In the movie Wall Street, there’s a famous scene where Gordon Gecko is talking to someone on the phone and says, “Lunch? Lunch is for wimps.” Our version of that today is something along the lines of “I’m hustling” or “I’m crushing it.” We celebrate the 120 hour work weeks of internet famous entrepreneurs. And as a result, everybody assumes this is the path to success. They model rather than mimic not taking into account the one variable that throws off every equation for success, THEM.
You are not Elon Musk or Gary Vee. Chances are you won’t get the same results if you work 120 hours a week and don’t sleep. In fact, more than likely you’ll crash and burn. And that’s the best-case scenario.
We take our commitments to productivity quite seriously. We read books, implement life hacks, ingest pills and drink special coffee, all to help us focus. But we don’t have the same kind of commitment to rest.
One more email, one more phone call, and one more status update, all hijack the hours before we go to bed. We start the morning with our brains fried, willpower shot, and the vicious cycle repeats. We’re the brain-damaged cognitive equivalent of athletes who smoke.
If we’re not mindful of how we spend our downtime, it will inevitably affect the time when we’re “on and doing deep work.”
In our always-on, always-connected world it’s hard to separate work and play. We live, work and eat in wifi enabled environments. We can check and respond to emails from our phones 24 hours a day. It’s too easy to live a life in which we’re always on. It’s almost as if our devices and gadgets have become extensions of who we are. There’s still one more task to cross off our checklist, one more email to send.
Sometime last year, I published a piece in which I said the first 3 hours of your day can dictate how your life turns out. But those first 3 hours are almost entirely determined by one thing:
The last few hours of your day. The last few hours of your day will have a big impact on the first few.
A Shutdown Ritual
We don’t really have a moment when work ends. This is particularly common among entrepreneurs and people who do creative work for a living. Our laptops are always open, and our phones are always on. But, peak performance requires downtime. Shutting off our devices is about more than getting rest. It enables us to think, hear the sound of our own voice, and make connections that we can’t make when we’re drowning in information. According to Cal Newport you need the following three things for a good shut down ritual:
A quick series of steps for getting back on top of what’s going on in your student or working life; something you can do in 5 minutes at the end of each day.
A phrase you say when you complete the ritual.
An agreement with yourself that after you’ve said the magic words, the only acceptable response to a work-related thought is to think through the steps required for you to say the termination phrase.
By having a shut down ritual we draw a boundary between work and rest.
A Screen Cut off Time
If you spend the last few hours of your day checking email, looking at apps on your phone or doing work on your laptop, what will inevitably follow is a bad night of sleep. A bad night of sleep leads to a reduction in willpower, less focus, and less productivity. Due to your decrease in willpower, you’re much more likely to cave into sources of distraction, start your day on the internet and damage your brain. This is why I recommend a screen cut off time that’s roughly 2 hours before you go to bed. By avoiding screens 2 hours before bed, you fall asleep more easily, have higher quality sleep and wake up rested and easily able to focus.
When you go to sleep, your brain doesn’t switch off. It gets busy consolidating memories, reviewing the day’s events and going over problems you’ve been working on. You get a glimpse of all the behind-the-scenes activity when you dream, but most of this activity happens without your conscious knowledge, and without your direction – Alex Pang
By sacrificing sleep, you sacrifice performance. When you’re sleep deprived, you’ll have more difficulty focusing, you’re more likely to make critical errors, and your results will be subpar. While it’s tempting to wear sleep deprivation and hundred hour work weeks as badges of honor, for most people they’re badges of egocentric and stupid choices driven by the need to portray an image.
The Results and Impact
One of my oldest friends from college followed a simple rule when it came to sleep: horizontal by midnight. He either had to be in bed asleep or having sex (which is a decent justification for not sleeping). He graduated from Berkeley with one of the highest GPAs in his major, got accepted into the top medical school in the country and the most prestigious residency, where he ironically works a sleep-deprived 100+ hours a week.
Arianna Huffington’s book, The Sleep Revolution is filled with stories of people who achieved significant performance gains simply by improving both the quality and amount of sleep they were getting.
I’ve noticed a direct correlation between how I spend the last few hours of the day, and my ability to do deep work the next morning. If my evenings are spent in a calm, unplugged state, and I get a good night’s sleep, it’s easy to focus in the morning.
However, if my evenings are spent in a distraction driven frenzy, and I sleep poorly it’s much more challenging to focus in the morning. The ability to focus and remain calm carries into the rest of the activities of your day as well.
A good night’s sleep makes for a much more productive day.
Gain an Unfair Creative Advantage
I’ve created a swipe file of my best creative strategies. Follow it and you’ll kill your endless distractions, do more of what matters to you, in higher quality and less time. Get the swipe file here.