THE BOOK OF PLANS
Not that I don’t think this process would yield valuable results, especially the fact that he reviews books while his heart rate is up, etc. (his data absorption process) but my information preparation and absorption process is extremely simple by comparison.
I simply take a book, go through it as he said early in the video and highlight everything that is useful and practically applicable. Then I distill each highlighted chapter or section or paragraph or item into a single sentence which contains an actionable premise or instruction set. In this way I can distill a single book down to a Single Plan of perhaps 8 to 12 Actionable Points (sometimes also containing some side-notes explaining the most relevant new information). I also tend to place each plan in Chronological Order so that each plan can always be followed in the most logically progressive manner. See this entry for more detail on what I mean: 8 to 12 Point Plan.
In this way, over the years, I have created literally hundreds of Plans of various types of information, processes, and actions (derived both from my own experiences and from information obtained from books and other sources) which when they are all combined together in a single source I call my Book of Plans. (Again, as I have aged I have become far more interested in how information can be practically and usefully and profitably applied than in “information” as a principal or principle or component in and of itself.
I also sub-divide my Book of Plans into chapters relevant to what most interests me in a given Field. For instance I have chapters on Business, Art, Invention, Technology, Science, Religion, Exploration, etc. and each chapter may have 30 pages (or more or less depending on the subject matter) of plans in it with each page being a separate plan on a particular subject.
That is my method. It is simple, fast, data-targeted, actionable, inexpensive, and when necessary it is extremely easy to review each plan in order to follow my Plans or to pick back up again from where I had previously left off operations.
I used to worry about this, but the truth is, I’ve always needed very little sleep. As a kid (a teenager and in my twenties) I got by with as little as three or fours hours a night, and sometimes as little as two. When I was a boy this aphorism/line of verse by Longfellow hung on my bedroom door, as many of my friends can probably recall:
The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Nowadays, unless I overtrain (physically overtrain – I rarely mentally overtrain, it happens but I rarely really tire mentally or psychologically), I still need relatively very little sleep. About 5 to maybe 6 hours at most. And despite aging I’ll often have to make myself sleep that much.
I do not like sleeping in the daytime, unless injured or sick, so that becomes unavoidably necessary, and have always been nocturnal by nature. Often even when I am actually in bed (supposedly sleeping) I am making notes, writing, inventing, composing, developing new business projects, working cases, etc. The bed and the dark are good stimuli for my creativity, and since my wife can sleep anywhere and sleeps a lot my bedside lamp doesn’t bother her (she tells me). So I’m free to work in bed too. Additionally I will often wake from dreams or during the night to make notes on things that have occurred to me in my sleep. People often tell me I am prolific, and that may well be true. Often however I am simply awake and working far more than they are. I have always been this way and it is natural and enjoyable to me to walk outside at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning and hear the silence of the world long ago asleep around me and know I am just finishing up or about to restart at my Work.
I also rarely take stimulants, except I’ll drink a cup of coffee sometime during the day. I do take supplements and drink a lot of water. Watch my diet and exercise frequently (and that is my real problem with rest, either physically overtraining or becoming dehydrated – I have to guard against both things).
As I get older I do tend to rest more, as in relax more and recreate more and take more breaks from Work, but as far as sleep goes, I still seem to need very little.
And this both greatly affects and effects my level of productivity. As in I can get far more done with little sleep and by instead concentrating upon my Work.
Unless, of course, I drive myself to injury, sickness, or exhaustion. Then I know I have overextended myself. At those points I force myself to rest and to sleep until I return to normal.
While most people don’t function well after an extended stretch of four or fewer hours of sleep a night, there may be a very small percentage who can thrive under these circumstances. In a landmark 2009 study, researchers discovered a genetic mutation in a mother and daughter who seemed to need much less sleep than the average person — the first time any mutation relating to sleep duration had been found (while the sample size wasn’t huge, the effect was replicated in mouse and fruit fly studies). A more recent study, by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, revealed a variation in that gene, and other researchers are currently observing the sleep patterns of research participants who claim to function on very little sleep.
