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11 Ways To Stay Productive When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep

11 Ways To Stay Productive When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep

New parents, creative insomniacs, night owls with early bird schedules – we all suffer from a similar problem. We need more sleep, but we also need to be productive. As one who regularly drank 6-10 cups of coffee a day throughout his early twenties, I understand your pain. You don’t get enough sleep, but your desire for productivity is likely the main reason why you don’t get enough sleep. What a miserable paradox!

Let’s face it. Chugging more coffee, and God-forbid energy drinks, really doesn’t cut it. You and I both know caffeine does not equal productive energy. But what, if anything, is a better alternative? Here are eleven ways you can stay productive, even when you don’t get that much needed sleep.

1. Talk to people.

When you engage another person in conversation (even if it’s your cat!), you effectively turn the key in your brain’s ignition. You have to construct conversational pieces, listen to what the other is saying, respond, and typically use physical gestures throughout the conversation. All of these factors ramp up focus.

Now that you’re focused, shift the focal point to your to-do list. It’s much easier to shift focus from one task to another than it is to create focus. Set aside 30 minutes to 1 hour out of your day to chat up a storm with a friend or coworker, and the rest of your day will be spent far more efficiently.

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2. Exercise under bright lights 3-4 hours before going to bed.

There’s two clusters of cells located behind your eyes called the suprachiasmatic nuclei, commonly known as the biological clock. These clusters are directly connected to your pupils, so when you view bright light, your biological clock gets a wake up call, which is why you feel so much better waking up with the sunrise rather than before it.

We all know that exercising gives us more energy, because it strengthens our body while releasing endorphins. When you exercise under bright lights, there’s an exponential or synergistic effect. You’re body actually gains and keeps more energy because it has a boost from both the bright light and from the exercise. All of this extra, natural energy allows you to stay better focused and at a higher pace, enabling you to be more productive.

On the plus side, if you do this 3-4 hours before going to bed, you’ll get more of what the psychologists call “slow-wave sleep,” which is the phase of sleep your body needs to heal or repair itself, that will also allow you to be more productive.

3. Drink a lot of cold water.

Substitute two cups of coffee a day with a cold, 16 oz glass of water, and you’ll feel just as energetic with a clearer mind. Doctors recommend doing this to start your day, because the extra water gives your body a kickstart. It fuels your cells, which fuel your organs, which fuel your entire body.

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When you’re dehydrated, say from too much coffee, you becomes sluggish, causing you to be less productive. By replacing a bit of coffee with water (or Propel or G2) you’re enabling yourself to be more lively, which makes you more productive.

4. Surround yourself with the smell of coffee.

You do not actually need to drink more coffee. Studies show that simply smelling coffee stimulates the brain, making one happier. Studies also show that happy people are 10-12% more productive than those who are not happy. Smell coffee. Stay happy. Be productive.

5. Take a pen, and just start writing.

It’s easy to be working on something, or trying to start, and be stuck mentally. To get your thoughts and motivation flowing, move around a little bit. Don’t start doing pilates in the middle of the office, but pick up a tool you can physically write with, and write out whatever’s going through your head, or everything you need to do for the day.

Every time I “just can’t even,” I pick up the mini whiteboard at my desk, and write out the first thing that pops in my head. Then I steadily connect that to what I need to get done and how I need to do it. It’s an easy and quick way to keep yourself productive when you haven’t slept much.

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6. Pick another subject.

When you’re tired, it’s especially easy to become burnt out or bored with a particular topic. If you can’t focus on one task, pick something else to work on. Maybe you have an assignment due by the end of the day, but you simply can’t focus on it at the moment. Find something else! Pick a few, simple tasks that you can check off quickly. You’ll feel much better about having done so, and that confidence will help you finish that boring assignment.

7. Choose the right kind of background music.

Studies upon studies show that the Mozart Effect is false, but that music does play a significant role in comprehension and productivity. If you need to focus on reading, writing, editing, or comprehending what’s in front of you, then slow (under 96bpm), simple instrumental music will help you stay more productive. For example, anything by Hammock or The Album Leaf or XX is golden for productive background music. Having a bit of consistent background noise stimulates the brain without distracting or overloading it. Thus, you can be more productive.

8. Break it down.

Your brain is programmed to respond positively to the completion of tasks and achievements. So break down projects and tasks into smaller achievements, like building a chart for the spreadsheet you need to make, or forming a rough draft of a plan, or choosing a title for your next piece of content.

By focusing on smaller tasks you’re able to feel better about the work you’re doing, and you’re actually able to do more because of the positive stimulus of checking off more tasks. Every little thing helps when you’re not getting enough sleep.

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9. Hide your cell phone.

There’s a lot of things that happens to our bodies when they don’t get enough sleep. One is that they become more susceptible to impulses. We already check our cell phones 150 times a day, and 67% of us do so without even receiving a notification first.

One of the keys to productivity and time management at any stage is removing distractions. Particularly when you’re sleep-deprived, it’s important to remove impulsive distractions created by your phone. Your time is important, and you want to be productive. Keep your cell on silent, and maybe put it in a drawer. You’ll be more productive because you won’t be completely distracted by every impulse.

10. Stay standing.

You’re already tired from not sleeping well, which means your body will try to rest as soon as you get comfortable at your desk. Fighting this is pretty simple. Move around or just use a stand-up desk. If you’re moving, you’re not resting. This allows you to be more productive for longer.

11. Work on creative tasks first.

The last thing you want to do after not getting enough sleep is try to focus on some boring task. Even if it’s lower on your priorities scale, work on your creative assignments first. This helps people stay productive because creative assignments are often more enjoyable, which means people engage those assignments at a higher level, allowing them to complete those tasks more efficiently.

After finishing you’ll feel great about having completed something you enjoyed doing! This will make the dull work you have to do later not feel as bad, meaning you’ll be able to engage that work more productively as well.

Even though you desperately need sleep, you’ll still be productive as ever!

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Kenneth Burke

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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