System Reset: An Experiment in Life-Shifting


Working for oneself has its advantages, but sometimes it’s a double-edged sword. While there are definitely benefits to having the freedom to do what you want when you want, one downside for me has been the development of several bad habits, like:

  1. Email. I have a bad tendency of going straight to the computer as soon as I get up in the morning and then easily losing one or two hours to email and news feeds, which causes me to work in reactive mode and end the day feeling like I’m behind and that I didn’t do what I needed to do to move my business forward.
  2. Long days. I’m not against working long days now and then, but I am against working for work’s sake, and on many days, I have a bad habit of not staying aware of the hours I’m putting in or paying attention to whether or not I’m even getting anything worthwhile done.
  3. Ignoring natural rhythms. For a long time, I’ve considered myself an insomniac and have experimented with tons of ways for getting to sleep and staying asleep, all to no avail. In truth, I might just be a night owl trying to be an early bird or only need six hours of sleep instead of eight. By ignoring my natural sleep-wake rhythms, I’ve set things up to be a constant struggle, and it’s established a routine that doesn’t seem to work with how I’m hard-wired.

Breaking bad habits and routines is a real challenge, which in my case I knew would require a complete system reset. That’s a lot easier to do when you’re on vacation or when you make a major change in your life, like moving or starting a new job, but how do you hit the reset button when everything is the same in your environment?

A Complete Break in Routine

My system reset started accidentally. After several late nights before and during the holidays, I found myself staying up even later than usual, often until 4 or 6 AM. For the first few nights, I was frustrated by it, but after I couldn’t get back on schedule, I decided to take advantage of the time and get a little bit of work done. After a couple of days working that way, I started to see that I was actually getting more done, and I wasn’t falling into my old and established habits.

My new (and experimental) schedule looks something like this:

  • Somewhere between 10 PM and 12 AM, I start working, and I work until 4 or 6 AM.
  • I sleep from 6 AM until noon and then get up, eat a light breakfast/lunch, and get ready.
  • I spend the entire afternoon and evening however I want, catching a 30-minute nap some time between 6 and 8 PM, and then I’m free again until it’s time to start work.

Here are a few of the positive changes I’ve noticed so far:

  • I go to sleep as soon as my head hits the pillow (a nice change of pace from my regular two to four hours’ of tossing and turning).
  • I eat when I’m hungry (since I have no idea when I should be eating!), which has proven to be a good way to lose weight and eat healthier.
  • I’m working six to eight hours a day instead of ten or twelve, a major improvement that keeps me focused on the most important tasks that need to get done.
  • I have a lot more free time to spend with family and friends or even by myself, and as an added bonus, shopping and running errands is a lot easier because of the hours I’m free.
  • I’m breaking old habits. When I start my “work day,” I’m not falling into my old routine. When I say that it’s time to start working, I actually start working right then and there on the most important things, since I know that I’ll actually be tired at 6 AM and ready for some sleep!

In the end, it’s probably just tricking myself into a new routine. I don’t know that I’ll stick with this schedule in the long term, but I can say that this is the one thing I’ve tried that’s actually fixing many of the ongoing problems I’ve had until now, including insomnia and bad work habits. The real test will be seeing if this hard reset has a lasting impact on my bad habits, even when back on my old schedule.

I know major life-shifting like this isn’t possible in all cases, but if you’re having trouble breaking bad habits you’ve established for yourself, it might be time to try finding ways to disrupt your routine and give yourself a system reset.

Has there ever been a time where you’ve had a major life shift that impacted your work schedule in a positive way?

Photo courtesy Flickr user Xelcise

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I discovered the exact same tendencies 20 years ago when I almost got kicked out of college. Can’t sleep before 4 am and actually wake up at 12 noon no matter when I get up. This realization helped me finish the college. Trouble is, many people consider this regime weird or disgustingly “lazy”, even though I don’t sleep more hours than they do. This negative pressure is what makes maintaining this regime the most difficult.

Amber Singleton Riviere

I agree completely. The negative perception that came along with this schedule, even in my own mind in the beginning, was the exact reason I fought the tendency for so long, and even today, people around me call me crazy for the hours I keep (sleep-/wake-wise).

I’m just thinking, though, that this all probably can vary, too, depending on where you live (and that goes for total hours worked per week as much as what’s considered a “normal” schedule). Compare two countries, and you find totally different “norms.”


It feels good to know I am not alone with these bad habits :-). I’ve been freelancing for over 3 years now, and my experience is that I also work better at night. I have tried many times to go back to a morning schedule, but after a week or two it’s back to night-time sched.

Amber Singleton Riviere

You’re totally not alone! For me, it’s a constant fight between good and evil where bad habits are concerned. :) I know just what you mean, though, about trying to conform to other schedules, and it just never seems to work out.

tom jones tribute artist - ian anthony

My work as a pro singer takes me all over the world, so my sleep cycle / activity cycle changes quite a lot!

I find that the longer I spend ‘out’ of my normal cycle, the longer and harder it is to get back to ‘normal’

I think that the bottom line is, do you feel good, are you productive, is your current cycle ok with your family and social circle?

If yes to all, stick with it until you feel like a change!

Best regards, Ian.

Amber Singleton Riviere

Agreed, Ian. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and that’s really what’s so great about working for yourself: you can do what works for you. Thanks for commenting!


I completely relate to your story! Since August, I’ve been working from home for a company ( that allows me to set my own hours and do my work when I want/am able to, and it’s totally messing with me. :)

At first, I was stuck in my typical 9am – 6pm schedule, but then I finally realized I can work whenever it’s convenient for me. So I started seriously slacking off in the mornings, thinking that I had the entire afternoon to catch up, which led to me scrambling in the early evening to finish tasks.

Now I’ve realized my ideal schedule (which is the total opposite of yours, incidentally), is to get up around 7am and jump right into work. I stop around 10am to take our dog for a long walk, then it’s back to work until 2 or 3 pm, with snack breaks interspersed. But I’m done by 3pm on most days, which is perfect for my personal life.

And on days like today, when the sun finally appeared after four days of a gray winter wasteland, I can throw my schedule to the wind and go for a 2 hour walk in the middle of the day. I love that I’ve finally found a schedule that is perfectly suited to my life, and yet I can toss the schedule out on a moment’s notice if the great outdoors is calling my name. Hooray for flexible work schedules!

Amber Singleton Riviere

Thanks for commenting, Brie! I would love to eventually get on your schedule, since it’s actually my ideal, but the insomnia has always made it tough to maintain. I’m still able to enjoy the afternoons without working, but I enjoy the mornings, too, sometimes (something about coffee at midnight is just not quite the same). :)

Glad to hear that you were able to chuck the 9 to 5 mentality so quickly and that your new schedule is working out well for you!

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