Nobody knows exactly how many true “short sleepers” exist, but estimates put it at one percent of the population. They wake refreshed and energized after just a few hours of sleep, and those who have been studied tend to pack their lives with tasks that they perform well unaided by stimulants or other crutches. For instance, the very productive Thomas Edison may have been a short sleeper. “Cells don’t sleep,” he said in his most quoted anti-sleep rant. “Fish swim in the water all night. Even a horse doesn’t sleep. A man doesn’t need any sleep.”
Recently, Science of Us spoke with Jenn Schwaner, a 43-year-old short-sleeper from New Port Richie, Florida.
How much sleep do you usually get each night?
On average, I get about three or four hours, and I never feel tired.
Have you always needed so little sleep? What about when you were younger?
When I was a little girl, I’d wake with my father at 5 a.m. I can remember getting up with him that early from when I was about 3 years old. He worked as a computer programmer at Fort Hamilton. On average, we’d get about four hours sleep a night, but we didn’t know that there might be a medical reason for why we didn’t seem to need much.
When we were up, we had to be quiet, because we had a very small house and we didn’t want to wake the rest of the family. My dad would go on the computer or we would watch TV together: old movies like Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges, or Shirley Temple. He moved to Florida when I was around 7, but when I was older I had a computer, so I taught myself programming.
Did your lack of sleep impact your performance at school?
I went to a private Catholic school and I was always a very quick, sharp student. But I was also very bored in school, and looking back, I should have pursued so many other things but instead I studied to become a court reporter. I was so bored that I wasn’t looking forward to another four or six years of study. My mother told me about court reporting, which you can do at your own pace.
What did you do when you finished that course?
I got married the very next day — I was only 20. I had my first child when I was 26. Then I had a son in 2000 and another daughter in 2006.
What was pregnancy and nursing like for you? Did you get tired then?
Not really. In fact, with my third child, I didn’t find out I was pregnant until I was 20 weeks in. I wasn’t trying and I was very busy. I was coaching sports, sitting on community boards, and I was president of PTA. I couldn’t even remember when I last had a period, I was running around and doing so many things like a chicken without a head.
But I always said I was made to have children. It never bothered me when I got up in the middle of the night. It didn’t matter if it was every two or three hours, and I nursed all my kids. And then I started taking in foster children. A lot of the babies were born addicted to drugs — meth or prescription meds — and they need somebody to cuddle them and hold them in the middle of the night when they are going through withdrawal. I felt like I didn’t sleep at night anyway, and I knew that these kids really needed someone who wouldn’t get frustrated being up with them all night.
When I had my first baby, my husband was working nights, so he’d sleep during the day. I couldn’t make noise in the bedroom, so I was up doing all the things I normally did during the day while I was also nursing the baby at night. I breastfed her for 18 months. It was just the way it was. It never bothered me.
Was it just the fact that you didn’t need sleep that drew you to foster care?
I worked as a court reporter in dependency court for 23 years. One of my first jobs was in a very small town where everyone in the court system knew each other. I remember one Friday afternoon a 4-year-old kid came in — he had just been taken away from his parents and there was no place for him to go. They were arguing about where he should go. It totally sickened me. Here we were fighting over where a child needs to lay down for the weekend.
So that was my first experience of it, but I didn’t start taking in kids for long-term care until my kids were a older. I’d been hosting foreign-exchange students and I didn’t feel like that was a help. They were all so privileged and I wanted to do something for kids that needed it. And also, it’s not that my parents were hippies, but I was kind of a Peace Corps “I want to make the world better” person.
What’s it like sharing a bed with you? Do you bother your husband in the night?
I was married 22 years, but we are now divorced. My sleeping was an issue for him. He was a very light sleeper, so I slept on the couch for a number of years, probably for about the last eight years of our marriage. It definitely put a strain on our relationship, because he’s the type of person who has to sleep either eight or nine hours a night, and if I walk into the room at one in the morning, I would wake him up and he couldn’t go back to sleep. It caused issues.
