One of the biggest challenges today’s executives face is the demand to be “on” all the time. Unexpected deadlines pop up, international client calls have to happen, or that presentation has to get finished before the town hall meeting and the only way you can get it all done is to work later into the evening. Then, just as you wrap up at the stroke of midnight (or later), you collapse into bed only to lie there wide awake, your mind racing, unable to fall asleep. Or perhaps you fall right to sleep only to wake up in 2 hours in the same situation.
Stress can be a great performance enhancer. But often the stress of working later into the evening comes at a cost and that cost is insomnia. This may seem odd as you have worked harder and built up a higher level of fatigue, yet you are counting sheep as you stair at the ceiling. This is often caused by a combination of several factors including the high levels of stress hormones in your system, the exposure to the blue light emitted from your laptop and the house lights, and your active problem-solving mind being stuck in overdrive.
Having some go-to strategies for when you absolutely need to work late into the evening is critical for optimizing your performance and getting the performance-enhancing sleep you need. Here are a few to try:
_ Commit to a definite “tools down” deadline - this can prevent you from working past the productive time when you are putting in 1 hour of work for only 15 minutes of return.
_ Shut your mind off by capturing (write them down or record them) the key questions you need to answer, the first thing you need to accomplish in the morning, or the key thoughts you need to expand upon tomorrow.
_ Put yourself into the proper autonomic nervous system balance to sleep by doing 5 minutes of diaphragmatic breathing at a ratio of a 4-count inhale, a 7-count hold, and an 8-second exhale.
_ Use light to your advantage. Light just 15 minutes before bedtime can reduce your natural melatonin release by up to 50%. This means when you want to be up and alert, turn the lights on fully. But at least 30 minutes before you go to sleep, dim the lights, dim your computer screen (f.lux and “night shift” on an iOS device), and provide yourself with some no computer time so you can stimulate the release of melatonin.
_ Avoid sugar when working late - this will provide immediate energy but a subsequent crash.
Every once in a while all the stars align (stress from a deadline, high focus, creativity, passion and energy) and you find yourself ultra productive. On these nights, we say rev it up and ‘go for it’ but also be highly aware of when you reach the point of diminishing returns. The key is to stay strategic and to not trade off one night of productivity for 2 days of fatigue. This is another version of Sustainable High Performance.
As always, I’d love to know what you think.
By Chris Males
Director of Performance Coaches