One month ago, I decided to change my “unhealthy” lifestyle - stayed up to 4 or 5 am and wake up at noon skipping the breakfast, and started routine work only in the afternoon. After a month of adjusting my bio-clock, now I could easily fall asleep before 1 am and wake up early in the morning naturally right before the alarm starts to ring. However, I have a strong feeling that my efficiency in doing the “real work” dramatically decreases!! I should do something at least, if not switching back to the previous “unhealthy” schedule. Before that, I sense I should figure out the problem first.

An idea from Paul Graham - the difference between maker’s schedule and manager’s schedule explains all. Managers divide the time into hours, filled with appointments one by one. Makers often need large chuncks of time in order to produce the meaningful work, say half of a day or more, and what they hate most is to be disrupted by meetings and appointments, even coffee hours or lunch breaks (if you ever did programming, you would understand this). Let’s see how Paul Graham scheduled his day in his time of business start up, as a programmer and entrepreneur:

When we were working on our own start-up, back in the 90s, I evolved another trick for partitioning the day. I used to program from dinner till about 3 am every day, because at night no one could interrupt me. Then I’d sleep till about 11 am, and come in and work until dinner on what I called “business stuff.” I never thought of it in these terms, but in effect I had two workdays each day, one on the manager’s schedule and one on the maker’s.

Interesting! So I start to look at my daily schedule before and now. I even draw it out! Then the reasons could be found. Daily activity in my life can be generally categorized into four:

Production Hour: the most productive period when almost all my programs are made to run. Sometimes paper is drafted at this period of time.

Office Hour: check emails, deal with stupid queries from boss, read papers, meet student, chitchat with labmates.

Refreshment Hour: eating, gathering with friends, doing exercises, taking courses, reading books, watching TV, playing games and surfing the web.

Sleep: sleep zz…

Well this “time wheel” below illustrates the “unhealthy” schedule I used to follow. The most productive time is always in the midnight. Two reasons that have been discussed too often by other programmers: no distraction at that particular time; the more concentrated we could be when we are actually more tired. Or in other words, we just could not stop after we really start it. That 6 hours are really made full use of with the high efficiency. I then managed to get up before noon, grab some food and went to lab just to do some routine stuff. (One interesting thing is that, the very tricky bugs are often fixed at the office hour in the afternoon, because what confused or obstructed me last night would suddenly became clear after a whole night sound sleep).


What does the “wheel” look like now? Still 7 hours of sleep. Production hour seems to be increased. And refreshment hours also. I guess this is because I start to have self-cooked big breakfast everyday. Now I can see clearly why the efficiency decreases!! The production hour, which should be as continuous as possible, now is segmented. Not only segmented into two pieces, the most important period-the afternoon is disrupted with the utility tasks ALL THE TIME: emails, meetings, chats. The concentration could not be guaranteed. The few hour before bed time, I could only say: too short, like now: I haven’t finish drafting this article, but close to 1 am, both my bio-clock and my self-discipline tell me to go to bed without the work done!


I don’t want to switch back to the “unhealthy” lifestyle, because it is really unhealthy and I don’t want to break those good habits I took so much effect to build - breakfast, sleep on time and exercises! But I cannot allow myself living with such low efficiency in producing “real work”. I sense I should play around with the “time wheel” a bit. I will take some time to figure that out. Now it’s bed time.