You know, when I got divorced, it was kind of a relief. It was like, “Oh my gosh, I can walk around my house without waking anyone.” We had a one-story house for the majority of our marriage. I would think nothing of vacuuming at 2 a.m. and of course that would wake everybody, but now I didn’t have to worry about that. And I have a two-story house so everybody is asleep upstairs and I can vacuum all I want downstairs.
Are you single at the moment?
I have a boyfriend who understands it, and he’s not a light sleeper, so we can share a bed without a problem. There are some nights when he turns around and is like, “You have not slept all night.” And I’m like, “I know. I’m sorry.” He asks, “How do you function?” And I say: “it’s just the way I am. It doesn’t bother me.”
Can you talk me through a typical day from the minute you wake up to when you go to bed?
It really depends on which children I have at my house. At the moment, I have my kids plus three foster kids — a 13-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a 17-month-old. So the babies sleep through the night. I don’t use an alarm clock. I generally get up between 3 and 4 a.m. and I will start to do some work or laundry or cleaning and then I’m usually taking kids to the bus stop starting at 6:30 in the morning. Then I come back and wake up the others who get ready for school for 7 a.m., and then I start the rounds of dropping them off at different bus stops.
I drop the babies off at child care at about 8:30 and I start court calendar at 8:30 or 9 a.m. and I work until between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Then I start picking kids up again. The babies first, usually at about 3 p.m.; my 8-year-old gets off the bus at 4 p.m. and then the other kids usually get home between 4 and 5 p.m.
It’s softball season right now, so it’s crazy. We go five days a week at about 6 p.m. One of my morning rituals is cooking dinner. I’ll crock pot so everybody can grab something to eat before their evening activities. And we do homework in the car, then we come back home and the kids shower. If you walk into my hallway, there’s charts everywhere: the rules of the house, who gets showers at what time (to avoid any bathroom collisions).
My oldest is in by 11 p.m.; on the weekends, she’s in by midnight, but that doesn’t mean she shuts down because her friends come to our house and they stay up until about 2 a.m., and they sleep through to 10 a.m. The babies and little kids are asleep by 9 p.m. and the older kids are asleep by 11 p.m.
I don’t worry about my oldest too much anymore, but she can still keep me up. Her curfew is midnight and because I sleep when I’m tired — I don’t fight sleeping — I might sleep from eleven until two. If she’s not home yet, I have to wait for her. My house has always been the hang-out house. I am a big cook and she has a very large room with a fridge and a couch in there, which is the hang-out room for all her friends.
But I usually go to sleep close to 12 and then start all over again. It’s crazy. My life is extremely hectic.
Do you ever feel tired?
If anything gets me tired, it’s stress, and it’s more that I get stressed than tired.
Can you describe what that feels like?
You know, I think as I’m getting older — I’m 43, so I feel it more in my muscles, but my mind still doesn’t shut down. I’ll sit at the computer for an hour. I’ll do a load of laundry. Then I’ll go back to the computer for 45 minutes. And I’ll start making dinner and then go back to the computer and start doing something else. I’m not a very sedentary person. There’s always something to do: laundry, dinner, clothes in the dryer. It never ends.
How did you learn that you are a short sleeper?
I only found out I was a short sleeper about a year and a half ago. My father was working at FSU and he had heard of a study that was being led by a geneticist at the University of Califonira, San Francisco, so he contacted them. When the media heard about it, he was interviewed and he said, “Well, if anyone has this worse than me it’s my daughter.” So ABC came and followed me for 24 hours. My father was characterized by researchers as having features in common with other short sleepers. They think it’s caused by a variation in a gene, but they don’t know a whole lot about it — for example, if it’s more likely to be passed on from men to their daughters or if we even carry it.
Do you think any of your children are short sleepers?
I don’t think so, but if there is a candidate, it might be my youngest … She’s nothing like I was at her age, but she does come through to my room all the time in the night. She’s a light sleeper. She could fall asleep in a wheelbarrow and then be awake after 15 minutes.
