Managing Your Chronotype

Daylight is a more effective tool in the long term than an out-of‑control caffeine habit. For the PMer, daylight on a morning is vital if you want to set your body clock to play catch‑up with the AMers. Get a dawn-wake simulator, which recreates a sunrise in your bedroom to wake you up, from a reputable brand such as Lumie or Philips; open the curtains, go outside.

The really bad news for PMers is that you should cut out the lie-ins at the weekend too. If you spend all week adjusting your body clock to the demands of your job, then let it all go at the weekend, your clock will drift back towards its natural, slower state, and you’ll be starting over come Monday. The symptoms of your social jet lag will be so much worse.

Offices and workplaces should take this more seriously. Instead of having desk hierarchies where the more senior people get the window seats, allocate them to the PMers struggling through their morning and the AMers for their afternoon. Investing in daylight lamps will help both the AMers and PMers conquer their respective difficult parts of the day and increase their productivity, especially in winter, when there is less light. With football clubs, I put daylight lamps in the dressing rooms at training grounds. The players don’t notice – they’re just lamps to them – and you could do the same thing in meeting rooms.

It’s not all bad news for PMers. They have a natural advantage not only when it comes to enjoying nightlife, but also when working shifts. An AMer nurse working night shifts in a hospital would equally be in need of daylight lamps and caffeine to play catch‑up with their PMer colleagues. The most important thing for either chronotype to find is some harmony with their environment.

If we go back to our fire on the island, and we assume that you’re a PMer and I’m an AMer, as we return to the natural rhythms of our respective body clocks, we’d learn to start working in harmony. You would sit up, keeping watch, tending the fire and sorting out the camp for the morning while I drifted off to sleep, and then in the morning, when I woke an hour or two before you, I would get the fire started again, cook us breakfast and prepare for the day ahead.

Back in the real world, we can use this to benefit our daily lives. An AMer might live with his partner, a PMer, and they both have to leave for work at 8.30 a.m. He gets up at 6.30 and she gets up at 8, but, of course, every time he gets up on a morning, he disturbs his partner. She goes back to sleep, and imagines it’s doing her good, but in reality she’s flitting between wakefulness and sleep. But what about if a compromise could be made? They both get up at 7 instead, which is a big shift for her, but the AMer makes the breakfast and gives the PMer the space to sit in daylight, to reset her body clock and wake up naturally. It will take a bit of adjusting to, but all of a sudden the couple are working more in harmony. When the evening comes round, it is the PMer’s turn to do her bit, maybe cooking the dinner or doing the washing-up later, when the AMer is tired.

If you’re an AMer, you know you’re at your best in the morning, so you can plan your day to take advantage of this. Let’s say your job involves managing your company’s social-media accounts, some bookkeeping and a lot of communication, but also some of the more mundane realities of office life such as taking the mail to the post office and filing. Presuming you have a bit of freedom in the order in which you do things, you could manipulate your schedule so that you compose all your tweets and press releases in the morning, everything that requires you to be at your most alert, and then spend your afternoon taking the post out and doing the filing. Speaking as an AMer myself, if you give me some accounts that need adding up correctly, I’d advise you to ask me in the morning.

Often there isn’t this kind of freedom in our daily work, and sometimes a job to write a press release or something similarly requiring of thought will land on your desk in the afternoon and it has to be done right at that moment. But where we’re able to, instead of spending what feels like for ever on getting something done in the afternoon, wondering why it’s taking so long, just stop and have a think about it. If you’re struggling with it now, come back to it in the morning, when you’re fresher and more alert.

It’s the same philosophy with PMers. I will identify the chronotypes of each player in a squad I’m working with, which is of benefit to both the performer and their coaches. Player B at the start of the article is a PMer, while Player A is an AMer, but their manager didn’t know that. However, if I was brought in to work with the squad, and I identify this and talk to Player B, it becomes clear to him why he’s struggling to get out of bed first thing, why he needs that alarm and why he’s not so keen on training in the morning. I can give him some advice on what he can do about it.

From his manager’s point of view, he now knows that it might not just be a case of ill-discipline because the player’s makeup means he naturally doesn’t want to train in the morning – he’d prefer it in the afternoon. The manager’s not about to split training and tell the AMers and PMers to come in separately, of course, but he now knows that he needs to control it. He can’t keep making the player do everything in the morning because something eventually will give. He might not manage to shake that niggling injury fully, or he might just do something silly in the heat of a moment in a big game, because you’ve been pushing him in a manner that goes against his biological makeup.

It also gives the manager a bit of know-how late on a summer evening during the World Cup with penalties looming. Player A is an AMer. He’s masking it, playing late into the night, but in the choice between him and the similarly skilled Player B, it’s no choice at all really: the PMer is more alert and he’s in his element in the evening. He should take the penalty.

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