I'm productive only at night, but this clashes with my class schedule.
July 24, 2014 2:23 PM   Subscribe

When I want to do work that involves writing, I find that I am most productive during the hours of around 11 PM to 6 AM, because it takes me all evening to wind down from the day and get into a mindset where I can focus on creative/writing work. My circadian rhythm will then be messed up for the next three days or so. This is incompatible with my class and work schedule as a medical student.

If I weren't expected to show up and be engaged at clinic pretty much every day, I'd probably just forego class and continue working the way I have (pulling semi all-nighters-- I find the long, uninterrupted stretches of quiet time very conducive to getting things written). But my schedule is such that on weekdays, I am occupied from at 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM. Then I have to study medicine-related things for around 2-3 hours a day, which requires a very different sort of concentration (the kind where I'm actually fully awake and well-rested). I can't just do the writing work on the weekends, because the aftereffects of messing up my sleep schedule linger on for 3-4 days, and I can't fall behind in studying. It's difficult for me to perfectly time my work because sometimes it takes me a day or two of "mentally preparing" to write the piece before I even write a single sentence. To be clear, my question mostly concerns getting first drafts done-- once I have a first draft out, I don't have a problem with editing things on a normal schedule.

The effects of lack of sleep on my body are pretty negative-- my skin gets worse, I get a headache for a day or two, it impacts my mood and eating habits... I find that I physically feel best when I regularly wake up early-ish (around 5:45 to 6:15 AM) and sleep around 11:30 PM, which is what I normally do when I don't have any writing projects. If it makes a difference: caffeine has never really affected me and I exercise every day.

Any suggestions?
posted by gemutlichkeit to Work & Money (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Is this writing absolutely necessary for your medical school or is it a side project? Honestly, it seems you are demanding far too much of your body and there won't be any right answer. If it's something that can be put on the back burner, that sounds like the best way to preserve your health (both physical and mental).
posted by HoteDoge at 2:31 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm like you. In fact, I feel like I might have written this question, your description is so accurate! I am insanely productive between 10PM and 2AM and then my productivity stays high but drops until about 4 or 5 in the morning. It's very frustrating, because the real world does NOT operate on my schedule.

Anyhow, I find that taking a nap for about four hours in the evening - say, from 6 until 10 at night - and then staying up and doing four hours of work, and then going back to sleep at about 2 or 3 for another four hours of so - this really works well for me. I just like to do my data analysis and research in the middle of the night, but I often have to be alert and awake during the day to teach, etc.

The other solution I see in your question is: don't mess up your circadian rhythm during the week. Just save writing for the weekends. It might be slower and harder and writing won't come as easily, but if you stick to your waking up early and sleeping around 11:30 schedule, and don't try to write during the week, that might be do-able.

You may have to sacrifice some productivity in order to be a functioning, sane human. I found out my limits the hard way: I just did too much until I got myself incredibly sick. Now I do a LOT less, and I really dislike it. If I hadn't burned myself out, I would be able to work better, harder, and more still - but I ran my motor to the ground a few years back and I've never recovered. I wish I hadn't done that - don't be me!
posted by sockermom at 2:36 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

May I ask: What kind of writing projects are you doing?

If you're writing for school, you may just have to suck it up and deal with the hit of lack of sleep. That is writing that furthers your chosen goal, so you just have to face the negative consequences to make it work for the time being.

If you're writing for you/creative writing/your first novel/the school newspaper, you may just have to suck it up and quit writing, especially since your question seems to indicate that you're unable or unwilling to face any consequences for doing it (by that I mean, face the consequences of getting less sleep or less exercise or less study time or whatever in order to write).

Overall, the general direction of your question leads me to believe that you'd rather be writing than going to school or doing clinicals.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 2:36 PM on July 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm the same way. I always do my best work at night to the point where when I have something important to do, I mess around at work all day and then do it at home before bed. I think writing until 6am is just self-destructive behavior though. Try to start a little earlier (9pm-10pm) and be done by 1am, 2am at the latest. You'll be better off on 6 hours of sleep than 1 hour. If it's a large writing project, do it over a few nights. I tend to like to do everything in one sitting myself, but I find it's not hard to pick up where I leave off if I give myself some notes as I end the session of things I want to remember or keep in mind when I start my next session. You'll have to learn to be able to start and stop projects for just about everything in life, so spread your writing over several nights instead of pulling single all-nighters.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:04 PM on July 24, 2014

I think some additional details might be helpful about your goals and type of writing but...

If you're working nine or more hours on weekdays, and studying for an additional 2-3 hours on top of that, then I think it's unrealistic to expect yourself to get much if any writing done on those days.

Is this for school? Because if it is, then I would say just force yourself to crank out this writing on the weekend. If it's for fun, then I think you need to reassess what is actually reasonable given your schedule.

I don't want to sound dismissive, because I get where you're coming from. I'm a total night owl who has to shove myself into a "normal" person schedule, but even if you didn't write better at night, your ultimate issue is about there being a finite number of days. Also, since you say you're a medical student, if this writing isn't school related, you might just have to accept the fact that you're writing will have to be on the back burner for the next couple years. You really shouldn't be sacrificing sleep to make this happen.
posted by litera scripta manet at 7:25 PM on July 24, 2014

I was a medical student once and I have the same night owlish tendencies (except I don't feel good about getting up at 6am!!)

my recommendation is that if you have to be at clinic at 730am, you need to stop burning the candle at both ends immediately. You are a heartbeat away from falling asleep at the wheel and potentially totalling your car or killing yourself. Trust me, I am not being hyperbolic here.

Make yourself accountable in some way to getting work done earlier, even though it isn't natural for you, at least until you can join me in the world of shift work and get some use out of that night productivity. Get someone to either work with you or just be your accountability buddy to check in on you and make sure you're getting your stuff done earlier. Use Leechblock or whatever app/extension you need to use to block time wasting websites. etc. if what you're writing at night can be delayed until weekends, delay it, if you can get out of the task of writing it, get out of it or minimize it to whatever extent you can (grantwriting? Research papers? writing a book in your spare time? doing some kind of rotation related homework? - I assume this is not coursework because if you're on rotation you are typically expected to focus on your clinical time).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:59 PM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

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