When I found out that “short sleepers” were a real thing, it relieved me. I wish that I had looked at it the way the reporters saw it. They thought it was so great, that I was so lucky because I had so much more time in my life to accomplish things. Even though I always had an instinct to fill that time, I didn’t really cherish it and I should have from a much younger age. I fought it for so many years. I would lie in bed and tell myself go to sleep, go to sleep. Shut down! I did everything possible with the exception of medication. I tried meditating and nothing did it. I’ve embraced it a lot more seeing how jealous other people are of me. I have overfilled my life with things, but it’s what I enjoy doing.
You work as a court reporter. I bet that requires a lot of concentration and attention to detail?
It does. I mostly do high-profile criminal cases — first degree felonies. I do death-penalty cases and I have to write real-time, verbatim reporting of everything everyone is saying in the court room. We do it on a steno machine. You can only touch ten keys at a time and you make a language based on phonetics. I’m certified at 235 WPM on the steno machine.
Given that your job deals with such heavy subject matter, do you find it hard to switch off from that? Do you think about the court in the middle of the night?
Very rarely now do I dwell on my work. But when I was young, I would come home and I would be really bothered by the divorce cases. It was terribly hard to see people who had once loved each other treat each other so horribly. I used to joke to my husband, “Don’t ever try to divorce me because I will take my chances in criminal court before I take my chances in divorce court.” We had a very amicable divorce since I didn’t want to do anything that would hurt my kids. But very rarely did the criminal cases bother me.
What happens when you’re sick. Do you find it hard to take to your bed?
Yes, I find it hard to lay still, but it’s actually very rare that I get sick. It actually stresses me out to have to be sick, even just the thought of it, because I can’t imagine being stuck in my bed and recuperating. Who is going to look after all the kids? Who is going to take care of them? Who is going to make dinner? Some of them are getting old enough now that they can function, but they don’t function well. I have to come downstairs and spend three days cleaning after I have been sick for a day, so being sick really stresses me out.
What’s air travel like for you? And are you impacted by time difference?
I never get jet-lag and it annoys me when I travel and I see people asleep on the plane. I don’t sit still. In any relationship I’ve ever been in, they ask me to please sit still and watch the movie and I can’t, it’s like I have laundry to do or this other task to do, so being on a plane just drives me absolutely crazy. I feel like I need to get up and jog or something.
I’m happy to go on very long road trips — I’ve driven very, very far. I’ve taken my softball team to Louisiana, to Tennessee, to North Carolina. I’ve driven from Florida to New York a few times, and California. I usually take the kids and go straight through the night, so there’s about six to eight hours of everyone sleeping. I just keep on driving.
Does drinking impact your sleep?
I don’t get hangovers. If I overdo it and I get a headache, that’s saying a lot. Most people in their 40s are sick for a day and a half. If I drink too much, then I may go to bed at two and get up at six — maybe I get an extra hour’s sleep!
What happens when you take stimulants? I’d imagine things like a 5-Hour Energy or recreational uppers would have an extreme effect on you?
I have one cup of coffee a day, usually in the morning. I’m a Dunkin’ Donuts junkie — I love my iced coffee, so I usually have a medium whatever their specialty coffee of the month is and that’s my thing. I do think I need the caffeine.
What would you say is the best thing about being a short sleeper?
The best thing is that I have so many more hours in the day to get things accomplished. I still say I wish I had more hours in a day, and I have more hours than most people.
Do you get annoyed with people who count how much sleep they have had and complain about being tired?
Yes. Even when my kids sleep crazy amounts of hours I get annoyed. Teenagers can sleep probably for 12 hours straight, and I get so annoyed because I think they are wasting their lives. Why are you wasting your life sleeping? There are so many things that you could be doing. That’s how I see it. So, I don’t like them sleeping for longer than necessary because they are wasting their lives. That’s always been my thing. You have plenty of time to sleep when you die. You might as well embrace life.
This interview has been edited.
Lately I have been reading George Anders excellent little book, The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else. The premise of the book is that there are certain characteristic traits that talent scouts (business, career, artistic, etc.) can use to spot the Rare Find.
