Nowhere are variations in individual work routines more apparent than in an independent and liberal work environment such as the research lab I work in. It is easy to observe, for example, subpopulations of obligate morning-workers and obligate evening workers, as well as the facultative morning/evening workers. Then there are the really crazy (but increasingly rare) individuals who just never go home.
But what underlying differences cause different people to gravitate towards different work schedules? Are certain work schedules more productive than others?
I recently came across a paper that found some interesting correlations between student work schedules and tendencies in two areas of personality that are highly relevant to scientific research: 1) How students internalize information about their environment and 2) how they communicate with others.
Basically, morning-types tend to be conformists:
"Speciﬁcally, morning-types gather their knowledge from the tangible and concrete, trusting direct experience and observable phenomena (realistic/sensing), prefer to process knowledge using analysis and logic (thought-guided), and transform new knowledge according to what is known (conservation-seeking). Their behaviour style was upstanding and self-controlled; they relate to authority in a respectful and cooperative manner and tend to behave in a formal and proper manner in social situations (dutiful/conforming). Finally, morning-types care about giving a positive impression"
Whereas evening-types tend to be innovators:
"the thinking style of evening-types was based on the symbolical and unknown data more than on concrete and observable ones (imaginative/intuiting), they tend to be creative and to take risks, ready to transform and recast whatever they come upon (innovation-seeking). As for behaving style, evening-types tend to act out in an independent and nonconforming manner and resist following traditional standards (unconventional/dissenting)."
It's interesting to speculate as to the underlying biological basis for these differences (ie circadian rhythms, etc.). But to me the real take-home message from this work is that different people probably perform to the best of their abilities on different working schedules. Thus the most productive research environment is likely to be one that respects the individual's freedom to work on one's own schedules. On an individual level, this study might also suggest that different research tasks (ie repetitive labor vs. idea brainstorming) are best performed on different schedules.