Now that Covid-19 is forcing many of us to work from home, this is the perfect time to experiment and figure out a work schedule that works best—for you.
A lot has been written about creating effective workdays. Most of the advice I’ve read has never really helped me as the founder and CEO of a company. It often just didn’t fit me or cost too much energy to practice. But there are two concepts that I’ve found extremely useful in my role.
Are you a morning lark or night owl?
We’d like to think we’re unique, yet we treat each other as if we’re all the same. That may not be a problem in most cases, but it definitely is a problem for your working day.
Society tends to favor morning people. Early risers ought to be the high achievers. Someone reads about successful executives waking up early, and the next morning they set their alarm for 5 am. This is utter nonsense.
Matthew Walker explains in his book, Why we sleep, how humans run on a 24-hour circadian rhythm, kind of like an internal clock. How your clock works is called your chronotype. Not everyone’s chronotype is the same, and there’s an evolutionary reason for it.
According to Dr. Walker, humans likely evolved to co-sleep as families or tribes. Those that would not be going to sleep until 1 or 2 am, and not wake until 9 or 10 am, are what Dr. Walker calls ‘night owls’. While ‘morning larks’ are those that would go to bed at 9 pm and wake at 5 am. That way, the group as a whole was only collectively vulnerable, eg. to predators or competing tribes, for just 4 hours instead of 8.
Around 40 percent of the population are morning larks, 30 percent are night owls, and the rest are somewhere in between. Society favors morning people: schools start at around 8 am and most offices expect everyone to start at 9. But 60 percent of us are not early birds and would benefit from a different schedule.
Popular opinion thinks that everyone can become an early riser, it’s just a matter of getting-used-to it. But Dr. Walker proves that this is not true. Yes, night owls can learn to rise early, but they continue to show reduced brain activity during the early morning hours.
Do you often struggle to get anything done in the early morning? That might mean you’re a night owl. Experiment with different approaches until you’ve figured out your chronotype. As CEO, you will have the freedom to adapt your working hours to your chronotype. Think of how to create a working environment in your company that also gives your employees this opportunity.
Are you a maker or a manager?
There’s only empirical evidence to back it up, but it’s nonetheless an interesting insight. In July 2009, Paul Graham (a world-famous entrepreneur and founder of HackerNews and Y Combinator) introduced the concept of the Maker’s schedule, Manager’s schedule. Are you a maker or a manager? Only because you inhabit a CEO role, it does not necessarily mean the manager’s schedule is best for you.
The manager’s schedule is well-known. It is, as the name suggests, best for bosses. Days are cut into 30 or 60 minutes intervals. You may sometimes work for several hours on a single task but, by default, you change what you’re doing every hour.
The maker’s schedule is entirely different. Makers are people who create things, like programmers and writers. You can’t write or program well in blocks of 30 or 60 minutes, which is hardly enough time to get started. Hence makers prefer to use their time in units of half or full days.
Just like night owls, makers have society against them. Our working environments are optimized for the managers, simply because most bosses operate on the manager’s schedule—and they’re in a position to let everyone adjust to their frequency. But when you’re operating on a maker’s schedule, meetings can be a disaster and one meeting can easily ruin half a day of work.
To Google, this topic is so important that they’ve released an internal video to educate their workforce about the different schedules and how the two types can work best together.
Do you work best in 30 or 60 minutes blocks, or do you prefer to block off an entire morning or afternoon to create and work on business strategies? Now that you’re working from home, this is the time to figure that out and structure your calendar accordingly.
Work on your OKRs in the morning, KPIs in the afternoon
Now that you know whether you are a morning lark or night owl, and a maker or a manager, it’s time to start optimizing your workdays.
Adjust your working schedule to start early in the morning, if you’re a morning lark. Or late in the morning, if you’re a night owl.
Whether you’re a morning or evening person, studies suggest that we all experience a similar flow of an early high, a mid-day low, and then a final peak. This is partly because cortisol (a stress hormone) levels tend to spike around 50% within half an hour of waking up. This puts your body on alert.
Other studies found that logical reasoning, speed, and accuracy are all better in the morning.
This is why your morning is the best time to work on complex tasks and goals, such as your company’s OKRs. The goal management method OKR has gained popularity as the secret sauce behind Google’s unparalleled success and is seen as a guarantee for business success by countless startups and companies worldwide. The acronym OKR stands for “Objectives” and “Key Results.” It’s a way to set and manage goals throughout an organization. The Objective tells you where you want to go, the Key Results are measurable results that you need to achieve in order to get there. For example, let’s say your Objective is ‘Improve employee retention’. The Key Results could then be ‘Increase employee NPS from 10 to 50’, and ‘Reduce voluntary employee turnover from 15% to 5%.
KPIs, on the other hand, are your business-as-usual, everything you need to do to maintain the status quo. Business As Usual typically consists of processes that you execute on an ongoing basis. A KPI, therefore, defines what your critical Business As Usual is (or should be) and enables you to easily monitor if it’s successful.
KPIs involve less complex work, so—where possible—you want to move these tasks to the afternoon. Same for meetings, try to plan these mostly in the afternoon (and, if you’re a maker, try to schedule all your necessary meetings for a particular day or afternoon).
Not everyone has the freedom to optimize their rhythm for themselves of course. But many of us work in offices all day. And just like Covid-19 has shown us that remote work is a valid alternative, and many meetings can be held online, I hope that Covid-19 will also help us find our ideal rhythm for you and your teams so that we can get more out of our working days, while working less.
Henrik-Jan van der Pol is founder and CEO of Perdoo. The Berlin based start-up has developed a goal management software that supports companies in successfully implementing their strategies. With Perdoo, van der Pol has already accompanied several hundred OKR implementations at companies worldwide, including Google.