Time management skills are important for focused thought and productivity. Effective time management may also be critical for maintaining good sleep health. Consistent sleep/wake schedules and getting enough sleep can depend on how well we plan and manage our time.
Planning fallacies interfere with sleep
Most of us are overbooked. We schedule ourselves to do more tasks than are possible for one person to complete in a given day. This is a planning fallacy1 — planning for more than we can actually achieve. A problem with planning fallacies is that they often encroach upon our sleep.
Admittedly, I sometimes get a little too ambitious. I think that I can write a research paper, complete a manuscript review, answer emails, and work on my blog all in one day. These lofty plans are often unreasonable and will either be (1) adjusted or (2) disruptive.
If we choose to adjust our daily schedules to something that is more reasonable, sleeping well at the end of the day is more likely, given that it lowers the chances of experiencing cognitive agitation, or pre-sleep arousal.
If we don’t adjust, our sleep may be disrupted. The time that we start trying to sleep may be delayed, or our sleep duration may be shortened because of the time constraints of our schedules.
With effective time management, we can avoid scheduling conflicts that may disrupt or delay our sleep.
Use Time buffers to find balance
“These days the pace of our lives is only getting faster and faster. It is as if we are driving one inch behind another car at one hundred miles an hour. If that driver makes even the tiniest unexpected move—if he slows down even a little, or swerves even the smallest bit—we’ll ram right into him. There is no room for error. As a result, execution is often highly stressful, frustrating, and forced.”
George McKneown – Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
Imagine that your work tasks are in that car. You don’t want them to get too close to your sleep period.
The people who are most effective with their time use time buffers when planning their schedules. They purposefully add more time than they think that it will take for them to finish a given task.
It’s often a reactive response to say that you can get something done quickly because of wanting to appear efficient. It’s better, though, to give yourself a little more time to complete the task well and earlier than you had initially thought. Finishing early helps ward off stress and is also more impressive than just getting it done on time (or late). Poor planning could lead to poor sleep, both through worry induced by not meeting deadlines and sacrificing sleep to work late on finishing tasks.2
One method to avoid planning fallacies is to add more time to all of your original time estimates in your schedule. The recommendation based on Essentialism is to add a 50% time buffer. For example, if you think that completing a revision of your research paper will take around four days with at least two hours of uninterrupted writing time each day, give yourself six days to complete it. Similarly, if you think that studying for an exam will take two hours, plan for three hours of study time. These are just examples. The length of a time buffer may vary based on task requirements and prior experience. Generally, we should practice planning for some margin of error.
Finishing tasks early feels satisfying. Finishing late is often costly for work reputations, self-confidence, and sleep. Time buffers help us to avoid overbooking ourselves and thus allow for healthy, consistent sleep schedules.
Ask yourself this question to sleep well
One question that I find helpful for my sleep routine was mentioned in Essentialism: “What do you need to do to be able to sleep peacefully?”
This question may be particularly relevant when we get to the end of our days and still aren’t done with what we had planned. Something in our time estimation went wrong. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up about this. From time to time, it happens. An important next step is figuring out how to wrap up the day to find the calm that helps initiate sleep. A simple way to disengage from the day is to write out a task list for tomorrow.
A research study found that people who planned specific tasks the night before fell asleep more quickly as compared to those who journaled about past events instead. Planning before bed might be an effective way to offload any unfinished tasks of the waking day and feel prepared for the day ahead without compromising sleep.
Let your planning guide you to healthy sleep
Good planning could help you sleep well. Essentialism-based time management skills may aid in protecting your sleep opportunity time, reducing worry before bed, and helping you to fall asleep faster. We should keep the following in mind to apply time management skills to our sleep schedules:
- Planning fallacies, or overbooking ourselves, can interfere with our sleep.
- A time buffer may help to avoid planning fallacies.
- Writing a task list before bed is linked with falling asleep more quickly.
Although sleep seems that it should be effortless, it is time that we have to prioritize and intentionally avoid scheduling tasks during our sleep periods.
Of course, life happens. Things come up that we can’t always predict. But, more often than not, the time for our sleep routines should be protected from other tasks. What are some ways that you make your sleep health a priority?
- See Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s report on planning and decision making for a thorough discussion on planning fallacies.
- Please note that planning is just one factor that may be linked with sleep. There are many others that are not discussed here (e.g., bedroom environment, physical pain, depression, stress).
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