Sleep debt kills your creativity and motivation

Sleep is a very important activity that all of us has to participate in. A good night sleep contributes to your overall well-being, allow you to function at your best and keep your mood stable.

However, our modern lifestyle with all the digital devices we have, all those radio waves passing through us every second, and long working hours ensured that we don’t participate in that activity fully. By that, I mean we don’t sleep the maximum hours each of us actually need.

For most of us living in a modern city and have a demanding day job means that we have to wake up early but sleep late. And that’s not to say all your wakeful hours are spent at work. But rather, there’s 101 things for us to take care of in life, ranging from having a simple dinner with family to settling the bills to getting your kids ready for bed. So by the time you actually gone to bed, it’s probably past midnight. Before you know it, your alarm clock goes off and you looked at it, you realised it’s only 5 or 6am. It’s time to wake up.

In my case, I tend to sleep only after 12am. It’s not because I want to sleep that late but rather if I turned in any earlier, I would have tossed and turned in my bed until I get very frustrated and couldn’t sleep or simply talk to myself until I do sleep. End up, I still sleep after 12am. So why do I force myself into bed so early and suffer?

So, taking into account I only enter sleep 15 to 30 minutes after I lay in bed, I typically get only 5 hours, max 6 hours, of sleep every day. That means I am one of the 62% Singaporeans who are sleep deprived because I have to wake up by 6.50am. We as a nation rank second in the world when it comes to being sleep deprived. Not a good statistic, mind you.

I’m only functioning everyday because of my caffeine intake these days. I suspect it will soon no longer work because caffeine has this diminishing return effect the longer you’re consume it. Your body simply developed a tolerance for it.

With this constant sleep debt everyday, don’t be surprise if it dampened your mood. I can feel like I’m about to lose control of my emotions again. Furthermore, it’s affecting my creativity in really subtle ways. Associations between two different ideas becomes harder to create. After all, the best ideas are usually at the intersection of different fields or topic.

Then the mind also stops picking up on subtle changes in the environment as quickly. Understanding of ideas and concepts mentioned by people during conversation and meetings also suffer in terms of speed.

And productivity is definitely out of the window.

Last but not least, the motivation to do anything isn’t there anymore. Not even with coffee. An example would be, it took me two hours just to finish coding a piece of function at work when it could have taken me half an hour or less under normal circumstances.

The good thing is at least now I saw it happening and can attempt to remedy the situation. Should always prioritise sleep over any other activity that isn’t important. There is always another time to do that activity.

To achieve mastery is to do it for free

As they say, money makes the world go round. It is precisely because of this that most people chose to keep mentioning money as the most important thing in the world.

They are not wrong. Without money, there’s a lot of things that you can’t do. No food for you. No access to water. No house. No clothes. And you can’t even get anywhere on public transport if you are utterly broke.

But if you are an idealist like me and someone who put emphasis on the experience and lessons learned more than anything else, you can’t help but feel that the people around you are sick. Sick in the mind. It’s especially so if they mentioned that everything you do should give you money in return.

Let’s put this into practice.

If let’s say all your writings are behind a paywall. By that I also mean the very first article that you ever wrote to be published. Not only that, you have just also just graduated from school with a Degree in Creative Writing and have no working experience publishing a piece of writing for another person but yourself. And submission to the professor as part of your coursework is not counted.

What do you think will happen to you?

It would be very obvious that as a writer, you won’t be able to grow because no one will pay to read a newbie’s stuff. Not only that, the market is full of contents created by other writers and they are mostly free. So why should anyone pay to access yours?

For me, there’s an example I could use. For those who follow me long enough knows my day job is a software creator. My Honours Degree in Engineering (Computer Science) could get me through most doors of companies based in Singapore. But how did I graduate in the first place? Before entry, I spent time creating software, doing my own pet projects to experiment with something new. That was how it made me better than most of my peers when it comes to programming. If I hadn’t done that, I could honestly tell you I will struggle through the course. Even after graduating and working, I continue to spend time to read up on some of the latest development in technology and software.

And just over the weekend, I setup Docker on my Macbook and run a container inside of it. The container is host to the Microsoft SQL Server. And why did I do that? I wanted to understand what is Docker all about. Been hearing all about it but never used it anywhere during my work. And if I waited for my company to finally used Docker in one of their projects and have me onboard, do you think they would want me to play with Docker considering I have no experience?

Besides all that, do you know that I also mentor some of my colleagues in coding despite them being way more senior than me in terms of age and work experience. Auditing their code style is also something I do without really being “paid” for it.

Now, the big difference between them and me is the passion in software creation. To them, it’s just a job. To me, it’s part of who I am since I see myself as a creator. And to be any good, I have to continue to improve by learning anywhere and anytime I can. Same goes for my writing. Don’t even need money to push me forward.

With this, I hope you can see that to even be any good at what you do, you can’t expect to be rewarded now with money. You’ve got to have the interest and passion for the thing you are doing. Furthermore, life is all about playing the infinite game; to continuously grow and be better than who you are before. If you want to wait for money to spur you to do anything new, well, you will become stagnant very quickly.

And that is you playing the finite game.

Even light exercise helps

The word exercise can strike fear in some people. They are reminded of hard work and pain. Exercises can also be a difficult thing to put in one’s schedule when he or she is already having to deal what life throws at them.

For me, I hate exercise because I’m a very lazy person.

However, the constant comments by people I’ve met about how much fatter I’ve grown have somewhat affected how I feel about myself. Hell, even I feel like I’m carrying around a big lump of fats. And just last month, I wrote about how neglecting your body also affects your life in general. I continue to feel the side effect of not “moving” enough.

So all that spurred me to reset my exercise schedule on Monday.

