On the Cost-Benfit Analysis of Sleep vs Productivity

So obviously, the timing on this will seem off, but I wrote the majority of this blog entry at 5 AM during a rest stop in the midst of a marathon session of writing, and since I know you respect and care about the creative process, it only seemed fair to publish the manuscript as is, omitting only a short, rambling graf that extensively covered specific reasons why I always think Australian men sound perpetually enthusiastic. Enjoy.

Oh man, friends. I am not supposed to be awake right now. It’s 4:30 AM and I have been sitting at my computer since 10:30 PM, post “accidentally” watching two episodes of The City, a show I despise and openly deride to my girlfriend, then dutifully watch and become casually enflamed about… “This show is so fake and stupid,” I will say, and then follow it up with “But seriously, what is Olivia’s deal? Whitney can’t let her just take credit for Whitney’s own, hard, passionate work!” Which is totally true, but not necessarily great.  

But aside from culturally immersing my mind, the reason for my six hour long one-on-one w/ my computer is a pending trip to NorCal next week, and my need to get ahead. See, the sweet thing about my job is that it lends me a certain bit of flexibility — If I know what I’m going to write about, I can get ahead, and if I can get ahead, I can be anywhere. But seeing how my mantra is “if you’re not vaguely stressed by some pending deadline, you’re probably sleeping”, I’ve opted out of the sleep part.  

The thing taking up the most shelf space in my mental closet is a piece I’m currently in the midst of for Boston Mag that is shaped like a letter back and forth btw myself and another female journalist, analyzing what makes relationships unique and different in Boston. Surprisingly, it’s for a relationships package.

Anyway, seeing how I only have to do anecdotal research by Googling “Boston relationships”, it seemed like my chance to show off how clever, intellectual, and surprisingly intuitive I am, plus it shows how I make good points that other people haven’t thought of, not even psychologists, or bearded men that have gone on Jeopardy. My biggest problem came from the fact that each letter is only supposed to be about 250 words, which I nearly got to ranting about The City.

But this has brought up a (vaguely related!) thought: is it benefiting me to stay up all night and try and work through this stuff, even though my mind has clearly melded itself into a bowl of the instant kind of Cream of Wheat after you’ve put in too much water and it’s too late to go back, unless you start over, which means you’ll miss at least a portion of that Saved By the Bell featuring Zach and Slater’s bet about kissing the girl who replaced Jessi

Judging from the draft of the Boston Mag ‘lationship note I was just about to send, and the fact that it has seven spelling errors, three grammar issues, and possibly two usages of the word “youse”, I would posit no.

So I’m going to sleep, but please regale me with opines on how to best manage this Big and Tall mess of work I have, and, in turn, we will both better enjoy the sunny warmth of Nor(ish)Cal together.

In lieu of flowers, please send comments.

At Least The,
Dark Don’t Hide It

Magnolia Electric Co

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13 thoughts on “On the Cost-Benfit Analysis of Sleep vs Productivity

  1. Pat Marinelli

    Hi Kev and all,

    I missed the last two posts.

    I have to say I don’t usually stay up all night. I have completed a couple of NaNoWriMos during the last the days and nights (drinking lots of Coke and iced tea, but I’ve learned to work when I’m the freshest—at the start of the deadline.

    That being said, I have awakened between the wee hours of 1 and 4 AM, dragged myself out of bed with a great story idea and written some of my best work. I write passionately and quickly, and try to get the story, article, or essay written from beginning to end. But, yes, it is better to edit it in the light of day, not so much for content as for those irritating typos..

    Can I do this middle-of-the-night writing continuously? No way, but I do take advantage of it when I can. Actually, I wish the muse did wake me more often.

    So my advice is to write with passion when you can, struggle with each piece when the word refuse to come, and get enough sleep to stay healthy.

    And, yes, enjoy the California sun. I write better when the sun is shining and I can write outdoors.

