So often, the difficulties we face in trying to embrace and pursue meaningful change in our lives, or simply to accomplish something meaningful, can be tracked back to one of the most simplest problems there is to solve.

The lack of sleep.

It’s a fact, sleep deprivation kills performance.  Not only that, but lack of sleep kills creativity too, and memory (especially since it’s during REM sleep, the second sleep cycle, that our brains convert memories from short to long term storage).

In fact, sleep deprivation ends up destroying all higher-processing functions within the brain.

Here’s how that happens (in a nutshell).

When you deprive yourself of sleep a number of important things happen on a neurobiological level.


Your brain is like a sugar addict, it needs lots of sugar to function.  In truth, your brain, while processing, burns up energy (stored in sugars) as much as a fully-flexed quadricep (the largest muscle in your body – in the upper thigh).

As the brain burns through your current supply of blood sugar, it lacks the energy stores it needs to function, and so it just doesn’t, or does so at a much-diminished capacity.

It’s why when you’re tired, you crave sugary foods (like donuts and candy).  Your brain needs sugar.

It’s been shown that after 24 hours of sleep deprivation, there’s a 6% overall reduction in glucose reaching the brain.

But it gets worse.  The loss of sugar-assets isn’t equally distributed.  Most of the loss is in the parietal lobe and the prefrontal cortex, which suffer a loss of 12 to 14%.  Those are the areas most crucial to thinking.

Those areas are responsible for idea discernment, differentiating between good and bad, and similarly, for social control.  In fact, it’s much like being drunk.

In fact, Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Business School, Charles Czeisler,  states “We now know that 24 hours without sleep or a week of sleeping four or five hours a night induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.1%.”

That’s above all legal limits for alcohol while driving.  Predictably, 20% of automobile accidents are cause by nothing more than lack of sleep.

That’s right, going a day without sleep, or a number of days on reduced sleep, and your cognitive impairment is equal to being legally drunk.

Interesting then, why doctors in residency, a field in which you’d most value peak cognition, is designed to deliver just the opposite due to intentionally inflicted sleep deprivation.

Charles Czeisler calls lack of sleep “The Performance Killer“.


The areas of the brain responsible for the highest order of brain activity is the parietal and occipital lobes, along with the prefrontal cortex.  Unfortunately, with sleep deprivation, these areas are the first to suffer.

The reason for this, is that the thalamus — the region of the brain responsible for keeping you awake — ends up steeling all of the energy as it works in overdrive to compensate for your lack of sleep.

So all your energy simply goes into staying awake.

An adult needs between 6-8 hours of sleep each night.  Less than that and sleep deprivation begins to starve the brain.

So if you care about your brain, and your ability to think, and your capacity to employ all your neuronal powers in your efforts to change your life, impact others, or accomplish something meaningful… get some sleep.


(Image courtesy Sang Yu)

I think we all tend to look at ourselves and see things we want to change.

For you it might be:

A bad habit to break. A good habit to form.  A new approach to something.  A new outlook.  A new perspective.  A new behavior.  A new endeavor.  A new path.  A new way to respond. A new commitment.

For companies it might be:

A new product.  A new market. A new message. A new objective.  Bigger market share.  Better market penetration. Broader market appeal.  Better operational efficiency.  Higher profit margins.

For families it might be:

More discipline.  More fun.  Stronger relationships.  More education.  Better use of free time.  More responsibilities.  Better sharing.  Happier atmosphere.  Better grades.

Whatever it is you want to change, whatever it is you want the system (you, work, family, or whatever) to do differently, most often the place to start is not by trying to change the output directly. But this usually fails, because the output of a system is usually a product of its inputs.

So if you really want to change the output, start by changing the inputs.

We’ve often heard the definition of insanity – doing what you always do and expecting a different result.

Sounds obvious, but when it comes right down to applying it in our lives, we forget about it.  We struggle to change something, and when that fails, we become frustrated, discouraged, even give up.

Sometimes though, it’s the approach that matters more.  A long-jumper doesn’t increase distance just at the jump-line.  Distance increase is a product of a lot of things, some of which have to be worked on independently.  How strong the arms are, the speed of the approach, getting the timing right, the footing, fast-twitch muscle focus, confidence, etc.

If you want to increase your long-jump distance, you have to focus on your inputs.

Whatever it is you’ve been struggling to change, perhaps you should shift your focus to your inputs.

Often the output side of the equation bears a striking resemblance to the input side of the equation.  They’re directly proportional.  You just can’t expect an increase in one, without changing the other.