Now, maybe this is premature but I thought it’s a good time to share how I felt after just going for three runs around my neighbourhood over the week. And the best part was the runs weren’t even very intensive. They were slow jogs where I took 20 minutes or so to cover approximately three kilometres each time.

The first day of my run didn’t change much. It was like any other day considering I ran once per week in the past and relied on my daily steps count to maintain the illusion of being active.

But by the end of second run, I could already feel it changing my body. It was like it has received a boosting dose of energy, allowing me to direct my attention at my tasks better. It also made me more attentive. Combine with my intentional caffeine intake as of late, I managed to become more productive.

And by the end of the third run, I’m definitely feeling happier than normal, which ultimately showed on the outside. And mind you, my overall mood typically is on the lower end of the spectrum compared to most people. So you would tend to see me looking like I’m depressed when I’m not.

To some people, this kind of exercise may not seem much. Maybe it’s their goal to run a marathon once every few months. Or maybe they love high-intensity exercises that pushes their heart rate into the 200 beats per minute range. Or maybe they love to climb mountains every year. Or just maybe they love to do power lifting.

However, one should always not let another person’s opinion about how much exercise you need determine what you do. Not everyone loves the idea of running long distance. For me, I do love a jog or walk. If going for Zumba three times a week is your thing to stay healthy, then do Zumba three times a week. If you like to do resistance weight training, then do resistance weight training.

The only lesson to remember here is, do not ever let your body slip into the situation where it doesn’t move as much as it needs. Even a thirty minute speed walk around your block or neighbourhood after a meal every day is better than nothing. Because the side effects of a sedentary lifestyle are never good to have. Lethargy, lower stress tolerance, and poor productivity are some of the side effects. Ultimately, your life is yours to decide how to live it. Make the right choices.

Useful tool for planning as a pantser

There are two kinds of writers. One is a planner, also known as a plotter, while the other is a pantser.

For the uninitiated, planners or plotters, as the term suggested, don’t start writing until they got all the details about the story they want to tell down in a massive mind map or something. It’s just what they do. Pantser on the other hand doesn’t really plan and simply just write, allowing the story to take them anywhere. They are literally flying by the seat of their pants. Planning for pantsers is just not something they do.

For me, I’m a pantser and really hate planning. The very act feels very unnatural and boring.

But today, I was introduced to something that I thought could be useful as a tool to help pantser. It’s known as a Fishbone diagram or officially known as Ishikawa diagram. From the outset, it look like a really simple tool that doesn’t seem to boring when used.

Now, I know it’s really a tool for product design or quality defect detection. It is also used in certain kind of investigative purpose like incident investigation and resolution. So you may wonder how it can be applied to planning out a piece of writing.

Here’s how I thought it could be used.

Let’s say you are gonna write a piece of fiction that has some kind of conflict or problem to resolve. You can put that conflict or problem at the fish head. Then draw the ribs out from the spine. The purpose of so call bones of the fish is to allow you to identify the causes that ultimately lead to that conflict. You can treat each rib as a category. And some example of the categories can be Characters and Incidents. It’s up to you to decide how you want to use it really. The purpose of those ribs is to help you identify the main theme that lead to the conflict or problem. From there, draw horizontal lines out from ribs where you use them to create just enough detail for you to write your story.

And that’s all.

After that, you can refer to the diagram if you do happen to encounter some kind of writer’s block while writing. And since it isn’t so detailed, you get to have the freedom to change your story on the fly while it also ensure you stay somewhat grounded and have some kind of reference material. Lastly, because it’s such a simple diagram, it doesn’t really bore you to death as a pantser.

I also didn’t forget about you planners. You guys can also use this as a complementary tool to whatever they are using now to write.

With that, I hope it’s helpful to you.

Recycling your stories, yes or no?

If you are a writer who’s any good, you’d probably accumulate a huge pile of writings. And maybe up to ninety percent of those have been published somewhere.

Then there comes a day when you realised the message you wanted to share with the world is really done. Done as in you have said your piece and there’s nothing more for you to share. Or maybe you are just suffering from a serious case of writer’s block.

Now, during your journey as a writer, you’d probably also come across the suggestion of recycling what you wrote in the past and publish them again. I’ve seen other writers done it. And there’s nothing wrong with it.

From a practical standpoint, it make sense. By recycling it, you allow your new readers to get new content while you don’t need to put in any effort to write anymore. At least until you found another message to share with the world. That way, you remain relevant in today’s highly noisy world in terms of the amount of content created and published online. This is where the 80/20 rule comes in. You put in barely any effort but you get the maximum reward because you could get new followers and you remain visible.

Isn’t that a good trade?

But from a moral or ethical standpoint, it’s probably doesn’t feel right. I know because I’ll definitely feel that way. It’s like selling people old stuff. So unless you are at a thrift shop or a place that sell pre-owned goods, chances are you want what’s the latest or new right? Well, in hindsight, I suspect it’s probably the only valid reason that one have when trying to justify to oneself they shouldn’t do it.

However, we should all remember that people do have very short attention span. There’s just so many things in life to distract us. Our memory can get fuzzy too. Unless the readers are your number 1 fan, or with a lot of time on their hand to dig out all your old articles, no one is really going to notice you put out a piece of old content. Hell, I didn’t even realise I read an old post that was recycled until I notice the comments in the comment section is several years old. And yet, I realise if the person hadn’t recycle that content, I won’t have known such a great piece exist.

So the answer is yes. Recycle your old stories whenever you feel necessary. It’s also a useful course of action to take to fill in the lull period until you find your groove back.

P.S. In fact, I almost wanted to do the same thing because I don’t have anything else to share for now, but the realisation that I didn’t write any decent piece of content in the past that warrant me recycling them forced me to find something to write about instead. So I shared my thoughts about recycling old content.