Categories: Editors, Productivity

by Rebecca Faith


Categories: Editors, Productivity

by Rebecca Faith


Neglecting your workforce is the second roadblock given in the initial article of this series on productivity. An independent contractor is a workforce of one. To operate productively, we must take care of ourselves by tending to the Big Three—sleep, exercise, and diet.


Some successful people claim to sleep only 4–6 hours each night. But Dr. Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley, in his highly entertaining book, Why We Sleep, says concentration “buckles under even the smallest dose of sleep deprivation,” and habitually getting less sleep than our body needs is worse for performance than showing up for work drunk.[1] Showing up at our home-office desk with too little sleep in the bank sabotages our efforts from the get-go.

Does sleep or the lack thereof affect productivity? In 2003, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania studied the cognitive abilities and effects of sleep on 48 volunteers. These were divided into three groups: one group slept for 8 hours, one group for 6 hours, and a third group for 4 hours per night. Each group was monitored in the laboratory for 14 consecutive days. Data showed that participants who got only 4 or 6 hours of sleep per night over the two weeks were neurobiologically and cognitively impaired to the same degree as if they had been awake for 48 hours. Furthermore, the participants were oblivious to their increasing cognitive impairment. Drunks don’t realize how impaired they are, and apparently neither do we when we haven’t had enough sleep. “Claims that humans adapt to chronic sleep restriction within a few days … are not supported by the present findings. Since chronic restriction of sleep between 4 h and 6 h per night for 14 days produced cognitive performance deficits comparable to those found under conditions of 1 to 2 days of total sleep deprivation, it appears that [sustained] moderate sleep restriction … can seriously impair waking neurobehavioral functions in healthy young adults.”[2]


I started exercising because I couldn’t zip my jeans anymore, but it was some time after I could wear the jeans again that I realized I felt better and was sleeping better. I wasn’t plagued by aches and pains. I could sit at my desk for longer periods of time and my back no longer throbbed. Even my wrists became stronger, and “mouse” pain disappeared. My body was pleasantly tired following a gym workout, but my mind was clear and alert. My concentration and overall stamina improved.

My nonscientific findings corroborate studies of workplace exercise programs intended to improve health, health care costs, and workplace performance. Besides the expected improvements in heart and lung fitness, strength, and balance control, one study also documented reduced neck pain among computer workers and increased workplace productivity as muscle strength improved and body mass index decreased.[3]


The stronger I got at the gym, the hungrier I got. My trainer explained that my body was craving the fuel necessary to get stronger. With his help I learned to increase the amount of protein and carbs to fuel my workouts so I could continue to get stronger. As I modified my diet to accommodate my workouts, I had the energy to work out harder; the more I exercised, the sounder I slept; the stronger I got and the better I slept, the more my stamina and work focus improved. It was a triple win!

A corroborating study by health science professor Ray Merrill found that employees whose unhealthy habits of diet and exercise caused much higher levels of lost workplace productivity.[4]

We can’t perform well if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. Are you struggling to accomplish your work? Are you often distracted and unfocused or drinking too much caffeine? Do you suffer with body aches? Do you take too many breaks and end up working into the evening just to stay caught up? Try making some changes in what you eat, how much you move, and how long you sleep.

To paraphrase Sir Richard Branson, if you take better care of yourself, you will take better care of your clients.

[1] Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams (New York: Scribner, 2017), 135, 137.

[2] Hans P. A. Van Dongen, Greg Maislin, Janet M. Mullington, and David F.  Dinges, “The Cumulative Cost of Additional Wakefulness: Dose-Response Effects on Neurobehavioral Functions and Sleep Physiology from Chronic Sleep Restriction and Total Sleep Deprivation,” Sleep 26, no. 2 (2003): 117–126. doi: 10.1093/sleep/26.2.117.

[3] Gisela Sjøgaard, et al., “Exercise Is More Than Medicine: The Working Age Population’s Well-being and Productivity,” Journal of Sport and Health Science 5 (2016): 159–165.

[4] Ray M. Merrill, et al., “Presenteeism According to Healthy Behaviors, Physical Health, and Work Environment,” Population Health Management 15, no. 5 (Oct. 2012):

Related Posts

  • Freelancers and independent contractors always run the risk of not getting paid. We give up the guarantee of a biweekly company paycheck for the flexibility to be our own boss and take the work we care about the most. But that doesn’t mean that getting paid for completed work is optional; indeed, it cannot mean […]

  • Being a successful freelancer requires high productivity. Putting your brain in work mode, taking care of yourself physically, futurecasting and scheduling, and purposefully ignoring electronic butterflies are important methods to keep yourself on track with your work and meet your deadlines. They are all important, but they are not the most important. You cannot ignore […]

  • My previous posts in the Productivity series focused on ways to improve productivity by putting your brain in work mode, by taking care of yourself physically, and by futurecasting and scheduling. This topic deals with the most effective way to derail your productivity: chasing butterflies. Butterflies Are Harmless Beauties, Aren’t They? No. They are evil […]

  • As a Christian and a sole proprietor of my editing business, I do operate with prayer at the forefront. Merriam-Webster defines this informal phrase as an idiom meaning “without much chance of success.” When it comes to your freelance business, you want to avoid operating in a happenstance framework. No corporation operates without plans and […]