Thursday, January 22, 2009

Unintended Side Effects III: Night of the Unintended

Darkness there, and nothing more

Edgar Allan Poe
"The Raven" (1845)

Late last year, my workday was extremely frustrating. I just wasn't getting anything done during my eight-hour workday between the noise here at home with everyone around for homeschooling, clients calling in with emergencies, and the demands made of a work-at-home dad. None of my actual project work ever ended up moving at the speed that I wanted it to, and it just wore at my nerves with every day that passed and nothing got done.

After a lot of thought, prayer, and discussion with my wife and those whose opinions I respect, I decided to change my work schedule. My good friend Shannon is a Nightwalker, working an overnight shift at a local factory because he prefers it, not because he has to, and I got to thinking about whether or not it could work for me. The end result sees me now working a schedule like this:

  • 1 PM to 5 PM: I teach the kids and have office hours, taking care of the everyday tasks of business, taking client calls, and responding to emergencies when they pop up.
  • 5 PM to 11 PM: Time with the kids and Holli, plus church and children's activities several nights of the week.
  • 11 PM to 3 PM: I do my project work, with no kids to bother me, nothing that Holli needs from me, and no clients calling in, because they're asleep and their businesses are closed.
This has largely worked for me. I get more done in four solid, uninterrupted hours of work than I ever could in eight hours when everybody's awake. My productivity has gone through the proverbial roof since I started this schedule.

Plus, I end up with a lot more family time out of the deal, too. Since I'm just doing basic business tasks and not anything that requires my total focus, like programming or design, I'm available to teach the kids much more effectively. I'm also available for field trips and the like without missing any of my productivity time.

All in all, I think it was a great decision and I'll never go back if I can avoid it. However, it wasn't without some unintended (and wholly unexpected) side effects, hence the posts title. I present them now to let this post serve as a grim warning to anyone contemplating a similar lifestyle shift.

It is crushingly lonely in the house at night. Nobody is awake. The lights are all off so they can sleep. There's very little noise. I'm without no human company, which I forgot was something that I don't handle very well anymore. It's not without its good points, mind you. It makes for fantastic prayer time, and it's teaching me to rely more on God than on other people. Couple that with my increased focus and ability to do my job, and it's a great decision, but the transition through the crushing despair and loneliness of being alone in a dark, quiet house for four or five hours every night hasn't been an easy one.

What do I eat when? I have no clue at this point. Life was simple when it was breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack. Now it's whatever-I-eat-at-noon, snack, dinner, snack, shouldn't-I-have-a-real-meal-now?, and should-I-really-be-eating-this-late? I've not quite sorted everything out here yet.

Reading is difficult. Not a big deal typically, because I'm not normally reading for pleasure or education during my productivity time. I'm staring at a big stack of website changes I've got to make for a client in the next few days as I write this, though, and I'm going to have to do it with the help of a little snakelight I bought at Office Max last week. It's going to be challenging.

Working at the end of the day stinks. Work is not fun. That's why it's called work. Yes, I have a very satisfying job that I love, but I'd rather be spending my time in prayer, with my family and friends, reading a good book, or playing a game. All of you out there with normal jobs, think about how much fun five o'clock is for you when you get to go home and enjoy the rest of your day. I don't get that. It's even worse when it's been a bad day, because then it's "Oh, yay. I get to work now."

I can't go to sleep right away. I get through an awesome productivity period, I've gotten a lot of stuff done, and I've knocked out some great code. Now my brain is going full speed, and it's 3 AM and time to sleep. That does not work. So I've got to wind down and try to relax from the busiest part of my workday to be able to get to bed as quickly as possible. It's quite difficult.

My kids don't care that daddy's trying to sleep at 9 AM. This one is self-explanatory.

Remember, though, this is just a warning to other people who might be considering this. I got blindsided by some of these realities when I made the switch, and hopefully my experiences will be helpful. I'm not complaining by a longshot, though, because any problems my schedule causes will get solved by the following two things: I'll get tons done yet tonight, and then I'll sleep until noon.

UPDATE: I also cannot see where I put my stupid drink on the desk, thereby knocking it over and spilling water everywhere. That's no good, either. Stupid water. What was it doing there right after I wrote this post, anyway?

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