86. Sleepless and Successless—Why Better Rest Leads to Better Work
You’re at work early every day, because your to-do list is a mile long. You’re trying your best to hustle, using all the productivity strategies and apps, but you’re exhausted, your focus is scattered, and your patience is wearing thin. What’s missing? What else can you do?
In this episode, Courtney, Verbs, and Blake discuss one of the most important productivity tools most people don’t talk about: sleep. They reframe the negative narrative around sleep and show you three reasons getting why quality sleep is essential for high performers.
In this episode, you’ll discover—
- Why sleep is an asset—not a liability—to your productivity
- The impact sleep quality and quantity has on performance
- How sleep refreshes your emotions and disrupts the cycle of stress
- Pro tips for shutting down at night and sleeping better
- Focus on This Episode 83: “The Life-Restoring Magic of Daily Rituals”
- iPhone Bedtime feature
- DOHM sound machines
- Sleepcasts by Headspace
- Win at Work and Succeed at Life by Michael Hyatt & Megan Hyatt Miller
Verbs: Welcome to another episode of Focus on This, the most productive podcast on the Internet, so you can banish distractions, get the right stuff done, and finally start loving Mondays. I’m Verbs, here with Courtney Baker and Blake Stratton.
Blake: Courtney, Verbs, what’s good today? What are we talking about?
Courtney: We are talking about something very near and dear and close to my everyday existence right now. We are talking about exhaustion.
Blake: Talking about exhaustion. Oh.
Courtney: This one feels very timely for me.
Blake: So, this episode is for those who are tired.
Courtney: Yeah. Anybody out there? Anybody?
Verbs: Is there a difference between tired and exhausted or are they one and the same?
Courtney: I think they’re one and the same.
Blake: If you’re enough tired, then you might get exhausted.
Verbs: I agree.
Courtney: Maybe it’s like that rule about a square and a rectangle. All rectangles are squares but not all squares are rectangles. If you’re exhausted, you’re tired, but being tired, you’re maybe not exhausted. Guys, if you hung with that…
Blake: Woop, woop!
Courtney: If you hung with that, you got a “Woop, woop” for the day. I mean, I think we’ve all been there. We’ve all been exhausted before.
Verbs: As we talk about being exhausted, struggling to get anything done because we’re so exhausted, whether you’re a new parent or just overworking in general… When you’re tired, it’s a real thing that you lose focus. Your attention and your patience are both shorter. You don’t express empathy toward others as well as you would if you were fully rested. Even just losing a sense of your own self-awareness. That’s why sleep and rest is important. It keeps us sharp in those areas.
Courtney: Do you want me to tell you a little story about one time when I totally did not display any of those things because I was so exhausted?
Verbs: Please do.
Courtney: I used to work for… This was one of my first jobs out of college. I worked for this company that did events at major league and minor league ball teams. We had an event on a Saturday night with the Atlanta Braves. It was a concert after the game. So, we did the whole concert. The next day, Sunday, at noon, we had another event with the Washington Nationals.
So, we get done with the event. And you know events. There’s a lot of loading up and getting to the airport. We get to the airport at, like, 3:00 a.m. We fly to D.C. We get to the Washington Nationals game. We have another concert after that game. Guys, I was so exhausted. I was sitting three rows back behind home plate, like, the closest I’ve ever been to a major league player hitting a ball. I was falling asleep. I kept thinking, “I’m probably on TV right now.”
Verbs: On the Jumbotron, eyes closed.
Courtney: I literally could not, for the life of me, keep myself awake. And I was working the whole time, really. I was totally not functional at that point. Obviously, that’s kind of an extreme example, but I believe, culturally, we are all working and living at an always deprived amount of sleep. I think that’s what our culture sets us up to do.
Blake: I think it’s interesting, because people would acknowledge… I was looking through our notes that we prepped for today, just talking about the importance of sleep and how it has all of these benefits. I think if you ask the average person, especially someone who listens to a productivity podcast…
You ask, “Hey, is sleep important to your productivity?” They’d be like, “Oh, yeah, for sure.” Then I’d ask, “Cool. How much sleep did you get last night?” They’d be like, “Well, last night was not a good night. That’s not a good example. I got maybe five hours, six hours, whatever.” Why do y’all think there’s a disconnect between the knowledge that, yeah, sleep is important versus actually arranging your life to enhance and get plenty of sleep?
