6 Secrets to Surviving on Little or No Sleep Entrepreneurs' work schedules tend to go far beyond the standard 40-hour workweek, causing many to forgo catching some z's for more hours working on their startup. Here is how to survive this crazy lifestyle.
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Regardless of the industry or size of the company, every entrepreneur will face a fight against a tired mind and body.
Founders often justify burning the midnight oil, as this is their time to create something meaningful and sleep is something that can come later in life – after these valuable years of innovation are behind them. But this thought process isn't necessarily beneficial to the company, as lack of sleep can cause people not to think (or function) properly. I should know.
I started OrigAudio, a portable audio products company, with co-founder Mike Szymczak while working a 9-to-5 job as a marketing coordinator for JanSport. As soon as the "workday" was over, I began plugging away on OrigAudio until about 4 in the morning, only to wake up at 7 to get ready for work. I often caught myself emailing the wrong people, ordering too much inventory and passing out while working on the couch more frequently than sleeping in my bed. This continued for nearly a year before I was able to put the "safe job" behind me to focus on OrigAudio around the clock.
During my journey, I've learned several lessons to help battle through the long hours and endless days that are part of the life of an entrepreneur.
1. Get your catnaps in. A catnap, or a quick 20 to 30 minute nap, can be an entrepreneur's best friend. I wouldn't recommend revolving your sleep schedule around this sort of Polyphasic sleep pattern but occasional 15-minute power naps can give you a boost in energy and help you to power through another few hours.
2. Delegate tasks to others. We want to do it all on our own, and we often do, but conquering the world takes a team. Utilize co-workers, friends, and even family members (if you are in a tough spot). As we've built our team at OrigAudio, I've been able to rely on my staff to complete tasks that I would otherwise be pulling an all-nighter to finish. Learning how to let go of certain tasks is a key to growth and to allow you to focus on more important matters.
3. Never drop cash after midnight. Making decisions that involve purchases after midnight will wreak havoc on your business. Also, try to avoid make purchasing decisions when you are struggling to stay awake, and double check important decisions before submitting them. Save vital decisions for your peak times of the day.
4. Prioritize your responsibilities. You can't work 24 hours a day. Prioritize what you have to do when you are getting to the point of exhaustion. Focus on things that need to get done, and wait to answer non-urgent emails until the next day.
5. Determine the minimum amount of sleep needed to function. The smallest amount of sleep I can get while still being productive is three hours. If I can't get at least three hours of sleep, my time is better spent powering up with a meal and working through the night. Know what the minimum amount of sleep you can still function with is and make an effort to allow yourself that time.
6. Utilize travel time. Travel is a big part of my job. While other entrepreneurs use travel time to sleep, I use it to work. Utilize flight and transit time by taking care of non-Internet related tasks. For instance, I will turn Outlook email in offline mode and get through my entire list of emails in order to send them when I get to the hotel and then go to sleep.
Those tough nights of two to three hours of sleep are now far behind me. I now get to enjoy the luxury of 5 hours of beauty sleep a day -- well, most days that is. While these tips have served me well over the past five years, find what works for you.