Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Are You a Lark or an Owl in the Law Office?

Are you a lark, an owl or a third bird?

Knowing which one you are – and arranging your schedule accordingly – could make you more productive in the law office. It will also improve your quality of life.

Larks are morning people. They are sharper and more energetic in the early hours. Owls come to life later in the day. And third birds are something in between.

Like fingerprints, everyone has a unique chronotype. This is a combination of behavior, habits, genetics and physical attributes. Your chronotype – think of it as your personal circadian rhythm – determines what sort of fowl you are.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink and The Tipping Point, is a lark. He turns off his phone and shuts his door for the first three hours of each day, in order to focus on his most pressing projects.

“I shouldn’t squander my most productive hours on other activities, so I don’t schedule anything in the morning,” he says in this CNBC story. “I don’t meet people in the morning. I don’t exercise in the morning. I don’t really answer much email in the morning unless it’s crucial.”

The trick is knowing what time of day you function best. If you’re not sure, keep reading to discover an easy way to find out.

All Hours Are Not Created Equal

In a given day, most people pass through three phases, says management and behavioral science expert Daniel Pink.

  • Morning: Peak, our mood rises
  • Mid-afternoon: Trough, our mood declines
  • Early evening: Recovery, our mood bounces back

For some, the cycle is reversed: recovery in the morning, trough in mid-afternoon, peak in the evening. The important thing is not so much what your personal cycle looks like, but knowing where you’re at on it.

“Our performance varies considerably over the course of the day, and what task to do at a certain time really depends on the nature of the task,” says Pink in this interview. “If we look at the evidence, we can be doing the right work, at the right time.”

Determining Your Peak Times

To find out whether you’re an owl, lark or third bird, the first step is to examine your sleep pattern.

“Figure out where the midpoint of your sleep cycle falls on ‘free days’ or days when you don’t have to wake up to an alarm clock,” writes Zameena Mejia for CNBC. “This will most likely be on your days off or during the weekend. If your midpoint falls at 3:30 AM or earlier, you’re probably a lark. If your midpoint of sleep is 5:30 AM or later, you’re probably an owl. If your midpoint is somewhere in between, you’re probably a third bird.”

Once you’ve nailed this down, it’s easy to determine your peak work times.

“For example, performing analytic tasks is easier for larks in the morning, but easier for owls in the late afternoon or evening,” writes Mejia. “When it comes to making decisions, larks find this easier in the early morning, while owls might wait until the afternoon or evening.”

Here’s a handy chart for aligning your chronotype with specific tasks.

  • Making an impression. Lark (morning); Third Bird (morning); Owl (morning)
  • Insight tasks. Lark (late afternoon/early evening); Third Bird (late afternoon/early evening); Owl (morning)
  • Analytic tasks. Lark (early morning); Third Bird (early to midmorning); Owl (late afternoon and evening)
  • Making a decision. Lark (early morning); Third Bird (early to midmorning); Owl (late afternoon and evening)


So when are you at your best? Are you a lark, owl or third bird?




About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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