Courtney: Well, there is that cognitive awareness, but I also feel like our culture wears it like a badge of how little sleep you get or how you’re hustling so hard… “I’m able to work with just four hours of sleep.” It’s like a bragging thing. It’s like, no, that’s actually not good. You can do that for a couple of days, but if you do that long enough, we’re going to read about you in the papers. Well, maybe not. That’s a little extreme.
Verbs: It is a possibility.
Courtney: I’m so extreme today.
Verbs: No, I think you’re right.
Blake: “You’ll die.”
Courtney: I mean, there are a lot of connections with lack of sleep and being intoxicated. At a certain level, when you don’t have enough sleep, it’s the same. It is kind of dangerous.
Verbs: Sleepy and driving intoxicated are very closely associated with each other.
Courtney: Right. No bueno.
Verbs: So, obviously, what we need is to design a new narrative around sleep and its importance. That’s the good thing about our discussion today. What does sleep have to do with focus? What does it have to do with productivity and, ultimately, the double win?
Courtney: Well, first, I feel like we should define the double win again. I think most of our long-time listeners are like, “I’ve got it,” but for anybody else… The double win is we are all about you winning at work… In our culture, a lot of people are about winning at work, but we’re also about you succeeding at life. It’s those two things together. That’s the double win: when you don’t have to sacrifice one or the other to be successful but when you can be successful at both. That’s the real goal of our company, of Michael Hyatt & Company.
Verbs: I think it’s important to mention that within succeeding at life, it’s looking at all of the domains that make up who you are. That’s the emotional, that’s the physical, the intellectual, the vocational. It’s all connected to all of these other domains.
Blake: Absolutely. Sleep may be one of the most important productivity tools that no one ever talks about. Like you said, Courtney, it’s something we view as a liability…if we can minimize it, that’s great…rather than viewing it as an asset to our productivity. So let’s dig into it. Let’s talk through why sleep is so important. Specifically, we’ve outlined three reasons. You may be able to think of more. But let’s dig into it.
The first reason sleep is so valuable is it improves our performance. Everything we do, everything our body and our brain need to do during the day is enhanced by greater quality and quantity sleep, from memory to decision-making and creativity. All of that is improved when we get good quality sleep, and all of that is diminished when we come up short. I assume I’m not the only one who has been there. Courtney, you can probably attest. Maybe it’s freshest in your mind in your season of life.
Courtney: Yes. Actually, one of my neighbors told this story of when she had a newborn in the house. She went to a restaurant, and she just told her husband, “Everybody in this room is going to get a full night of sleep except me. That person is going to sleep a full night. That person is going to sleep a full night.”
It’s especially hard when you’re in the boat of you can’t sleep for legit reasons, not because you’re scrolling Instagram or watching TV late into the night. It may be you can’t because you have legit deadlines or something that is beyond normal work request or there’s just a really stressful work situation. But all that to say, yes, this feels very relevant to me. I think it’s important to say that it’s real, but there are things you can do to make sure…
I think I talked about this in our ritual episode. Even if you are getting a lack of sleep, make sure you’re thinking about, “What are some things that give me energy in other areas?” to help offset that. Now, obviously, if I could get more sleep, I would get more sleep. If anybody can help with that, that would be great. No, we’re so close. She’s doing awesome.
Verbs: Here is a question. How does sleeplessness impact your workday? And what you just mentioned, Courtney… If you’re already in the sleepy state, what other kinds of things can you do outside of drinking multiple cups of coffee or some energy drinks to kind of savor your energy to really just finish off the day?
Courtney: Well, I think acknowledging that it has an impact on your workday. For me, though, one thing that has been helpful is to not think about it too much. Usually, when I get very little sleep, I’m like, “I only got four hours of sleep.” You know, dwelling on the fact that you didn’t get the sleep you needed to. But rather, focus on “Okay. I’m going to get a great workout in. Maybe I can take a 20-minute nap later in the day.”
I feel like most of us don’t know what it feels like to be well rested consistently. It’s like this superpower. We don’t even know how good we would feel because we so rarely get it. Maybe that’s kind of the challenge from this episode. What if you took the next week and tried to get eight hours of sleep every night? Just an experiment to see “Okay. What does that feel like? What does my performance look like on the other side of that?”
