The best most productive schedule I've ever been on usually came about around finals time in college.
I would wake up around 8AM, then fall asleep at 4PM, wake up again at 8PM and fall asleep again at 4AM. I was awake during all the necessary "business hours" to go to school, but I also had 8 uninterrupted hours in the middle of the night to study or read or whatever.
The best part was, whenever 4 came around I would get tired and fall asleep very rapidly, and snap awake fully energized at 8. Since I was never awake more than 8 hours at a stretch I was always refreshed right up to the time I would fall asleep. Meanwhile, unlike the hoax uberman or other sleep schedules, I was getting a full 8 hours of quality sleep per day, so I was never tired.
Considering the similarities between hacking and writing - highly skilled, solitary, large "page size" - and I think the following excerpt could be enlightening.
From chapter 22, "Professional Writing Expertise" (Ronald T. Kellog), in the excellent Cambridge Handbook Of Expertise and Expert Performance:
...the converging point are that ... all of the idiosyncratic habits of professional writers
(1) focus attention inward by eliminating distractions,
(2) may alter consciousness to facilitate entry in a flow state, and
(3) help regulate the writer's emotional state to keep at the task.
Many choose to write at the same time each working day, but individuals differ from morning, afternoon, evening, late night, to early morning preferences. Work sessions of one to two hours correlate with productivity in scientific writing, but the relationship is weak (r=.22) and the variability is large, with some individuals writing four or more hours at a time. Successful poets also typically write for one or two hours, whereas most novelists typically report longer sessions of two to three or even four to six hours. Running or walking help some writers think through problems while away from the writing table. Others use meditation, coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs to alter consciousness in the service of writing.
Now, writing isn't the same as hacking, but as a process it seems to have many things in common with hacking. I seem to remember reading somewhere (couldn't find the page) that most experts in general practise in the morning when energy is at its highest, but this doesn't seem to be the case with hacking. I found this rather curious. My guess is that the page size is typically bigger, which requires longer periods of time to enter flow, compared with say, chess, where 30 minutes is often effective. That still doesn't explain why there aren't as many novelists writing at night as there are hackers. So another, less scientifically backed up, idea is that hacking is less of an expertise and more of a "production task", meaning we often do things we already know perfectly well how to do, something that would require less energy. Computer science is an extremely new field, so it wouldn't be too surprising if we would see hackers that are experts at a whole other level 50 years hence. It could also be a cultural thing, since a lot of hackers start as teenagers when they are still in school. What are your thoughts, HN?
Un-interrupted time is important. But I think you're getting at something else I've noticed, that I have to already know what to do in the un-interrupted time. Just having a chunk of time is not enough for high productivity.
Already-knowing-what-to-do can come from moments of insight in the shower or walking the dog, or can come from state dumps -- written to-do notes -- made after I've loaded sufficient state on an earlier day.
Sometimes both knowing-what-to-do and the time to do it can occur in the same session. This tends to be smaller stuff. And sometimes, after taking that shower the next day, it turns out to be the wrong stuff.
When I used to do contracts in my 20s I would wake up at about 8pm, go out to nightclubs, not drink, come home about 3am then work on code until 11 am and then talk to clients. I would then fall asleep around noon. It was really great because I was really fresh and happy when I went out clubbing and the most annoying part of my day, talking to clients, happened when I was about to fall asleep.
I usually wake up at around 4 pm, then spend the remainder of the day just hanging out, doing some chores and wasting time on the internet. In the evening I go out to dinner or a bar, and then hang out and play games with friends. I head home once the night is over - usually it is around midnight to 2 am. At this point I am usually bored of distraction, and entering the peak of my waking period. In the quiet solitude of the night, I find myself naturally gravitating into the Zone. On a good night, I can continue invincibly into the afternoon. At this point, I get any necessary email and administrative work out of the way, make sure my work is committed, and fall asleep.
If during a night session, I find myself falling out of the Zone, I simply just go to sleep early. However, this has the unfortunate side effect of shifting my schedule unpredictably for while.
I have noticed very little correlation between time of day and prime hacking hours. For me, it's whenever I can ensure a 4 hour (or more) chunk of time without meetings/interruptions, which tends to be either early in the day or late at night.
Yes, this is definitely true.. the main thing I've noticed is I like to not be a in an environment where its really brightly lit, so time of day isn't important, just if its during day time, I need to be somewhere not right by a window, etc, I find the office I work in currently has a great lighting scheme that seems to keep me where I need to be regardless of time of day
That's funny because it's the opposite for me-I work well when it's a bit dark. In fact, when I did Math (which didn't require constant visual feedback), I would do my best work by while keeping my eyes closed for long periods of time.
yes, you are right, we are agreeing, I think I put it the way I did since I still like some light, I know some people like to work in what would be considered a "dark" environment, I suppose I prefer more on the side of "dimly lit"
Same deal for me, usually after work is when I don't interruptions but there are days that work is slow and I can get a couple hours of hacking in. Yeah, having a day job sucks in some ways, my sleep schedule is pretty average right now though.
