There’s a certain pride that comes with pulling all nighters not only in Silicon Valley but also in most other industries too like investment banking, accounting, legal, publishing, consulting, etc. It seems to be even more the case now in today’s fast paced, constantly digitally connected world where we’re always on the go. Arianna Huffington who was working 18 hour days building the Huffington Post one day passed out from exhaustion while working on her desk and woke up in a pool of blood. After that she’s gone on promoting the importance of getting sleep.
For a long time, I’d check emails on my phone before going to sleep and then wake up doing the same thing. Both cases are bad. The former because the blue light from my iPhone suppresses melatonin which prevents me from getting proper rest. The latter because it sets the wrong priorities for me (emails are what other people want you to do) and limits my effectiveness for the day. I noticed that I was just really busy… being busy. And meaningful progress towards the goals that I had set were relatively slow even though I was working long and hard. Not to mention the toll it was taking on my mental health. I’ve since come to change my perspective.
I think that working long hours generally is overrated, terribly inefficient and ineffective. Especially if you’re in an industry where some level of thinking is required. To achieve really great results, you need the time and space to literally just think. Charlie Munger once said “We both (Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett) insist on a lot of time being available almost every day to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. We read and think.”
Not sleeping, working hard and constantly being hooked to the digital world will drive meaningful thoughts out. To engage in thinking and intuition in a deep and meaningful way is quite difficult by itself but harder without the right environment that allows your mind to wonder far and wide. If you’re in a high stress workplace environment where a lot of performance and hours are demanded, it’s going to be more difficult to do this. Perhaps you can take the day or evening off and completely disconnect (no internet, no smartphone). I’ve found that my own favourite work setting is from a cafe on a beach with music playing from my earphones and a Moleskine notebook to jot down my thoughts. The mixture of the light blue ocean view on a sunny day, swimming in the gentle Mediterranean waters, the espresso… I find the combination very relaxing. I do occasionally work from the office which gets no sunlight and no natural air circulation.
If you’re an entrepreneur, there are all kinds of reasons to be stressed out and to be working your butt off. Maybe you’re running out of runway and you need to show your investor results. Maybe you’re just starting out on your idea and you’re nervous that all of your efforts may not work out the way you were hoping. Or maybe you’re feeling trapped within your own business which is running deep into the red and feels just like another job and you now have to do all kinds of stuff that you never set out to do.
Whatever the reasons, the big ideas that can shift and exponentially grow your business will be difficult to come by without a clear mind. All of this is not to say that I think you should be doing 4 hour work weeks. I don’t think anyone successful in the business world started out by working those kind of hours. No what I’m saying is that the way you rest and how much you rest, as well as the way you spend your day, are big factors in determining the kind of results we get over the long term. Certainly short term it can be the opposite in that putting in a lot more hours and depriving ourselves of sleep feels like we’ve done a lot more. That’s probably the reason why we’re compelled to push ourselves to the limit constantly. But over the long term, we come up with less breakthrough ideas, make more small and big mistakes which compound over time not to mention the toll it takes on our health mentally and physically.
I haven’t made all the changes that I want. I still check emails too often. I still work into the night though having a screen dimmer like Flux really helps with the laptop. I’ll try to leave at least a few hours to wind down before actually going to sleep since I’ve noticed that my mind tries to find solutions to whatever I was working on for a while before it shuts down. Meditation helps here too. I currently use a FitBit to monitor how well I sleep (what gets measured, get managed). It doesn’t seem to be entirely accurate but it’s a good indicator and it’s saying that I’m sleeping between 7-9 hours.
If none of that matters to you, there’s a report out of Rand Europe which claims that people sleeping less than 6 hours a night face a 13% higher chance of dying earlier than those sleeping 7-8 hours.