Last night, Travis and I worked late. I mean…late. We left the office around 2 am as I recall. And Jim left just a couple of hours before we did.
It’s not that unusual to work into the wee hours, especially as small business folks. And in moderation I think it’s healthy. Not healthy in the traditional “do this because it’ll make you live longer” sense of the word healthy, I mean that it gives you perspective. And technically it helps you live more.
Not longer, but *more*.
Our brains, we’re told, are pretty efficient at storing information. So much so that they can actually identify patterns of input and start stacking similar experiences on top of each other to save space. Have you ever been driving to work and suddenly realized that you have no clear or immediate memory of the last few minutes navigating the same dreary surface roads you traverse every Monday through Friday around 7:40? Well, scientists will tell you that’s your brain identifying redundant information and discarding it.
So every time you change your routine, even by doing something simple like choosing a different route to work or working unexpected hours at the office, you can be assured that your brain is writing new data and that you’re actually getting more experience out of life. That’s the “living more” part.
The perspective part is less scientific, so forgive me if I wax a bit poetic. Changing your routine, doing something unexpected and different, helps remind you just how much more is going on around you than you realize. We spend a huge amount of time insulating ourselves from anything different. We take comfort in the familiar, we don’t talk to people we don’t know, eat foods we know we like, stick to a routine, and we see all of the same things each day – usually at the same time of day when all the other same people are doing their same things, too.
But try working late. REALLY late.
What does your desk look like through sleepy eyes after midnight? What does the office sound like when no phones are ringing, no other chairs are squeaking? Isn’t it odd how the conference room window is completely black instead of that familiar blue-tinted view of the other buildings? When you walk around the silent halls, don’t you get a strange feeling of heightened awareness – a feeling often unknown in those same halls between 8 am and 6 pm? That’s your brain waking up and actually noticing things.
And when you walk to your car at 3 o’clock in the morning, the outside world is different, too.
If you work in any kind of city, you’re used to seeing other business commuters heading for their cars or their trains while restaurants are busily setting out tables for the early dinner crowd. The surface roads are congested with people trying to start unwinding on their way home, maybe some of the smaller shops are closing up for the day.
But at 3 am when you walk down Church Street, it’s quiet. The last of the drunks have been bundled into cars and driven home by friends, the OPD has pulled their shiny cruisers back to the station, the bars and restaurants have all shut down and the barbacks are spraying off kitchen mats in the gutters and dragging trash to the dumpsters. The air is cooler. People everywhere are sound asleep and all their fretting and urgency and white noise is snuggled up quietly with them. It’s peaceful. And it’s different.
I like working late from time to time, and not just because it reminds me how lucky I am to work at things I love every day. I like to keep reminding my brain that even the small circles we move in have more detail than we notice, and I’d rather be a little tired the next day than suddenly realize I’ve been sleepwalking through life.