I'll literally be preparing to go to bed when suddenly an idea pops in my head for a fix/improvement on a project I've been working on.
Four hours and a few git branches later, I kick back with a smug sense of accomplishment and...realize I have to be up in two hours.
Meanwhile, I can block out literally an entire saturday afternoon to work on projects, but usually I just can't seem to catch that same random spark that only seems to strike at like 1am on a Wednesday. I get things done, but am not nearly as razor focused. Maybe its because I planned it out, maybe I just work better late at night, who knows.
I want to capture that spark and place it in a bottle right next to my desk.
I feel like my biggest sparks come during times of stress. Maybe it's the brains way of relieving the stress. So a crazy week were I do 60+ hours of something I don't want to do, I'm yearning to work on that side project I've been neglecting.
I do best between 10PM-3AM because that's when I get the most uninterrupted time. After the wife and kids go to bed, I'll crawl back out for some hacking. I'd prefer getting up at 4am, but if I do, it's not long before my wife notices I'm gone and then she can't get back to sleep.
However, I've got the sort of job where I have to be there by around 9-10am. Staying up until 2-3am takes its tolls, and many nights I can't stay up much past 9pm due to only getting 4 hours of sleep the night before. If I were able to sleep later, I'd prefer the 10pm-3am shift. I feel and think better after getting up at 4am than when I stay up until 3am, fighting the desire to just fall asleep on my laptop.
TMUX is very nice to have on those nights I have to fight sleep. I almost always end when I'm at the point that I'm too tired to write logical thoughts any longer. I just shut the laptop lid and go to bed, ignoring the fact that I've still got 3 files open in vim and an active ssh connection...
I've done it. Ruins the sex life. Of course, everything in moderation. Maybe dedicating a couple of days a week to 4am wake ups would work. But sleep isn't something of a habit and it's hard to keep sleeping at different times.
I find night time to contain the quietness I need to let my brain out. I've often wondered if that's artificial and just because everyone else is asleep and not bothering me? Or if it's because Im more creative at night? Or if there's something else going on.
I get absolutely nothing done between noon and 3PM or so. I try to schedule all meetings/interactions in those hours to compensate.
I write the best code when I first wake up. Combined with the above, it means my ideal work day starts around 6AM and I can get 3 90 minute sessions in before lunch and early afternoon lethargy sets in.
10pm-2am, by far. There are so few distractions, and the entire internet goes quite. I don't get 10 new RSS items per minute anymore, people aren't @ messaging me on Twitter, tagging me on Facebook, emailing me about things, knocking on the door of my office to ask a quick question, asking me to come out for dinner, texting me a question, etc etc etc....
Interesting, Midnight to 3AM has always been a sweet spot for me.It was better before Netflix and Hulu made watching interesting TV possible at all hours and there was a natural lull as broadcasters said good bye to the late owls and waited for the early risers, but I still find just the quiet of the environment persists.
I'm a late-night hacker, but I think it's due more to a lack of distractions and a sense of true solitude than any sort of cognitive advantage granted by its placement in my sleep cycle. In fact, any serious hacking session has the unfortunate side effect of completely borking my sleep schedule for the rest of the week.
I believe that I'm a night owl, but there is most definitely something to be said about knowing with a 99% certainty that you won't be interrupted for the next eight hours.
It would be interesting to move eight hours in either direction, but keep working remotely - would I get my hacking done at night, but when my coworkers and friends are awake and online, or early in the morning, when most people I know are asleep or not online?
Theoretically it can be any time of day. I don't think there is a particular time at which we are most productive hackers, it's whenever the mindset is right and the circumstances work.
Most of the time I hack in the night, that's between 11PM and 3 or 4AM. But I also have my moments in the train (30 minutes trip, starting at 17:34). And once even at school (1:30PM or so), that was the best coding experience I ever had at school and also the only time I hacked together with someone in real life.
There isn't really anything that keeps you from hacking at any particular time of day I think, to me there seem to be two prerequisites: You need to have a clear goal (which is something out of the ordinary and not like "get this css done for a client"), and you need to know that nobody will disturb you doing it.
For some reason during the day and early evening, my mind wanders and I find it incredibly difficult to discipline myself into focusing on the task at hand… unless I'm in an environment like a library. I'm taking these two data points and suggesting that perhaps it's the reduced amount of ambient noise.
Another thought: perhaps as children we're conditioned to be "out doing things" during the day, and as a result the brain desires to be constantly externally stimulated during the day. There's less predefined behaviour for what should occur at night, and as such the brain is at your mercy to utilise as you see fit. Perhaps.
