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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

Director of Marketing

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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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