Which I think is a true premise and statement, and for the most part I agree with the list of qualifications and traits Anders employs to distinguish and recognize Rare Talent, but while reading the book another thought occurred to me as well.
Suppose I reversed the premise of the book (for the book is written from the point of view of the talent scout seeking talent) and instead developed my own plan to making my talent more easily recognizable to others (such as agents, editors, publishers, scouts, etc.)?
So I am sketching the book out in reverse with the intent of developing my own 8 to 12 Point Plan for making myself easily recognizable to those who are scouting for new talent.
Once I have this plan developed I will post it here, on Launch Port, along with a lengthier article on how I plan to employ that plan.
Working from home seems like one of those magical jobs we picture ourselves doing as children – you sit around the house, get some work done, take as many breaks as you want, save money on transport, you don’t have to stress out about clean shirts or being late, etc. This is true to some extent and being your own boss can be a very enjoyable experience, but working from home is far from the idealized fantasy most people picture in their mind. Not having any direct supervision carries its unique set of problems that you will need to be prepared for. Some of these things don’t get mentioned very often, and although they are not necessarily deal breakers or meant to dissuade people from considering a career in freelancing, it is important to understand what you are getting into. Here are the five biggest points you’ll need to take into account.
You’ll need to have some money in the bank before starting a freelance career
Being a freelancer isn’t exactly a sure thing, nor can you expect to start making some serious money straight away. It takes time to set up accounts, look for clients, hone your skills and build up a reputation for yourself. Networking is also a big part of the picture. The point here is that it can take several months to start getting clients regularly, establish a decent reputation and earn enough money on a monthly basis to get by. It may even take a year to get to where you can pay the bills, feed your family and still have some money left over for a bit of luxury, all on your freelance wages. This is why it is important to treat the whole thing like a startup, rather than a career change or a nine to five job. Having enough start-up capital will enable you to support your family during the initial stages and invest in things like premium accounts and connections on major online freelance platforms.
It’s very easy to get lazy and out of shape
Not having to commute has its benefits like saving money on transportation and food and wasting less time on getting ready and traveling to and from the office. The negative side of it is that you won’t have any real need to leave the house much, if at all. Because you will be working and relaxing at the computer, you are at great risk of becoming a lazy couch potato. Once ordering takeout, walking around in your pajamas, beers during work hours and spending several hours at a time in a chair become a regular thing you can kiss your health and fitness goodbye. The only way to avoid becoming out of shape and having aching joints is to schedule regular workouts throughout the week, set up alarms to remind you to get up and stretch out every hour or so and to be very careful about what you eat. It’s incredibly easy to trick yourself into believing that you don’t rally eat that much, so having a salad or some fruit instead of a sugary snack or pack of potato chips and looking at a few nutritional labels here and there is very important.
You need to set up an effective work environment
If you just put your laptop on the table in front of the couch and call it your work station, you will soon lose all focus. You need a professional work environment, a home office that you can step into and clearly separate your work hours from leisure time. It doesn’t have to be much – a functional desk with a few drawers, a few notebooks and pens lying around, your computer and printer set up comfortably, a sturdy and ergonomic office chair and a lamp are enough. You can set up in a corner of a room, preferably near a window for some natural light, and add some decoration, perhaps a plant, so that it feels like an office desk, rather than a teenage gamer’s desk with a few work-related notes scattered around.
Being your own boss means constantly finding ways of staying productive and motivated
Even if you take all the precautions and create a truly professional-looking work environment, there will still be plenty of distractions – the internet you are using to look for new clients or do research being one of the biggest. You’re never more than one click away from Procrastination City, and you’ll need to work hard to stay motivated and keep your mind focused on the task at hand. Taking regular breaks to clear your head can help, and so can making coffee and remembering to eat regularly. Plastering reminders and motivational posters around your home office is another viable tactic, but ultimately, you will have to learn how to deal with distractions and have a short and stern talk with yourself at least 3-4 times a day in order to stay on track.
