Personal Productivity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people wanting to improve their personal productivity. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

This is a long one and I apologize in advance:

In my late teens, I was diagnosed with non-24-hour circadian rhythm disorder. In short, my body believes each day is longer than 24 hours and I don't become naturally tired at the same time each day. To boot, the presence of the sun makes no difference one way or the other.

I've dealt with that by being a freelance programmer. Not having a preset daily schedule helped a great deal. I didn't have to dose myself with caffeine to stay awake during the day, thus degrading my abilities. (Sadly, it does sometime cause problems in relationships.)

Still, I've always had trouble sticking to even a loose schedule. And while I'm aware that's more of a personal problem than one caused by the disorder, I'm highly effective when my sleeping schedule aligns such that I can follow events in iCal or Google Calendar. Except during such alignments, it's practically useless to keep a standard calendar. For one, I get alerts at wrong times--or miss a slew-- and two, having to constantly rearrange/recalculate all the events is a time-consuming pain. And simply having a complex to-do list (which I do, I use an app called Process) isn't the answer because there are no consistent multi-stage deadlines to fight, thus diluting the deadline stress motivator.

So my basic question is the title: What are some way to increase productivity with a sleeping disorder?


  • Are there calendar solutions that cope with sleeping disorders?
  • Are there resources for people such as myself that I don't know about? Support groups, books, etcetera.
share|improve this question
I am confused ... how do you get alerts at the wrong times, and why is re-arrangement/recalculation necessary? – tomjedrz Sep 1 '11 at 23:40
A simple example: you wake and eat breakfast at 7am, start work at 9am. And that's how it's written in your calendar. But I will wake up at 7am one day, 7:30 the next, and 8 the day after. So my pre-defined schedule is shot when I don't wake up at 7. Meaning I have to re-arrange my schedule to reflect the new start of my day. And if I wake at 2 or 10pm, all alerts prior to that are useless. They aren't at the wrong time in a time-sense, but in an effective-use sense. – Sold Out Activist Sep 1 '11 at 23:48
If you know you can't keep a calendar, why are you fighting with it daily. See my answer for more details. – tomjedrz Sep 2 '11 at 0:12
Because as my career grows, I have garnered increased responsibilities that aren't as quite as free-running as my sleep patterns and I need to explicitly set timeframes to certain recurring tasks that are flexible enough that shifting them say a couple hours won't ruin the project. Basically, other people are going by my schedule now. I can't help that I have a sleeping disorder that doesn't have many effective defenses that won't degrade my performance. But I'm looking for solution that will assist in the process of time-shifting an existing schedule by whenever I wake up. – Sold Out Activist Sep 2 '11 at 3:01
I would suggest to find out how long a "day" is for you (even if it's just a range), then you can predict how to rearrange things or when you will feel tired. Holidays are a good moment for that (at least a week) to get good results. – wildpeaks Sep 2 '11 at 19:33

I suspect that you are making things VASTLY too complicated. If you know you can't keep a calendar, then minimize those things that are in your calendar. With only a few things in your calendar, you can plan most of the things (medical appointments, client visits) match your cycle, and suck it up for the few that need to be during your sleep cycle.

For comparative purposes, the "standard" work schedule is 40 hours per week, or roughly 25% of the number of hours in a week. The standard work cycle is 8 hours per cycle, or 33% of the hours in a cycle. You arrange your working time (roughly) within those guidelines, although most programmers work far more hours than that.

More important, when you are awake and working, you need to be working on the correct things. You need a system to track tasks and identify the next one to work on. I like Getting Things Done, which can be implemented in just about every program, including "Process" I imagine.

When you need to be awake at a time when your body thinks it should be sleeping, you need to be awake. Get an alarm clock, or perhaps use a wake-up-call service (such as Wakerupper).

If the issue is one of staying on task or keeping focus, perhaps you should try Pomodoro, which is a technique to put work into short, focused time periods.

share|improve this answer
I use GTD for everything non-time-specific, but it and any standard implementation of the calendar is useless in a free-running cycle where one effectively loses time on a daily basis. I have an alarm clock, but it is generally useless. I'm simply do not and can not get tired in the same timeframe you and most the world do in a 24 hour period. My day is closer to 26 hours. This is not a matter of laziness. I'm trying to accomplish a block-schedule that other people can follow: I did a 5-hour block of this here, 1 hour lunch, 4 hours there, etc. And I would still get typical alerts from events. – Sold Out Activist Sep 2 '11 at 3:06
How do you handle the bottom half of the rotation, when you are awake all night and your minions are awake all day? – tomjedrz Sep 2 '11 at 6:50
Anything after 5PM UTC 0 is considered the next day for my team. So if I wake up after that time, whatever work I do is slotted for the next day. – Sold Out Activist Sep 2 '11 at 12:17

If your non-24-hour day is the same number of hours each "day" for you, you could program yourself a simple calendar app that assume a "day" is your own body's rhythm rather than 24 hours. It could export an iCal feed or something if you want the events to show up on moe widely supported calendarig tools.

share|improve this answer

A couple of ideas on the calendar issue:

1) Would switching your timezone every day, on calendars that support that, work? I think it could, depending on the implementation...

2) If most of the things you have scheduled can be done with a few hours' leeway, what about just setting up a calendar with email reminders and then dealing with the emails whenever it works with your sleep schedule? Or do you have too many tasks for that to be doable?

share|improve this answer
Good suggestions. I tried the first suggestion for awhile, but calendars with auto-timezone translation mucked it up when other people read the events. As for the other suggestion, the GTD method handles most things that don't have a specific time. They become actions and I have a specific program handling those. More and more, it seems like I'm going to have to go back and tell them it won't work, good try, deal. – Sold Out Activist Sep 2 '11 at 12:21

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.