  2. Deborah Leiter

    As a grad student who two nights ago was up till 4:45 writing a five page paper from scratch, polishing up an 8-page presentation, working on lesson plans for teaching, and grading students’ work, I say sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

    And as Erin noted, sometimes it is helpful to write when you’re a bit sleepy–some of my best stuff’s been written between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m.

    That said, it’s sometimes a good idea to make sure one edits in the light of day before sending off said material. :)

  3. Erin

    After reading everyone’s comments about brains turning into hot cereal products in the wee hours of morning, I had a thought. That’s probably not a good state to be conducting journalism in, but in terms of fiction and poetry and such, maybe it’s useful to be in a semi-delirious state once in a while. Maybe we get more creative when we’re sleep deprived, and it might be useful to bottle that special kind of craziness up once in a while.

  4. KristanC

    I admire your fortitude, dude. The only mornings I see 4:30 am is when my upstairs neighbors are still partying and I’m in bed seething at those rotten kids.

    Sorry we’ll be losing you soon, too. It’s been quite a ride and I’ve enjoyed reading along with the life of a "real" writer. :P

    One last note, though–you better hope it’s sunny & warmish out here. I know, I know, it’s nothing compared to Boston, but Mother Nature tried to make up for three years’ of drought over the past few weeks (a weather condition I evidently dragged with me to Hawaii last week.) We might (literally) be in the clear now, but just so you know, it’s only March and we’re all still doing fervent rain dances …

  5. Tom

    Thinking over this and reading other’s comments some more (See Cindy A and Michael Harling) I have to say that in my (not really) advanced age, I’ve realized that for me staying up late works terribly.

    First, my ability to think in any sort of logical and coherent manner goes out the window before anything else, meaning I end up spending far longer on a task than I would if I had some sleep. Thus, the returns on my staying awake to work diminishes to the point where it’s rather pathetic.

    Second, if I have anything at all that needs to be done the next day, and that includes all things vertical, I’m worthless. Unless I can either sleep in the next day, or…sleep in the next day, it’s hardly worth it. And if I CAN sleep in the next day, why am I staying up working in a barely productive manner? The only exception to this would be if I had to turn said thing in at 8am, and then could go back to bed for eight hours. However, as Cindy pointed out, this just leads to me wasting the entire day, as I never really get into the swing of things for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

    I try to sleep. It seems like time wasted, but I repeatedly prove to myself that, if I can at all make it work, I’m a much better person with a good amount of shuteye behind me.

    Boom, Boom,
    Out Go the Lights

    Walter Jacobs

  6. Michael Harling

    The older I get the sooner I reach the "Cream of Wheat" stage and find I can’t even write an e-mail let alone an article and at that stage, deadline or no, it’s off to sleep. The key, for me, is to make use of the time I do have while my mind is fresh, instead of sitting around drinking beer and telling myself I’m going research by thinking about the article I’m supposed to be writing.

    That said, I’m up at 4 AM today to do all the stuff I was supposed to do after the "quick beer before settling down to write" last night.

  7. Cindy A

    No, Kevin. It not only doesn’t work to stay up all night, it also totally trashes the next day. So you’re jello for two days instead of just one. Take it from me, I know.

    Old enough to be your mother, but still remember the good stuff

  8. A.D. McClish

    I read this blog in the pre-coffee hours of the morning and got exactly the amusement I needed to carry me through until the the beans were brewed. I can completely relate, though for me the distractions are not The City or Saved By The Bell, but toddlers and a house that is supposed to be "clean".

    The good news, in my opinion, is that you seem like you do well under the pressure of a deadline. Also, even if what you wrote in the middle of the night is closer to the crap side of the crap-awesome scale, at least you have something to work off of today instead of a blank page and seven and a half less hours to work than you had last night.

    Personally, my brain dissolved into the mash you were talking of as soon as the clock strikes 10, so I’m a little jealous that you were even able to operate a computer that late at night. :)

  9. Genevieve

    Dear Lord, you wrote from 10:00-4:30? And still managed to blog? I am impressed and exhausted just thinking about it.