Getting organized and managing your projects efficiently is the key to success
Getting distracted, forgetting about a deadline, mixing up clients and miscommunication can all happen to any one of us, but when you’re working at home it’s much easier to get sidetracked or let your schedule become a chaotic mess. Start with the room you work in – keep it clean, spotless even, and make sure that everything has its place. Next, make sure that your desk and immediate work area are organized and that you know where to find everything, the most important things being within reach and easily accessible. Then get your work schedule in order. Get a big calendar, a whiteboard and sticky notes and make sure you have all the essential information about your current projects clear in sight when you sit at the desk, making sure to mark deadlines and have reminders and alerts. Being able to stay organized and juggle different projects effectively is the key to success for anyone working at home.
Working at home isn’t a walk in the park like some would imagine, and neither is it a one way ticket to a land of procrastination and broken dreams – you can earn a good living without ever living your house, but you’ll need to stay focused and deal with a few issues before you can become successful.
I often use techniques like this in developing my 8 to 12 Point Plans. Because before you can make a Good Plan you must first know what constitutes a Good Plan.
Learn to Plan and Problem Solve, and practice both often. You won’t regret the habit.
COMMENTARY If you’ve ever heard the expression, “That’s why you make the big bucks,” then you were probably on the hook to solve a tough problem. Indeed, the ability to troubleshoot complex issues, fix troubled organizations, beat bigger competitors or successfully manage crises, is highly valued in the corporate world.
Just ask Thomas Horton, the American Airlines executive who was named chairman and CEO of parent company AMR on Tuesday, the day it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Horton got the job because of his track record dealing with thorny union and regulatory issues. And now AMR’s restructuring, how well it’s positioned when it emerges from bankruptcy and the future of the iconic airline is entirely in his hands…
The only kind of talk that ever matters is that talk which leads to an actionable, successful, and workable Plan.
Everything else is just talk.
I know I’ve discussed this subject before, and will discuss it again, but I’m a big believer in forward planning and in being thoroughly prepared. Good plans and being well prepared have brought me a number of successes, have often averted or mitigated unforeseen disasters I and my family (might) have suffered, have allowed me to save other people’s lives on a few occasions, and have saved my own life on numerous occasions.
As for your business and career, well, it goes without saying, “good planning and proper preparation is at all times essential to both productivity and prosperity.” I can say a great deal about planning, very little of it bad.
One personal weakness I have always suffered from in this regard, however, is over-planning. It took me years to come to really understand that with most things, a simple, streamlined, focused, uncomplicated plan of action is vastly superior to an exhausting, unwieldy, inflexible, overly complex plan trying to cover all contingencies. By all means plan for all reasonably foreseeable contingencies, but do not become paralyzed or enveloped by them.
Once I realized that, somewhere in my thirties, I began to change my Planning Habits. Efficiency and productivity became my Planning Watchwords. Slowly those better planning habits became ingrained in my mind and soul.
So in the past few years I’ve developed The 8 to 12 Point Plan.
Since that time almost every Plan I’ve developed has been in the 8 to 12 point format. I’ve even taken all of my older plans and revised them; whittling away the unnecessary or cumbersome steps and reducing almost all of them down to the 8 to 12 point format.
What exactly is an 8 to 12 Point Plan? Well, simply stated it is devising or reducing all of your plans down to a very basic formulation of 8 to 12 simple and easily executed steps.
I have found by experimentation that if most plans contain less than 8 steps then you are likely to leave out important information or necessary steps to fully achieve your objective. More than 12 primary steps and the plan is probably going to be so complicated and unwieldy that it will hamper success, rather than assure it.
Of course, there are exceptions. Really big projects may well require more than 12 steps; really small ones may require no more than 3 or 4 Essential Action Points. But overall, and generally speaking, the average project, objective, or serious enterprise usually requires 8 to 12 Solid Steps or Action Points to achieve rapid and successful completion.
In the near future, as part of my current Summer Offensive, I plan to write an eBook On Successful Planning which will precisely detail how to create and develop an effective and efficient Eight to Twelve Point Plan.
Until then I’ll simply say this, I highly recommend the strategy. Most problems in life are easy prey for an effective and efficient 8 to 12 Point Plan.