Verbs: I think this is something Michael has mentioned before also, and I’ve tried it recently with the app on the iPhone. You have the sleep alarm. Let’s say I at least want to get seven hours of sleep. Well, once you tabulate that on the app, it tells you what time you will actually have to go to bed to achieve that goal and then what time you will need to wake up to get those full designated hours of sleep. It has worked. Even if you’re not quite there to where you’re going to get in bed, but that alarm goes off, it lets you know, “I need to start winding it down so I can be in a spot to really set myself up for the next day and get rest.”
Courtney: You can also set all of your Alexas to go off, if you have Alexas in your house.
Verbs: How many Alexas do you live with?
Courtney: Well, you have to have more than one.
Nick: How many are there? How many are in the house?
Courtney: Okay. Guys, there’s one, two, three, four, five.
Nick: Woop, woop.
Courtney: I mean, full disclosure. Our house is… We have the smart light bulbs, and Alexa opens our curtains. You know, she’s connected to all the things.
Verbs: You are officially “Alexa’d” out at the Baker home.
Courtney: Yeah, we are. We’re like the opposite of worried about Big Brother. We’re like, “Just hear everything. Just know everything that’s happening in this house.”
Verbs: “There are no secrets here.”
Courtney: Yeah, no secrets here. Okay. So, the first reason: sleep improves our performance.
Blake: Reason the second: sleep refreshes your emotional state. This is an awesome one. You mentioned a nap during the day. To be honest, this is part of the reason I’ll… I have a pillow right here behind me in my office, because sometimes I’m halfway through my workday, and I’m feeling tired physically, but I’m also maybe feeling tired emotionally. I’ve talked to a bunch of people. There’s a lot of output. I have to get done some admin work, or whatever, or maybe I have to have another conversation with someone.
I don’t want to show up… I’ve done this before, where I will try to prepare for a meeting, but I’m so tanked emotionally that all that prep speaks very softly compared to how loud my emotions are talking in that meeting. So, I’ve learned it’s actually going to be more beneficial for me if I just turn off the lights, lie down for 20 minutes, and get a little bit of rest. I come back feeling refreshed. Maybe I’m a little less practically prepared, but it’s much higher leverage to be refreshed on an emotional level going into a meeting or something like that.
So, naps are huge, but sleep in general… If you aren’t getting enough sleep, you probably have noticed you’re a little more irritable. That’s because you haven’t had the chance to process through. How does that work, by the way? We have a fact. Verbs, do you have a fun fact for us about this, how sleep changes your emotional state?
Verbs: Thank you for asking. I actually do have a fun fact for you. Tom Rath, citing research from Berkeley, stated that during REM sleep, memories are being reactivated, put into perspective, connected, and integrated but in a state where stress neurochemicals are beneficially suppressed.
Courtney: Basically, our sleep does a lot of things. It’s connecting all the things, and then it’s making us less stressed so we can be a pleasant coworker. The question we can ask ourselves is: Would you rather work with people sleeping four hours a night or people sleeping eight to nine hours a night? Maybe I should ask my coworkers. How have I been recently working? The fact is you can handle so much when you are well rested. Your bandwidth of what you can handle when you are tired is really small. Guys, should I start crying on this podcast? I need some sleep!
Verbs: You’ve been pretty energetic on these episodes.
Nick: She’s about to crash.
Verbs: So we have to figure out how to gauge this.
Courtney: Well, I told y’all my secret in our rituals episode about how hard-core I am about what time I go to sleep. I’m actually sleeping as well as can be expected.
Blake: The third reason is it revitalizes our physical body. This is an obvious one. The first thing that happens to me… I know when I haven’t been getting enough sleep because I start to catch colds or little things happen where I notice my immune system takes a dive, which is so interesting, because usually you’re not sleeping because you’re stressed about something you need to be doing when you’re awake, so you want to be doing that thing, but then because you’re not sleeping, maybe you get sick, which then just makes it that much harder to do the thing, so then you end up falling farther and farther behind.
