Sleeping your way to the top of the productivity ladder (literally!)

Sara Caputo — №22 with Crystal Paine

Want to know the best way to improve your productivity? The best way to advance your career? Easy – sleep your way to the top!

That’s right, and I literally mean “sleep.” No double entendre or sexual innuendo here. Catching more Z’s, getting more than 40 winks, and inviting the Sandman over are proven methods, validated by scientific research and anecdotal evidence, to increase one’s productivity. Not to mention what the well-rested mind and body can do to enhance one’s entire lifestyle. It’s no wonder why Human Resources’ best practices mandate yearly vacation time. I talk all the time in my training sessions and workshops about the building blocks of productivity being sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Think about it — if you’re tired, then decision-making is severely hindered, and critical thinking, strong decision-making, and effective communication are the cornerstones of running an efficient day; they are immediately impaired by not getting enough sleep.

We all know that sleep is good for the body. Indeed, it is one of the best medicines. But did you know that missing just one hour of sleep can cause memory loss and depression? That’s no way to increase productivity. You know the stats: We will spend one-third of our life sleeping; the majority of American adults, a whopping 63%, do not get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep needed for good health, safety, and optimum performance; and nearly one-third, 31%, report sleeping less than seven hours each weeknight, though many adults say they try to sleep more on weekends, according to the “2001 Sleep in America” poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation.

What is it that we are doing that makes us so sleep deprived as a nation? Most people think they are getting more done at the end of the day, but the reality is that if you’re working beyond 7 or 8 p.m., is productivity really increasing? You certainly aren’t hitting the big rocks on your list or getting your highest-level thinking items crossed off, are you? Might it make more sense to call it a day earlier, get to sleep, and get up earlier?

You may be getting by, but you are amassing a huge “sleep debt,” according to an article by Scientific American. “Sleep debt is the difference between the amount of sleep you should be getting and the amount you actually get. It’s a deficit that grows every time we skim some extra minutes off our nightly slumber. Studies show that such short-term sleep deprivation leads to a foggy brain, worsened vision, impaired driving, and trouble remembering. Long-term effects include obesity, insulin resistance, and heart disease. And most Americans suffer from chronic deprivation.”

The good news is that sleep debt can be paid off. Not in one big balloon payment of a weekend marathon snooze fest, though. Adding an hour or two of shuteye a night is a good way to repay the debt. (Sounds a lot like what financial experts say about credit card debt …)

How are your sleep habits? Would you rate them as high as your work or study habits? Exercise or grooming habits? Knowing the importance of sleep to overall health and developing or refining your bedtime routine are some of the best things you can do for your well-being … and productivity.

Here are some helpful ideas:

  1. Create a sleep ritual. Go to bed and wake up at (roughly) the same time. Repeat the same behavior before drifting off to dreamland, such as reading, listening to soothing music, meditating, or doing whatever relaxing activity that appeals to you.

  2. Start your process early. Set an alarm for this and start getting ready for bed an hour before you plan to be in bed. Wash up, lay clothes out, make lunches, get the coffee pot set up for the morning. All of these small things go a long way towards saving time in the morning.

  3. Make sure you are tired physically and mentally. No sense dragging a bone-weary body to bed if your mind is racing. Write down that list of have-to’s and shelve it for tomorrow. Make that unpleasant phone call you’ve been procrastinating for a week. Tell your spouse you’re sorry and make a date to talk about it.

  4. Take a nap … or not. The world can be divided into two types of people: those who swear by naps and those who swear at naps because now they can’t fall asleep at night. Know which camp you fall into and make it work. Understanding your energy cycles is important when it comes to getting the right things done in any given day.

While most adults have sleep habits pretty well hardwired into their life, small changes and shifts can bring about big results. Tonight, I encourage you to do just one thing differently and see how it helps your efficiency and productivity in all areas of your life.

Photo: Flickr / Tambako the Jaguar CC BY-ND 2.0

Sara caputo

Sara Caputo

Sara is a dynamic productivity coach, consultant, and trainer based in Santa Barbara, California. She has diverse experience in group process facilitation, project management, and team development. She is the founder of Radiant Organizing and author of the e-book The Productivity Puzzle: What’s Your Missing Piece?

Sara's website Sara's blog Follow Sara on Twitter Find Sara on Facebook