Two things can determine whether you have the best day ever. But they’re probably not what you think about when you hear the word “Productivity”.
Awhile back, someone wrote saying she was struggling with getting things done and needed some master-level to-do listing help. I’ve written on To-do listing before. My post on how to write a realistic to-do list that won’t crush your soul is still one of the most popular on this blog, and people are still reading it and downloading the worksheets every day.
Which is awesome, obviously.
But that guide was geared towards managing overwhelm. When you’ve got so much to do that you’re frozen into not doing anything. It’s to help you get unstuck and moving forward again.
What about when you’re past needing bite-size steps to break through the wall and you’re on to wanting a structure to help you crush a bigger day and be an unstoppable
killing machine productivity master?
So I said I’d put something together. And then I procrastinated on it for months.
Because my own system wasn’t working so well for me anymore. I had to answer the question for myself before I could write about it.
The truth is, I’m not some guru who’s achieved the twelfth level of enlightenment. I struggle with these things, too.
I started considering what was important for a successful, productive day. What patterns could I find in the days I had where I felt really good about how I’d spent my time versus the days where I felt like a shiftless sofa slug.
It comes down to two things that seem so basic they’re often overlooked completely in productivity advice: rest and fuel.
But that’s weird, right? Because when they ask some CEO of that very successful company what their productivity secrets are, they rarely say: “Sleep and food.”
The other more obvious factor? Priorities. And we’re going to get to that in my next post.
But I want to talk about this first because I think it’s crazy important and most people ignore it. In fact, you’re thinking about just skimming this post right now because you already know how to sleep and eat. Just hang with me dude, I promise this is good.
IT’S NOT ABOUT GOOD OR BAD. IT’S ABOUT CAUSE AND EFFECT.
There are eleventy billion articles on the internet about the importance of sleeping well and eating well, and I know you’re tired of reading them. As someone who is not your mother or your doctor and I’m not going to tell you how much sleep you need or what you should or shouldn’t eat and drink. Why? Because it’s your body and I would never presume to know it better than you do.
What I do want you to do is analyze your days, over a period of at least one week, like a scientist.
If you do it for longer than that you’ll get better and more thorough results. But right now I just want you to commit to observing these things for one week.
>>> I made you a worksheet to help you keep track (because of course I did. I love you, worksheets.) It’s got a page for each day of the week. Print off as many copies as you need.
This isn’t about guilt or what is “good” or “bad” for you. This isn’t about some imaginary moral dictate that says good people rise with the sun, drink kale smoothies for breakfast and then do an hour of Pilates. This is just about living your life, making observations about how your rest and your fuel affect you, and then adjusting them to improve those outcomes. Sometimes your adjustments may work. Sometimes they won’t, so you just try something else. Look at your life like one big experiment (because isn’t it?) and you’re just here doing SCIENCE.
So if you have a few drinks or binge on Taco Bell for dinner or stay up all night watching Netflix? You’re just human. Those are just choices. They’re neither good or bad, they just have different outcomes.
You know what whisky and burritos have in common?
They’re both delicious. Duh.
So dispense with the idea that this has anything to do with whether those choices are good or bad and focus just on how they affect you. If you have a drink with your late night burrito, notice whether you sleep like hell. If you sleep like hell, notice whether you have a bad morning, too. If you have a bad morning, notice what you’re able to get done throughout the rest of the day. Be a scientist. Study the evidence. Then use it to your advantage to make adjustments.
Maybe you have a drink and a late night burrito and you feel great the next day. Please write me and tell me about it, because you’re my hero.
HOW SLEEP SETS YOU UP FOR SUCCESS (OR TOTAL FAILURE)
Here’s the truth: How you sleep sets the tone for the rest of your day. If you sleep poorly, I would bet that the rest of your day is going to suck.
The hours that you sleep are only a small part of it.
I would argue that sleep quality is just as important but usually ignored.
For example, I have observed:
- I can do pretty well on 5 or 6 hours of quality sleep. But if I factor in what actually happens between going to bed and getting up, it can really be more like only 3 or 4 hours.
- If I drink alcohol too close to bed, the chances I’m going to wake up (wide awake) at 3am are very good.
- And if I drink the wrong thing (how could you, vodka?) I’m going to wake up at 3am with a headache, too.
- If I don’t make the bed and my pets get in there, or if (like a sucker) I let my pup climb in with me in the morning for snuggles, those itchy sheets mean I’ll have trouble falling asleep that night.
