I have been sick for the past week, and today I woke up congested with a sore throat and a headache. It’s the continuation of that mid-winter cold and to top it off, it’s only 4:40 a.m. Already, I have decided that this will be a day of rest to allow my body to get better. Well, once I finish going through my emails and writing this post. Old habits die hard!
Back when I burned the candle from both ends, aka while I was in the chief learning officer role, awakening early with a cold did not equate to taking care of myself — it meant an opportunity to start pushing through the landslide of emails and heading off to the office or continuing to work from home. How’s that for dedication? Just like the inscription in the New York City Post Office reads, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” You get the point because most likely you have done this yourself.
Do you really think the world will stop if you take a sick day? Allowing yourself the time needed to align what is important in your life is a success factor often overlooked. I talked about how to manage time at work in my “Keep Track of Your Time” post. Let’s discuss how you can integrate it with all that you are attempting to do in your “26”-hour day.
Most professionals attempt to complete 26 hours of living each day, the extra two hours coming from, you guessed it, sleep. However, trading sleep for work has short- and long-term consequences. Check out Michael J. Breus’ Web MD article titled “Chronic Sleep Deprivation May Harm Health.”
He writes that in the short term, sleep deprivation causes:
- Decreased performance and alertness
- Memory and cognitive impairment
- Stress relationships
- Poor quality of life
- Occupational injury
- Automobile injury
Longer term, the consequences include a number of serious medical illnesses including a weakened immune system that can open yourself to illnesses and infections. I know this first hand. In early 2012, I came down with bacterial pneumonia. At the time, I was CLO for HCL Technologies and commuting for work. The ultimate commute, I spent five weeks living in New Delhi and three to four weeks at home in San Diego. The constant long distance travel combined with long term sleep deprivation resulted in a 2-plus-year journey that shocked my life out of the fast lane.
My resistance was compromised and that resulted in multiple infections. By the end of 2012, I had had 3 surgeries for antibiotic resistant infections and had come face to face the fact that I could not continue to work full time if I wanted to get better. I had to stop and get myself well. I left the role and returned to San Diego filling my time with visits to the doctor, getting the rest I should have gotten throughout the years and a few small consulting engagements.
Once I recovered, I returned to consulting and executive coaching for organizations. Now, instead of taking on more than I can handle, I take time to prioritizing what is important, including leaving enough time for sleep and myself. I silence my phone at night. About two hours before bedtime, I quickly check email and the phone for the last time; I don’t allow myself to take on more clients that I can handle. I have even integrated life-time management into my executive coaching practices.
What can you do to ensure sleep has the priority it deserves and that your body gets the time it needs to recover? Schedule it!
It’s not about becoming a slave to your calendar, it actually is about freedom. Greg McKeown’s article “If You Don’t Prioritize Your Life, Someone Else Will” has some great messages around prioritizing your life. He says, “We may not develop Gandhian levels of courage immediately, but surely we can do better than having to look back on our lives and regret that we lived by someone else’s priorities.” Those priorities include scheduling time for sleep, scheduling time for fitness (emotional, physical and spiritual), and scheduling time for family and friends.
You don’t have to fill all 24 hours, just the critical parts such as time with others and enough time for sleep. Treat sleep the same as you would your most important meeting (which is funny because I have nearly fallen asleep in many meetings). You would never miss a meeting with your most important client or stakeholder, would you? Probably not.
When it comes to your career, whether you realize it, you are your most important stakeholder. Do yourself a favor and schedule time to sleep. While you’re at it, don’t over schedule to the point where you cannot flex for something as important as taking a day off to recover from being ill or just from being overworked. The result will be better than you imagined. When you are well rested, you can get more done faster and with a clearer mind. In the long run, you will be better positioned to win the race called your career.