I'm a night hacker but liking the morning hacking more and more. Lately I'm exhausted by 10:30 pm, go to sleep and wake up at 5 no problem.
I get the same solitude as night time, but with a full, fresh head of energy and a clear mind. Instead of attacking my own projects with whats "left over" in the tank after a day, I get to put my most creative and best effort, first thing in the day, into my own stuff.
For those who work answer this: Do you get paid for your best and creative energy and effort every day, or more your attention to detail and reliability?
The answer to that question will help you decide where you put that best energy for best result.
A great point. I'm actually the opposite. I can do detail-oriented things best early in the day (8am-noon) but I'm often at my creative after dinner and into the evening (6pm-10pm) when there tend to be fewer distractions.
This can make multitasking harder or easier. If tasks mesh well you can work on whichever you're better suited to at the time.
That's totally valid.. One thing it might be also be worth paying attention to is our ability to focus during a particular time of day..
My ability to focus creatively or detailed seems to be directly tied to how well rested my mind is.
When I sleep and eat well it's far easier to concentrate and slip into flow.
It's Saturday and I woke up at 7, an hour before my alarm.. I've pretty much cut out all my caffeine, sugar and processed foods. The more I cut out our limit the more my energy soars. I have friends who found the same after citing back beer and certain meats. I'm the guy who lived to sleep in.
Either way I find my energy boosts are like CPU usage.
The less that is taxing my body by what I put in it and drain it with leaves more energy for all the tasks. It's borderline addictive to modify.
This week I've been trying to get back into the early morning routine I started a few months ago. I've never thought of myself as a morning person but if I am able to drag myself out of bed my most productive is between 4:00am and 10:00am.
It has all the benefits of working late (quiet, peaceful, few distractions) with the added bonus of having a clear head. Definitely makes it easier for me to focus on getting stuff done when my head isn't spinning with the collective ideas of the day.
I used to be most productive around 02:00 - 04:00, but recently (like a year or something) it seems that my most productive times seem to have moved to 05:00 - 07:00 (when I am awake at that times, which is not really often) and to evenings. I think this was caused by trying to tend to somehow more normal and regular schedule in 2010 and then complete burnout (I stayed awake till 09:00 while doing nothing much meaningful and then slept to like 18:00 every day) in March of 2011.
I find that there is really no set time period that I can get to hacking but I do have tendencies. If I get a light day at school I might go to my hideout at the library and get a few hours of work done. Other than that I tend to work pretty hard during the 6 PM to 2 AM range and most of my greatest breakthroughs always seem to be right after I have had a good night of sleep after being frustrated by a problem the night before.
I think anytime works for me, if I make sure, there are no distractions: email - off, messengers - off, phone - off.
Without distractions my preferred time would be during the day in a room/office with daylight. When I was working a regular dayjob, my most productive hacking hours moved to late night - primarily because of distractions.
So much quieter between 10pm and 2am. My ideal day would be to get up late (by normal people terms), go out for a long walk, come in, wind down with something like TV and then about 8pm onwards, get on with the work. This sort of thing only really works with freelancing / self employed.
I marked the 10:00pm - 2:00am slot, though, I've found that what really matters is if people are interrupting and bugging me. I've also had good success going to sleep earlier and going into a completely empty office at 7am and working for 3-4 solid hours before the stupidity starts.
Back in my 20s 9pm->2 or 3am were prime. Now in my 30s with 2 kids I find that my most productive time is 9am til about 2:30pm provided I had a decent sleep. But sometimes that night owl hacker shows its face, especially when I really get into a problem area of interest.
I am definitely most productive in the early morning when my brain is fresh. I would like to take more advantage of late hours but I have found it causes annoying recurring dreams around whatever problem I'm working on. I always wonder if that happens to anyone else.
At school, when I have nothing to lose by sleeping in, I love nothing more than hacking from ~10pm to 6am and watching the sun rise. Then as everything is opening I usually go grab a donut and come back and pass out until 2-4pm.
I'm a pilot for UA - West Coast sector exclusively. I get a day off every 2 days... My day starts at 5am to 11am, back home at 1pm...sleep till 10 pm and hack the night away till its time for the day job that pays the bills.
I have my own theory on the why's of this schedule. Many hackers got their start in computers at an early age, while still in school. Therefore, the only time available to hack was in the evening (after school you are hanging with your friends). And once started on an interesting project, it is hard to stop -- hence the 3-am hacking session.
In college, you are often studying late (much more work in college then high school) -- therefore this continues the trend. After college, you are spending your days programming for your boss, working on projects that may not interest you. Therefore, to keep your sanity, you are forced to do your personal projects late at night again. And after all, this is when you are used to hacking on things from years of experience, so your brain thinks it's normal.