When is the right time to message a friend or colleague? Hint: Not 8am

Unless it’s a parents’ WhatsApp group or your pal who flies for Etihad, maybe

A morning ping – or three – does not have quite the effect the author hoped it might. Getty Images
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When a person who often only went to bed after 4am begins waking up around that time, that old chestnut – life comes full circle – becomes painfully apparent.

Whatever my reasons for surfacing at this hitherto ungodly hour for the past four years or so – pregnancy, newborn, fitness goals, nursery germs, school bus schedules, aka parenthood, woo-hoo! – the fact remains my own personal midday comes at about 8am.

By this time, I’ve been working for a couple of hours, refuelled with two, OK fine, three cups of black coffee, eaten my heaviest meal of the day and even done a grocery run (thanks, Instashop).

I’m awake! Alive! Active! Enthusiastic! Effusive!

However, many of my friends and colleagues don’t quite feel the same. Some of them are just starting their day, others are still snoozing. A ping – or three – from me, then, does not have quite the effect I hoped it might.

Even the most puntastic jokes fall flat; Saturday brunch-related plans go unmade; work messages get missed.

As with the delusions of perfection we all tend to suffer from at some point, I did not realise quite how annoying, maybe even inappropriate such behaviour might be until a friend told me, in no uncertain terms: The early bird is the worm.

My love of wordplay (and fear of creepy-crawlies) meant the message hit home. It also got me thinking: In this age of constant communication, is there a right time to message someone who’s not my mum? And, if not, should there be?

A friend who’s a chef said he does all his messaging before hitting the fish market at 5am, and then after the restaurant closes at midnight

A quick search on “texting etiquette” sent me down a rather enjoyable rabbit hole of Dr Google’s dos and don’ts – “Do reply promptly and keep texts short”; “Don’t text someone while you are driving a car; it is very stupid because it is very dangerous”.

My favourite pearl of wisdom? A rather sanctimonious command by American etiquette expert Daniel Post Senning: “Autocorrect errors aren’t a laughing matter. Save yourself some embarrassment and show some care for the person you’re communicating with by taking the time to re-read your message before you hit send.” OK boss, sorry boss.

But I digress. Despite combing through dozens upon dozens of blogs and journals (waking up early gives you plenty of time to have a play), I could not find a common ground as to the “right time” to send a text.

According to Omnisend’s 2023 research, the best time is from noon to 1pm. E-commerce company Messente says business hours, which it deigns are from 10am to 8pm, are best, but then asks readers to avoid standard rush hours, so between 4pm and 7pm.

And I thought I was bad at maths.

A third marketing firm, SimpleTexting, deems 6pm to 8pm as ideal, because “the data says” people are active on their phones during the evening as they relax and browse after work.

Of course, these are analysis companies addressing marketing firms that send SMS blasts.

Despite its infinite wisdom, the internet’s sage advice on the right time to message a friend, meanwhile, boils down to, “Don't text too early or too late.” Gee, thanks.

Evidently, as with many rules in the digital age, the “right” time to text appears to be a fluid concept. And, as with most rules in the digital age, this is unfortunate, but perhaps unavoidable.

A quick chat with some of my peers confirmed as much. A mum on the school parents’ WhatsApp group said she’s unlikely to check that platform after 8.15am. A friend who’s a chef said he does all his messaging before hitting the fish market at 5am, and then after the restaurant closes at midnight. Another who’s an air stewardess said her texting hours are as erratic as her time zones. Family groups – which inevitably have members all over the world – too, are active at all hours of the day and night.

Evidently, it’s one of those questions that has no right (or wrong?) answer, save for that overarching solution: Use a bit of common sense. Perhaps it’s best to segregate people into night owls, early risers, working professionals (subcategory: fixed vs flexible hours), fellow parents, jet-setting cousins, et al.

Or, as one blog advised its texters to consider their recipient’s chronotype, or the natural preferences of every individual body for wakefulness and sleep.

Four chronotypes have been identified thus far: lion, wolf, dolphin and bear … with me.

The lion is an early riser, the wolf quite the opposite; the bear feels sleepy at sunset, while individuals with the dolphin chronotype don't stick to any particular sleep schedule and are easily disturbed by factors such as light, sound … and I suppose WhatsApp messages.

My question is this: Why not keep your phone on silent mode? Or better still, given what we know about blue light and radiation, out of the bedroom entirely?

That way, us early birds will not disturb your mornings, but also – like the meme below that I most relate to these days – you night owls will not disturb our evenings.

Thank you and goodnight.

Updated: December 08, 2023, 6:01 PM