Restarting GTD: Sleep Hygiene


In the undead-GTD-odessy that was 2011 for me, I learned a big lesson about sleep.  A friend recommended INNER PRODUCTIVITY to me and I devoured the first three chapters.  On reflecting why I was so ill at ease, using the tools in the book, I came to the realization that I was just … exhausted.

Having come across William Dement’s THE PROMISE OF SLEEP at a used book store, and having purchased it, I resolved to start reading about sleep.  The top 10 resulting implications about sleep and GTD:

  • If you have sleep debt (yes, your brain keeps track) monkey mind is A LOT more likely to strike, … and become your default mode.
  • Sleep debt kills.  Specifically, Dement claims more teens die from falling asleep at the wheel than from being drunk.
  • Alcohol and sleep deprivation are a deadly combination.  Dement claims that most teen drinking deaths are kids falling asleep at the wheel after drinking.
  • It is OK to ask your doctor for sleeping pills for those nights where the boss is a jerk, the admin is incompetent, and you know that you are not going to be able shut an eye until a randomly selected moment 5 minutes before you need to wake up.  Sleeping pills picked up an indelible stigma in the 1960s.  Read Dement’s book, then make the “Dement deal” with your doctor that you’ll get 30 pills and you won’t refill the prescription without an appointment to talk about how you used the pills.  You’ll use about 3 pills in 3 or 4 months. Not every night, just the nights you must wake up refreshed.
  • Look around.  If you are suffering sleep deprivation, there is someone in your immediate contacts, who is suffering more.  My example, I had a student, one of the brightest I’ve ever had, who was missing class, who I almost ran into on the way to the final exam, because he made a poor driving decision.  This poor guy had sleep apnea even though he is a scholarship soccer mid fielder. Skinny as a rail.  The opposite of Jabba the Hut.  Anyways, when you encourage one of your more sleep deprived colleagues to get a sleep study done, they come back to you and say “It is $5,000 and my insurance won’t cover it.”  
    • *Note* An automatic adjusting CPAP machine is $500.  The only reason that sleep studies are the $5K sheep in the throat of the snake of buying a $500 sleep machine, is that hospitals have learned that they can extort $5K from insurance companies at will.
    • How can this be?  Because insurance companies have learned that the pain in the butt nature of sleep studies creates better than even odds that insurance customers won’t do a sleep study, even if the sleep study is covered.
    • Welcome to American health care where the lawyers don’t care, the administrators don’t care, and the doctors can’t afford the emotional space care. Interlocking incompetence.  Ridiculous.
  • If you put sleep first, the sun will still come up in the morning.  Everything gets done.  If you are doing GTD, everything more than gets done.  But you need to discipline yourself to put your brain’s well-being first.  Nothing else can happen if you are not taking care of the cabbage.
  • Having lost sleep, you reach the panic stage of stack overflow a lot sooner than when you are rested.  I think doing a weekly review while you are tired is a big mistake.  You can’t trust yourself when you are stupid.  Every 24 hours of sleep you loose cuts your IQ by a lot, like by 25% to 50%.
  • Project planning must be done while you are rested.  If you get that “I can just cram this planning in in the 20 minutes I have” point, you are past done.  When you hear yourself say “I can cram…” it is time to put the planning down until you can come back with your mind intact.
  • David Allen talks a lot in GTD about deciding what you do based on energy.  If you go into the day with low energy, then you are only going to be able to do clerical tasks competently.  You need to be caught up on your sleep debt to do the important but not urgent tasks.
  • When you put sleep first, the people around you somehow magically stop freaking out, and compensate to fill in the gaps that you probably think would cause catastrophe.  I don’t think sleep is safe to talk about at work.  Silence is success.  But, it has been my experience that when you realize your real limits, and start acting within them, it all works out.  Even if you are working for the 4th worst boss you’ve ever had.

Sleep, can’t live, love, or flourish without it.  Sleep is GTD infrastructure.


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