For me, I was in a pattern of that for years. I’ve shared this story on the podcast before. Using the Full Focus Planner helped me sleep through the night for the first time probably in four years. I would just wake up every night, just stressed, thinking about stuff. I would get sick often. That compounds and compounds and compounds on your body. Sleep is so, so important. Your body needs it, and so much of the process…
We talked about your brain and stress chemicals and all that, but your physical body needs that rest, and it is a way to shift… We talked about how sleep is not a liability but an asset to your productivity. When you think about it, it’s a way to shift… Like, when I started using the planner, I started sleeping through the night. Then I had more energy the next day physically so that I was accomplishing more in less time, so then I was more peaceful when I went to bed, so my sleep was higher quality at night. I had higher quality sleep. On and on it goes. This is how you can change that flywheel: with your sleep. That’s where you can start.
Courtney: One way you can look at it… If we asked everybody listening, “Do you think high-performance athletes sleep well? Do you think they get at least eight hours of sleep?” I think they’d be like, “Yeah. Probably so.” Or “Before a big game, do you think they’re getting good sleep?” It’s like, “Yes.”
Really, we’re not performance athletes in the physical sense, but we are performance athletes in the business world, and we need to treat ourselves like that. Our bodies need that. So, if you can reframe it and cast aside the cultural expectation that we wear our lack of sleep like a badge of honor, it may help you approach it differently.
Verbs: As we’re saying this, I’m thinking about anytime you do get sick… Let’s say you go to the doctor. The number one thing he prescribes is “You need to get some rest,” so our bodies can rejuvenate in that sense. The other funny thing is at what point… When you’re a kid, you hate naps. You will scream and cry to avoid taking a nap. When you’re an adult, the opposite occurs. You scream and kick if you cannot take a nap. I always thought that shift was interesting.
Blake: All right. Let’s do this. For people who are like, “Okay. I get it. Yes. Good reminder. I know I have to sleep more,” what can we give them before we close out this episode in terms of tips, pro tips, for sleeping better?
Courtney: I’m so excited. I was like, “Can we just skip to this part already?” Because one of the things we want to talk about is the actual things you could get to help in your sleep environment. I started thinking through this, and I was like, “I have so many.” I have blackout curtains. Do y’all have blackout curtains?
Verbs: That’s a game changer.
Courtney: We did not have blackout curtains until sometime in 2020. I was like, “What have I been doing with my life?”
Verbs: Not sleeping well.
Courtney: I’m like, “Why haven’t I done this before?” Guys, if you’re listening and you don’t have blackout curtains, get the blackout curtains. It’ll change your life. I’m also a huge sound machine person. I really love the Dohm sound machine. I’m telling you, just take my word for it.
Verbs: Is your sleep machine connected to one of the Alexas?
Courtney: It is. Yeah.
Verbs: I knew it.
Courtney: Actually, that’s something I have set up. Our Alexa at a certain time… I think it’s at sunset. Our sound machine comes on. The curtains close. The lights dim. Alexa is great, guys. So, that’s another hack. I want to tell y’all something that y’all are going to laugh. Have you ever heard of a pregnancy pillow?
Verbs: Oh yeah.
Courtney: It looks like a capital C. I’m sorry that all of the non-pregnant people have not had access to this pillow before. If you sleep on your side, it’s amazing.
Blake: Sorry. It looks like a capital C as opposed to a lowercase C.
Courtney: It’s bigger than a lowercase C. A lowercase C would not be big enough.
Blake: It’s not a lowercase C pillow. Okay, I got it.
Verbs: It depends how big the paper you’re sleeping on is.
Nick: That’s like the kid’s version, is the lowercase C.
Courtney: You don’t want the lowercase C. That won’t help your sleep. Okay? All right. I also have another pillow. All this is going to get cut out of the podcast, because Nick is going to be like, “They don’t need all of these products.”
Verbs: He’s keeping all of this.
Blake: Too much pillow talk.
Courtney: It’s called a face pillow. If you sleep on your back, it’s amazing. It’s the weirdest looking pillow. It basically has two pillows on the right and left of your cheek so your head doesn’t flop to the side. Also amazing. Okay, last thing.
Verbs: Wait, wait, wait. Is this similar to when you go to the chiropractor and put your face down on the table there?
Courtney: No. Your face is up. If you sleep on your back, it makes your head not fall to the side. It’s supposed to be for keeping you from getting wrinkles on your face. That’s not why I use it. I just think it’s the best pillow for sleeping on your back. The last thing is if you use Headspace, the sleep SOS casts are amazing. I used to always wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to go back to sleep. Now you just pop in that little sleepcast with your AirPods. I promise you’ll go right back to sleep.
