After college, most people do their best to avoid having to pull any more all-nighters. But for some, even after graduation, the wee hours of the morning are the most productive.
That is what led Amber Lambke and Allan Grinshtein to start a group called the New York Nightowls, a sort of study hall for entrepreneurs, freelancers and software developers who gather at 10 every Tuesday night and stay as late as 4 a.m.
“The goal is to come, get inspired, meet new people and get work done,” said Ms. Lambke, a creative consultant. “It’s six hours of uninterrupted, productive time where you’re surrounded by other creative people doing awesome things.”
Although the New York group has been meeting only since April, the concept is catching on. Others have organized similar weekly gatherings in nearly a dozen cities, including San Francisco, Boston, Stockholm and Melbourne, Australia.
In New York, roughly two dozen people armed with laptops and caffeinated beverages assemble each week on the top floor of an office building in Chinatown and hunker down for a night of work.
Some, like Mr. Grinshtein, head of product design at the video site Blip.tv, are there to work on pet projects and side ventures that go ignored during the regular workday.
Others, like Brad Smith, the co-founder of Virb, a service that lets people quickly create Web sites, are there to chip away at the mountain of unanswered e-mail messages that pile up during the day.
Most who show up for a session spend their time hunched deep in thought over a glowing screen. But this is no library. It is not uncommon to hear soft music playing, and some participants choose bottles of beer over coffee. During one recent session, a delivery man wandered in to drop off a late-night snack of chicken wings, which were quickly passed around the room.
Participants say a spirit of collaboration and camaraderie percolates through the night, one that can be hard to come by during normal working hours.
“I don’t code very well, and a developer working here might be able to solve a problem in 30 seconds that might take me three hours,” said Jonathan Wegener, who creates mobile applications. “It’s a lot easier to look over someone’s shoulder in this environment, and that’s really valuable.”
The group got its start one evening in April when Mr. Grinshtein fired off a message to Twitter, asking if anyone wanted to form a casual work group.
“At home, I fall asleep, procrastinate and don’t get anything done,” Mr. Grinshtein said. “I thought, there has got to be someone else out there doing the same thing.”
Ms. Lambke, who did not know Mr. Grinshtein, was immediately interested. “I saw the tweet and thought, this is exactly what I need,” she said. A week and several e-mail exchanges later, the New York Nightowls was formed.
The meetings are free, and Ms. Lambke and Mr. Grinshtein try to cap the group’s size at around 30 people. They ask attendees to schedule a visit through Meetup, a service that allows people to organize events.
Tony Bacigalupo, who runs a shared working space called New Work City that caters to freelancers and other independent types, offered to let the Nightowls use the space at no cost.
“There is already a culture of getting work done here,” Mr. Bacigalupo said. “We might turn the music up a little louder at night, crack open a few beers, but I think it helps that people know you come here to focus and make things.”
One big advantage of the late-night hours is that they are blissfully free of the distractions that clutter the daytime. Even the Web goes quiet. People feel less compelled to check Twitter and Facebook and chat with friends and colleagues via instant message.
“When you don’t have your co-workers constantly interrupting you, fewer friends bored at work and on IM, it’s easier to get things done,” said Montana Low, the chief scientist at RescueTime, which makes productivity software. “A lot of people have problems with this type of distraction, and everyone is looking for ways to get a little more out of their day.”
On an average workday, most people visit about 40 Web sites, ranging from social networking hubs to shopping and entertainment portals, according to RescueTime, which studies the habits of the 200,000 people who have downloaded its software. The frequency with which people jump around online slows by nearly half during the early hours of the morning, Mr. Low said.
But preferring to work at night might go beyond a need to escape distractions. Some people are hard-wired to perform better as it gets later, said Michael Thorpy, director of the Sleep-Wake Disorder Center at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.
“Our circadian timing of sleep is affected by genetics, and people all differ,” he said.
Mr. Thorpy said many people experience surges of alertness two to three hours before they fall asleep — ideal for powering through some unfinished business.
“If it fits in with their lifestyle, it can work very well,” he said. “A large part of their waking day is when things are quieting down.”
The popularity of the Nightowls idea suggests that there are plenty of people in this camp. Johan Hedberg, a 33-year-old public relations consultant in Stockholm, became interested in coordinating a local version after he saw an online posting about the group. “I have a lot of friends and colleagues writing books and working on Web projects who sit by themselves at home,” he said. “There is so much more to gain by working with other people.”
Mr. Hedberg, who holds the gatherings at his offices on Tuesdays and serves platters of cinnamon buns and hot coffee, said that nearly 30 people turned out for the first event in mid-June and more than 100 had signed up to be notified of the meetings. He hopes the Nightowl group will help him start his own personal project, a book of recipes for baked goods.
“I bake the cupcakes, but I am a lousy photographer,” Mr. Hedberg said. “I had hopes that a photographer or someone who is good at layout might show up and help me.”
In New York, the Nightowl sessions last as long as there are people working. “We’re open until I get tired,” Mr. Grinshtein said.
Ms. Lambke, who concedes that most weeks she does not last beyond 1 or 2 a.m., said that anyone who needs a quick power nap can retire to a cushy beanbag chair.
“Maybe we’re a little bit insane,” she said with a laugh. “But it’s fun.”
“We’re New Yorkers,” added Mr. Grinshtein. “It’s not like we sleep anyway.”