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What is chronoworking? The new work productivity hack

Do you often feel most productive in the very early morning, or late into the evening? If you do, this could be a sign of your personal chronotype.

Chronoworking is an emerging work trend first coined by British journalist, Ellen Scott. By aligning working hours with employee’s natural sleep rhythms, the goal of chronoworking is to boost the productivity of those who define themselves as early birds or night owls. 

In practice, all workers complete the same amount of hours – but they begin and finish at different times aligned with their genetic chronotype. Learn more about this emerging productivity hack below.

What chronotype am I?

In 2018, chronotypes were discussed in a TED talk by American psychologist, Michael Breus. Breus defined four different chronotypes, based on the sleep-wake cycles of animals:

  • Lion chronotype: you rise early (6am) and are most productive during the early morning (9am-2pm). 15% of people have the lion chronotype
  • Bear chronotype: you tend to wake at sunrise (7am) and are most productive at midday, between 10am-2pm. 55% of people have the bear chronotype 
  • Wolf chronotype: you tend to wake up later and thrive working later into the evening (1pm-5pm). 15% of people have the wolf chronotype
  • Dolphin chronotype: you tend to have a more sporadic sleep schedule, waking early (6am) but feeling most productive between 3pm-7pm. 10% of people have the dolphin chronotype. 

Can chronotypes be changed?

It’s possible for your circadian rhythm (or body clock) to be trained to a new schedule. For example, if someone transitions from a night-shift to a day job, they can form a new sleeping routine.

However, evidence suggests that chronotypes have a strong link to genetics and are more permanent. For 45% of the population, this means that the standard 9-to-5 may not be supporting them to reach full productivity. 

As highlighted by Amanda Rajkumar, a former executive HR board member at Adidas;

“By trying to fit these people into a normal corporate working day, you won’t be getting the best out of them. If people work better later in the evening, why are we asking them to be present in the office or online at 9am?”

Why do we work 9-to-5?

In 1890, full-time employees were working between 70 and 100 hours each week. In a then-traditional 6-day workweek, the average shift lasted around 12 hours daily.

The 9-to-5 schedule (and 8 hour workday) didn’t become the standard in the US and UK until the latter half of the 20th century. This was a hard-fought result of campaigns by lawmakers, employers and workers’ labour unions. 

What is chronoworking?

In 2024, flexible working patterns such as hybrid, remote and four-day workweeks are a stark contrast to the 6-day, 12-hour work schedules of the past. 

Now, chronoworking has emerged as the next ultra-flexible solution to boost productivity and personal wellbeing. 

According to Molly Johnson-Jones, CEO of Flexa, the company’s 17 employees follow different working patterns depending on when they feel most productive. When quoted by the BBC, Johnson-Jones stated; “some start as early as 07:30, while others don’t log on until 11:00, and work later into the evening.”

Pros of chronoworking

As stated by Sleep Foundation, “adapting to one’s natural chronotype can improve your sleep quality, energy, and mood.” Other perks to chronoworking can include;

  • Employee satisfaction. By aligning their schedules to their most productive hours, workers can bolster their job performance and sense of achievement
  • Flexibility for parents. A culture of flexibility can be a significant perk for parents; allowing them to work around school and appointments without fear of judgement.

Downsides of chronoworking

  • Much like hybrid working, chronoworking is difficult to apply to sectors that aren’t typically in an office; such as education, healthcare, construction and retail
  • Chronoworking is currently “most prevalent among the self-employed and solopreneurs,” according to Forbes
  • Successful chronoworking requires efficient scheduling and communication. In a climate where businesses are mandating employees return to the office, the same concerns about culture and productivity could persist
  • A complete chronoworking schedule could see employees awake at all hours – but booking a 4am client meeting could be a logistical challenge. Many sources recognise that core business crossover hours would be essential for team schedules to align and to support inclusivity.

How to chronowork your day

With the above points considered, it’s unlikely that chronoworking will become a widespread trend soon. However, there are still ways to align your day with your chronotype for better productivity. As suggested by sleep expert, Dr Lindsay Browning:

For those who wake early (bear or lion chronotype): 

  • Aim to complete your hardest tasks in the morning, so they aren’t lingering by the time your energy starts to decline
  • These chronotypes can seize the early morning hours by exercising or working on side projects.

For those who prefer later hours (wolf or dolphin chronotype):

  • Avoid scheduling early morning meetings where possible
  • Adapt a gentle morning routine to ease yourself into the day
  • Designate time to tackle heavy tasks later into the afternoon. 

Work with Distinct

As a leading East Midlands and London recruitment agency, we strive to remain up to date with the latest employment and work trends, such as chronoworking and our recent piece on ‘lazy girl jobs’.  If you are currently searching for your next job or hire – or would like to discuss recent trends in the UK job market, contact us today.

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