Taming Insomnia to Improve Productivity

There are so many reasons to get a good night’s sleep: you feel better, you look better, you perform better, people like being around you … in short, sleep allows us to be our best self. And the benefits of quality sleep extend beyond feelings - ranging from reducing stress to improving productivity.

Most healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. When we lose even one hour of sleep, we experience fatigue the next day and our ability to function may be as effective as an individual whose blood alcohol level is .08.

Not sleeping enough also has other implications, including:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Reduced creativity and problem-solving skills
  • Reduced immunity
  • Concentration and memory problems
  • Overeating and weight gain
  • Impaired motor skills and increased risk of accidents
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems

What do you do, then, if insomnia prevents you from dropping off right away? A study by Nancy Digdon and Amy Koble, published in Applied Psychology in May 2011, found that sleep interventions such as constructive worry, imagery distraction, or gratitude all provide effective relief from insomnia.

Here is how the techniques work. 

  1. Constructive worry. Set aside 15 minutes earlier in the day (before 8:00 p.m.) and write out worries and concerns that are likely to interfere with sleep and steps toward their resolution. Then, if worry creeps in at bedtime, remind yourself that you already devoted time to these concerns, and that you will do so again tomorrow when you are less tired and better able to think of good solutions.
  2. Imagery distraction. This involves closing your eyes and imagining a situation that is interesting and engaging, as well as pleasant and relaxing. For instance, imagine being on a holiday, a sunny beach, or a happy family occasion. This will calm your mind, allowing you to drift to sleep.
  3. Gratitude. This is another distraction technique. When one is under stress, it is common to be preoccupied with worries and concerns, and to ignore the positive experiences in one’s life. Shifting your attention to the things you are grateful for (i.e., all the positive events in your life) is a distraction from worry. Focusing on the positives lifts your mood and allows you to fall asleep more easily.

If you are sleep deprived, try one or all of the above techniques to help you get and stay sleep, so you can wake up feeling refreshed.

And remember to schedule enough time for sleep every day by making sleep a top priority on your “to-do list.”

Changing Behaviour by Changing Situations

You’ve probably heard it before: “He’s so stubborn.” “She won’t listen.” “They just don’t seem to get how this new product will help them with their work.” “They’re so negative.” When dealing with those who resist change, this innuendo is familiar. 

But it may surprise you to learn that people are not always the problem when there is resistance to change. In fact, more frequently, the situation, not the person, is the common cause.

In their book Switch, Chip Heath and Dan Heath explain this phenomenon succinctly. A study about eating habits included free popcorn to moviegoers. Either large or medium sized buckets were distributed. With portion sizes being intentionally large, individuals could not eat all of the popcorn. In addition, the popcorn was stale – popped five days ago.

The researchers hypothesized that people with bigger buckets would eat more popcorn. Their hypothesis was correct. The bigger eaters were those with the bigger buckets. In fact, they ate 53 percent more!

Viewing the data without knowing the difference in bucket sizes, you might easily conclude that 53 percent of moviegoers eat a lot of popcorn. Or that popcorn intake is 53 percent higher at movie theatres than other venues, and so on. You may even start thinking about ways to motivate these gluttons to change to healthier ways of eating. 

Notice that as we jump to conclusions, we immediately think about how to change the person or the person’s behaviour. And we don’t usually delve into the situation to understand what caused the behaviour in the first place.  

In this experiment, we know that the bucket size contributed to the amount of popcorn eaten. Therefore, change the situation and you change the behaviour: Change the bucket size and people will eat less popcorn. How easy is that? 

When one changes the situation, there is no need to act on the individual, to motivate or cajole them into changing their behaviour. The new situation allows the individual to change their behaviour without, perhaps, even knowing that they’ve changed. 

Next time you face resistance to change, look at the environment. What situation can you change to positively affect a desired outcome? The solution may be as easy as changing bucket sizes.

Improving Work Performance

How’s your productivity? Does the mere mention of the word stir unease? And what about all those uber-organized work colleagues? How is it that they really seem to be on top of their work and, yet, here you are constantly struggling to keep up?

You may be surprised to learn that there’s no secret to improving work performance. It’s all about being organized. And the best part of all is that it’s a skill that anyone can learn.

Improving work performance is about being productive. It’s about doing the right things in the right way to yield maximum output. It’s about planning and prioritizing to make that happen. And it’s also about protecting your time.

To help you be more productive and use your time effeciently, here are ten suggestions.

  1. Arrange your physical work environment. Organize your workspace so that everything you use has a “home.” After use, always return items to their home. This takes discipline and a lot of work at first, but becomes habit with practice.
  2. Arrange your electronic files. When electronic files are arranged in a hierarchy that enables cross-organizational sharing, there is less duplication of files, no silos of information, and retrieval time is improved dramatically. Use a functional subject-based classification system for optimum efficiency and productivity.
  3. Use appropriate tools. No amount of arranging or organizing is going to help you work at your best if your tools are out-of-date. Still using Windows 95? Or DOS? Invest in current technology, a nicer website, and appropriate resources to help you be more productive. Not making the investment will bog you down, create frustration, and lead to regularly “burning the midnight oil.”
  4. Check-in with your list. As you make commitments, write them down, and check-in with your list every day. Lists help us manage our time and free our minds of mental energy that we would otherwise spend on tracking our “to-do’s.” If you write down what you need to do instead of keeping it in your head, you’ll also experience less stress and better sleep.
  5. Do it now. At work or at home, if a task takes five minutes or less, then do it now. If it’s going to take longer, then write it on your list and schedule time to do the task. Organized people don’t procrastinate on tasks that they can easily complete within a few minutes.
  6. Uni-task. While multitasking may seem like you’re accomplishing more, you are in fact accomplishing less across more area. To be truly efficient, effective, and productive, focus on one task, giving it your full attention. Turn off email pop-ups and calendar reminders. Protect your time to gain productive results.
  7. Problem-solve; don’t blame. If you happen to get sidetracked or encounter a challenge that impacts your work, use a problem-solving approach. Author Hillary Rettig gives the following example about someone engaging in inner defeatist dialogue: “What’s wrong with you? This is easy! Anyone can do it! Why are you so lazy? And with all the money you just spent on classes! What a loser!” Instead, focus on a solution: “Oh, I’m underproductive. That’s interesting. Let’s see what’s going on and how I can fix it.”
  8. Work with your energy cycle. Instead of time management, work to suit your daily energy levels. If you have high energy in the morning, then schedule the most difficult or more creative work in the morning. Don’t try to accomplish critical tasks when your energy is at a lull.
  9. Know thyself. Organized people know their strengths and weaknesses and reflect a high sense of self-worth. Ask for help to complete work on time. Just because it’s in your job description does not mean you need to do it all yourself. Think of your time as a resource that has value. Perfectionists and high achievers may not be comfortable letting anyone else share the reins, but interpersonal support goes a long way in managing stress.
  10. De-stress. Most people operate in a state of chronic stress, but those who are able to focus and stay organized are able to manage stress. The most effective way to manage stress is to exercise every day for at least 30 minutes. This can be a brisk walk, meditation, yoga, whatever works for you – just don’t sit at your computer all day.

Practicing the above suggestions takes motivation to get started. Once started, habit will keep you moving to become more organized and productive. You will also become a happier person, overall.