Recently I had a revelation, I’ve been wasting my life sleeping in and staying up late. Sorry if you were expecting something more earth shattering and soul undermining, but the fact that this is such a common meme actually lends weight to its revelatory qualities. I’ve found that at certain times in my life pieces of otherwise banal wisdom that I have consistently ignored or refused to heed suddenly seem to snap into place.

Ever since my teenage years I have been prone to sleeping late and staying up late, and I think this pattern is pretty common among people my age, particularly in the software and gaming communities which seem to idolize the idea of pulling all nighters and waking up as the sun goes down. However as I’ve got older and busier, I’ve realized that this pattern has made me extremely unproductive when it comes to implementing side projects in addition to my day job.

There are two main problems with after work moonlighting. The main one is that by the time I’ve finished work I’m tired; I’ve put in 8-10 hours solving problems and building software already, and I’m pretty much mentally burned out. The other problem is that this after work time is the main opportunity I have for relaxing and spending time with my wife – so if I’m spending all my time coding after work, that pretty much goes out the window.

What I found was happening was that instead of using these hours in the evening as I had intended, I was extremely easily distracted and unable to really concentrate, which led to a lack of progress, which led to frustration, which led to disillusionment and basically giving up, which led to a growing sense of guilt. This had been a slow process which had been happening for a number of years and recently it occurred to me that I had things around the wrong way.

Instead of hacking in the last few hours before I went to sleep, why wasn’t I getting up hours earlier and doing it in the morning? So for the last month I’ve been getting up at 5.30 instead of 8.30, which so far has worked out fantastically. Flipping the schedule around seems to solve all the main issues I was having, I now have a good 3 hours of project time in which I’m now mentally active and alert for rather than exhausted and I am also able to relax in the evening without feeling guilty.

So I guess I’m one step closer to being a grumpy old man that gets up at the crack of dawn? Perhaps – and I’m pretty happy about it so far.