIGHT away, no snoozing). Then go to be 30 minutes earlier. After a few weeks, set you alarm another 15 minutes earlier, and then go to bed 15 minutes earlier. Those small increments are what worked for me!

    [Reply]

  3. rebeccasdelightfulhome

    05/20/2013

    Leave it to a little one to change EVERYTHING! Haha! I can say “haha” because I know exactly what you mean, and my girls are now teenagers. So, it will get easier in some ways (and more challenging in others). I am impressed that you found a way to still do everything you do, just in a different order. I was cracking up about your sleepovers – I have always been an early riser, and still am – like a clock!! In college, I would be up at the crack of dawn even on the weekends after we had been out late the night before. I had no one to go to breakfast with because everyone else slept until noon! Ah…. the good old days…now my kids sleep until noon on the weekends, so I still have a peaceful breakfast alone (not so bad!). LOL!

    [Reply]

  4. Organize 365

    05/20/2013

    Yeah!! LOVE!

    I am SO happy to see this. I am a morning person, but I have so many morning responsibilities that evening is when I have enough quite to be productive.

    I have been reading so many posts and articles about getting up earlier and earlier and feeling defeated. :(

    I too take a shower after dinner and get a second burst of energy. As a matter of fact, I do all 4 of these things and they work.

    I guess the bottom line is to do what works for YOU and keep improving on yourself – right?

    Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Lisa, I love all those blog posts about being more productive in the morning — but that just won’t work for me right now… and I know it won’t work for a lot of others either. I used to think productivity was only a morning thing, but I’m living proof that it can occur in the evening hours as well :)

    [Reply]

  5. Marlene

    05/20/2013

    This is such an intriguing post! I’ve been a morning person my whole adult life. But over the past year I’ve struggled more and more with it. Then when evening time hits *BAM* creativity and productivity just flows.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I feel that there are “seasons of life” and that in different seasons we are productive at different times. I would have never thought I would be productive in the evening hours… but here I am :)

    [Reply]

  6. Jill

    05/20/2013

    I too have had to change from a morning person to a night person for my children. They are teenagers so if I ever want to see them, it is in the evenings. There are still times I need to get to bed earlier, but for the most part I stay up so that I can visit with them and see how they are doing. I figure I will have plenty of time to get back to my more comfortable morning routine when I am an empty nester. (My baby is 18 and graduating from high school).

    I love ready your daily post-however if my husband knew you had a favorite thing spot every now and then, I would be banned. I have bought several of your favorite things and now they are my favorite things. I especially love my new paring knives and I am very protective of them!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Jill — and sorry about the Favorite Things posts :) I was actually hesitant to start that series because I didn’t want to encourage people to accumulate more stuff. But at the same time, I thought it would be fun to share products I use and love. So at least you’re loving your new products — you’ll just have to make sure you purge a few of the old items too!

    [Reply]

  7. Tammy Skipper (@Tammy_Skipper)

    05/20/2013

    I love this for so many reasons, but mainly it’s great because so many people are trying to change themselves to get up earlier and this is such a fresh perspective. I can so relate to the protecting evening time too. I added working full time again for the first time in five years, we are about to see our oldest graduate high school, then six months later my husband finishes his Master’s, then six months after that, the second one graduates high school, and six months after that my husband retires from the military. GAH!! I have become VERY protective of our evenings!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Wow Tammy — SO busy! Sounds like you have a lot to look forward to in the next year!

    [Reply]

  8. Vera

    05/20/2013

    That’s so funny you mentioned taking a shower in the evening to help give you a boost. I changed over to shower in the evening because I found it helped me unwind and get to bed easier by going to bed clean (kind of like washing away the day)! :-)

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes Vera, the shower gives me a “boost” but it does also help me “wash away my busy day” so I can sit and focus on writing or blog work for a couple hours (if that makes sense!) I too like going to bed clean, so that’s another reason I take a shower in the evening — I definitely can’t sleep if I feel dirty.

    [Reply]

  9. Priyanka

    05/20/2013

    Its funny how having a child dictates your routine. Before getting pregnant, I was training myself to wake up early since I am a natural night owl. I was getting there and then my son happened. He is such a bad sleeper that i had to go back to my old self.

    And showers are really a life saver, I remember a post you wrote about taking multiple showers to beat exhaustion, that and coffee really helped me through this first year with my son :)

    [Reply]

  10. Patty@homemakersdaily.com

    05/21/2013

    I’m actually not a morning person or a night owl. I’m a DAY person! But I have seriously considered trying to switch to a morning person. My problem is the opposite of yours – the time of day most likely to be uninterrupted so I can get things done is morning! Once 11:00 am hits, my day is up for grabs. But so far I’ve only thought about it and haven’t done anything. I don’t want to get up early! But I want to be more productive!!!

    So thanks for sharing. Lets me know at least that it is possible if I decide to do it.

    [Reply]

  11. Renee

    05/22/2013

    Great post! I too am an early-riser with a toddler who DOESN”T sleep. I can totally relate to being unable to sleep in. It is very encouraging to know you *trained* yourself to sleep it. I may do this…

    [Reply]

  12. Olga

    05/23/2013

    What a great post!
    I work at night, so my schedule is definitely different from most people. I also like taking a shower in the late afternoon or evening. It really works to give me an energy boost:).
    It’s even more challenging for me, because part of the week I’m operating on a night schedule and on my days off I try to function during daytime hours like a normal human being. Half the week my productivity is at night and the other half I’m productive from the early morning. it’s quite a hassle, but I just work around the hours that are available.

    [Reply]

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