You are feeling very sleepy

The Blank Screen is about being productive. I have a section in the book (UK edition, US edition) devoted to the issue that “Time off is vital” and it says:


That’s all I’ve got for you about time off. I don’t do time off, I don’t know from time off.

But I’m learning a hell of a lot about sleeping.

This is still a work in progress and I would like to have figured it all out now but I’ll take anything I can get. Since January 2013 I have been getting up to write at 5am weekdays. (Not every weekday: I’ll book time off for lots of reasons like speaking engagements that mean I’m not home until 1am the night before. I’m not daft. I’m insane, but I’m not daft.) Today was day 223 and it was stunningly hard but as I almost always am, I am glad I did it because I got three big things done that were pressing on me. I’d finished them before 10am so suddenly Monday morning looked pretty good to me.


The big downside of getting up at 5am is – well, okay, it is the getting up at 5am. But the second big downside is how tired I get toward the end of the day. Both the end of the working day and of the real day of the week. Actually, in some ways that’s an improvement for me: I now want and get evenings off where before I’d just carry on working until I stopped. The trouble is that I can be so bone-tired that the evenings are a struggle to stay upright.

It’s not as if you get a choice about stopping working and taking the evening off, though. Tonight I’ve got a Writers’ Guild committee meeting, for instance, and I’ll be home from that around 10pm. I don’t know about you but I can’t just go straight to bed. At least, I rarely can: I’ve had some times in the 5am Years when  I’ve had to crash out instantaneously. But usually I have to wind down a touch so that means tonight it’ll be 11pm before I go to bed.

So 5am to 11pm, it isn’t tenable. Much as I wish it were, I can’t do it. Can’t do it without help. I’ve tried caffeine, I am currently powered by caffeine, but I’m also trying napping.

Even saying that to you feels wrong. Why is that? I don’t work 9-5, I do work for myself, why does it feel so wrong to take a nap? I was struggling today so I slept from about 1:30pm to 2:30pm. It isn’t like having a second day, like getting up entirely refreshed, but where I was finding my mind folding in on itself before the nap, after it I sprang back out of the bed.

It feels like such a waste of time but the work I’ve done since has been better for it. As far as I can tell subjectively, the work I’ve done since that nap has been as good as the work I did first thing this morning. That’s got to be a good thing, that’s got to be a productive thing to pull off.

So we’ll see. There are so many days when I can’t do this – because I’m working in someone else’s office and they’re paying me to, I don’t think naps would go down well there – but when I can, I’m going to try doing it. I should try to do this with some statistical measure so I can assess what’s working regularly and reliably.

One thing that may help is a new app that I haven’t tried yet but wanted to tell you about. It’s called Best Sleep Hygiene and that’s one of those titles that doesn’t make any more sense the longer you know it and that you don’t get used to. It’s not about hygiene, it’s about how long and how well we sleep. I tell you, the title is giving me pause. But it’s a free app and it promises to analyse your sleep patterns. So I want to at least point it out to you even if, like a typical writer, the title is holding me back from exploring it here.

Star Wars – May the Force help you work

I saw the original Star Wars when I was seven years old and it changed my life. We all have faith in something; usually a mixture of some personal beliefs with modern science. I am like that also. Mostly, I just believe in what works. Which, for me, is The Force. I admit it.

James Altucher of 99U advocates following Star Wars for sage advice on how to be more productive.

He's quite serious. And has a lot to say to persuade you.

Odd that leaves out Yoda's “Do or do not – there is no 'try'” though.

I must be a great writer, I get up early.

Hand on heart, I'm having trouble adjusting to getting up at 5am to write. Given that today is the 190th time I've done it, I may have to accept that I never will figure it out. Alternatively, I'll have to accept the old man concept of naps.

But the problem is at the end of the day and during the evening, it's fine when I get up and often it is fine actually getting up. Not today, as it happens, but often. Okay, sometimes. Alright, once. Once I fair bounced out of the bed. Madness.

However, I think my getting up early like this works as much because the phones don't ring – and I cannot call anyone – as because it happens to be the time that suits my writing. In my head I'm a late-night jazz kind of guy, possibly without the jazz, but in my typing fingers I'm an early riser.

I know you can't equate the time you get up to the quality of your writing, but that hasn't stopped a lot of people trying. Now comes what may hopefully be the definitive analysis. It's got to be definitive because it doesn't come up with an answer. It just shows you a lot of facts. A lot:

We ended up with a roster of thirty-seven writers for whom wake-up times were available — this became the base data set, around which we set out to quantify, then visualize, the literary productivity of each author.

Take a look at Brain Pickings' gorgeous infographic about famous writers and what time of day they got up out of their beds, the lazy bastards.

Time Your Power Nap Naturally with Einstein and Dali’s Key Method

Not one article about power napping but several – take a look through this from Lifehacker:

That article includes the Einstein and Dali methods of the title but it also begins with links out to other rather good Lifehacker pieces about the best time for a nap – and the best duration too.