Are Your Problems Caused By Being Tired and Sleep Deprived?

For the past few months, I’ve been getting glorious sleep. Like, incredible, way more than just adequate sleep. I’ve been getting indulgent, 9-13 hour a night sleep. I’ve been prioritizing sleep heavily. More than socializing and partying and exercising and work.  And it’s been amazing.

With over 8.5 hours of sleep a night, my mind is clearer, my thoughts flow easier, I remember people’s names, facts stick with me, and I have much more positive energy and a way calmer outlook. Sleeping more is like eating 5 pounds of broccoli and exercising for 3 hours and working for 4 extra hours and going to a spa and getting a massage and a facial and a PhD all rolled up in one. Well, maybe not the PhD part exactly. But close.

I never realized that I needed more than nine hours of sleep before, because most people never get that, and it’s not known as ‘normal.’ And most of my life I’m pretty sure I’ve been walking around in a sleep deprived haze. Everything can seem a little harder to process when you’re sleep deprived- my feelings always felt a bit ‘gray.’ My thoughts always felt a bit duller when lacking sleep, and it was much harder hard to remember things or be infused with any kind of positive energy when running on less than eight sleep-filled hours.

My friend and fellow thirty-something coworker, Natasha, who I wrote all about in Playing Dress Up In Your Thirties, is one of my sleep inspirations. She sometimes races back to our hotel after work in order to get to sleep even faster- she claims she needs ‘instant sleep’ in order to get her necessary ten plus hours of sleep in before the next early workday and has no shame about grabbing the hours she needs. It’s pretty amazing to watch someone brag about making sure they get lots of sleep as opposed to bragging about being soooo busy all the time. It’s extremely refreshing to see someone prioritize such an important but seldom-respected part of a healthy lifestyle.

I’ve been getting a lot less sleep in the past few days because of my crazy work schedule in an exciting new city (St Louis), where I’ve really enjoyed spending every waking moment (pun intended) exploring. I haven’t been able to always race back to my hotel and get my much-needed sleep. And I can feel an extreme difference in my thought patterns. It’s been worth it to explore the city, but it’s still not a great feeling.

I intend to prioritize sleep once again, and stop staying up so late. Starting now. And soon I will get back to my amazing nine to thirteen hours in bed. Goodnight!

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Are You Constantly Looking for the Extraordinary? What if You Stopped?

Yesterday I learned that one of my teachers from NYU died.  It happened last week, yet somehow I didn’t know about it. I was talking with my friend Kate from college, and she suddenly said “You know about Peter, right?” When she told me, I stopped in my tracks and couldn’t speak.

I’m a terrible dancer and he was my African Dance teacher. We were forced as drama majors in my school to take African Dance freshman year, and I always dreaded it. It was first thing in the morning and I was always exhausted. And there was so much drumming and jumping…and did I mention I suck at dancing?

Yet Peter, my teacher, always had so much energy. He was smiling and shining every frigging day…just beaming. It was insane how much energy he had and how much he danced in our classes all day. I remember feeling tired just watching him. Yet by the end of the year, I was African Dancing with the rest of the class. I was jumping and throwing my arms and skipping and bobbing my head and moving my back in funny ways. It was far from perfect. It was probably far from even sort of good. But it was.

And I was proud of myself.

So thanks, Peter, for giving me those moments of taking it all in- of forcing myself to do something imperfectly and to find joy anyway. For showing me that I can be terrible at something and still do it imperfectly but proudly. To find pleasure in my own ordinariness.

He posted a quote on his Facebook wall before he died, and it really stuck with me. I think it sums up a lot of what he taught me, and how I feel about those lessons. I’m posting it below.

“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

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A New Way to Look at ‘Time Management’

According to Wikipedia, Time Management is “The act or process of planning and exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency or productivity.” But that seems too simple an explanation. It doesn’t seem to take into account when our emotional engagement and motivation is highest for certain projects.

A few months ago, I heard the term “energy management” and now, I greatly prefer this term when it comes to discussing productivity. Maybe this is because I’m an introvert, and I find that I have a limited amount of social energy reserves that I can expend each day. I also know that I have a few solid hours of great writing energy every day, and certain factors can drastically after that energy. For instance, if I schedule a hectic day of work, classes and socializing, even I get home at 6pm, it’s impossible for me to write at night, even though I technically have the “time.” I can’t do the writing effectively because my energy resources have been drained.

I do most of my best writing in the morning because that is when my energy/motivation leaks are at their peak (after coffee, of course). It’s also because I don’t have any pent up stimuli from the day weighing down on me. I come to the page (or the cursor rather) with a fresh mindset. Personally, I know that if I have a big project coming up, it’s best for me to chunk it out over several mornings.

This is a fascinating deep-dive article in the Harvard Business Review by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy about this subject that’s worth a read: Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time. I think this is one of the best pieces of advice in the article (do your most important work early in the day).

Another way to mobilize mental energy is to focus systematically on activities that have the most long-term leverage. Unless people intentionally schedule time for more challenging work, they tend not to get to it at all or rush through it at the last minute. Perhaps the most effective focus ritual the executives we work with have adopted is to identify each night the most important challenge for the next day and make it their very first priority when they arrive in the morning. Jean Luc Duquesne, a vice president for Sony Europe in Paris, used to answer his e-mail as soon as he got to the office, just as many people do. He now tries to concentrate the first hour of every day on the most important topic. He finds that he often emerges at 10 am feeling as if he’s already had a productive day.

How can we take better control of our energy? Well, we can start by identifying when our energy is at its’ peak and utilizing that time for our most important life goals. Also, we can be very cognizant of what activities/people drain us energetically and emotionally.

A great way to start is to make a list of times in your average week when you feel particularly low energy. What energy depleting activities do you have in your life? Are they unhealthy addictions, eating poorly, seeing ‘toxic’ people who drain your spirit?  What can you eliminate from your life?

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