It's not all about the sleep

Last night I had the pleasure of addressing the annual meeting of the Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, MA as their featured speaker.

After hearing my bio, I was asked how I manage to be so productive, and as if often the case, almost immediately, someone in the group said, "You must never sleep."

While it's true that I typically sleep 5-6 hours a night (and can sleep a lot less when necessary), it's a mistake to assume that my reduced sleep schedule is the only reason I am productive. There are many, many ways that I make the most of every minute of my day.

My life is filled with productivity hacks. Short-cuts. Routines designed to recaptures seconds, minutes, and hours from my day.

A few months ago, Elysha Dicks and I were watching the biopic of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc. In one scene, the McDonald brothers (the original owners of McDonald's) are demonstrating how they have turned the making of a hamburger into a model of efficiency. Not a single step is wasted. Every move is purposeful. The McDonald brothers were fanatical about streamlining the process as much as possible.

Elysha reached for the remote and paused the movie. "Is this why you are the way you are?"

It's true that I managed McDonald's restaurants throughout high school and college - more than a decade in total. And yes, it's true that the institutional priority of efficiency at McDonald's probably rubbed off on me, but much of my desire to squeeze the most out of every day is the result of motivation.

An keen awareness of the fragility of life. Watch my TED Talk if you want to know more.

So when the person assumed that I never sleep, I did what I've been doing for a while:

I pushed back.

"Yes, it's true that I sleep a couple hours less than most people," I said. "But there's a lot more to it than sleep."

He asked for an example. Knowing that he worked in Boston, I offered this:

The average American spends about 50 minutes commuting per day.

Not only is this relevant to productivity and time, but it's also important because we have an enormous body of research showing that people with longer commutes spend less time exercising and less time sleeping. They have sex less often. They are less happy, more likely to be overweight, and more likely to suffer from high blood pressure

Long hours of commuting, especially if you’re driving, are also associated with increased anger and resentment at work, absenteeism, lateness, and an ability to concentrate and perform to the same standards as those who live in much closer proximity to the workplace.

Long commutes can also increase the risk of heart attacks, flu, and depression.

When I consult with people on productivity, one of the first things I ask is about the length of their commute. If you're losing an hour or more a day getting to work, your levels of personal productivity are highly compromised.

In the last 20 years, I've moved five times between two different towns, but regardless of where I lived, my commute has never been longer than 10 minutes. And for the last 10 years, my commute has been five minutes.

If I spend a total of 50 minutes a week commuting to and from work and you spend five or ten hours a week, I have a lot more time to get things done.

So I asked the man how many minutes per day he spent commuting to work. His answer:

"A little less than an hour. Each way."

My commute for the entire week is HALF of his commute to and from work on a single day.

He spends about 10 hours a week in his car, fighting Boston traffic.

Every single week, I have about 9 hours of free time that he does not.

468 hours per year. Almost 20 full days.

Imagine what you could do with 20 extra days per year...

I realize that the length of your commute is often out of your control, but when Elysha and I were looking for houses to buy, one of our priorities was to keep our commute short. We limited our search to about five different towns, based upon a number of factors, but one of them was the distance between our home and our place of work.

I made sure that I was not wasting needless hours driving to and from work.

It's not all about the sleep. It's many other things. Some big. Some small. Some infinitesimal.

But they all add up.