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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
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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.

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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

Director of Marketing

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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