Before you read this post, I want to recognize that not everyone has the ability to create their own schedule or work from home but you can still make small changes towards better sleep. Next week I will be introducing a new resource to pinpoint your first steps to better sleep regardless of your work schedule.
In my last post, I talked all about chronotypes. Chronotypes are the classification of the general timing of your biological clock. For our purposes, it is the programming that exists in each person’s biology that tells them when they should wake up and go to sleep.
There are four main categories:
Bears: majority, wake with the sun and sleep when it gets dark
Lions: wake early, early birds, to bed early
Wolves: aka night owls, sleep in and stay up late)
Dolphins: people with insomnia, struggle to get the recommended amount of sleep and are always tired
Our society is built for the bears. The 9-5 schedule works perfectly with their natural sleep/wake rhythm.
We envy the Lions. Lions are the early birds. They’re up before the sun and well into their work day before many people roll out of bed. Because our society glorifies overworking, we often put Lions on a pedestal, because they appear to get so much done, so early in the day.
We judge the wolves. How many times have you heard someone say, “It’s about time you got out of bed.” We imply that the wolves are lazy for sleeping later into the morning, even though they likely didn’t get to bed until 1-2am. To get their full 7-9 hours, they would need to sleep until 8-10am or later.
We shame the Dolphins. We say things like, “Why are you so tired today? You should really get more sleep.” The tragic part about this is that they’d love to get more sleep but we’ve built this society that glorifies constant “doing”. Constant doing tends to increase anxiety, especially in Dolphins who are already prone to be somewhat anxious. Dolphins reach the end of the day exhausted but by bedtime, their minds are working a million miles an hour and you’ll often hear, “My brain just won’t turn off.”
Why do I bring this up?
I think when we hear these descriptions, it’s easy to identify with one type but wish you were another. Somewhat of a “grass is always greener” scenario. So let’s talk about why this envy exists.
As a society, we have created little room for people to live the lives that are best for their health. We value overworking, sacrifice, and live by the mantras, “Push through the pain.” and “Hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work hard.” Bill Gates once said, “I never took a day off in my 20s. Not one.”
We need to stop glorifying the struggle. I don’t mean that we should stop celebrating people’s grit and resilience. Or that we need to stop celebrating the complex and creative work of people with a dream they are working to realize. These are all important things in life. What I mean is that we need to stop bragging about only sleeping a few hour every night, as if that makes people more worthy of success. We need to stop glorifying the leaders who work 20 hours a day, 7 days a week and then expect the same of their employees. Stop glorifying people working so much that they become debilitatingly ill.
Why do we feel like the measure of someone’s worth or the quality of their work is evident based on the number of hours they work in a day or a week? Science tells us that the opposite is true. Studies have shown that past a certain point, more hours mean less productivity.
There is a decrease in average productivity with increased hours.
Why? Scientists have a few theories.
- Employees become much less efficient due to stress, fatigue, and other factors. Overworked employees may simply be substantially less productive at all hours of the work day. Their average productivity may even decrease to the extent the additional hours they are working provide no benefit (and, in fact, are detrimental).
- Overwork very often leads to sleep deprivation. Sustained, reduced sleep is known to negatively impact productivity at all hours of the day.
One thing to consider when looking at productivity is the idea of Parkinson’s Law which states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Our outdated beliefs are from the industrial era where people needed to be working in factories in order for production to be happening. If people weren’t at work, the product wasn’t being produced.
Now, the jobs that people do are highly varied compared to 30, 50, 100 years ago. The more complex and creative jobs are, the less it makes sense to have some one size fits all approach to the work day.
So what now?
We need to create a culture where work is not your life. Work is what you do so that you can have a life. It’s great if you love your work. That should be celebrated. I hope everyone is able to do something that they love for a living. But, you do your best work when you’re not working all of the time.
Let’s create organizations that allow flexible scheduling, decreased meetings, increased autonomy and focus time. Let’s allow people to function on the schedule that matches up with their chronotype so that they’re not fighting their biological programming. Imagine what kind of inspired work someone could produce if they were actually functioning in a way that worked with their body instead of constantly fighting against it.
Teams who have moved in this direction have maintained, and in some cases increased, their quantity and quality of work, with people reporting an improved mental state, and that they had more time for rest, family, friends, and hobbies.
Cal Newport, best-selling author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World states that “three to four hours of continuous, undisturbed deep work each day is all it takes to see a transformational change in our productivity and our lives.”
We have seen proof of this with parents during the COVID pandemic. People used to spend 8+ hours a day at work. Now, many parents are home, trying to work, caring for their children, acting as teachers, trying to help kids do school online. There are no longer eight hours available to work each day. But you know what’s happened? These people are getting more done in less time. They’re getting up early to get 3 hours of uninterrupted work in before the kids wake up. They’re being more productive because they’re not spending 4 hours a day commuting to/from work, another few hours in meetings, and constantly getting emails, Slack messages, etc. Though the lines may be blurred in our current situation, there is more balance between work and life for many people.
Let’s create lives outside of work that are not built on the idea of “busy”. Just because you’re not working does not mean that you need to fill the open time with more things on the to do list. Embrace rest. Celebrate rest. Rest is productive.
I encourage you to look at your schedule, your life, your work, and look for ways to create more balance. Things we thought impossible a year ago have been proven possible because we were forced to consider alternatives. This past 9 months has shown us that despite what we’ve been told previously, corporations and systems CAN make drastic changes quickly when the circumstances demand it.
What can you do to create change in your organization or your life?