Micro decision tests and when will I learn?

I have written about how critical sleep is to my performance more times here than I count. And, yet, even though I went to bed much later than usual yesterday, I thought it’d be a good idea to sleep less than 6 hours so I could wake up in the morning and get stuff done. Luckily, every part of my body disagreed when I heard the alarm go off this morning. I ended up getting that extra hour and few minutes of extra sleep and, thanks to that, I know I will get a lot more done this morning than I would have if I was sleep deprived.

I took away 3 things from this micro decision moment –

1. Thanks to paying close attention to my ability to focus, I’ve become increasingly sensitive to this. This is because I find myself repeatedly asking the question – “Am I actually going to be effective doing xx now or should I be doing something else?” So, if I feel I’m not getting enough sleep, I go straight back to bed – no questions asked. Feeling focused and alert improves my productivity by a factor of 2-3x depending on the kind of work (more thinking = higher efficiency). So, I can generally replace 3 hours of sleep deprived attempts at work with 1-1.5 hours of focused work. That’s very useful to know.

2. Despite having known (and seemingly internalized) this, I am still susceptible to bad micro decisions. I could hear a voice screaming “bad idea” as I contemplated sleeping less last night. That said, if I had chosen not to listen to myself this morning, I would have found myself sleep deprived, annoyed and unproductive. The difference? Our willpower reserves get recharged after we get rest. And, no willpower = bad decisions.

3. The question that crossed my mind this morning is – this was a minor close call – when will I actually learn this and make better micro-decisions by default? While I don’t know the answer, it does remind me that applying what seems like an incredibly simple concept is really hard.

In graduate school, we often study what companies and people did in the past and find ourselves wondering – how the hell did they make a mistake as dumb as that?

But, as my experiences have taught me, consistently doing simple things right is among the hardest things in the world.