What constitutes a good workspace? Recently, many people upgraded their home officesin attempts to be more productive while working from home. We often think about environmental changes that will help us to be more efficient and to be more focused. We may buy things like new desks, noise-canceling headphones, etc. While these external aids may help, an internal check-in should be the first line of defense against low productivity. The first question that you should ask is: have I gotten enough rest to work well on a particular task?
Your physical and mental state matter whenever you approach a task because they involve how much effort you can truly give to a particular task (input). Of course, the quality of input given for the task will affect the output or finished product of the task (e.g., a paper, presentation, final project). High quality input will normally yield high quality output. Without sufficient rest, we don’t have the capacity to work as well as when we are well-rested. This can dramatically lower productivity, or the ability to produce high quality outputs in a reasonable time frame.
Poor sleep can reduce input for a particular task by reducing work performance and work attendance. Missing work entirely stifles the ability to complete tasks in a reasonable amount of time. People who report poor sleep tend to rate themselves lower on work performance measures and miss work more often ¹. Moreover, working long hours, which reduces the opportunity for sleep, has been linked with more work errors and work-related injuries ². Injuries can then lead to even more time away from work and reduce work productivity.
In addition to reduced performance and error, poor sleep is also related to lower motivation and mood. When people sleep more poorly, they report greater effort and reduced motivation to perform tasks than those who are well-rested ³. Thus, not getting enough sleep will likely result in not feeling up to working on things that may seem easier than when you have rested enough. Unsurprisingly, sleep deprivation is also closely linked with poor mood ⁴.
With adequate sleep, a lot of these issues are reduced. We can work more efficiently when well-rested, particularly by avoiding errors that involve repeating tasks that were previously done poorly. Sleeping well can also help to avoid poor mood and lowered motivation. When we consistently sleep well, we (1) feel better emotionally, (2) make fewer mistakes, and (3) have more excitement about our work. These are just few of many reasons to prioritize better sleep.
Now, before I start on a task, I always ask myself this question: If I start working on this task right now, is it likely that I will do a good job? If there is any doubt that I am not prepared, that I have not rested enough to do the task well, I reschedule and plan a recovery period. I direct my energy to things that are simpler and are of lesser importance (e.g., email, organization), since that is what I feel mentally equipped for at the time. And this saves time by avoiding the need to redo a poorly done task. It would be great if we could all maintain a well-rested state, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen. Life is messy and unpredictable, even if we follow all of the proper sleep tips. When we don’t rest enough, it is okay to take a break from more complex, “deep work” tasks for easier, more routine tasks (see Cal Newport’s deep work philosophy; see Cal Newport’s Deep Questions podcast). Critically evaluating energy levels in this way will help to avoid falling into a false productivity cycle, i.e., repeating the same task because it was improperly done while drowsy.
- Trouble Sleeping Associated with Lower Work Performance and Greater Healthcare Costs: Longitudinal Data from Kansas State Employee Wellness Program
- Negative Impacts of Shiftwork and Long Work Hours
- Sleep deprivation, effort allocation and performance – ScienceDirect
- Depression in sleep disturbance: A review on a bidirectional relationship, mechanisms and treatment
- Sleep Deprivation and Error in Nurses who Work the Night… : JONA: The Journal of Nursing Administration
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