WFH Tip #2: Don't Miss Your Sleep Train

Last night’s blog post on Home Automation took a lot of work to close up. I started writing before dinner then tried to polish it off quickly after our meal and episode 1 of Waco.

My goal was to finish quickly because I’ve learned that going to bed late, especially if I stay up in front of the computer with my mind engaged, is bad for my sleep and for the next day’s productivity.

The urge to edit didn’t subside until close to 11pm, and by then the damage was done. I slept poorly, and I am a total zombie today.

The bummer is I totally learned this lesson a long time ago. So here it is spelled out in blog post form.

This is the second in a series on tips for working from home. The first one was A Good Day Off.

Bed Time Not Wake Up Time

A common refrain among recent home workers is to claim that they’ll set their alarm to an early time and that’s when they’ll get out of bed and start their day.

Fine in theory, and easy to subscribe to since many normal daily job occupations revolve around dragging ourselves out of bed early enough to get there before the manager makes a point of obviously staring at his watch while you walk to your desk.

However, if you don’t need to start work at a specific time, then skip the alarm clock and worry instead about the time at which you go to bed.

This seems counterintuitive (“with no alarm clock I’ll spend the day in bed!") but it actually works out better, at least for me.

I haven’t used a daily alarm clock in over a decade. I naturally wake up at a reasonable time when my body is rested, which is all that matters.

Sleep Hours Not Work Hours

Sitting at home, disconnected from co-workers (if you even have co-workers) and pounding out work all day is taxing. It takes energy. Your internal drive isn’t free. Anything that can reduce your output will: headaches, fatigue, lack of exercise, too much exercise, etc…

Lack of sleep is very high on the list of things that cause me to have a lousy work day. Don’t get me wrong I can be slumped at my desk for a full 9 hours, but I’ll get little done if I’m not rested and ready, and what I will get done probably won’t be that great.

When you’re self-employed all that matters is that you get the work done and the work is good. Spending hours in front of the computer being unproductive has no value.

That’s why I focus on sleep hours and my overall wellbeing over a concern for what time I wake up. I rely on my body to tell me when it’s ready to tackle the day by waking up naturally. Most days I’m out of bed between 7:30 and 8:30.

There are also days when my body needs to rest, and rest it does. I wake up late, get started late and have to be efficient to get all my work done that day. I may not even get enough work done, but it’s still a win because I am well rested and will have the energy to make up for it later in the week.

Shutoff Time

In the early days of my career as a solo dev I had many sleepless nights. The uncertainty led to anxiety and long hours of turning over in my bed like an overcooked rotisserie chicken.

I’ve learned to deal with the uncertainty (you just get used to it) and I’ve learned to knock myself to sleep by using what turns out to be some form of self-hypnosis.

But the easiest thing to learn was to get away from my computer by 10pm at the very latest. It takes over an hour for my mind to relax enough to get into a good sleep. If I am still at work past 10, I will miss my natural sleep cycle and end up having a bad night, with the usual consequences.

This is the rule I broke last night trying to finish my blog post. The night was restless. This morning’s programming work was weak, labored, and not fun. I took forever dealing with email because my mind would completely stop focusing on the task at hand and wander pointlessly.

A bad night’s sleep is always followed by a bad day’s work.

Ease Into Sleep

After closing the laptop and putting the iMac to sleep the next step is a winddown period, which inevitably involves a screen, but that is not work related or overly mind-engaging. Social media, watching videos, movies… all those are fine.

After I get to bed I read a book until my eyes feel heavy. Here the idea is to avoid all screen time as I get closer to actually sleeping.

The only books I read at night are novels (no self-help, deep thoughts, or programming-related stuff, or anything that could bring to the fore current news events). I like books that make me travel to distant lands and faraway times.

It’s an escape, a dream before I dream.

Good Night

Tonight I’m finishing this post before dinner, and I plan on going to bed much earlier.

Tomorrow will be a better, more productive day.

This was day 8 of the #100DaysToOffload challenge.

Olivier Forget

Los Angeles, USA
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Aerospace Engineer turned sofware developer and bootstrappin' entrepreneur.