If there’s one thing most everyone wishes they could be, it's more productive.
We all know those productive people who seem to be able to get an endless number of things done. They whiz through their to-do lists in record time, build a side hustle after work, and spend time with their kids, with friends, and on hobbies, all without breaking a sweat. What’s the secret to this superhuman productivity and how do you get some of it for yourself?
It isn’t a new project management tool, time management tip, or even an extra cup of coffee. The secret is as simple as getting enough sleep and working with your biological clock.
While there are endless productivity hacks out there, below, we focus on the two things that make the biggest difference: sleep debt and working with your circadian rhythm.
They’re often overlooked and not thought of as productivity habits, but by keeping sleep debt low and syncing up with your circadian rhythm, you can make real improvements to your energy levels, focus, and mental performance, leading to your most productive days yet.
Here’s why high sleep debt and not working with your circadian rhythm are stopping you from reaching your productivity potential.
Sleep debt is the measure of how much sleep you owe your body over the last 14 nights. It’s compared against your sleep need, or the genetically determined amount of sleep you need.
While the common advice is to get eight hours a night, we all have different sleep needs. The average sleep need is 8 hours 10 minutes, plus or minus 44 minutes or so, but 13.5% of the population may need 9 hours or more sleep a night.
A 2020 study found the decline in productivity due to presenteeism (when employees go into work (or keep working from home) despite being sick or disengaged) was significantly higher in those who slept six hours or less a night compared to those who slept for seven to eight hours.
If you haven’t been meeting your sleep need at night, you’ll have built up sleep debt.
And high sleep debt leads to:
The RISE app can work out your individual sleep need, so you know what to aim for each night, and calculate how much sleep debt you have. More on what to do about that soon.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep debt.
Your circadian rhythm is the roughly 24-hour body clock that regulates everything from your energy levels to your hunger hormones. When you’re living out of sync with it, your social clock, or the time you do things each day, is at odds with this internal biological clock.
You may be out of sync with your circadian rhythm if:
Being out of sync with your circadian rhythm can lead to:
You can also be living out of sync with your circadian rhythm if you’re not taking advantage of your natural peaks and dips in energy each day. You’ll be wasting your most productive times on easy tasks, and struggling to work through the low-energy times when you should be taking a break and resting.
Turn to the RISE app to see what your circadian rhythm looks like each day. The app predicts when your energy levels will naturally fluctuate throughout the day and shows you when your body wants to go to sleep and wake up, and when you have the most energy, so you can work to match up with these times. Learn more about tracking and managing your personal energy with the RISE app here.
Now you know what tanks your productivity, it’s time to do something about it. Here’s what to do.
The good news about sleep debt is that research shows you can catch up on sleep and reverse the damage. One study found when participants slept for about 5 hours a night for a week, they were able to reverse the ill effects after two full nights of sleep.
And getting more sleep has been shown to improve alertness, reaction time, and mood — all necessary for productivity.
Use RISE to find out your individual sleep need and how much sleep debt you have. We recommend keeping this below five hours to maximize how much energy you feel and how productive you can be.
If you have a lot of sleep debt, you can pay this down by:
“Sleep of high quality and sleep that is timed in accordance with one’s sleep–wake preferences ensures the availability of self-regulatory resources at work.”
The more self-regulatory resources you have available, the more you can concentrate, persist, motivate yourself, and resist procrastination — the ideal recipe for productivity.
The study continues: “Results suggest the more–the better (i.e., the more that quality sleep is experienced, and the more it aligns with one’s sleep–wake preferences, the better the availability of self-regulatory resources the next day).”
To get back in sync with your circadian rhythm you can:
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up a daily Melatonin Window reminder.
As well as syncing up your sleep, wake, and meal times to your circadian rhythm, you can also sync up your daily tasks to it. This way, you’ll make the most of your peak productivity times, and rest and recharge when your body is naturally low in energy.
Your energy levels follow a predictable pattern throughout the day. This usually looks like:
You can learn more about when you’re most productive here.
The lower your sleep debt, the higher the energy peaks will be and shallower the energy dips.
