Preface: I’m not much of a productivity nerd; I don’t see the point in spending all my time trying to squeeze more time out of my time. Nevertheless, this is something I wrote a while ago and thought you might find it interesting…
It is a process where you sleep multiple times throughout the day. Usually, it is something like 6 20-minute naps every 4 hours for a total of 2 hours of sleep. It is (apparently) somewhat safe. But how can your body survive on such little sleep?
While all levels of sleep are important, it’s the REM sleep where the real work happens. You can survive without much phase 1-2 sleep, but you absolutely need REM to physically and mentally recover. But normally, you go through over an hour of low-level sleep for a few minutes of deep sleep. It is super inefficient.
By going polyphasic, however, you essentially hack your body to skim over the low-level sleep and go immediately into the most productive REM sleep.
Don’t worry: this article has absolutely nothing to do with polyphasic sleep. It is an analogy for something I call hyper productivity. In the sleeping example, by forcing your body to get its sleeping work done in less time, it becomes far more productive (almost 100% productive vs. 30% for the average sleeper).
Couldn’t that principle be applied to other areas of life as well?
You’re familiar with the 80/20 rule, where 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. This is much like REM sleep. The problem, of course, is figuring out what actions make up that 20%. By limiting the time available, it forces you to find the most effective tasks to become insanely productive. You get incredible amounts of productivity from a few minutes of work.
To make this process work, you take advantage of 3 key principles: Time Constraints, Disproportionate Impact, and Uninterrupted Blocks of Time. Let’s look at each in turn:
This whole process is built on the principle of consciously limiting the time available for a certain task to be completed. The constraint is what forces your entire being to become more creative and intuitive in terms of what needs to get done.
For example, you limit your entire day’s work to exactly 2 hours. Everything that you used to complete in a full day’s work is now condensed into a maximum of 120 minutes.
For the first week or two, things will be in disarray. Much like converting to polyphasic sleep, (I’ve heard) you lose your mind and suffer from sleep deprivation until your body understands how to adapt.
Similarly, your office might be in total chaos for the first few weeks. Things will be forgotten, people won’t be called back, work will fall through the cracks. It will be overwhelming, but this is the important adaptation process. Through this initial chaos, your mind is learning what is important and what can be forgotten. Then, consciously or unconsciously, it builds a pattern of efficiency that makes a real impact in the little time available.
If you consciously sat down and tried to figure out what 20% of your tasks are most effective, you would likely have no idea. But through the constraints placed on your time, it quickly becomes obvious what actions have the biggest impact. Ramit Sethi coined the phrase “Disproportionate Impact” and while he was talking about something slightly different, I think the term fits great.
The key here is not simply to work a furious pace, as if you’re fast forwarding your life at a 4x pace to condense 8 hours into 2. There are really two elements that make this work:
- Discovering what tasks and activities can be completely ignored. This is fairly straightforward.
- For the processes that are important, you learn how to make them more efficient. The time forces your mind to cut out the fluff from your work. This is interesting.
For example, right now I am writing this article about 10x more quickly than I’ve ever written before. So, I know that the article writing process is an absolutely crucial task, but I am learning how to speed it up without losing any of its value.
I might spend 30 minutes on this article, as opposed to 5 hours for the same quality piece – a 10-fold increase in efficiency. Thus, it makes my writing hyper productive by giving it a disproportionate impact.
Uninterrupted Blocks of Time
The final consideration for making this process work is providing yourself with at least 60-90 minutes of uninterrupted time to work on the activities with disproportionate impact.
Management experts like Peter Drucker discovered decades ago that people are far more productive when given one large piece of time versus an equivalent amount of time spread across smaller chunks.
To write a major product manual, for example, requires a large block of time without interruptions. Working on it for 15 minutes here and there leads to a jumbled mess that never gets completed.
Just like with the polyphasic sleep example, it is vital that each of the 6 naps be uninterrupted. If someone wakes you up every 5 minutes, your body cannot maintain the REM sleep for long enough to produce results.
So, when using this process, set aside between 1-2 hours for each major chunk of work you’re doing. Try to start and finish the task within that time. If it is a super large task, divide it up into a number of 90 minute chunks and complete one each day.
It is this principle of hyper productivity that makes things like The 4-Hour Work Week possible. You can literally run an entire business in 4 hours every week. How? Because two things will happen:
- You become more productive with the time allotted, as we have discussed.
- You learn to automate, delegate, and delete everything that doesn’t lead to a disproportionate impact.
Wanna hear something crazy? I wrote this entire 1,158 word article in 42 minutes flat. That includes writing, editing, and clicking publish. When you need it, hyper productivity works.