Eight hours of sleep.  That is the mantra that has been ingrained into all of our heads since we were little kids.  Remember those days?  No small child ever wants to go to sleep when mom or dad tells them to – there are just too many exciting things that might be missed.  Well, that feeling seems to have hung around long into adulthood; there is always something else that could be done before bed.  Not only does this postpone the time that you fall asleep, but can actually impair your quality of sleep.  I’m not hear to preach about getting enough sleep – everyone knows they should get 7-9 hours of sleep – what I hope to do is convey some methods to help you get BETTER sleep, and increase productivity through the day.
One of the potential time stealer in a person’s morning is meal planning and preparing for the day’s events.  While this might seem pretty straight-forward, getting everything ready the night before – when you probably have a little bit more energy and are more alert – will decrease the time it takes to get ready in the morning (not to mention decreasing the likelihood of forgetting to pack something).  This includes your food for the day.  What makes a better lunch than that delicious dinner you had?  It takes no more time when preparing dinner to throw a couple extra pieces of chicken onto the grill, or roast another broccoli floret so that you can have lunch the next day already prepared.  Casseroles and stews also make great pack lunches, as they are easy to make, take little preparation as leftovers, and can actually taste better after a day of resting.
Another way to increase productivity is the almighty to-do list.  I’m not talking about the grocery list length itinerary of tasks to complete each day, but a simple, concise list of 2-4 “big ticket” items for the day.  By focusing on these larger tasks, more will get done in the long run, as well as completing the tasks with the most significance.  Make these count!  Leo Babauta (author of the books “The Power of Less” and “Zen to Done”) recommends just One Thing.  By focusing on completing fewer large tasks, friction and inertia don’t get in the way of your efficiency.  All the smaller routine tasks will fall in line, but only AFTER the big goals for the day are completed.
Finally, the best way to improve productivity and energy is to limit time-suck activities (TV, web-surfing), especially late at night when they not only cause you to go to sleep later, but also affect the quality of your sleep.  Mark Sisson (marksdailyapple.com) recommends eliminating anything that emits blue light after dark (TVs, laptop computers, etc.)  If this can’t be done, there are applications such as f.lux (http://www.stereopsis.com/flux/) that can be installed for free to cut blue light emissions.  Other things that may affect sleep are late night exercise, eating, or caffeine.  Exercise and eating can suppress melatonin, altering sleep cycles, and the late night effects of caffeine are pretty straightforward – nobody wants the alert jitters right before bed.
So, if quality sleep, energy, and productivity are hot topics in your household, try these five tips:
•    Decrease the morning madness by preparing lunches for the next day at dinnertime.
•    Maximize your time and energy during the day by focusing on only 2 to 4 big tasks a day.
•    Exercise regularly and earlier in the day.
•    Minimize caffeine intake and late night snacking.
•    Participate in pre-bed relaxation activities that do not involve watching television or computers.