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Wednesday, May 14 2014

Schedule Change, TBD

I gave my "work/life balance" schedule a fair trial, about two years, and have determined that it was just not right for me. When I say "not right" what I really mean is very wrong, as I am about to explain.

It's not really news that many programmers will work at night whenever possible. The two most common explanations given are that (a) the brutal conditions of startup companies place unreasonable demands upon their usually short technical staffs, and (b) those whose primary work requires prolonged periods of intense concentration find the quieter time more conducive to that work. I am wholly unqualified to speak to the former as I've never been directly employed by a startup company, but of the latter I can say that there is some truth to it. I've often said that a two minute interruption can set a project back by two to four hours, and I stand by that. The only time this is not true is when the software project at hand is trivial. But there's more to the story, at least in my own case there is more to it. Another thing I am wholly unqualified to do is to speak for my entire profession, and I won't pretend otherwise. I acknowledge that I might be and probably am an outlier. With that said:

I prefer working at night because it is quiet and free of distraction and interruption once those around me have retired, this is true. But for me that's just a very pleasant side effect. The primary reason for my night owl work habit is that my daily physical and mental peaks occur at unusual times: When most people are struggling through their early afternoon slumps I'm at my first peak, and when most are soundly asleep just after midnight I'm in my second peak period. My physical and mental nadir occurs between sunrise and noon when normal people are up and cheerfully alert. This is certainly not something I have chosen or would choose for myself; it's a lot easier to be in sync with those around you in as many ways as possible, and being temporally unsynchronized is just about the worst thing there is. Most people are at least somewhat tolerant of others holding beliefs that conflict with their own, but few will tolerate a temporal disconnect.

Few are sympathetic with the coworker or subordinate who struggles and sometimes or often fails to arrive at work at eight or nine o'clock in the morning. The common refrain is something like, "Hey, I don't really like getting up early in the morning and then fighting rush hour traffic any more than you do, but I do it anyway and so can you ". On the other hand, when you talk to unwilling shift workers the most common things you'll hear about their work schedule are how hard it is to force your body to be awake when it wants to be asleep, and, worse still, how hard it is to force yourself to sleep when your body wants to be awake. I don't arrogantly deride them and tell them that I do it anyway and so can they. I know better. I know just how difficult it is to fight your circadian rhythm.

When I am not fighting my circadian rhythm, I sleep soundly despite the sounds of lawnmowers, leaf blowers, car alarms, barking dogs, and playing children. Sunlight streaming in through the window doesn't bother me in the least. My wife can knock around the house doing her normal daytime activities and I'm completely unaware of it. I can have a cup of coffee two hours before bedtime and still fall asleep quickly and sleep soundly. I don't need to think about "sleep hygiene", let alone practice it. I wake up before my alarm goes off, and eventually just stop setting the thing.

On the other hand, when I try to force myself to be on everyone else's normal schedule, the first negative consequence I face is perpetual fatigue, soon followed by brain fog. I'll blame outside sounds or the brightness of the moon for keeping me awake, and will practice "sleep hygiene" to absolutely no avail. Over time the fatigue and brain fog will become debilitating and this thing that might be Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome will become truly a disability. As I write this, on the day I decided to stop fighting my weird reality, I have slept eight uninterrupted hours one time over the span of five weeks during which I've slept either not at all or at most three hours per night.

Yes, the only reason for my misery is my own stupidity. I wore myself down needlessly, when all I had to do was to simply decide that the wise course would be to adopt a schedule more in tune with my nature. No one really cares if the software I write was written at 2AM or at 2PM. A remote server is no more likely to crash at 8AM than it is to crash at 8PM. Clients who for some reason prefer to talk on the phone can still reach me in the afternoon, and it has proven exceedingly rare for any to call before noon anyway. None have ever called me at 5AM, though some telemarketers who've plucked my telephone number out of clients' domain registrations have called me at that hour.

So there you have it, the short form, highlights only version of why you shouldn't expect me to answer the telephone or reply to email messages between sunrise and noon. Soon, I will decide what my "normal" office hours when prompt communication can be expected will be and will post them here and on my contact form, but that's a decision that doesn't have to be made today.

→ committed: 5/14/2014 23:16:38

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