Founder Diary

September 20, 2022

Productivity hacks don’t matter if you’re asleep

Productivity hacks don’t matter if you’re asleep

Productivity isn’t only about HOW you work. Ignore the context and you’re in for a brutal awakening.

A hamster with a backpack walking on a mountain trail. A pair of eyes are watching him from a dark cave nearby
A hamster with a backpack walking on a mountain trail. A pair of eyes are watching him from a dark cave nearby
A hamster with a backpack walking on a mountain trail. A pair of eyes are watching him from a dark cave nearby
Nikita Kazhin's headshot

Nikita Kazhin

Co-founder at Brick

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Are you into picture-perfect views of nature? I sure am.

To find those, let’s say you’re going camping in the mountains. No better place imaginable.

As a responsible traveler, you read up on the best of everything. Your tent, shoes and cooking gear are all cherry-picked and top in class. Your sleeping bags are comfier than most people’s beds. Insect repellent, sun protection, portable chargers, snacks, lighting, you name it — you got it.

Naturally, you nail down a one-of-a-kind scenic route that’s littered with stunning views. You come up with a by-the-hour plan, all to enjoy the experience without a hitch.

Looks like you’re crushing it!

But it so happens that you miss one minor detail. Context.

What happens next? You walk into a violent storm right off the bat. No sunshine and washed out trails. Forget about the views and your perfect plan. Oh, and you chance upon tracks that look like those of a cat — but bigger! An unwelcome revelation slowly settles in. You’re in mountain lion territory. Are you being stalked? And, if so, what do you do?

You have no idea! Weather forecasts and animal awareness be damned, remember?

Needless to say, the whole adventure is completely derailed (though your chances or getting eaten by a big cat are actually very slim).

Now, if you know the first thing about camping, you’re probably not going to find yourself in this situation. Why in the world would you ignore such fundamental variables?

Yet, this is exactly what happens to many (if not most) of us when it comes to work and productivity.

Context matters

Focusing on the right techniques, the perfect tools, or disciplined scheduling — the process in general — is important. Without it, you’re stumbling in the dark.

But just like you don’t go camping in outer space, you don’t work in a vacuum. What you do outside of work indirectly, but inevitably, affects your productivity and the impact is much stronger than we care to admit.

Ignore the context, and all your clever systems can be easily overrun by seemingly “external” circumstances. As impertinent as they might seem at first glance, leaving those to chance is a recipe for disaster.

Examples aren’t hard to find.

  • How often do you feel like a vegetable in the morning because you couldn’t send yourself to bed on time the evening before? Your whole day is now lost in torpor.

  • How often do you set yourself up to fail the next day because you pick the “wrong” kind of rest? One that doesn’t leave you refreshed, but agitated or even more fatigued. Social media, anyone?

  • How often do you end up toiling in what was supposed to be leisure time? Or can’t stop thinking about it because you let work-related emails or notifications keep pouring in?

Happens to me all the time.

So if you don’t in your right mind sideline “minor” details, like whether you’re going to be eaten by a mountain lion, why should sleep or rest be any different? Or are you okay losing your next day to sluggishness?

Granted, context (in theory) includes pretty much everything that surrounds work, and a big chunk of that is totally irrelevant but don’t overthink it. Where Saturn is right now relative to Mars probably isn’t going to matter at all. But some things are very much within our control AND more than worth being deliberate about.

How you rest and how you sleep are just the two biggest factors.

I know, you’re probably tired of hearing how important it is to sleep well, eat well, blah blah blah. But this is exactly the problem.

It’s like being urged to eat more vegetables when you’re a child. Everyone says it’s what you must do, so what’s your natural reaction?

Ignore and sabotage!

You simply filter the advice out and roll your eyes. We’ve heard it a million times already (and nothing changed), why would one more time be any different?

But unlike for kids, “bad sleep = wasted next day” isn’t just theory anymore for most of us. Yet, when it comes to evening choices, “childish” behavior remains common.

Look, I’m not here to lecture you, try to shame you into sleeping well or taking a break from screens too close to bedtime. You know that already, and I’m not the right person to hammer this stubborn nail.

What I’m trying to say is that there’s little sense in working on details when the big picture is all crooked. Productivity advice is usually centered on HOW you do work, but rarely ever on the surroundings.

There’s an obsession with content, techniques, tools. No wonder context is ignored. As a result, we often focus on details before sorting out the fundamentals.

No matter how visionary your writing system is, it’s pointless if you can’t stitch two words together and are about to fall asleep on your keyboard.

No matter how well-structured your plan for the day is, it’s pointless if it crumbles half-an-hour in because you simply don’t have the energy.

No matter how cool and versatile your new to-do tracking tool is, it’s pointless if you can’t get yourself to focus on any of them.

Don’t try to run before you can get on your feet.

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