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Why 4 a.m. is the best time to work

Ideas can flow without the antibodies of e-mail, human voices and schedules imposing

Tuesday, January 21, 2014 – 6:38 PM by Sallie Krawcheck
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Sallie Krawcheck: My mind is clear, not yet caught up in the multiple internal conversations that we all conduct with ourselves.

Brooke’s Note: If you listened to nothing else that the former Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch advisory chief told you, you could do far worse than reading this haiku of a column. It recalls Steve Jobs’ habit of working into the wee, wee hours. That time of day, he explained, is when a software developer’s mind quiets down enough to make coding advances, and Jobs liked to be there to be part of it. (No comment from the coders working with the billionaire breathing down their necks.) See: RIAs use Twitter to reflect on the life and legacy of Steve Jobs. I have little of use to add about working at 4 a.m., unless REM sleep counts, though my sculling schedule in my 20s started not long after that. There was, in those pre-crepuscular moments, a sense of communing with a nobler version of self.

This article was previously published on LinkedIn.

For me, the most precious commodity in business is time. And I find I am most productive when I balance time that I spend with others with blocks of time during which I can think, write and —my favorite — build earnings models.

When I was in corporate America, I tried for awhile to schedule no meetings on a couple of Fridays every month, thereby giving myself the luxury of blocks of time to think. It worked … sort of. But I had one significant problem: e-mail. See: What if you spent one hour a day on the #1 idea to free up time and cash flow?

Some people can ignore -email, but I have never formed the discipline of not checking e-mail repeatedly and obsessively during the course of the day. It appears that I am addicted to the rush of endorphins that occurs when one receives a batch of e-mails, which I guess is better than being addicted to other things. See: One thought for advisors with stagnant practices: Pick up the telephone!.

So now I work when others sleep.

Low lights

I am never more productive than at 4 am. I brew a cup of coffee, I keep the lights pretty low, I sometimes light a fire in the fireplace, and I let my daughter’s cat sleep next to my computer. My mind is clear, not yet caught up in the multiple internal conversations that we all conduct with ourselves once we gear up for our first meeting of the day. See: What comments by Krawcheck and Gorman about improving wirehouse attrition leave out.

And there’s a peace that comes from knowing that my family is all in bed and safe upstairs while I work. It is at this time of day that I often have a rush of ideas (some of them actually good).

Yes, this does mean I have to go to sleep earlier, but I long ago recognized that I am out of gas by about 8 p.m. every evening. Any work that I try to do after that isn’t up to my standards anyway, so I give myself a break then. I use that time to be with my children, to socialize … and to get to sleep so that I can start again at 4 a.m. See: Word from Sallie Krawchek on where our financial system stands five years after the Lehman crash.



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June 26, 2014 — 12:52 PM

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