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How to Battle Sleepless Nights

How to Battle Sleepless Nights

It all began with an idea I had before going to bed.  Quite excited, I turned to write it down, stressed that I would forget it.  The problem is that my enthusiasm didn’t settle down, I know that I had written everything down but I was anxious to begin and the possibilities swirled like a maelstrom in my head.  When I finished, lo and behold, I had the entire workflow in front of me and I was quite content as one might expect. But guess what? Being content was not enough to cool down my enthusiasm; I had to see it through! So I set out to battle the night, began the project and when I finished it 3 hours later, I slept like a baby.  When I woke up, I had more insight about why I had problems going to bed that night and how to avoid it in the future.

1. Deal With Issues, Ideas and Unfinished Tasks Before Going to Bed

As it turns out, when we turn to sleep, we lower our guard. Our body relaxes, our body temperature drops and, as a result, our brain’s floodgates come tumbling down, sweeping away our sleep and bringing into our conscious mind thoughts from our subconscious that lay dormant during the day.  I found out in retrospect that I was entertaining this idea the entire day and I was unaware that not dealing with it in that exact moment, (i.e. writing it down) would cause me to lose several hours of sleep! Unresolved projects, unfinished tasks, a full inbox that demands our attention – they all come back at night to haunt us. And to make things worse, if we fall asleep, those things that we were not able to solve during the day, visit us in our dreams. If you’re not suffering from insomnia or other sleep depriving medical conditions, the best way to fight sleepless nights is to process everything that needs to be processed during the day, without procrastinating or postponing to-do things that you’re already partially aware of.  This doesn’t mean you have to do it, you just have to get it out of your head and into the right list.

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2. Tackle your Tasks 2 Hours Before You Go to Bed

The phenomenon that propels this suspense/excitement/anxiety that catches us unprepared at night and prevents a much needed shut-eye is called the Zeigarnik effect.  The Zeigarnik effect is our innate tendency to remember an uncompleted or unresolved tasks rather than a completed one.  When we complete tasks and projects, they evaporate from our memory, leaving much room that is instantly occupied by unprocessed business and as a result leaves us awake at night. That’s why the things that cry for your attention on the to-do list must be closed before you go to sleep.  If you can’t close them, at least have a plan that will detail (preferably step-by-step) how you’re going to tackle that pesky task the next day.  This way your mind will know it’s taken care of. The key is to do all of this at least 2 hours before you head hits the pillow.   This will give your subconscious enough time to process that your tasks have been handled.

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3. Follow Your Real-Life Dreams

I also found the above phenomena stealing sleep from me on projects that were not that urgent, i.e. those on my someday/maybe list.  Since it’s a list of things that I dream to do one day, they have the potential to occupy the slot between dream and day time. Another dangerous side effect of not following up on your dreams (and what are someday projects if not dreams waiting for realization) can result in remorse – and remorse can and will keep you awake at night. Make sure those items are handled as well as the more pressing ones, but whatever you do, leave enough space between planning and sleep.  Cutting it too close might create an opposite effect.

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What do you do to battle your sleepless nights? Leave a comment with your own personal tips and advice on how to get a good night’s sleep.

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More by this author

Haim Pekel

Haim Pekel is an entrepreneur and shares tips on productivity and entrepreneurship at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on June 2, 2020

Easy Tasks or Difficult Tasks First? Which One is More Productive?

Easy Tasks or Difficult Tasks First? Which One is More Productive?

Procrastination is probably the biggest detriment to our productivity. Conventional wisdom dictates that the best thing you can do is make that procrastination constructive. When you don’t feel like doing one task, usually one that requires a lot of will- or brainpower, you do another, usually less labor-intensive task.

Recently, though, conventional wisdom has been challenged with something Penn State refers to as “pre-crastination.”[1] After doing a series of studies in which students pick up and carry one of two buckets, researchers theorized that many people prefer to take care of difficult tasks sooner rather than later. That theory poses the question of whether this pre-crastination or the more widely acknowledged constructive procrastination is more effective.

Here is a look at whether people should do difficult tasks early or later on to achieve maximum productivity.

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Doing Easy Tasks First

The Pros

One of the hardest parts of working is just getting started. Constructive procrastination eases this hardship, because working on easy tasks requires a smaller mental or physical commitment than if you tackled difficult tasks firsts.

If one of the foremost deterrents to your productivity is simply getting going, it makes a lot of sense to save the difficult tasks for when you’re in more of a groove.

The Cons

If you eat a frog first thing in the morning, that will probably be the worst thing you do all day. — Mark Twain

On the surface, there don’t seem to necessarily be any disadvantages to doing easy tasks first. However, in Eat That Frog, the book writeen by Brian Tracy challenges that.

Based on the above quote from Mark Twain, Eat That Frog encourages avoiding procrastination, even if that procrastination is constructive. Tracy wants you to “eat that frog,” i.e. do your difficult tasks quickly because the longer it’s on your plate, the harder it will become to do the thing you’re dreading. If you have a habit of dreading things, Eat That Frog makes a solid argument to hold off on your easy tasks until later in the day.

Doing Difficult Tasks First

The Pros

Brian Tracy postulates in Eat That Frog that if you do your difficult tasks first, your other tasks won’t seem so bad. After all, after you eat a frog, even something unappetizing will seem downright delectable.

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Tracy also recommends that, if you have to eat two frogs, you should eat the uglier one first. The metaphor is a very easy way to get your head around the new concept of pre-crastination.

If all of your tasks seem somewhat torturous to you, you might be able to ease the pain by getting rid of the ugliest “toads” as quickly as you can.

The Cons

The primary disadvantage of doing your difficult tasks first is probably that it will make it especially hard to get started on your workday.

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A lot of people aren’t exactly at their peak performance mode when they enter the office. They need to ease into the workday, maybe have a cup or two of coffee to stimulate them.

If that’s you, doing your most difficult tasks first would probably be a costly mistake. Hold off on “eating those frogs” until you have the willpower and fortitude to choke them down.

Conclusion

Should you do easy or difficult tasks first? It seems like a cop-out to say that it depends on the person, but sometimes that’s the honest answer, and that is definitely the case here.

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Hopefully this article helps inform you of what type of worker you are, offering clues to whether you fall into the constructive procrastination or pre-crastination camps. Good luck on your pursuit of maximum productivity!

More Tips for Beating Procrastination

Featured photo credit: Courtney Dirks via flickr.com

Reference

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