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Working The Reverse 9 to 5

swyx profile image swyx Originally published at swyx.io ・3 min read

For the past month I've been working approximately 9pm to 5am.

Yes, you read that right. 9 PM to 5 AM. Graveyard shift. It's working out very well and I thought I would share that weird fact.

I didn't choose this life, it chose me. The combination of the Coronavirus Recession and me leaving my job meant I had to temporarily leave the US and head back to Singapore where I am from.

Singapore is exactly 12 hours ahead of New York Time - 3pm there is 3am here. However my next job is still US based, so I wanted to have some overlap with US hours.

I had adjusted to Singapore time already after my mandatory 14 day quarantine upon returning home. It started in small drips and drabs - staying up late for calls with the US, or doing one of the many conference talks I have done recently. I would sleep at 1am, then 2am, then 3am intermittently. Purely for fun - I was unemployed, might as well keep up appearances (literally!).

Then Daniel Vassallo challenged me to write a book, and suddenly I became a Full Time Authorβ„’. I was dumb enough to choose the nontechnical topic of early dev career advice. Writing is hard at best, and I suspect nontechnical topics are way harder than normal technical blogging, b/c it's so unclear what to include and there is no objectively correct advice (except for Learn in Public!). I found myself writing all the way to sunup, which is roughly 6-7am Singapore time.

I discovered that this overlapped nicely with the US workday since it is 6-7pm EST and 3-4pm PDT. And of course it totally overlaps with Europe.

Meanwhile family life (I am staying with my parents) carried on, I had to hang out with them and have meals together and play board games and help them with errands and stuff. Personal time and exercise has also been important for me during this time. So splitting this Asia/US life felt quite overwhelming.

So for now I have settled into this routine:

  • from 1pm - 9pm I would be mostly with my family. (8 hours)
  • from 9pm - 5am I would be mostly working/online. (8 hours)
  • from 5am - 1pm I would sleep. (8 hours)

Fudge +/- 1 or 2 hours here and there for the odd bursts of excitement or days I am feeling off, I have been living like this for a full month now (I am writing this at 10.23pm my time).

Here are benefits I noticed:

  • Default intermittent fasting. Since I only eat with my family I only have an 8 hour window to eat lunch and dinner, and sometimes I just skip lunch.
  • My family doesn't disturb me after 9pm, nothing in Singapore disturbs me after 9pm. With clear IRL boundaries, I am free to focus solely on work.
  • Since I have been awake half the day anyway, I can start the US morning pretty fresh and alert and pretty prepared in terms of what I want to do that day. Often I will come prepared with something I want to publish or write or tweet.
  • I work until I am tired, and I sleep right away since I work from home. While/before sleeping, my mind still processes problems I have been chewing on from the workday.
  • I wake up with a clean slate and have no work on my mind.

I feel like this is the antithesis to the Miracle Morning productivity enthusiasts, most recently Jocko Willink, espouse. Why can't this work? It seems to be working fine for me.

Author's note: I name this the "reverse 9 to 5" because the "inverse 9 to 5" reads to me like working 5pm to 9am, which isn't what I'm going for.

Discussion

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waylonwalker profile image
Waylon Walker

Cool story about how you are making adjustments to get through COVID-19. It's a crazy time, and for some of us we have made some crazy adjustments. I will say that I have traded a few hours during the day to be with kids to work after they are in bed. I never even considered a full switch of hours like you have.

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

When I was back home in Canada living with my mom for a period after college before moving to New York in a period of intense self-learning trying to transition from someone who more or less knew how to code to becoming a more viable professional software developer I was working about 4pm to 4am, typically waking up around noon and going to the gym before getting back to it.

It reminds me a lot of what you describe here.

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swyx profile image
swyx Author

12 hours! woosh. if im being honest i steal some time during the day to write too.

I'm glad you went through what you did though. We're now communicating on this platform you made!!!

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

πŸ˜„ well those 12 hour days were sort of a special time in my life where I felt like it was all-or-nothing if I wanted to make a career out of this stuff. I have a high threshold for effort and I basically maxed myself out (culminating in catching shingles and having to take a break 😬)..... So that is to say: thoroughly unsustainable in terms of the total load... But the hours of day were pretty pleasant. It's pretty cathartic to be going into the wee hours when the whole neighborhood is asleep.

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waylonwalker profile image
Waylon Walker

Glad you were able to break through and find a more normal workflow. Pushing for a goal like this in short periods are a great way to get a big boost. You gotta listen to your body and family though and take everything into account. You gotta slow down before it all blows up.

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Andrew Brown πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦

Early in my career, I used to sleep directly on the hardwood floor for 5 years and slept on my 5 hours a day. My co-founder worked the night-shift for 7 years working in the AUS timezone while in Canada until he no longer couldn't.

It reminds me of my other friend who committed to Soylent, how convenient it was for them to drink a liquid mixture of nutrients to free themselves from the distraction of planning and eating real food.

When you're young your body can take it but you may not realize you're slowly chipping away at your health. So hopefully this doesn't become a long-term habit for you.

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Jan Kosutnik

It’s interesting that you could adapt to reversed schedule.
I honestly never could really.
I have worked some crazy hours as a Sound Engineer, covering US sports in Europe is most of the times graveyard shift ( 1AM, 3AM ), and after coming home I always needed a long time to recover.
I guess I maxed out my battery in my younger years, where we were doing all night sessions on 6pack of Red Bulls πŸ€¦β€β™‚οΈ.
Now I need 6-8 hours of sleep and I am more of an early bird nowadays.

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Peter Kim Frank

Super interesting, thanks for sharing here. Some of these benefits are fairly compelling, especially the opportunity to work with very few in-person distractions (given that everyone else is asleep).

While/before sleeping, my mind still processes problems I have been chewing on from the workday.

You mention this under the "Benefits" column, but has it been a negative as well? I find that if I work late, I have a really hard time going to bed directly thereafter because my brain is still in work mode. I need to find a way to unwind (even if that's just taking a walk around the block).

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swyx profile image
swyx Author

not really. i think having worked out during the day makes me more tired so i go to sleep pretty easily. i also put on podcasts with a sleep timer and drift off. to each their own!

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cosmic profile image
JC5

You may well be a 'night owl' type.
I am also late oriented and tend to find my flow later in the day once the 7am office crowd start drifting off. Brain still firing ideas till well after midnight.
Not everyone starts the day on all cylinders!

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Code_Regina

I am not sure what it is maybe it is just me but when the sun goes down is when my mind becomes the most clear. I feel like I can think better and have less distractions. The day time I feel can drag on while the night time flies by. It also feels more peaceful to me. Great post!

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This Dot Media

This sounds like one of the toughest adjustments to make! But seems like you handled it like a champ. You definitely made the sound of "working the reverse 9 to 5" less daunting with your positive points. Anyhow, great article! Take care 😊

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swyx profile image
swyx Author

thanks Tracy! (or Rob? πŸ˜‚)

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This Dot Media

You'll never know πŸ˜‰

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wgao19 profile image
Wei Gao

whoa, i did that one of my freshman quarters also, i had morning classes 9, 10, 11 which i could never get up for since i stayed up late for homework assignments, then i completely reversed my schedule and slept 1pm - 9pm, studied all night then went to class and came back sleep..

even my roommates could not find that quarter πŸ™ˆ they though i never came back from school where i was actually in my room sleeping

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v6 profile image
πŸ¦„N BπŸ›‘

I may have some sources worth researching, if you are looking for such a thing for your book.

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swyx profile image
swyx Author

hmm! like what?