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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 November 19, 2019

20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

20 Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity

Are you usually punctual or late? Do you finish things within the time you stipulate? Do you hand in your reports/work on time? Are you able to accomplish what you want to do before deadlines? Are you a good time manager?

If your answer is “no” to any of the questions above, that means you’re not managing your time as well as you want. Here are 20 time management tips to help you manage time better:

1. Create a Daily Plan

Plan your day before it unfolds. Do it in the morning or even better, the night before you sleep. The plan gives you a good overview of how the day will pan out. That way, you don’t get caught off guard. Your job for the day is to stick to the plan as best as possible.

2. Peg a Time Limit to Each Task

Be clear that you need to finish X task by 10am, Y task by 3pm, and Z item by 5:30pm. This prevents your work from dragging on and eating into time reserved for other activities.

3. Use a Calendar

Having a calendar is the most fundamental step to managing your daily activities. If you use outlook or lotus notes, calendar come as part of your mailing software.

I use it. It’s even better if you can sync your calendar to your mobile phone and other hardwares you use – that way, you can access your schedule no matter where you are. Here’re the 10 Best Calendar Apps to Stay on Track .

Find out more tips about how to use calendar for better time management here: How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space

4. Use an Organizer

An organizer helps you to be on top of everything in your life. It’s your central tool to organize information, to-do lists, projects, and other miscellaneous items.

These Top 15 Time Management Apps and Tools can help you organize better, pick one that fits your needs.

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5. Know Your Deadlines

When do you need to finish your tasks? Mark the deadlines out clearly in your calendar and organizer so you know when you need to finish them.

But make sure you don’t make these 10 Common Mistakes When Setting Deadlines.

6. Learn to Say “No”

Don’t take on more than you can handle. For the distractions that come in when you’re doing other things, give a firm no. Or defer it to a later period.

Leo Babauta, the founder of Zen Habits has some great insights on how to say no: The Gentle Art of Saying No

7. Target to Be Early

When you target to be on time, you’ll either be on time or late. Most of the times you’ll be late. However, if you target to be early, you’ll most likely be on time.

For appointments, strive to be early. For your deadlines, submit them earlier than required.

Learn from these tips about how to prepare yourself to be early, instead of just in time.

8. Time Box Your Activities

This means restricting your work to X amount of time. Why time boxing is good for you? Here’re 10 reasons why you should start time-boxing.

You can also read more about how to do time boxing here: #5 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity.

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9. Have a Clock Visibly Placed Before You

Sometimes we are so engrossed in our work that we lose track of time. Having a huge clock in front of you will keep you aware of the time at the moment.

10. Set Reminders 15 Minutes Before

Most calendars have a reminder function. If you have an important meeting to attend, set that alarm 15 minutes before.

You can learn more about how reminders help you remember everything in this article: The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

11. Focus

Are you multi-tasking so much that you’re just not getting anything done? If so, focus on just one key task at one time. Multitasking is bad for you.

Close off all the applications you aren’t using. Close off the tabs in your browser that are taking away your attention. Focus solely on what you’re doing. You’ll be more efficient that way.

Lifehack’s CEO has written a definitive guide on how to focus, learn the tips: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

12. Block out Distractions

What’s distracting you in your work? Instant messages? Phone ringing? Text messages popping in?

I hardly ever use chat nowadays. The only times when I log on is when I’m not intending to do any work. Otherwise it gets very distracting.

When I’m doing important work, I also switch off my phone. Calls during this time are recorded and I contact them afterward if it’s something important. This helps me concentrate better.

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Find more tips on how to minimize distractions to achieve more in How to Minimize Distraction to Get Things Done

13. Track Your Time Spent

When you start to track your time, you’re more aware of how you spend your time. For example, you can set a simple countdown timer to make sure that you finish a task within a period of time, say 30 minutes or 1 hour. The time pressure can push you to stay focused and work more efficiently.

You can find more time tracking apps here and pick one that works for you.

14. Don’t Fuss About Unimportant Details

You’re never get everything done in exactly the way you want. Trying to do so is being ineffective.

Trying to be perfect does you more harm than good, learn here about how perfectionism kills your productivity and how to ditch the perfectionism mindset.

15. Prioritize

Since you can’t do everything, learn to prioritize the important and let go of the rest.

Apply the 80/20 principle which is a key principle in prioritization. You can also take up this technique to prioritize everything on your plate: How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

16. Delegate

If there are things that can be better done by others or things that are not so important, consider delegating. This takes a load off and you can focus on the important tasks.

When you delegate some of your work, you free up your time and achieve more. Learn about how to effectively delegate works in this guide: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

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17. Batch Similar Tasks Together

For related work, batch them together.

For example, my work can be categorized into these core groups:

  1. writing (articles, my upcoming book)
  2. coaching
  3. workshop development
  4. business development
  5. administrative

I batch all the related tasks together so there’s synergy. If I need to make calls, I allocate a time slot to make all my calls. It really streamlines the process.

18. Eliminate Your Time Wasters

What takes your time away your work? Facebook? Twitter? Email checking? Stop checking them so often.

One thing you can do is make it hard to check them – remove them from your browser quick links / bookmarks and stuff them in a hard to access bookmarks folder. Replace your browser bookmarks with important work-related sites.

While you’ll still checking FB/Twitter no doubt, you’ll find it’s a lower frequency than before.

19. Cut off When You Need To

The number one reason why things overrun is because you don’t cut off when you have to.

Don’t be afraid to intercept in meetings or draw a line to cut-off. Otherwise, there’s never going to be an end and you’ll just eat into the time for later.

20. Leave Buffer Time In-Between

Don’t pack everything closely together. Leave a 5-10 minute buffer time in between each tasks. This helps you wrap up the previous task and start off on the next one.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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