If unfinished projects keep you worrying & planning at night, try these 4 strategies to help you get stuff done so you can get to sleep already.
Coaches often end up working with clients who are a lot like they are. As a Sleep & Well-being coach, I’m no exception! Most of my clients are high achievers and like to feel productive. They’re passionate about many things, and often involved in quite a few projects.
As I mentioned here, few people who struggle with sleep lay awake in bed at night thinking happy and/or humorous thoughts. It’s also true that few people can’t sleep because they’re thinking about how proud they are about all the things they’ve accomplished during a day!
Rather, what keeps you worrying, planning, and waking at 3 a.m. might be your endless list of To Dos.
There never seems to be enough time to do everything, and unfinished projects might weigh heavily on your mind at night. These may be projects you legitimately want to do! You may have had to push them off for a long time because other priorities have risen to the top of your task list. Or maybe (if you’re honest) you’ve procrastinated a bit.
These projects linger in the background, draining your energy, and rob you of refreshing sleep.
Here are 4 strategies you can use to get stuff done so you can sleep already!
Strategy 1—Dig One Well
The “Dig One Well” strategy has positively helped so many of my clients get stuff done so they could get to sleep! I’ll share it first.
I first became aware of this strategy from studying the Yoga Sūtras with one of my mentors, Chase Bossart.
What’s a Sūtra?
The Yoga Sūtras, attributed to Patañjali, are THE documented curriculum of yoga practice. Yoga here means a system for living, not just the physical contortions we might see today on Instagram. At its core, yoga is much more about the mind & dealing with life than anything else! Yoga used to be passed down from teacher to student, orally.
Sūtra means thread. That’s very descriptive, because each line in the Yoga Sūtras has multiple meanings and levels of depth. A teacher would use the Sūtras as (traditionally) his curriculum. In other words, each sūtra was a reminder of what to talk about. One sūtra could take weeks to unpack!
Which Sūtra Says “Dig One Well”?
Here’s the sūtra that pertains to this strategy (Chapter 1 Sūtra 32):
Here are some translations:
- “If one can select an appropriate means to steady the mind and practice this, whatever the provocations, the interruptions cannot take root.” (T.K.V. Desikachar)
- “To avoid them, [we must] commit to the practice of a single principle.” (Frans Moors)
- “For that purpose of counteracting them practice one principle.” (Paul Harvey)
- “The practice of concentration on a single subject [or the use of one technique] is the best way to prevent the obstacles and their accompaniments.” (Sri Swami Satchidananda)
Sūtra 1.32 refers to the prior sūtra, which talks about how life’s inevitable difficulties become obstacles (that’s the “them” referenced in a few of the definitions above).
The way Chase explained sūtra 1.32 is simply “dig one well.” Meaning, focus on ONE thing. In this context it’s about yoga practice, but it has much wider implications. Learning how to “dig one well” can reduce the number of obstacles in your life.
For example, if you’re looking to improve your sleep, health & well-being, you might be employing a number of different strategies at once. I see this all the time!
Many things could help you, but if you’re running around trying a lot of little different things all at once, you’re not likely to get far. It’s like digging a lot of little holes in the ground, expecting to get to water.
In “get-projects-done” speak, I’ve heard this called “eat that frog,” “ride the wild donkey,” etc. Whatever metaphor or language you like, the idea is that you stick with something until it’s completed.
It’s having a single-focus.
Strategy 2—The ONE Thing
The ONE Thing might sound exactly like digging one well, but it’s a bit different.
This strategy comes from the book The ONE Thing by Gary Keller. The question you ask yourself is: “What’s the ONE Thing I can do, such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
I can tell you from personal experience that when you do your ONE Thing, it can feel like you’ve done about 10. And of course, if everything else is easier or unnecessary, you’ve freed up your mind and given yourself more time and space to rest.
Strategy 3—Tiny Milestones
So what if you’re just the kind of person who enjoys having multiple projects going on at once?
A better strategy for you might be the tiny milestone.
Here’s an example from my own life (that actually inspired this post):
I wanted to spray our patio and driveway edges with some eco-friendly weed killer, which I ordered and received last week. Initially, I put “spray patio & driveway weeds” on my task list.
But to check this off, I need:
- To find a bottle I can use to spray it (I know there’s one in the basement)
- To label the bottle so it doesn’t get used for something else (for which I need a sharpie)
- Protective gloves for my hands (there’s some in my bathroom cabinet)
- A sunny day to do it (i.e., check the weekly forecast & my schedule)
- To read the directions and get the weed killer into the bottle as directed
That’s 5 tiny things I can do to make progress, and many can be done regardless of the weather and/or with a small amount of time. I can even check them off a list if that brings me satisfaction. (It does!)
In years past, many of us were taught to believe we could get more done if we were doing multiple things at once.
Not only was this advice incorrect, but it also trains our minds to be distracted.
If your mind is running in 50 different directions when you are trying to fall asleep (or fall back to sleep) at night, your daytime habit of multitasking is likely to blame.
To settle your mind to sleep, you need to be able to focus it on a single task. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why your sleep depends on meditation.
When you practice single-tasking (also sometimes called mono-tasking):
- you’re more likely to accomplish what you want to during your day
- you’re less likely to have unfinished tasks or projects running through your head at night
- you train your mind to focus, which comes in handy when rest &/or sleep IS your focus
My current mantra is: “find the bottle, find the gloves!”
In truth, all 4 of these strategies are variations on a single theme. But sometimes, the way we say something matters!
Which strategy will you try this week? Comment below & let me know!
See also: “How Routines Reduce Stress and Allow You to Get Stuff Done” in: