You’re not lazy (just change the inputs!)

Do you find it difficult to get your work done?

What if that isn’t because you’re lazy, because you lack discipline, or anything like that?

What if your work output is simply a function of inputs?

Let’s go over two key inputs. First, when you work.

Consider:

  • 40% of people are “morning types”, who prefer to wake at or around dawn.
  • 30% of people are “evening types”, who prefer to wake up late in the morning or even in the afternoon.
  • The remaining 30% of people are somewhere in between.

Why does this matter?

If you try to work at a time of day that doesn’t fit your chronotype, you’ll have a hard time. For example:

When a night owl is forced to wake up too early, their prefrontal cortex remains in a disabled, ‘offline’ state. Like a cold engine after an early-morning start, it takes a long time before it warms up to operating temperature, and before that will not function efficiently.

And it’s not like you have a choice in the matter:

[N]ight owls are not night owls by choice. They are bound to a delayed schedule by unavoidable DNA hardwiring. It is not their conscious fault, but rather their genetic fate.

(Statistics and quotes from Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep, p. 20.)

So, if you are an evening person, why would you force yourself to get up early and to try to work in the morning? Or, if you are a morning person, why would you force yourself to stay at the office until late in the day?

And why would you let someone else, like your boss or the company’s upper management, force you to do this?

Maybe the reason that you don’t get much done in the morning (or in the evening) isn’t that you’re lazy, or that you don’t care—but simply that you’re trying to resist your genetics. What if you changed the input “time of the day”?

Here’s the second input: where you work.

Do you like to work in a busier space? Do you appreciate the energy of others around you who are also being productive? Or, by contrast, do you prefer to work in a quiet space where nobody will disturb you?

I don’t have trustworthy statistics on hand to demonstrate that some people work better in environments with some buzz, while others need a quiet space to thrive. But it sure does seem that way.

So, what if you changed the input “work location” and found that your work output is much higher when you work somewhere else? Would it matter, then, that we lack reliable statistics on this subject? If you are more productive in a quiet space, do you need to understand why? Do you need to fight it?

In fact, if you care about your work, don’t you owe it to yourself to work when and where you are most productive?

Let’s say you need to focus on your work for hours at a stretch. Perhaps you are a lawyer and you write and edit documents that will be scrutinized in court. It takes a while to wrap your head around the complex problems involved, so working efficiently requires you to be in a quiet space for a while.

If your boss is worth her salt, she will make sure that you have that quiet space available to you. And she will not interrupt your workday with superfluous meetings. Because your boss should care about your output, not about your input.

Not everyone has a boss like this, though. If your boss—or the rest of the management—does not make sure that you can work when and where it is efficient for you to do so, then you need to take responsibility. Guard your own productivity.

This might look like having a conversation with your boss and asking for more flexibility in when and where you work. It might also look like finding a job with a different company, where the management recognizes the value of letting you work in the way that you are most productive.

Don’t resist your genetics. Don’t resist reality. Work when and where it is productive for you

Yours,

— Peter

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