The One Sleep Decision That Made Me a Better Entrepreneur

When was the last time you turned in at 9pm?

In the early days of a new venture and for some years afterward founders cover every base from building product to selling to hiring and everything in between. And there’s no doubt that getting to market and growing is intoxicating. It’s also physically and emotionally demanding.

Is sleep important? Absolutely, but I didn’t used to believe that. I was the guy waking at whatever time my children woke (anywhere just after 5AM) and then would find my way back into bed at ~2AM. A full agenda demands long days. At least that’s what I told myself and it was folly.

I also knew there were no awards for being awake for 19 hours each day yet trying to crack the cycle of long days seemed like a real challenge.

Irony

As founders we create and execute on plans to build and ship products, to acquire customers, to hire great people and to create our own luck. We dedicate 100+ hour weeks to this pursuit to the point of exhaustion and as much as it pains me to admit it, we’re not 100% in control of the intended timing of these strategies. Yet, when it comes to sleep, we compromise.

The irony is that we can control when we sleep. We don’t control much else.

So I made a change. And it worked much, much better than expected. Here’s what I did.

“Hi team, my availability is about to change”

I shared this news with my team during a standup. I reinforced that I was accessible whenever they need me but if that meant a late night product call with our distributed team it would be an exception rather than the rule. I also shared that if they tried to contact me after 9pm they would receive a response the next day.

In bed at 9pm, up at 3am.

Whoa! Hang on, what?

I know. The wakeup time can seem jarring but after the third day of doing this, the change in energy levels was extraordinary. I tried this approach because I wanted to road-test the idea that one hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours of sleep after midnight. As current sleep research maintains this is a myth I am at a loss to explain the kick in energy. However the result was that I could power through three hours of work with hyper-productivity (read: I get 2x done) before 6am, spend time with family and then head to the office.

This is a Sunday to Thursday routine which helped me break a cycle that was unsustainable and impacting my ability to be an effective leader, husband and father. It has well and truly changed the game for me.

Closing Note

The life of an entrepreneur is all in and at the end of the day it comes down to choices. Long hours are part of the job but there’s no accolade for staying up the longest.

Reverse the day to get up early instead of going to bed late. It’s a simple and effective strategy, and one that’s worked well in a household with two young children.