As a former drummer, I know about keeping time. The professional musician that I wasn't good enough to be lives on inside me, however: I work nights. My defense used to be that the phone doesn't ring, the TV programs are even more worthless, and there's a still in the night that enables a man to think.
There are less socially acceptable advantages to the night shift, quite the best of which is sleeping late in the morning and the look of horror that it educes when first people find out. It's taken me 10 years to have everyone understand that I don't answer my phone before 11 a.m.
Working at the right time of day is one of the great management tricks that people use to outperform their peers. This was driven home to me by the partnership secretary of a large law firm, who took no phone calls and read no e-mails until the regularly scheduled times of the day when he dealt with such things. His efficient approach enabled him to bring discipline to dealing with 100 lawyers, no two of whom ever had the same opinion on anything.
There's a key technical advantage too. If something is due by 9 a.m. on Wednesday, after you leave work on Tuesday evening, I can fit in a whole day's work before you're back at your desk. This is always true, except at weekends, when I have three days' work available, if necessary. This provides an unbeatable edge against all my competitors and has made me the humble fellow I am today.
To pull this off, it is absolutely necessary that you live in a location where peace and quiet can be guaranteed late into the morning. That's one reason I so dearly love hotels. Hotel people don't give a hoot how you live, so long as they can get in every now and then to undo the worst of the damage.
Times change, however. In the last few months, I have noticed a trend developing. A night-owl crowd is out there with me, burning the midnight oil and many of the later oils. Not just scruffy delinquents such as myself; people with real jobs.
On a recent Sunday night/Monday morning, at 2:15 a.m., I finished some writing that needed the approval of the CEO of a major reinsurance company. I shot it off to him, safe in the knowledge that, when I was asleep in the morning, he would turn it around and have it back to me when I woke up at noon. That meant I'd meet my deadline on Monday.
Instead, to my surprise, it came back, with red highlights on the changes, 45 minutes later.
"Do you never sleep?" I asked.
He claimed that being in Connecticut, where it was only 1:50 in the morning, somehow made it OK.
A publisher routinely sends me his requests at midnight and answers my e-mails an hour later when I have questions. He's in Bermuda. There are many others whose e-mails come in marked in the wee hours, wherever they might be. I have one friend in London who often phones me at 4 a.m., knowing I'll be awake. He, too, has been up all night and is headed off to bed at 7 o'clock in the morning. He's a musician.
All these people know what they're doing, apparently, because we're making a living and none of us is being beaten with sticks by irate townsfolk . . . well, not all that often, anyway.
And that, my friends, is today's lesson. Find a way to work when the spirit moves you. You'll be a better employee, you'll get more done, and pretty soon you, too, can start receiving phone calls at 4 in the morning when you're struggling to meet a deadline.
is a columnist for Risk & Insurance®, and lives in Bermuda.
June 1, 2007
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