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How To Be More Productive: 2 Overlooked Methods

Keep your sleep debt low and work with your circadian rhythm to boost your productivity. You’ll get more done each day, and feel better while doing it.
Reviewed by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
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We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists.
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Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.
A group of people at working high-fiving celebrating being more productive

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.

Why Can’t I Be Productive?

Here’s why high sleep debt and not working with your circadian rhythm are stopping you from reaching your productivity potential. 

You’ve Got High Sleep Debt

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have.

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.

You’re Out of Sync with Your Circadian Rhythm  

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: 

  • You’re a shift worker. 
  • You have social jet lag — about 87% of adults have social jet lag and go to bed at least two hours later at the weekend. 
  • You’re living at odds with your chronotype — perhaps you’re a night owl who has to get up early for work.

Being out of sync with your circadian rhythm can lead to: 

  • Daytime sleepiness. 
  • You may not feel tired at your desired bedtime, so have difficulty meeting your sleep need (and therefore you’ll feel all the ill effects of high sleep debt listed above). 
  • You’re less able to self-regulate, so more likely to procrastinate. 
  • Lowered cognitive performance — including attention, information processing, and visual-motor performance. 
  • Increased risk of health conditions like depression, obesity, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. 

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. 

How to be More Productive?

Now you know what tanks your productivity, it’s time to do something about it. Here’s what to do. 

Lower Your Sleep Debt

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: 

Get in Sync with Your Circadian Rhythm 

RISE app screenshot showing your melatonin window to know when to go to bed
The RISE app can tell you the best time to go to sleep.

A 2017 study found circadian alignment contributes to your ability to self-regulate. And a 2016 study found the same. It said:

“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. 

Harness Your Energy Peaks and Dips 

RISE app screenshot showing our energy peak and dip times
The RISE app can tell you when your peaks and dips in energy will be.

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: 

  • A groggy period when you first wake up (known as sleep inertia
  • A morning peak in energy
  • An afternoon dip in energy
  • A second peak in the late afternoon or early evening
  • A wind-down period until bedtime 

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. 

Improve Your Sleep Hygiene 

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: 

  • Getting bright light in the morning and avoiding it in the evening. 
  • Avoiding caffeine, large meals, exercise, and alcohol too late in the day. Check RISE for a specific time to stop these things each day.
  • Giving yourself enough time at the end of the day to wind down before bed.
  • Keeping your bedroom cool, quiet, and dark.

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. 

Get More Done with the Productivity Hacks That Make a Difference 

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. 

Keep your energy high, every day:


How do you increase productivity and focus?

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.

How can I be more productive in life?

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.

Why is it so hard to be productive?

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.

How to be more productive at home

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.

How to be more productive in the office

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.

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About Rise
Rise is the only app that unlocks the real-world benefits of better sleep.

Instead of just promising a better night, we use 100 years of sleep science to help you pay down sleep debt and take advantage of your circadian rhythm to be your best.

Over the past decade, we've helped professional athletes, startups, and Fortune 500s improve their sleep to measurably win more in the real-world scenarios that matter most.

Rise Science is backed by True Ventures, Freestyle Capital, and High Alpha; investors behind category winners Fitbit, Peloton, and Salesforce Marketing Cloud.


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