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Stress

How to Get Better Sleep and Be a Better Leader

Sleep is the best meditation.

–– The Dalai Lama

With the holidays and New Year approaching, it's a good time to ask, are you getting enough sleep?
 
If you’re like most people, particularly our high-achieving readers, the answer is likely to be “no.” And that’s not good -- for you, your team, your family or the economy.
 
You see there’s been this cultural myth, lived out by success-oriented people, that working harder and sleeping less are signs of our mental and physical toughness.
 
This myth is contradicted by the stark scientific evidence of the harmful effects of lack of sleep.

Harmful effects
As the Harvard Medical School Bulletin notes, in the short term, a lack of adequate sleep can affect judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information, and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury. 
 
In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality.
 
I’m not pointing fingers here since I’m as guilty as the next over-achiever. I’m working hard to improve my own sleep deficits.
 
Better sleep, better workplace
Other research confirms the negative effects of sleep loss on leaders and their teams in the workplace. A McKinsey study found a direct link between effective leadership and getting enough sleep:
 
In a study of 81 organizations and 189,000 people around the world, we found that four types of leadership behavior are most commonly associated with high-quality executive teams: operating with a strong orientation to results, solving problems effectively, seeking out different perspectives, and supporting others.
 
What’s striking in all four cases is the proven link between sleep and effective leadership, McKinsey reported. This applies to CEOs and leaders at every level.

‘Abusive’ Leader Behavior 
Even more striking, a recent Harvard Business Review article summarized the harmful effects on employees by leaders who don’t get proper sleep:
 
…Recent research indicates that individual behavior can vary dramatically from day to day and week to week—and much of this variance can be explained by the quality of a manager’s sleep. Indeed, studies have found that when leaders show up for work unrested, they are more likely to lose patience with employees, act in abusive ways, and be seen as less charismatic. There is also a greater likelihood that their subordinates will themselves suffer from sleep deprivation—and even behave unethically(My emphasis added)
 
This is why there is a growing recognition amongst leaders that they must get more sleep themselves and promote policies in their organizations to encourage their employees to get more sleep.  
 
Progressive policies adopted by organizations include companies with sleep pods for napping; limiting emails from leaders overnight and on weekends, and on-site education on sleep and stress management.
 
Successful leaders and athletes agree
This change of attitude is being seen publicly as successful leaders and icons in every field out themselves as people who prioritize getting enough sleep and attribute the practice as important to their success. These include Jeff Bezos, LeBron James and Tom Brady, among many others.

Two recent books help to bust the macho sleep deprivation myth: The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time* by Arianna Huffington goes deep with science and stories of the worldwide crisis of sleep deprivation. The description notes Arianna shows how our cultural dismissal of sleep as time wasted compromises our health and our decision-making and undermines our work lives, our personal lives –– and even our sex lives.
 
Tim Ferriss published Tools of Titans: The tactics, routines and habits of billionaires, icons and world-class performers*. This book is rife with odes to sleep from very successful household names.
 
So, it’s clear that we need more sleep. How do we make this happen?
 
Here are a few tips from research and my own experience:

Make a commitment. It all starts with self-awareness and the public commitment with those around you that you value sleep and are working to get enough rest. Remember that as a leader you are a role model in every aspect of your behavior. Your people note what you do, not what you say.

Decompress. Give yourself enough time to stop thinking about all of the unresolved issues and challenges you face. Write down the items on a list to get them off of your mind. An hour before bedtime, start to take your mind in a different direction and begin to settle your system.

Kill the blue light. We live in a 24/7 digital world that involves bringing blue-lit devices before our eyes. This light has been demonstrated to stimulate the brain and contribute to insomnia. 
 
When you begin your hour-long wind down, kill the blue light and consider removing digital devices from your sleep area. TV is not any better. How many of us have fallen asleep in front of the set only to wake up and not be able to go back to sleep in our beds? Kill the blue light.

Stick to a schedule. Most sleep experts advocate going to bed and waking at the same time, which teaches our bodies and minds a rhythm.

Track your sleep. As we say in business, what gets measured can be improved. Fitbits, iWatchs, and most smartphones will let you track the amount and quality of your sleep. I previously used Fitbit* and currently use the iWatch* and the AutoSleep app, which provides metrics, including how much I was in deep sleep. (See products at the end of this article.)
 
Create a ritual. As you wind down, experts say it’s best to have a bedtime ritual by doing things such as taking a bath or a shower, sipping herbal tea, dimming the lights and reading a paper book. For better sleep, I take 10 mg of melatonin* and drink orange-flavored Calm, * which contains magnesium. (Of course, check with your physician before you consider this.)

Watch what you eat and drink. Alcohol and caffeine can contribute to insomnia, or waking in the middle of the night. It’s also recommended you not go to bed hungry or stuffed, both of which might disrupt solid sleep.

Exercise. Finding the time to prioritize exercise, experts say, can contribute enormously to stress management and solid sleep. 

These are a few tips that I’ve practiced myself and find valuable. There are plenty of resources available to you when you make the commitment to prioritize sleep.
 
