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Are Micro-sleeps Ruining Your Productivity?

Are Micro-sleeps Ruining Your Productivity?

The morning after a night of poor sleep can be rough, as I’m sure you know from firsthand research. For years we’ve known that sleep affects us both physically and mentally—lack of sleep erodes our mental abilities in particular. Just one night of sub-optimal sleep at less than 5 hours might hurt us more the next day than almost two days of no sleep at all.[1]

Despite this, chances are that you spent your morning commute bleary-eyed and desperately clutching a cup of your preferred caffeine fix whilst maintaining a silent litany of “I promise to go to bed earlier tonight!”.

The fact of it is, you may just have to hack your sleep in order to hack your productivity. Actually, you just need to sleep (no hacking necessary) to be more productive. Research tells us that the insufficient sleep you’re currently getting increases the frequency of micro-sleeps[2] and it might just be these micro-sleeps that are ruining your efforts to be your best self.

What is a micro-sleep?

Sitting at your desk at work after getting 4 hours of sleep, you might think you’ve got your workload under control, but you feel your attention slip occasionally. You suddenly and involuntarily lose your focus and it’s a struggle to zone back into full awareness. After a few seconds you manage to get yourself together, but it’s not the last time that this will happen to you today.

Science describes micro-sleep as very short periods of sleep[2], but you may be more familiar with them as unintended lapses in attention[2]. Although short, they are an interruption to your flow and, in a sleep-deprived state, these interruptions might take you longer to recover from.

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So why do they occur?

Sleep is a biological necessity, so while we’re awake, our need for sleep builds throughout the day until we fall into bed in the evening. It’s normal to experience crossovers between wakefulness and sleep to a certain extent, but a lack of sleep will expand our sleep debt. A heavy debt will increase the frequency of these crossovers and subsequently, you might find yourself lapsing into micro-sleeps more often[2-3], meaning that you will struggle to concentrate more often and may feel sleepy or tired[4].

If you already struggle with these feelings at work, it’s time to accept that they’re a call for help and not to be ignored until you eventually retire.

Your brain on insufficient sleep

Research thus far has shown that your mood suffers the greatest hit from a lack of sleep[1]. The brain becomes more reactive[5] and emotions can go haywire, causing unstable moods.

One interesting study also showed that we’re more likely to react to negative stimuli[2] when suffering from a lack of zzz’s. Being a bit of a ticking bomb can’t be good in a social setting, especially if you’ve been holding a grudge against your coworker or have suppressed feelings towards your boss.

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Insufficient sleep can also affect our mental and creative skills, with lateral and flexible thinking particularly impaired. Furthermore, it has been shown that it takes us longer to complete a task when operating on a lack of sleep[2], especially as our motivation and engagement[2] suffer as well. (Can this explain the cyber loafing problem some have?) In any case, it’s safe to assume that even the tasks that come automatically to us, might be harder to get crossed off our to-do lists.

Even if you push through and complete a task, it’s likely there will be errors[2] you’ll have to spend further time correcting as chronic sleep deprivation decreases speed and accuracy[3]. Let’s face it—the time spent correcting errors could have been better put to use, like on a full night’s sleep.

But I do get enough sleep!

Are you sure? In another effort to prove us all wrong, research reveals that we tend to think we’ve gotten enough sleep even when we haven’t[3]. Furthermore, we tend to greatly overestimate our cognitive performance when chronically sleep-deprived; although we think we’re doing well, our performance might have actually plummeted.[3]

It looks like sleep might be the best first step towards optimising your productivity. Even without delving into polyphasic sleep and other experiments, just getting a good night’s sleep might help you refresh enough for you to make the most of your day at work.

If there’s one thing you’ll take away from this article, it should be this quote by Jim Butcher:

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Sleep is God. Go worship.

Make that the litany inside your head.

If it’s the middle of your workday, you’re struggling with being productive at this very moment and thinking that this article is absolutely useless, I’ve got a morsel for you too. Here are:

3 scientifically-backed truths to quickly boost your productivity:

1. Get some exercise: Research has shown that exercise increases productivity so that we are both able to do more and do it better.[6] The good news is that you don’t have to go off to slave away at the gym—even a walk around the office or a run up the stairs might help. If you can find the time, go do it now.

2. Be happy: Think positively and feed positive emotions—happiness can increase an employee’s productivity so that he does more while maintaining a level of quality to his work[7]. In this context, happiness entails any positive emotion experienced often.[7]

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3. Try being mindful:Research has shown that even the short-term practice of mindfulness can improve our ability to remain focused as well as our mood and cognitive processes[8].

References
[1]Pilcher, J., Huffcut, A.I., (1996). Effects of sleep deprivation on performance: a meta analysis. Sleep, 19(4), 318-326.
[2]Lim, J., Dinges, D.F. Sleep deprivation and vigilant attention. Dexpartment of psychology, University of Pennsylvania.
[3]Durmer, J.S., Dinges, D.F. (2005). Neurocognitive consequences of sleep deprivation. Seminars in Neurology 25(1), 117-129.
[4]Porcu, S., Bellatreccia, A., Ferrara, M. (1998). Sleepiness, alertness and performance during a laboratory simulation of an acute shift of the wake-sleep cycle. Ergonomics 41(8), 1192-1202
[5]Yoo, S.S., Gujar, N., Hu, P., Jolesz, F.A., Walker, M.P. (2012). The human emotional brain without sleep – a prefrontal amygdala disconnect. Current Biology, 17(20), 877-878.
[6]von Thiele Schwarz, U., Hasson, H. (2011). Employee self-rated productivity and objective organizational production levels: effects of worksite health interventions involving reduced work hours and physical exercise. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 53(8), 838-844.
[7]Oswald, A.J., Proto, E., Sgroi, D. (2009). Happiness and productivity. IZA Discussion Paper No. 4645. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1526075
[8]Zeidan, F., Johnson, S.K., Diamond, B.J., David, Z., Goolkasian, P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and cognition, 19(2), 597-605.

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Last Updated on September 16, 2019

How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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  • (1) Research
  • (2) Deciding the topic
  • (3) Creating the outline
  • (4) Drafting the content
  • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
  • (6) Revision
  • (7) etc.

Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

2. Change Your Environment

Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

6. Get a Buddy

Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

7. Tell Others About Your Goals

This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

Reality check:

I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future.  Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

More About Procrastination

Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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