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A matter of time.

David Nunez
David Nunez
7 min read

What would you do with an extra 35 hours a week you could use for yourself to do whatever you wanted?

Since I have a short little break this weekend, I've been thinking a little bit about priorities and productivity.

I have a category of tasks in Outlook called "Projects" that has a list of all the things I am actively working on (ranges from "Cure Fungus in Grass in Front Yard" to work stuff to "Produce and Launch Raku Robot Show."

There is another category of tasks called "Someday" which lists those things I'd like to do someday, but don't really have in my short-range radar and thus don't have any "next steps" for (ex. "Deploy Pathogen at Conference" "Bike Across America" "Build or Lease Studio Space").

Total number of ongoing projects + Someday projects is easily over 500...  For completeness: Every single one of the current projects is accounted for with at least one other task in Outlook with a context-specific category (ex. @Calls, @Email, @Errand, @Read/Review) that let me group types of activity together so when I have a spare half-hour before a meeting, I can jam through my list of calls to make (no matter WHICH project they relate to, personal or otherwise).

All my email from my 6 email accounts arrive in the same inbox.  This allows me for a single-stream of consciousness where I deal with everything at once (right now my inbox holds zero messages).  "Deal with" frequently means shooting off a one sentance response, moving the item for reference, deleting (my favorite), or putting it on my todo list as a project or task.

There's a lot more to the system, but I'd defer to the source for more detail.

I've been using this system now for about 2 years.  It's only recently, though, that I've been able to dramatically reap the rewards of such an approach because there has never been a point in my life like now where I have so much going on at once and my work-time vs. play-time vs. hobby-time vs. maintenance time all are mixed up... 24/7 lifestyle, indeed. This system definitely considers that nowadays, work and home-life aren't really all that distinct.

I tend to wake up pretty early and go straight to the computer to get some warm-up tasks out of the way... get ready, and then do more work at home until rush hour resides a bit.  Then I'll head on over to the office.

(This presents an annoying problem for a different post: I get this guilty feeling that people might think I'm not working my full 40 hours... even though I may have already put in a half-day's work before they even boot up their computers... that's compounded because I'll feel the need to stay later until the "normal time" (thereby giving 10-11 hours of work).  That's where things like a workplace-cam site and publishing my day's schedule could help.)

In general, I think I'm currently more productive than I've ever been.

The Symptom:

I think there is a little bit of engineer in me that thinks I can do better.  For example, I frequently find myself scheduling meetings that run late into the night.  That would be fine, but that means I'm "at work" from 6:00AM - 9:00 PM

Unfortunately, by the time I get home from work, I'm worn out, (I may have had a drink or two during dinner meetings), and there isn't a long enough time before my bedtime to get into any personal projects... that relegates a lot of things, like designing robots, to snippets of downtime at work (which I think is ok) or the weekends.

Furthermore, I hardly have the bandwidth to deal with my current projects, much less the "Someday" projects.
The Problem:

I'm not properly putting my priorities in line.  I enjoy my work, but I know it's not the end destination.  I know what the budget looks like, so putting in 60 hour workweeks isn't going to get me any substantial bonus or raise.  Furthermore, the career ladder is pretty short in the organization.  I know that if I stuck with this for a long time (and by "long" I mean a few years) and did a reasonable job, it wouldn't be a monumental leap to think I could move into a more substantial leadership position.  However, it's no secret that that's not in my long-term goals.

So doing well at work is mostly a matter of work ethic and personal pride/ego.    More selfishly, in fact, I should be focusing on maximizing my personal return on investment.  So, the job I have is all about networking and reaching out, and I think I'm making strides there. Of course, the references and recommendations and connections I might get by doing a strong job will also be valuable...  Every task I do at work then, in an optimized system, should link directly to that goal of building my support structure to handle my next step.

However, my work is much more time consuming than I expected... not so much that there is an overwhelming amount of stuff to be done (there is, by the way, and most of it is stuff that I'm having trouble justifying against personal goals), but more so that too many things happen in off hours which prevent me from having nice uninterrupted stretches of me time.

That makes me believe I am NOT putting enough effort on the next steps in my life: the way I am handling the current step is requiring too much of me.

The implication:

Hopefully, 2003 promises to be an extremely busy time for my art and personal projects.  Realistically, if my time patterns continue, I'm not going to manage completing all that I need to complete to do things like launch a robot show.

