The next time you’re under slept, take a moment and refrain from taking on a project, big or small.
I recently needed to install an outdoor blind in front of a window. It should have been a simple job. Figure out the placement, mark where the screws should go, attach the brackets, attach the blind, and we’re done.
From the start this little project seemed cursed. First, I couldn’t find the step-ladder. Then I couldn’t find the drill. Then I forgot the brackets in the package. After a lot of looking around I finally got into position to hold up the blind and figure out where the brackets should go. But I had gotten up on the ladder without a pencil! So I had to climb down and find a pencil, redo the placement. But once I was up there I couldn’t seem to find the pencil again! Where had I put it? After checking my pockets and behind my ear, I realized the pencil was in fact, held between my teeth. Good grief.
I finally marked where the screws should go, but ran into trouble choosing the right drill bit. The first one I chose was a bit too small and was stripping the screw head. So I climbed down to change it out but couldn’t find the drill bit holder. This took a good 5 minutes of looking around in frustration. It was ultimately in a bizarre place, on top of the outdoor grill. Why had I put it there? Anyway, equipped with the right drill head, I got the screws in, put up the blind, and found that it was noticeably crooked. This kicked off another comedy of errors, looking for the drill, looking for the pencil, dropping the screws, etc...
Finally the blind was up. What should have been a 5 minute job took half an hour, and created a lot more holes in the wall than it deserved. Holes which someday someone (probably me) would have to spackle and paint.
What was the cause of such a clumsy, blundering DIY experience? I had already realized it about halfway through. I had gotten a terrible night’s sleep the night before, and was woefully under slept. This is the insidiousness of sleep deprivation.
When you badly need sleep, you usually don’t know that you badly need sleep. You take on projects that you have no business attempting.
Consider that being awake for 18 hours is equivalent, in terms of brain impairment, to having a blood alcohol content of 0.05%. For someone my size, that’s about 4 beers. If I had just downed four beers, would I have said to myself “Welp, time to put up that blind?” No way! I’d stay as far away from ladders and drills as possible.
When underslept people are asked to perform cognitive tasks, they perform significantly worse than their well-slept counterparts. But when surveyed, they self-report that they’re doing just fine. When you need sleep, you’re too dumb to know how dumb you’re being!
Looking back, it was stupid of me to see the blind project through to the end.
First of all, there’s basic safety. There were several times I felt my balance go a bit wobbly up on that ladder. How many household and car accidents have sleep deprivation as the hidden culprit? I’d wager a lot.
Second, there’s the time management problem. In my sleep-deprived state I essentially lost 25 minutes of my life taking what should have been a 5 minute job and stretching it out to half an hour. I could have done a lot of things with those 25 minutes, including getting more sleep!
Finally, there’s the issue of quality. The blind is up, but I can tell it’s not quite right. It doesn’t roll up smoothly, and it just looks kind of “off.” I’m sure you’ve had the same experience of revisiting work that you did when tired (or the equivalent level of drunk) and finding that most of it is garbage. You either have to live with a lower quality outcome, or redo it, sinking more time into what should have been a straightforward task if you had done it with a good night’s sleep!
Keep these points in mind the next time you’re tempted to skimp on sleep. There are few things more toxic in work culture than an attitude that sleep is a waste of time.
Sleep is actually the biggest productivity booster available to you.
Anyone who tells you different is going against not only sleep science, but your human right to feel healthy, happy, and whole.
The next time you’re under slept, take a moment and refrain from taking on a project, big or small. Especially stay away from activities that require physical dexterity and planning! Even though you might think you’ve got it all under control, you’re behaving like the guy at the bar who says “Come on man, give me the keysss… I’m… like... totally fine to drive.”
You’re not fine! You need to hit the bed and come back fresh tomorrow. The task will still be there, but you’ll be a new person, able to do a better job in a quarter of the time!
Patrick Reynolds // Kenzai Founder