Why Entrepreneurs Should Get More Sleep

Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.
-- Thomas Edison

I don't think that Edison is 100% right, but I am entirely certain that the hardest thing about being an entrepreneur is knowing what to do every day. And what you do is a function of two things: inspiration and perspiration.

I recently saw a nutritionist and learned that your productivity is related to three basic needs: sleep, diet, and exercise. The right mix of those three ingredients is different for everyone. Some people thrive on little sleep and high carbohydrates. Some are health nuts and exercise all the time in order to feel great. One empirical truth, though, is that there is an anchor. There's always one thing which, when put off balance, topples the whole system. You start to gain weight, get tired, and feel.. shitty. The secret to happiness is finding what that anchor is and protecting it.

I surveyed some entrepreneurs in my network to see how others feel about their overall health. The results came back clear: entrepreneurs should get more sleep. Not only is it the easiest to maintain, but it also has the largest impact on your productivity. The three pillars together shake out like this:

Easiest to maintain:
1. Sleep
2. Diet
3. Exercise

Most impact on productivity:
1. Sleep
2. Exercise
3. Diet

I didn't need to run any Excel stats from the 40+ responses I got to see this trend; it's conclusive. Even more interestingly, check out the similarity in distributions to the answers of these two questions:

How many times per week do you get less than 6 hours of sleep?

How many times per week do you feel unproductive at work?

Is it simply coincidence that the number of days per week that my entrepreneur friends get little sleep (any nutritionist would agree 6 hours is NOT enough sleep) closely match the number of days per week they feel unproductive? I asked the same questions about drinking and exercising and the shapes don't match nearly as well.

Let's tie this back to entrepreneurship.

Unlike most other professions, the financial upside to entrepreneurship is practically limitless. If you have a bad day when working for "the man," your team might suffer and your boss might question your ability, but it's a temporary loss. You right the ship, adjust your course, and you're probably back to status quo the next day.

When you have a bad day as a business owner, the losses can be tremendous. Going into a fundraising sprint (or marathon, in most cases), if you're not 100% healthy all the time, you can lose the confidence of a potential investor. You may lose the deal altogether, but you certainly will lose negotiating power on critical terms like valuation and control. Other times there may be a critical meeting, a key deal, or important hire on the line. All of which have long-term impacts.

I threw a little curve ball in at the end of the survey, just because I was curious. I asked my startup friends if they were happy. Here's the pie chart.
In general, are you happy?
I was surprised that 10% of my peers were unhappy overall, so I looked how they answered on the sleeping question. All of them are in the bottom 25% in the amount of sleep they get.

Friends, do yourselves and your employees a favor. Get lots of sleep tonight.

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