One solution:

So... I've been looking for the magic pill:

I've been researching for the past month something called the Uberman Sleep Pattern.

Before I go any further, I am fairly convinced that partaking in the activity I'm about to describe would have terrible impacts on my health in the long-term...  possibly, even, grave effects that will shorten my lifespan.  It's also a very masochistic venture that is tantamount to unbearable torture... particularly at the beginning.

The Uberman Sleep Pattern is a short-sleep schedule.

Following a short-sleep schedule literally increases the amount of time a person is awake during a 24-hour period by limiting the amount of time that person sleeps.

Simple, right?

Well, deciding one day that you are going to only sleep three hours per night will probably drive you crazy by day 4.

Instead, the proposal maintains that by adopting a round-the-clock napping schedule, you can force your body to adjust to a shorter overall duration of sleep, eliminating tiredness, and ultimately benefiting from enhanced REM sleep.  (Each power-nap, supposedly, very quickly jumps to REM)...

History and legends tell tales of people throughout time who have done amazing things while following short-sleep schedules: Da Vinci, Einstein, Edison, Chuchill...

One has to wonder if some of these geniuses were really so productive because of IQ or because of having an additional block of time to create.

Regardless, the net benefit is 35 additional hours of me-time per week.  Furthermore, there are more uninterrupted stretches of time to get your hands involved in projects, so the assumption is that ALL the awake time could be more productive.  I have read reports of people actually having more energy and higher levels of thinking after adjusting to the schedule.

The obvious downside: It's terrible for you... We think the body shuts down for 7-8 hours a day for a reason: rebuilding muscle, fighting illnesses, maintaining sanity (Da Vinci was crazy as a loon), just to name a few.  The adjusting period (initial 2-3 weeks) is supposed to be a walking death.  Normal people maintain a circadian sleep cycle-- up with the sun, down with the sun (not really... but generally one long, sustained sleep)... therefore, following a short-sleep schedule could put you out of synch with humanity.  It's debatable and unproven that the gained time would be anything near productive... tiredness could, in fact, cause even lower-than-baseline levels of productivity.  I've read blogs of people trying this and finding they are OVERWHELMED with too many stretches of blank time and not enough things to do.  It's just as possible to waste your extra time as your normal time.  People frequently "slip" and oversleep on their naps, missing meetings, feeling groggy, etc.  And lastly, long-term effects are unknown, but probably not pleasant.

But what if there was a middle ground?  What if, for example, I decided just to spend 2003 using the Uberman pattern and then go back to normal?    Normal people (assuming 7 hours of sleep per night) will have 6205 hours or about 258.5 days awake.  I could have 7665 or about 319.4 days awake.... thats a difference of 60.9 days or TWO MONTHS of additional potentially productive time!  And that doesn't take into account the value of having many more stretches of time every day to actually buckle down and get into projects.

I know that next year is going to be a critical time for my creativity.  I have to get substantial projects completed and out the door.  Having more usable time, I believe, would help these goals along... Since I'm proposing the impossible, perhaps extreme measures should be taken.

The timing also works: I'm not getting any younger, so maybe I should abuse myself now, when I could presumably bounce back and survive it? Since my days of being a bachelor are numbered, perhaps if I'm going to have a year of insanity, I should do it before somebody else would have to suffer alongside me? (until, of course, I had a child... then short-sleep isn't so optional)...

Proposed timeframe:  First 2 weeks, I would be a zombie... I would love to maximize my 2 weeks of vacation at the end of Dec/beginning of Jan (basically adding another week or so of usuable time).  First week of December is going to be busy.  I COULD start the pattern towards the end of the week so I had the weekend to start being a zombie.  The second week is going to be a challenge, because I would start to suffer and still have some loose ends to complete for the end of the year. However, that third week in December is probably going to be down-time, tidy-up-time, vacation-giddy-time.  That would allow me to hopefully be in the pattern towards the beginning of my vacation and through the New Year... possibly setting up for the rest of the year.

All this also supposes a very healthy eating and exercising routine (lots of water, vegetables, regular cardiovascular workouts...), which I'd have more time to do, at any rate :)

As I write this, I'm already feeling tortured and tired.

Maybe it isn't such a good idea, after all.


David Nunez Twitter

Dir of Technology at the MIT Museum • Writing about emerging tech's impact on your life • Speculative insights on the intersection of humanity and technology 🤖


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