Many know the pain of trying to have productive work day after a bad night’s sleep.
But there may be methods to help you procrastinate less and focus more.
Dr Wladislaw Rivkin, an associate professor in organisational behaviour at Trinity College Dublin, says a lack of sleep affects your ability to exert willpower.
This means you are more likely to get distracted and struggle to concentrate on the tasks at hand, he wrote for The Conversation.
But rethinking your to-do list, thinking more positively and even watching a funny video could help to get the most out of your work day when sleep deprived.
Here are Dr Rivkin’s four tips for focusing at work after a bad night’s sleep.
Many people know the pain of trying to have productive work day after a bad night’s sleep but there could be ways to help you procrastinate less and focus more (file photo)
Being strategic about your to-do list
It can feel like a mammoth task to get through dozens of emails when you have barely slept all night.
So Dr Rivkin recommends striking any tasks from your day’s to-do list that ‘require willpower’ the day after a bad night’s sleep.
Instead, activities that are simple and don’t require you to think hard or pay significant attention are best.
But if you can’t do this, Dr Rivkin suggests scheduling your more taxing tasks for early in the day, as that’s when you’re most likely to have more energy.
This was found by psychologist Dr Roy Baumeister, whose 2002 review published in the Self and Identity journal looked at a person’s depletion in energy and self-control.
He wrote: ‘Few self-control failures occur first thing in the morning, when people have had a good night’s sleep.
‘On the contrary, self-control seems to grow gradually weaker as the day wears on.’
Rethinking your mindset
A lack of sleep can lead to less willpower to complete challenging tasks, such as always smiling at customers or concentrating on a job while there is noise in the background.
Some experts have suggested that exerting willpower to do these tasks drains mental energy, making people less willing to exert further willpower.
But research suggests you can think yourself out of this by viewing willpower as a resource that can be replenished easily.
In 2016, University of Zurich researchers, who conducted a review of previous studies, found that when people have trouble achieving goals, it may be because they believe their resources are limited.
But if a person views their own energy and willpower as unlimited, they will feel less drained after exerting it.
The study authors wrote: ‘Obviously, people need food to function well, they get tired, and they must sleep some portion of their time.
‘But, if people believe that there is such a constraint, eg, because they learned about the strength model of self-control, the belief itself limits their willpower.’
Dr Rivkin said that according to his own research, published in the Human Resources journal in 2021, employees who believe resources are unlimited actually perform better at work on days when they haven’t slept well.
He said that while experts don’t yet fully understand the limits of willpower, ‘you might try to reconsider your view of how strongly exerting willpower depletes your mental energy’.
Changing your situation if you can’t change yourself
Avoiding situations that require you to exert willpower to get a job done could be key to a successful work day if you have slept badly.
This could involve limiting distractions, to make it as easy as possible to complete the task at hand.
Dr Rivkin explained: ‘If you’re on a diet, it’s easier not to buy chocolate in the supermarket in the first instance than to refrain from eating it every time you open the kitchen cupboard.’
He pointed to a review of more than 100 papers by researchers in the Netherlands in 2011, which found that those who are best at exerting willpower often avoid situations that require it.
And a 2014 experiment, which asked 38 university students whether they wanted to work in a room with more or fewer distractions, found that those who are better at exerting willpower chose the room with less distractions.
Dr Rivkin said: ‘Particularly on days where you’ve had a poor night’s sleep, strategies which avoid the need to exert willpower altogether can help you to be more productive and complete your work tasks.’
Watching a funny video
Do you feel instantly happier when watching a video of a dog doing something funny?
Well, research suggests watching a video during the day can actually boost engagement, organisation and creativity at work, Dr Rivkin said.
His own research, published in 2004, found that watching funny content can enhance employees’ effectiveness, because it brightens your mood and takes the mental load off.
Dr Rivkin added: ‘On days when you didn’t sleep well, you may find it helpful to briefly distract yourself by watching a funny video when you feel that your mental energy is low.
‘But be mindful not to get hooked.’