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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 July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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