So, there are all of my products. I know y’all are so thrilled. You’re like, “This is the best podcast ever. I’m going to buy all the things.” Nick, can you put all of my products in the show notes? Okay. Thank you. So, guys, go to the show notes, get all the things, and tell me how amazing your sleep is after you get all the things. You’re going to be like, “Courtney in that Focus on This podcast changed my life.”
Verbs: It’s the bomb.com.
Courtney: It is the bomb.com.
Nick: Woop, woop.
Verbs: There are a couple more we didn’t mention that I think are critical as well. Just making sure you’re setting that nighttime routine. That way your body is prepared to shut down, and your mind is prepared to shut down at the end of the day as well. Just even moving your body during the day so you actually feel tired when it’s time to go to bed and you’re not trying to stretch it out with that one last episode of whatever it is you watch.
Blake: I’m going to give a mental hack, which is don’t write down more on your to-do list than you do during your day. If you do happen to do that, then make sure you cross them out by moving them to another day, and physically write it. I would say, write a Big 3 to define what the win is for the day (or a big two or one if you can’t do three), and then if you write anything else on your to-do list, put it somewhere else, cross it off, or whatever. For me, the reason I started sleeping through the night finally… Because I did all the tricks…sleep mask, noise machine…all that stuff.
Courtney: Are you saying all of my products they don’t have to go buy immediately? The truth is they already have the Full Focus Planner.
Blake: No. Those products definitely help. I support it. I use all of these things. Sometimes if I can’t calm down or if I wake up in the middle of the night, if something happens, I’ll put on a comedy podcast that I like, because I start smiling and laughing, and then it relaxes me and I fall asleep. A game changer is… When you have a to-do list where stuff is unchecked, you carry that with you mentally. So you’re going to sleep, but your brain is like, “Wait a second. The day is not done. There’s still more to do.”
There’s something about… And don’t do it digitally. Physically connect the dots with your physical and your mental by writing down in your planner or notebook, or whatever. Cross those things off. Write them down or defer them intentionally written down. There’s something about the integrity of “The day is done. This is what I intended to do. I did it. The day is done” that, for me, changed my quality of sleep, unexpectedly. I didn’t think it would affect my sleep, but it did.
Courtney: It’s like that was your tool for fighting the never-ending to-do list.
Courtney: It gave you the reprieve from the never-ending to-do list. That’s awesome. That’s actually the best tip of all. Forget all of the products I told y’all about. Just do what Blake told you. But sometimes it is nice just to go buy something. That’s fun too.
Verbs: The good news is you don’t have to let exhaustion undermine your productivity or relationships. By prioritizing and protecting your sleep, you can start each day ready for whatever comes your way. Blake and Courtney, any final thoughts for our Focus on This listeners?
Blake: No, but here’s a picture of my daughter in the tub.
Courtney: Aw! That is adorable. Maybe this will be the episode you all see via video so you can see all of the kiddos.
Blake: It’s great podcast material.
Courtney: Do you want to see little Ellis?
Verbs: The babies. I’ve got to find mine.
Courtney: I love that our final thoughts were all pictures being shown.
Blake: My final thought is Nick should play some fade-out music where we’re just mumbling gently like NPR hosts, and then you can play a little “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” music. Okay? “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” is public domain.
Verbs: Here’s mine.
Courtney: Aw! That picture is awesome. Okay. Final thoughts?
Courtney: My final thought is the same as last week. Win At Work and Succeed At Life just came out. This book is the basis for basically everything we talk about on this podcast. I mean, if you love this podcast, you’re going to love, love, love this book. It dives more deeply into the importance of sleep and the research behind it. It has a lot of practical stuff. It is so good. You’re going to love it. It came out April 20. You can get it anywhere. There are a whole bunch of bonuses you get as well when you get the book, so don’t miss those either.
Blake: All right, Verbs. When you sign off here, let’s just lull people into a nap. If you’re driving, please don’t fall asleep. I’m not liable for that. Pull over to the side of the road. For the rest of you, here you go. You’re getting cozy. You’ve got your little blankie. You’ve got your little high-tech face pillow that’s powered by Alexa that Courtney has. Okay, Verbs, take them home.
Verbs: Thanks for joining us on Focus on This. This is the most productive podcast on the Internet, so please share it with your friends. Remember, use #focusonthispodcast. We’ll be here next week with another great episode. Until then, stay focused. Good night.