Why my top productivity multiplier is sleep

During my university years, I had the luxury of not needing to do much about sleep schedule management. This was simply due to youth - I could stay up till sunrise, power nap, and bounce up with a 70% energy level.

Nowadays, this would instead set my battery to 30% for at least 2 more days - a massive decrease to my attention and effectiveness.

The most intense, and successful, of my time management practices worked in conjunction with good sleeping habits, after the “free energy” from being in my teens and early twenties went away.

In this post, I’ll share why sleep is one “investment” that has the most outsized return to my productivity.

The bottom line - when I’m focusing on completing things, I fiercely protect my sleep. In other seasons of my life when socializing is more important, I adjust accordingly.

Why trying to work on low sleep is a colossal waste of time

Imagine buying an item, which is listed at $50. Now, imagine, that for the same item, you paid $120, with all else constant, apart from the time of day that you went to buy the item.

Let’s say you can buy at list price during most hours of the day. However, if you buy it in the evening or later, the price increases to $100, and in addition, you have to pay $20 tomorrow.

This is what happens when we don’t use the times of the day when we have the most energy and focus to complete tasks (such as writing this blog). For night owls, this is night; for early risers, sometime in the morning. During these optimal times, it costs $50 in energy.

If instead, we drag it out until we have low energy (e.g. pulling an all-nighter), the same task could take twice as long ($100), and we incur an additional energy tax ($20) the next day since we didn’t sleep well.

This is the biggest way I used to rip myself off in university, and I am grateful that I learned to actively avoid this after I entered the working world.

When I have been focusing for several hours already, I’d rather stop once I hit a “brain fog” stage, and take a break, which ends up saving my employer’s time and money since recharging helps me perform better in the long term. Of course, there are places where perhaps “presenteeism” is valued over “productivity”, but I hope that people can see the difference.

The best productivity methods cannot overcome lack of sleep

Even though I’ve practiced intense time management for years, which I’ve written about extensively, I know that if I’m at 60% battery due to lack of sleep, no matter how airtight my focus is, I simply cannot increase my battery charge until I sleep again.

Consider the following situations on two separate days:

  1. Well rested, at 90% battery - can complete 70~80% tasks, with lots of breaks
  2. Low on sleep, at 60% battery - can complete 60% tasks at most, even with “perfect” time management. Most likely to be 40~50%.

This simple reasoning makes me protect my sleep, which helps me constantly reach that 70~80%, instead of struggling at 60% capacity. This is why I was able to complete a master’s degree course, and build a video game studio, even while working an energy-intensive full-time job.

My approach to protecting sleep

If I happen to be in a season of my life where the priority is to spend time with loved ones, then I might relax my structure about sleeping times.

If you are in a season where you need to be focused, I highly suggest protecting your sleep time and quality - it is the lowest hanging fruit to boost productivity.

I’ve written about how I protect my sleep during high productivity seasons in this article, with a quick summary below:


In summary, to massively boost productivity, getting enough sleep is one of the simplest and most effective ways.

If you are short on sleep, productivity techniques can still help milk your low battery level. But when you think about it, no matter how intense the time management techniques, they simply cannot overcome the productivity increase from having a full battery level.

This conclusion seems obvious to me now, but it was not during most of my student years, which is why I share. I hope it can help you in any way!

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