Chronoworking: The New Frontier in Personalised Productivity

Chronoworking: The New Frontier in Personalised Productivity / Alessandra Edwards

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the greatest composers in history, had a unique approach to productivity that defied conventional norms.

Toward the end of his life, he became a chronic night owl, regularly finding his creative peak in the quiet of the night. Reports abound of his bedtime being around 1am, with speculation around how much daytime sleep he must have had. 

Pianist magazine reports one of my favourite Mozart anecdotes that really highlights how smart and slightly bonkers he was… During a playful exchange with fellow composer Joseph Haydn, Mozart challenged him to play a piece he had written, which had a note right in the middle of the keyboard while the right hand played in high treble and the left hand in low bass. When Haydn declared it impossible to play with only two hands, Mozart demonstrated by bending over and striking the central note with his nose, to which Haydn jokingly remarked,

“With a nose like yours, it becomes easier.”

Quirks apart, Mozart is considered one of the most prolific composers of all time, with over 600 works to his name in his very short 35-year life. Given that he wrote his first composition at age six, he would have had to average almost two compositions per month for the next 29 years. An incredible feat of productivity, to say the least.

There are many historical records on Mozart’s quirks and habits but most seem to agree that he did most of his writing at night, with one source describing his nocturnal habits almost vampire-like.

His notorious night owl habits exemplify the “chronotype” concept, where individuals thrive at different hours. 

Enter the modern notion of chronoworking, the latest in workplace productivity, which suggests aligning work schedules with one’s natural rhythms for enhanced productivity and well-being.

What is Chronoworking?

The term “chronoworking” is derived from “chrono,” relating to time, and “working,” indicating the act of performing tasks or duties.

While the term chronoworking was invented by Stylist magazine digital editor Ellen Scott, the concept of chronoworking was first brought into the spotlight by Dr. Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and sleep specialist, also known as “The Sleep Doctor.” Dr. Breus emphasises the importance of understanding one’s chronotype–whether you’re a morning person, an evening person, or somewhere in between–to optimise your work schedule and productivity.

For early birds, mornings are prime; for night owls like Mozart, it’s the late hours when magic happens. It’s a practice that acknowledges the diverse biological clocks of individuals and the impact these clocks have on their energy levels, focus, and overall performance.

In today’s flexible work culture, chronoworking is the latest buzzword in productivity. But is it really all it’s cracked up to be?

What are the perks of Chronoworking?

For starters, it allows individuals to harness their peak productivity hours, leading to more efficient and effective work. By aligning work tasks with one’s natural energy fluctuations, individuals can tackle complex tasks when they’re most alert and save routine tasks for their low-energy periods.

Imagine your professional routine tailored to your personal rhythm: 

  • Your work day begins at 7am, when your focus is sharpest.
  • After a productive morning where you’ve swallowed your big frogs for the day, you have the flexibility to clock off at 1pm.
  • You resume your tasks at 4pm to finish at 6pm.

Your lunchtime could be spent doing your shopping, going for a walk or even catch a yoga class. This approach is rooted in the understanding that you’re most alert and efficient during the early hours.

Moreover, chronoworking promotes a healthier work-life balance by giving people the freedom to work at their best times, reducing stress and burnout.

It also encourages companies to adopt more flexible work policies, catering to the diverse needs of their workforce.

Yet, there’s a cautionary tale here.

Potential issues of Chronoworking

One of the main issues is the potential for misidentifying one’s chronotype due to factors such as chronic exhaustion or an irregular sleep schedule.

For example, someone might think they are a Night Owl when, in reality, they have a maladaptive cortisol curve that keeps them alert at night. This is very common among executives who have trained their biology to rise with the demands and pressures of their job.

Additionally, there’s a risk of negatively entraining one’s circadian rhythm by staying up late with artificial light to work and then sleeping in, further exacerbating a mismatch between one’s biological clock and the natural light-dark cycle.

This can lead to a range of health issues, including sleep disorders, metabolic disturbances, and mood imbalances.

This is exactly what happened to poor Wolfgang. 

Mozart’s relentless nocturnal work ethic, though fruitful, may have contributed to his frequent ailments and untimely demise at 35. Some speculate that his chronic vitamin D deficiency, from working at night and sleeping by day, played a role in his health woes.

If you’re interested in navigating the chronoworking waters, accurate determination of one’s chronotype is key, ideally with professional guidance. Genetic testing can offer insights, helping tailor work schedules that sync with your biological clock.

So, before you start hitting those high notes at midnight, remember, even Mozart had to face the music eventually. Let’s make sure your productivity tune doesn’t end on a sour note!