It’s clear that improving our sleep has tremendous benefits and little downside. If you won’t do it for yourself, consider sleeping more for those who depend on you at work and at home. 
 
As you make your way through the holiday frenzy, consider giving yourself the gift that keeps on giving: a good night’s sleep. ZZZZZ ;-)
 

John


 P.S. –– To talk with me directly, please use my contact page.


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5 Ways to Avoid Work Burnout

Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have –– you.

Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People


As summer comes to an end here in the U.S., many of us will enter the fall reinvigorated and ready to strongly finish the year.
 
But if you’re like many of my clients, your summer wasn’t as peaceful as it could’ve been and the rest of the year poses continuing challenges for your emotional and physical well-being.

You may be feeling burned out, and you’re not alone. Research shows that significant numbers of workers suffer from severe stress related to their jobs, with almost 80 percent reporting that they “regularly experience physical or psychological symptoms caused by stress.”
 
Even as the job market in the U.S. continues to thrive, giving workers options to move to better jobs, workplace stress is continuing to take its toll.
 
Stress has increased, as workdays have become 24/7 with global responsibilities and unlimited communication access through email, calls, and texts. The harmful effects of constant work in overdrive are visible everywhere, at every level of organizations.
 
Elon Musk burnout
The recent burnout of genius innovator Elon Musk serves as a tale of warning. In case you’re not aware of him, Musk is the CEO simultaneously of two major companies – electric carmaker Tesla and rocket company Space X. His vision is to colonize Mars to give the human race options to survive if Earth becomes uninhabitable.

I love Musk and view him as a modern-day Thomas Edison. Musk’s vision and energy have seemed boundless since he started Tesla in 2003.
 
But his recent public behavior has proven he is all too human. Working self-professed 120-hour weeks to achieve auto production goals he set for the public company Tesla, Musk began acting erratically, particularly on Twitter: he accused a diver, who helped save Thai boys from a cave, of being a pedophile; personally attacked short sellers of Tesla’s stock; and, most harmful, Tweeted while driving to the airport that he had secured funding to take Tesla private.
 
Musk’s statement drove up the company’s stock, but apparently was news to Tesla’s board. His claims triggered a federal investigation as a possible violation of securities law as well as private lawsuits.
 
This led to the seemingly indestructible Musk’s tearful interview with the New York Times last week, in which he shared the physical and emotional effects of business stress on his life.
 
Musk’s travails should serve as a warning to leaders and other high achievers who often position themselves as superheroes able to thrive under massive stress with only a few hours of sleep.
 
The truth is that we are all human and sooner or later, unabated stress may result in mental errors, emotional breakdownsand depression, or severe health problems, among others.
 
The phrase, “Sharpen the Saw” in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People refers to a carpenter who uses a saw continuously so that the saw becomes dull and doesn’t cut properly. As the saw must be sharpened regularly to be effective, so must we take care of ourselves to be “sharp.”
 
Here are five tips for keeping yourself sharp and avoiding job burnout:
 
1) Take a personal audit: It all starts with awareness. You really can’t deal with a problem until you acknowledge it and understand its depths. How are you doing? Are you stressed out all of the time? Are you unable to relax or focus? Sometimes we have blind spots and need to ask others whether they see the warning signs of stress and potential burnout.
 
2) Balance your diet and exercise: I’m not going to go into detail because there’s no lack of information available on these practices; rather, there’s a lack of mindset and execution. The evidence is clear that whole foods are necessary to fuel for our body’s health and well-being; it’s also clear that exercise provides energy, stress relief, and mental and emotional clarity.
 
3) Set priorities: Too many organizations set long lists of “priorities” that must be accomplished – but when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Steve Jobs had been fired from Apple and when he made his return in 1997 to revive the failing company, he found that the company was producing a huge, confusing range of products, including twelve versions of the Macintosh computer.
 
Jobs reduced the entire product line by 70 percent, including a focus on just four versions of the Mac. This kind of focus has resulted in Apple becoming the most valuable company in the world.
 
Of course, this applies to us as individuals as well. Have you ever gone home after a long day of meetings and emails and realized you made no headway on what was important? I know I have. Every day, we face a choice of limited time and energy to accomplish our goals. Dedicated focus on real priorities is the key to real results.
 
4) Rest, relaxation, and sleep: The benefits of sleep have been well documented. The problem is that many of us don’t take the necessary steps to protect and promote effective sleep. Also, it’s critical to take breaks regularly and learn to relax. Many people find meditation and journaling in the morning to be helpful in starting their days.
 
5) Take a technology break: We are all distracted and, for many of us, compulsively addicted to our phones and other screens. This constant pinging in our subconscious, this yearning for drops of dopamine in our brains, doesn’t allow our stress levels to subside. We need to learn to control our smartphone addiction.
 
How about you?
 
How do you monitor and control your work stress?
 
Have you asked people you trust if they see signs of burnout in you?
 
Too many of us respond to work’s demands, like Pavlov’s dogs, without thinking. We need to step back, reflect and act in ways that will preserve our physical and emotional health while improving our results.
 
Give it a try. It might be the most important step you take this year.
 
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