Early birds v night owls

The cult of early isn’t just about deadlines: it’s also about the hours in which we choose to be awake and do things. In fact, I would argue it’s more about our daily routines than anything else.

A fictional example: Luke works 7am-3pm while Tom works 10am-6pm. They both spend eight hours at work, so assuming they take roughly the same amount of break time, they’re equal, right?

Anybody who’s ever worked in an office with flexitime will know this isn’t the case. In terms of hours worked, yes, they’re equal. In terms of smugness about hours worked, Luke wins hands down.

When Tom walks into the office at 10am, Luke is socially sanctioned to make comments about Tom’s “lateness”, whether that’s a jokey “Good evening” or a sardonic “Oh, you’ve finally made it in.” If Tom challenges the comments, on the grounds that he’s not actually late but just working a different shift pattern, Luke will say he was only joking and Tom will look as if he can’t take a joke.

If Tom tries to get his own back by commenting “Leaving us already?” or similar when Luke leaves at 3pm, he will get a self-righteous response along the lines of “I think you’ll find I’ve been here since 8am!” Quite often the early shift pattern is for childcare reasons, which means that criticism of the office early bird is effectively criticising working parents: dangerous territory.

I don’t know where the cult of early comes from. I understand why culturally, we associate the hours of darkness with unwholesome things: crime, witchcraft, antisocial behaviour and so on. But I don’t understand why so many people seem genuinely to believe that being “early to bed, early to rise” makes you a better, more productive person.

There is no moral dimension to our choice of waking and working hours. Do I need to say it again? There is no moral dimension to our choice of waking and working hours. Whether you are “good” or “bad”, hard-working or lazy, is not about your circadian rhythms. It is about who you are and what you do.

There is a theory that lustratory rituals actually encourage bad behaviour by encouraging a false sense of righteousness, a feeling that you are super-clean and can do no wrong. I wonder if it’s the same thing with early birds. If you belong to a culture that values earliness for its own sake, are you starting your hideously early day with the assumption that you’ve already “won”, that you don’t need to be as productive or as friendly as the colleague who’s currently still snoozing?

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4 Comments on “Early birds v night owls”


  1. […] written about the cult of early and how early risers get cultural credit just for starting their day earlier than other people, even if they also finish earlier and get […]


  2. […] think I may have to repeat myself. […]


  3. […] and we aren’t allowed to make noise then. I’ll tell you why, it’s cos those bastard early rising people have convinced everyone they are somehow morally superior and we should respect their sleep, but they don’t have to respect ours. They stitched us all […]


  4. […] times is intrinsically better than work done at other times.  (I guess I need to say again that there is no moral dimension to our choice of waking and working hours. […]


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