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05/14/2013

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Matt DeStefano

I would be very curious to know if people who are "night owls" have tried this and had success. I know that many people claim to not be morning people, but I am a truly awful version of myself in the morning. My most productive hours are usually in the late afternoon, and I find it hard to believe I would be very productive if I attempted to write during the mornings.

Marcus Arvan

Matt: *I* am a night owl. Until my final year at Arizona, I did work in the afternoon and evening, went to bed no earlier than 2-3 AM, and didn't get out of bed until at least 11 in the morning. The last year, after I got this advice, I started getting up at 8am to do work in the morning. I am still not a morning person. Going to be early comes so unnaturally to me that I can't do it without sleep meds (which I have to take every night). And it hurts to get out of bed every morning. But I force myself to do it, and it has gotten easier with time...and I am a FAR more productive philosopher than I ever was between the ages of 17-29 (my night owl years).

Again, I think it's important not to just assume that your natural way of doing things is best. How do you *know* you do your best work late when you haven't tried early? I would have had a hard time believing it too -- but when I actually tried it I found I am *far* better in the morning. As an aside, there's an entire body of empirical research which shows that people are *more* creative when they are tired. And this has been my experience with morning work. I am so exhausted that my "censor" is off and ideas -- good ideas -- just flow out.

Dan Dennis

It is good that you help people focus on their work routine, Marcus – it is very easy for one to get into certain habits without really standing back and questioning them.

I too find it best to start the day with writing, broadly conceived – as opposed to reading, teaching, preparation, marking, admin or any of the other things which clutter up and weary one’s mind. Better to do the original creative work whilst one is fresh.

Writing can mean many things though. Thus ideally I start the day being purely creative, just thinking deeply, trying to deepen my understanding of my area of philosophy, build on the account I am developing, come up objections and replies to them etc. Here I typically take notes, but it is not always necessary (some people find it easier than others to think without writing at the same time).

At some point I then move on to thinking about writing for others’ consumption. This is a very different activity. I generally start by doing what your correspondent mentioned, drafting general ideas and plans for essays (utilising, of course, ideas had whilst just thinking freely and deepening my understanding of my area). Then there is writing the essay, then revising and polishing it. Each stage is a little less creative, and a little less enjoyable…

I’d also agree with you Marcus that its best not to have one’s internal censor on when working creatively. However I think it best to learn to simply turn it off, or let go of it, so one can work whilst wide awake rather than whilst hampered by tiredness (one would not run one’s fastest sprint time whilst physically tired so I cannot see how it is best for one’s writing that one be mentally tired). Not consuming caffeine helps, I find…

I too am a night owl, but feel I would work better if I could go to bed earlier and get up earlier. But I don’t want to risk the use of meds – anyone got any tips?

Marcus Arvan

Dan: thanks for your comment. For my part, I think it's very hard to *consciously* turn one's internal censor off. It's like trying to not imagine a pink elephant by telling yourself not to think of one. This is, to the best of my understanding, why research has consistently suggested that people are more creative when tired: our censor is not entirely under our control, and so the best way to disable it is to be so darn tired that you can't help it. Anyway, this has been my experience. I can *try* too free write later in the day, but it almost never goes well, as I find myself almost compulsively editing my words and thoughts, undercutting my creativity and overall productivity.

Dan Dennis

Hi Marcus

I am not disputing that it is best to think and write creatively as soon as one wakes up. I am rather questioning whether the reason for this is because you are tired when you wake up and its best to write when tired. For my own part I am inclined to think that it is actually being rested, having a clear mind, being relaxed and open, which counts, rather than being tired. Later in the day one’s mind is cluttered with all sorts of things, and one is running on the rails one regularly runs on as one strives to get things done, so naturally it isdifficult to get all that out of one’s mind in order to then write openly. There is also more of a danger of being interrupted, which prevents one getting so deeply into one’s work (this is another reason why being out of the home and office – eg down the park – may help). Besides I would have thought that later in the day you are actually more tired, even if you are perhaps less aware of it. To say otherwise would be to say that you get less tired as the day progresses, which sounds a bit odd (a bit like saying you get less tired as the race progresses…)

Marcus Arvan

Dan: maybe you're right. I certainly *feel* more tired in the morning, and I'm a far, far better teacher -- I feel much more "on my game" -- later in the day. On the whole, I feel mentally the strongest between about 1pm-6pm. But I do my best work on the computer in the morning. Strange. Maybe there are different types of tired? My creativity seems strongest in the morning and lessens as the day goes on, but my overall mental "quickness" actually seems to increase as the day goes along. I dunno! :)

Alex H

I am not a morning person, but have also found that I am most productive prior to noon. If you need to ease into it: you can start out with editing material from the previous day's work, which is not very demanding and helps remind you of where things were going, and then move on (within half an hour or so) to new material.

Dan Dennis

I am in many ways similar. Practical things, interacting with people and the world (teaching, reading, doing DIY etc), I do quicker and better in the afternoon or evening. Once I have done my deep thinking in the morning, got it out of the way, then I can just get on with things. I think it is quite common to unsociable in the morning… :-)

Dan Dennis

Does your department accommodate your preference for afternoon teaching, by the way?

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