Midnight is a Confusing Choice for Scheduling

Clock IconMidnight is a poor choice for scheduling anything. Midnight belongs to tomorrow. It’s 0000 on the clock, which is the beginning of the next day. That’s not how humans think, though, because tomorrow is after we wake up!

A great example is a statement like “proposals are due by midnight on April 15.”

What you actually said: proposals aren’t welcome after April 14.
What you probably meant: you want the proposals before the date is April 16.

There’s a 24 hour difference there, and if you enforce the deadline accurately people are going to complain because they were all thinking the second thing (before April 16).

Similarly, this is a problem in change notices and customer communications. When you say there’s an outage scheduled for midnight there’s a very good chance someone will misunderstand when that is. Being wrong by an hour in the middle of the night isn’t so bad. Being wrong by 24 hours gets people riled up and you have enough problems as it is.

The second issue with midnight is when folks represent it as 12:00 AM. When you’re moving fast, as many people are, it’s easy to confuse with noon. Even worse when people mess up and write it as 12:00 PM, because in their head midnight is night which is PM. Except, of course, it isn’t.

Last, midnight is a popular time to schedule automated processes. I get it, it’s easy. If you run something at midnight you don’t have to do much processing to separate yesterday from today. The problem is that there’s a ton of stuff already running on the hour, and you’re just piling on. Most people try to avoid shopping when it’s crazy busy, why would you want to run your jobs that way? If you ran your job a bit earlier or later chances are it’ll run faster because you’re not competing with everyone else.

So instead of midnight, what?

 

1. If you care about time then act like you care about time and write your jobs the right way. Or, decide you don’t care about time so much and put a random sleep in them. Jobs don’t have to sleep long, just enough to avoid parts of the hour that end in :00 and :30.

2. Be strict about how you write your times. Write the date in the ISO 8601 format to help avoid global formatting issues (YYYY-MM-DDThh:mmTZD). Mind daylight savings when you add the time zone (-0500 vs -0600, etc.). Don’t be afraid to spell it out in two ways, ISO and how a non-technical reader would want to see it:

“2018-04-05T23:00-07:00 (11 PM Pacific Daylight Time on April 5, 2018).”

3. Don’t schedule things at midnight or noon. Chances are that if you’re scheduling something you could move it to avoid the issue. Deadlines could move to 2200 or 0600 without too much inconvenience, drastically reducing the potential for confusion. Scheduled work could be 2330 (and if you needed to wait until 0000 just adjust the length of the maintenance window). Even if you’re simply telling someone else that something is going to happen, pick a different time that’s clearly inside a specific day.

Time notation drives everybody crazy — look up some of the holy wars around server clocks set to UTC/GMT vs local time. Communication is hard, too, especially conveying technical topics to non-technical people. Let’s be mindful of these tricky spots and work to reduce confusion where we can. That way, instead of ridiculous & angry conversations about definitions of midnight we can have meaningful & clear conversations about the work itself.

5 comments… add one
  • This has bothered me to no end. For a technical person like myself, 00:00 midnight is always the start of a new day. It gives me anxiety because I know that others think midnight is “the other meaning”. It’s a difference of 23-23:59 hours so when we’re talking about something important, it really matters.

    Reply
  • Great post and ISO8601 FTW. But… you fell into the same trap as most… It is daylight saving time. No “s” is in there. :)

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    • I normally tell people to not be so pedantic but I just wrote a post about being pedantic about time, so we’ll call it a wash. :) I fixed it. Thanks!

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      • Yep. That was exactly why I was pendantic on that one, although in fairness I was chuckling while I wore it.
        Normally I’d let it slide. :)

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  • Anytime someone does this, I complain… :) I tell them, either use 1201 AM or move it. Someone will not know what you mean, I guarantee you.

    Unless it’s military people (and being in Higher Ed, no one is that precise), no one knows 0000 is ‘tomorrow’ and 2359 is ‘yesterday’.

    Then there’s the ones that use Noon:something (12:30 PM) and don’t know it’s now PM. Sigh…..

    Reply

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