Sometimes those inputs just need a bit of tweaking.  Sometimes they need a wholesale overhaul.

Whatever it is, remember, it’s the inputs that matter.


We need to restore within our lives those moments of quiet reflection.

Those serene periods of consciousness where we can actually hear our own voice, have our own thoughts, and let them have time to go somewhere.

Otherwise, the voices of others in our “data stream” (twitter, FaceBook, email, texts, etc.) so saturate our consciousness that the things we think, believe, and do are more theirs than ours.

We have limited digestive capacity, especially when it comes to information.

Gorging on the words and input of others, leads to a famine of self.

You lose track of who you are.  You forget your own voice.  You have an identity crisis.  You fail to differentiate yourself because you become a reflection of everybody else.  You start to live reactively, and not proactively.


Be quiet.  Listen and think.  Step out of the data flow.  Get your bearings.  Hear your own voice.  Remember your own “why“.

Then, you’ll be ready to reengage with purpose, direction, and clarity.

It’s an inescapable principle to living a life of meaning and fulfillment.



There are vast amounts of things we consume on a daily basis. Your emails, your texts, your phone calls, TV time, the blogs you follow, the news you watch, every post on every RSS feed you’ve subscribed to, all of the friend requests, or the connection requests, or the posts on your wall, or the photos that get shared to you, or any of the many other things that vie for your attention.

It’s a ridiculously overwhelming amount of content. The advent of the internet, the explosion of blogs, and the numerous technology devices present all of this content in a rich and engaging way, even when we’re mobile.

The problem is that it’s preventing production. We’re so busy consuming, trying to “keep up” (forget staying ahead) that there’s simply little to no time to actually create.

Creation is suffering extinction as consumption siphons every last discretionary minute.

One of my favorite business and marketing bloggers, Seth Godin (who actually blogs quite a lot about productivity and life in general), posted today a similar topic – that every 18 months or so, for the last decade, the data that gets pushed to you is roughly doubled.

His question? Where does that leave you?

There comes a time when you just have to turn off the spigot. Stop consuming, and start creating. What you’ll find, when that happens, is an increase in how engaged you are with life. You’ll find more lasting fulfillment, greater happiness, more purpose, greater clarity, and what’s more, you’ll be leaving a legacy.

In the end, nobody will care what, or how much you consumed. What will matter, what will be remembered, is what, and how much you created.

So turn off the spigot and go create something.


Image courtesy rockrunride

The Pareto Principle is also known as the 80/20 rule, which states generally that in most events, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

The principle was named after the Italian Economist Vilfredo Pareto. In 1906 he found that 80% of the land was held by 20% of the population, and that in his garden, 20% of the pea pods held 80% of the peas. From those relatively simple observations he came to develop an entire, well-known economic principle, dealing mostly with wealth distribution.

Since then, this principle has been observed nearly everywhere. Below is an illustration of this principle as it pertains to an individual.

The pareto principle, optimizing your time

Of course, as a life-engineers, the value in this principle is that you can engineer your time to massively increase your production.

By paying close attention, and by diligently measuring your performance (see this post on measurement), you can begin to identify what that magical 20% actually is.

Often, 80% of the results is enough for your purposes, and once you’ve reached that point of diminishing returns (that magical 20%), you shift your focus onto some other magical 20%. By doing this, you’re able to concentrate the whole of your time, only on the most efficient tasks, as illustrated below.

The Pareto Principle

This is particularly valuable if you’re dealing with limited time and resources, either as an individual, a leader, a company, or even a family.

For instance, as a father I try to take each of my kids out on a date, one child a week, rotating through all 6 kids. They love that time together. It’s completely “our” time. Last week I took my 3 year old up into the mountains with a bag of his favorite plastic dinosaurs and we tramped around in the mud, growling and talking in dinosaur voices. He absolutely loved it, and it created a memory. When we got home it became clear that the part he remembered the most, was about the first 20% of our date… walking hand in hand into the mountains, and starting to play dinosaurs. He’s not likely to remember which dinosaur won, or what feable plot we created. But he’ll remember that we went.

Sometimes we make the mistake in thinking that if we don’t have time for the whole “100%”, we just shouldn’t do it, not realizing that almost all of the value is found in that first 20% investment.

In the end, the truth of the matter is that we’re all over-tasked. There’s far more to do than any of us can do. The key, therefore, is in finding that magical 20% in the various projects that matter most, and distributing your time so that you at least invest that. If you do that, you’ll be getting 80% of the value anyway, and you’ll find yourself accomplishing far more.