Arnold Schwarzeneger even went as far as recommending "sleeping faster" to someone who said he needs to get eight hours of sleep per night. It almost seems that sleeping only six hours is the magical trick to be the most productive you could possibly be, and sleeping any more than that is a precious waste of time and some even go as far as calling others slackers for getting more sleep than that. I beg to differ and disagree.
As a disclaimer, I should mention that I am indeed a morning person. I do wake up at 5am in the morning. But I do that for religious reasons. Not because I want to be the most productive person on the planet. Indeed, I do get a lot of work done early in the morning. But after having tried all possible combinations of sleep, work and shifting schedules around, I've come to one conclusion: It's not about how much sleep you get, it's what you do when you're awake that really matters.
But here's the thing: I don't wake up at 5am in the morning to work. I don't wake up at 5am in the morning because I'm competing with others and trying to get more work done than they do.
I wake up at 5am in the morning simply because I'm a Muslim. You see, our Fajr prayer is usually around that time... give or take 30 minutes. That's why I do it.
I also usually get at least seven hours of sleep per night. I wouldn't be able to function normally if I got any less. And yet, on my most productive days I get almost all of my client dev work done before it's even 10 or 11 o'clock. And then I have the rest of the day to either work more and get ahead of myself, or work on side projects, write, or whatever. Most of the days these days I've been spending most of the leftover time offline. But it hasn't always been like this...
You see, the first point I'm trying to make here is that you can be ridiculously productive even if you get more than six hours of sleep. If your body needs more than six hours of sleep then by all means give it more than six hours of sleep.
Are you tired of hearing “six hours of sleep” yet? I know I am. You see, just because some formula or routine works for one person doesn't mean that it can or should or must work for everybody else. Listen to your body. Monitor yourself. Try different routines and see which one works best for your physical and mental health. You're most likely going to end with a routine that's a combination of ideas from multiple other routines. At some point you'll find the one that works for you. Once you do, stick with it.
I burnt out. Twice. And believe me, it wasn't fun. To be even more open and honest here: I am still recovering from a burnout today.
Those of you who have been following me on Twitter for about a year or more have probably noticed my tweeting frequency lower significantly in the last couple of months. And so has my writing frequency.
I pushed myself too hard last year with different commitments until I burnt out. I gave too many promises and said yes to too many things without considering realistically how much that would affect my body and my health. I worked weekends and night shifts. I stopped exercising because at the end of the day I'd be too exhausted to work out and in the morning I'd be too exhausted from sleeping too much because I'd been too exhausted the day before. My sleeping patterns broke and I had lots of trouble sleeping. My eating habits went downhill. I missed too many breakfasts for long weeks and ate too many lunches and dinners on my desk. I didn't enjoy the taste of food because my brain was too busy processing code than it was focusing on anything else my body was doing or not doing. I missed a lot of family time and talks and feel incredibly guilty about the times one of my family members would be talking to me and I'd be incapable of engaging with them properly because I'd be thinking about some dev challenge and how I'm going to tackle it the next day. My vision suffered, and so did my back and my overall health.
Was it worth it? I'm not sure. I mean, don't get me wrong: I'm incredibly proud of all the work I did. I felt incredibly accomplished after the work was done. I still do! But looking at this matter from a wider perspective—not solely from a work and dev perspective—I'd say I have paid a lot in order to gain what I gained. And in the long run, the things I've lost are far more precious than the things I've gained. No amount of work or money can compensate for a good health, and for lovely family time.
There's an Arabic proverb that says “The healthy mind is in the healthy body”. In English there's the “Healthy Mind Healthy Body”. Whatever your language, it all comes down to one conclusion: Invest in your health. You are your biggest commitment. If you're healthy, you'll be capable of eventually getting more done while also enjoying life and not missing out on the more important parts of it.
So if there's one advice I can give here it would be: Don't be too eager to say yes to every single opportunity you get. Choose the ones that are best for you wisely. Prioritize your health, tune in to your body, find the routine that works best for you, and stick to that. Also, something that a lot of us tend to fall in to is pressure, so stop comparing yourself and your productivity to others'. Do what works best for you, and the rest will follow.
Stay healthy. Thanks for reading!