Working hours: Productivity is highest on your own time

Researchers have identified "social jet lag," the disorientation of the body clock by fixed working hours that don't mesh with the body clock. What times would you work best?

I've never been what you'd call a "morning person," unless you're talking about the hours after midnight and before 3 AM. Do I fit better in this era than my parents' working world? Should companies and teams be thinking more about when people are at their best and less about the time clock?

According to research reported today (the link is a subscription page at the Financial Times) by Till Roenneberg,People work better on their own schedules, because body clocks don't run on company time. a Munich-based circadian rhythm researcher, many of us are seriously out of synch with the social world. Comapnies wanting to get better performance from employees should let people come to work on their own schedule, he concludes.

Information workers, unlike their farming and hunting ancestors, don't spend a lot of time outside, where the sunlight's changing schedule reset the body clock throughout the year. Industrial-era work may have fit the employer's schedule, but it eroded the individual chronologies that people rely on to feel rested, alert and creative. Roenneberg told a conference today that “those people who suffer the least social jet lag are late types who can choose their own working times. Employers should say: ‘Please wake up in your own time and come in when you are ready.’”

Interestingly, Roenneberg found that the more out of synch with the rest of society a person's body clock is the more likely they are to smoke. I suppose it's a form of self-medication, using nicotine to put an edge on when a jet-lagged person has lost theirs. 

Computer-mediated work and networks, which bring groups together on radically different schedules than the 19th and 20th centuries' work habits. We have an opportunity to rethink the organization of work. Should we start with recognizing schedules in shared workspaces need to be more flexible? I think so, especially when you consider that more work can be done at home, allowing people to spend time with their families and contribute to the raising of the next generation while continuing intense professional engagement with the economic world.

I work best after 11 AM until about 15 hours later, around two in the morning. I get far more done on that schedule than one that starts between 7 AM and 8 AM.  When do you do your best work? Let's start a revolution in rescheduling.

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