Whether you're working for a corporation, freelancing, or running your own business, development projects can be unpredictable. It's hard to know exactly what you're getting into until you're somewhat committed to the client. Once a contract is signed, projects quickly become large and complex, requiring a strict and consistent work schedule to meet your deadlines. A career filled with last-minute changes may have taught you to work under pressure, but no matter how good you are at scrambling to meet deadlines, nothing is more effective than a consistent work schedule.
A consistent work schedule doesn't have to look like the standard 9-5 day or 40-hour work week. The schedule that works for you could be 10am to 8pm, noon to 10pm, or even 10pm to 7am. It's not about what time you work. It's not about how many hours you work. It's about blocking out a specific period of time to work inside of, and consistently working during those hours.
Consistent schedules aren't always daytime schedules
If working at night is your thing, you've probably been told working during the day will make you more productive. At some point, you've probably struggled to work during those hours only to find yourself working into the next day's sunrise anyway.
Working during the day makes you more available to your clients, but there's nothing wrong with working, so long as you do it consistently. Consistency in how you work is more important than trying to force yourself to be productive according to someone else's schedule.
A consistent work schedule drives realistic project timelines
When faced with a large project, it's tempting to create a timeline that delivers the project according to the client's expectations. You might think, "yeah, I can work an extra four hours a day on this and have it done in no time!" In theory, and on paper, that works. In reality, it never does. Those four extra hours will quickly turn into six, and you'll be behind before you get ahead. To get those extra six hours of work in, you have to sacrifice activities in your life, including sleep, which causes you to work slower and make more mistakes.
With a consistent work schedule, you'll know exactly how much time you have available to devote to a given project. You can calculate timelines according to your regular working hours.
A consistent work schedule also leads to a consistent sleep schedule - the most important factor in productivity.
Sleep disorders are on the rise
A disorder is something that interferes with your ability to function in daily life. Many people have difficulty functioning due to some form of sleep problem, whether it's narcolepsy, insomnia, or perpetual exhaustion.
Fast Company reports an estimated 50-70 million Americans experience chronic sleep disorders. Citing a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 37.9% of adults across twelve states reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day in the preceding month. People fall asleep while driving, too. The stresses of life are taking their toll on many.
Consistency as a lifestyle can reduce chronic stress
Chronic stress is a significant contributing factor in sleep disorders. There are plenty of ways that implementing consistency in your life can reduce that stress and contribute to better sleep. For example, consistently eating a balanced diet including fresh, organic produce will satisfy the nutritional needs of your body. Proper nutrition keeps you fueled and less likely to suffer from a sleep disorder.
Eating enough fruits and veggies is tough, so stick it all in a blender with some maca - a superfood containing extensive nutrients like vitamins E, B, and C, 20 amino acids, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and more. The nutrients contained in maca boost energy levels naturally, so you can skip the energy drinks that aren't good for you anyway.
When you eat well, you sleep well, and your body feels good and energized.
You need a consistent sleeping schedule to maintain energy
Like any creative endeavor, developing a website can be like falling into a black hole where time doesn't exist, and it's normal to work fourteen hours without blinking. By the time you realize you haven't had dinner, it's already time for breakfast.
It's normal for developers to work well into the early morning hours, finally dropping into bed by noon. When your head hits the pillow after many hours of focus, you feel satisfaction and relief. The downside is you wake up exhausted, sometimes feeling like you never slept.
The above scenario is most often played out when inspiration strikes, or a massive deadline is approaching. In the moment, you're on fire with passion and purpose, plowing through tasks and getting stuff done. Your body has a different opinion. While you're pounding away at the keys at 5am, your body is being deprived of cellular rejuvenation that only occurs during sleep.
Inconsistent late schedules are the culprit
Late schedules don't necessarily do harm to your body - it's the inconsistent late schedules that throw your body off its natural rhythm. For instance, if you consistently go to bed at 7am and wake up by 3pm, your body will eventually adjust to that schedule. Your internal clock will recalibrate. The damage is done when your late nights aren't consistent, your body doesn't know what rhythm to follow, and as a result, you experience interrupted sleep cycles.
Interrupted sleep cycles contribute to poor health
The National Sleep Foundation says when you sleep well, you'll wake up refreshed and alert. They explain that rejuvenation of mind and body takes place through four distinct stages of sleep that cycle throughout the night.
The first stage is a light sleep where you're aware of your surroundings, but you're starting to fade. In the second stage, your awareness of surroundings fades and your body temperature drops. The third stage of sleep is the deepest and most restorative stage: blood pressure drops, breathing slows, muscles relax, tissues are repaired, and hormones are released. The final stage, known as REM (rapid eye movement), occurs every 90 minutes and becomes longer as the night progresses.
If your body isn't allowed to complete the necessary stages of sleep, including REM, you'll wake up fatigued, cranky, and over a prolonged period of time, you can become physically ill.
You don't need to be a morning person to be productive
Although early bedtimes are generally healthier for young children, your body has the capacity to adjust to any sleeping schedule you impose on it. People that work graveyard shifts settle into a daytime sleep schedule fairly quickly when they work nighttime hours consistently. Same with overnight stockers working for department stores.
Decades of sleep research support the position that getting consistent, deep sleep is more important than how many hours you sleep, or sleeping during specific hours.
Tracing the sleep patterns of 61 students for a month, this Harvard study discovered students who got regular sleep did better academically than those who slept irregular hours. Charles Czeisler, M.D., chief of the Sleep and Circadian Disorders Division at Brigham and Women's Hospital told CNN, "The results of this study are not suggesting everybody has to be a goody-two-shoes. So if you go to bed at 2 and get up at 9, that's fine. You just have to consistently do the same thing."
Next time you feel the urge to flip your schedule, do it. See if it works. Science has your back.