    I haven’t seen "The City," but I know what you mean about getting drawn into certain shows even if you hate them. My sister watches those who-wants-to-be-my-flavor-of-the-week type shows and I can NOT stand them, yet once I sit down on the couch I’m glued to the screen. There’s always a bleached blonde crying in front of the camera saying something like, "Gawd, I, like, love him for real. I mean, I have totally never been in love before but when I heard him sing ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ at karaoke I thought, like, ‘Hold onto your heart, Starla. You will never love like this again.’"

    Is it sad that that’s the best dialogue I’ve written all week? Yes, it is.

    ps- Christine – yay for long posts! Erin, where you been chicky? Tom, bring back the oatmeal!

  10. Christine

    I say if what you’re writing in the wee hours of the morn is good sh*t, then keep going. Ride the wave. We all know how long it can take for those waves to find us. If, however, you find that your brain has been reduced to cereals reserved for folks with no teeth, then go to bed, man. Solid sleep may allow the next wave to head your way quicker.

    As for me, I haven’t been able to write for like two weeks. I had an ebook published recently and felt all self-important to the point that my creative side up and quit on me. Finally, after a large bag of dark chocolate M&Ms (my drug of choice), I wrote eight pages in one sitting last night. So, I got my surfboard ready and I’m ridin’, people.

    Until the board hits the shore and I’m stuck again…

    Christine

    P.S. Long posts are fun.

  11. Erin

    Wow. Just when I’d given up on Kevin ever returning to us, I decide to check back one last time and find not only is he back, but I’m three entries behind! I’ve totally been skooled on how to keep up on my favorite blogs.

    Kevin, in regards to your sleeping issues, all I can say is I envy your ability to stay up! In college, I remember glorious nights of staying up until 4:30 with nothing but a Cherry Coke, a witty AIM away message, and a sweet playlist of tunes from my Napster library to help me finish an entire short story (which for me would run 13-24 pages) in one sitting. I’ve deduced from previous posts of yours that you and I are the same age, but I just can’t keep my bran functioning for those kinds of marathon writing sessions anymore, and I believe they are a gift not to be taken for granted.

    Fellow commenters, I am so happy to be back among your ranks after this hiatus, mostly becuase you make the Kevin Alexander blog-reading experience even more enjoyable, but also because I am running out of people in my real life to brag to about how I got to meet David Cook this weekend and I knew this would be a place I could come to where my love/hate relationship with reality TV kareoke contests (and my love/love relationship with the wonderful, stubbly stars they produce) would most likely be understood.

    Okay, I’m approaching on a comment length that is reserved solely for Tom, so I’ll wrap up by saying I’m glad you’re back, Kevin, but also really sorry we’ll be losing you again in June. I just had to say goodbye to Jason Street on Friday (and Herc, the awesomest red-headed wheelchair-bound sidekick in the history of TV), and now you’re headed off to become a sports agent in the big city in order to win back the love of your baby mama, too? (Assuming your departure from WD is for the same reasons Jason Street left Dillon, TX, of course). Good luck to you, please let us know where we can find you, and I’ll keep drawing happy emoticons on my calender every Tuesday until the end of May. Texas forever!

    Erin

  12. Tom

    Someone’s going to want me to write a long comment in response to this (okay, that’s probably untrue), but the fact is all I can basically say is, "It is what it is." Oh, wait, no. I meant, "Yeah, I do this same thing to myself all the time. I made it part of my regular routine in college, and it’s a pretty tough habit to break."

    Case in point: I spent the entirety of my junior year spring break in the Law Library (we got special passes to be able to enter!) doing research for a Journalism Law paper that counted for either 40% or 60% of our total grade for the semester. The only two good things from it: 1) I passed the course, and B) my family went to Hilton Head, but after the first day they were inundated with a snow storm, so I would have had no fun and sun anyway.

    Before this starts to qualify as long-ish, I bow out, taking my oatmeal with me.

    Rock This,
    House

    Hollywood Fats

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