- My cat wakes up between 4:45 and 5am every morning to sing the battle hymn of the republic. I still don’t have a solution for this and it is terrible.
For one week, pay attention to how your nights go. How long it takes you to fall asleep, if you’re waking up, what’s waking you, how long it takes you get back to sleep. Write those things down. 3am wakeup. Cat crisis. Loud neighbors. Make notes.
HOW FOOD FUELS THE WHOLE SYSTEM
What you’re ingesting is inexorably linked to how your day progresses and it loops right around to affect how well you rest.
If you’re not drinking enough water, if you’re eating too little or too much or at the wrong times (for your body), if you’re drinking too much alcohol or just the wrong sort. Those things can all wreck your day and your sleep in a major way.
I am not a health coach, so I’m not going to tell you that you should never have a drink or never eat a pizza. But pay attention to it. It’s not about feeling guilty about your choices. It’s about observing the results so you can make adjustments where things aren’t working for you. Write it down.
For example, I have observed:
- I like to work out in the morning but if I don’t eat breakfast first, I have no energy to work out. So I get on the treadmill and slog out a few miles like it’s a death march, hating every step.
- If I eat too big a breakfast, I get cramps and it has the same effect. Miserable.
- If my workout was terrible, I feel terrible for a few hours after that. What could have been solved by a yogurt cup and a banana has now turned into 4-5 hours feeling like crap frontloaded at the beginning of my day.
- Because I tend to feel sleepy mid-afternoon, I’ve learned that I can stave that off with a lot of water in the morning and a cup of coffee or tea right after lunch.
- Even half a beer makes me feel bloated and will give me a headache. There’s no solving it, no matter how many fancy craft beers made from organic ingredients people recommend. I can’t do it.
RECOGNIZE THAT IT’S ALL A CONNECTED CIRCLE
The sleep we get and the fuel we consume have a direct effect on each other. This is not just a personal observation. It’s science.
How well you sleep affects your ability to be productive throughout the day. If someone were to tell me that they were having chronic productivity troubles, one of the first things I’d want to know was how they were sleeping.
A lack of sleep not only makes us less productive, but it releases stress hormones in the brain that might make us more prone to consume fuel that isn’t optimal for us. We eat poorly when we’re stressed.
Eating poorly and consuming those things that don’t work well for us affects our ability to sleep and to sleep well.
And then we wake up right back at the beginning of the circle, with our productivity being nuked.
We can talk about To-Do listing till we’re all blue in the face (and don’t worry, I will in my next post) but before we even think about writing that list, we need to address these core things so we can function to actually get it done.
It’s impossible to kick ass when your body and your brain are so unhappy that they’re fighting you.
WRITE IT DOWN AND LOOK FOR PATTERNS
The reason I want you to track your sleep and your fuel for at least a week (and as long as you can, preferably) is so you can start to look for meaningful patterns.
One important thing: Go about your life normally the first week. Don’t start tweaking things yet. Just do what you normally would on any given week. If you suddenly start making different choices because you’re writing it all down, the results aren’t going to be meaningful.
So what are we looking for?
Monday – Maybe you forgot to pack your lunch, so instead you jaunted over to KFC for a fried chicken fix. Then Monday for dinner you had pizza and a few glasses of wine.
Monday night – You had no trouble falling asleep, but sleep restlessly and woke up a bunch of times.
Tuesday – You woke up feeling groggy and kind of gross. Your morning didn’t go well, but you drank a bunch of water to recoup and ate a lunch with a lot of greens. Dinner was light and pretty healthy.
Tuesday night – You sleep like a baby clear through. Zzzzzzz.
So we can surmise that what you ate on Monday probably hurt your sleep Monday night, and that meant your Tuesday morning sucked. But you were able to rally Tuesday afternoon by making some different choices, so Tuesday night you slept well. And now you’re set up for a better Wednesday.
When you’ve got all this data written down, you can look back on previous days and see what didn’t work well. You can start to see a pattern. One week of this will give you a hint. A month of this is going to give you really solid evidence.
If you can look back and see that every time you ate fried food or drank wine you slept like hell, and every time you slept like hell you had a shit day, you know that to have an awesome day you probably shouldn’t eat fried food or drink wine the evening before.
Is this ironclad science? No, but it’s enough information to make some adjustments to what you’re doing and see if it creates an improvement.
Once you’ve got some results, come back and let me know what you’ve discovered.
Have you already noticed how rest and fuel impact your day? What do you know works for you and what totally doesn’t? Tell me in the comments!