I don’t have a multi-million dollar company (yet), but I’m one of those CEOs who function on 3-5 hours of sleep.
No, there aren’t any drugs involved, nor is there poor management (as far as I know). It’s a variety of things.
First, reduce TV. You sleep much better, and do much more work, when you don’t watch much TV. Your brain is actually less active watching TV than when it’s sleeping. This dullness is addictive. My daughter becomes a giant mess when she watches too much TV — huge tantrums, crying, screaming, complete meltdown. She doesn’t want to eat or listen. It’s like she’s addicted, and I’m taking away her drug. My husband is very similar, without the actual crying. He just sort of grunts more. I’m not certain it happens with everyone, but I’d be surprised if most people aren’t highly susceptible to this “one more show” mentality, and the gape-mouthed stare is the death knell for good work, good eating, good sleep or good play.
Second, limit carbohydrates. For me, anyway — they just make me sleepy.
Third, limit meetings. Same as carbs. Blah blah blah — hate just droning on, or being droned at. Nothing good comes of this.
Fourth, I actually have specific hours I need to sleep to do well, not a specific number of hours. It’s a quirk of my circadian rhythm, and it’s been that way since my 20s. If I can sleep from 4 to 8am, I’m very happy. However, my home life doesn’t permit that, so I usually end up sleeping from 1-4am, and 5-6:30am. I have a hard time sleeping in the early morning hours, and love the morning (once I drag myself out of bed).
Fifth, when I get a few energy slumps, I rely on some tried and true solutions: I switch tasks to things I really like (so I save that stuff for sleepy times). I hang out on Quora (dangerous, because I’m on here WAY longer than I should be. There should be a stopwatch or a clock on this thing…!) I go outside. I email or chat with someone personal (not usually on the phone—hate the phone.) I play a set number of solitaire hands. I read the news or, if read, one of three gossip sites I frequent (I’m not proud.) Or, if all else fails, I take a nap. I usually sleep more on slower days or if nothing is happening on a weekend, but it works out.
Sixth, and most important, I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY LOVE WHAT I DO. I love it so much! I am so incredibly happy that I get to do my job. I have days that suck. I have strings of days that suck. But they are just sucky days — my life is still pretty spectacularly awesome. It makes me excited to wake up, to take the conference call I had today set at the incredibly ludicrous time of 6:30am, to take calls and go to meetings while visiting family, to get over shyness and speak to the stranger next to me on the airplane, to spend the evening playing with my daughter knowing that I’ll be working on a document until 4 am and begging Kinko’s for something (and I HATE begging.)
I mostly just think I am a very lucky person. I have a (pretty) supportive spouse, a fantastic kid, a wonderful dog. I’m healthy, I’m privileged to run a company that is about to split into 2, with customers that are acolytes that spare me marketing dollars. People believe in me and my ability to lead, they believe in what I’ve created. I do something that I think makes a difference in the world. And today I’m having a pretty good hair day.
I don’t really worry about the sleep that I get. I get what I can, and do what I have to do every day. Everyone around me is trying to help me out (for the most part), I keep my priorities in order (my kid never suffers, I can’t make myself sick), and I just focus on what I have immediately ahead and in the near future, and what I need to get those done. I truly believe it will all benefit everyone in the end, and my support group does, too.
And that’s how I do it.
This question originally appeared on Quora: How do CEOs who sleep for only 4-5 hours daily manage to function and run multi-million dollar companies?