If possible, schedule your tasks to match your energy levels. Do more demanding tasks — like writing, programming, giving a presentation, or holding tricky meetings — during your energy peaks. Save easier tasks — like emails, admin, or brainstorming ideas — for your energy dips.
You’ll not only feel more awake during your energy peaks — you’ll probably do your best work. Cognitive performance is more accurate and faster on novel tasks during this time, so you should be prioritizing difficult work. Plus, one study found students were more productive in the morning and learned more compared to the afternoon.
During your afternoon dip in energy, on the other hand, research shows you may be more successful at solving problems that need insight or creativity. Or, as your energy levels are naturally lower anyway, sometimes the most productive thing you can do is to take a break — consider taking a nap, listening to a podcast, or spending time outside on a walk or working out.
Want to get more done in less time? Don’t waste your energy peaks on emails, admin, or other low-priority tasks. And inversely, don’t force yourself to do difficult or important tasks during your energy dips — you will never feel productive this way. You can learn more about how to stay productive through your afternoon dip here.
Bonus tip: Napping may not feel very productive in the moment, but naps can help you pay down sleep debt. Even a 10-minute nap can reduce fatigue and increase vigor and cognitive performance — helping to boost your productivity. Get all your power nap questions answered here.
Even people who generally meet their sleep need at night can boost their cognitive performance with a nap. And with the rise of remote work, a nap in the middle of the work day is now possible for many. Just be sure to not nap for too long, or you’ll wake up feeling groggy. You can learn more about the best nap lengths here and the benefits of each.
RISE can show you a prediction of your circadian rhythm each day, so you can plan ahead.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their upcoming energy peaks and dips on the Energy screen.
Sleep hygiene can help you get the sleep you need and stay in sync with your circadian rhythm. Plus, research agrees it can help boost productivity.
A 2020 study found sleep disturbances, low sleep quality, sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), and short sleep duration all impact productivity and presenteeism. It concluded: “Good sleep hygiene may be important for workers' productivity.”
Sleep hygiene includes:
You can learn more about sleep hygiene here. Plus, RISE can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.
Bonus tip: Don’t rely on sleep aids to get to sleep. Not only do they come with dangerous side effects, they don’t give you naturalistic sleep that’s best for your body and research shows they’re associated with presenteeism and decreased productivity.
There are a lot of productivity tips out there — everything from limiting your time on social media to using the latest time management and productivity tools, from the Pomodoro technique and David Allen’s Getting Things Done method to turning off Slack notifications and creating email templates. And while these things can help, they only make small improvements to your levels of productivity.
To really reach peak productivity, you need to focus on the often overlooked methods of lowering your sleep debt and working with your circadian rhythm.
These two things will not only give you more energy to tackle your to-do list, they’ll boost your cognitive performance, creativity, and motivation, and reduce the likelihood of procrastination — as well as endless other benefits.
Use the RISE app to make that happen. The app works out your individual sleep need and how much sleep debt you’re carrying. Plus, you can see a visual representation of your circadian rhythm, so you can work on syncing up your sleep-wake times and daily tasks with it.
You can increase productivity and focus by keeping sleep debt low and syncing up with your circadian rhythm. Do this through meeting your sleep need each night, taking naps or going to bed a little earlier or late to pay down debt, and syncing your sleep-wake times to your body clock.
You can be more productive in life by keeping your sleep debt low and syncing up with your circadian rhythm. This will give you more energy, motivation, better cognitive performance, and reduce the likelihood of you procrastinating.
You may find it hard to be productive if you have high sleep debt or if your social clock is at odds with your biological clock. Both of these things tank your energy levels, cognitive performance, focus, and attention.
Low sleep debt and circadian alignment will help you be more productive at home. While working from home, you can also take advantage of napping during your afternoon dip energy. Naps help to pay down sleep debt and boost your energy levels and cognitive performance.
Low sleep debt and circadian alignment will help you be more productive in the office. Depending on your work environment, you can schedule harder tasks during your morning peak in energy and easier tasks, tasks that need creativity, or short breaks for your afternoon dip.
Learn more about Rise for sales teams.
RISE makes it easy to improve your sleep and daily energy to reach your potential