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.”

It’s not sex. It’s not drinking. It’s stress and it’s soaring.

(headline source: Fortune Magazine, October 28, 2002)

A recent study shows that six in ten workers in major global economies are experiencing increased workplace stress. China (86%) has the highest rise in workplace stress (source: The Regus Group). The American Institute of Stress reports that 80% of workers feel stress on the job and nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress. And 42% say their co-workers need such help.

What is causing all this stress?

One of the main causes of stress is complexity as can be found in faster-better-more technology. With the faster-better-more comes an inherent risk of inefficiency and ineffectiveness for those on the managing end. I submit that most companies have done a poor job of helping their staff manage technology.

Think about something as innocuous as email. How much stress do you incur as a direct result of too much email? Does your company provide you with resources, training, and guidance to help you manage your email so that it is not a source of stress for you (and those who attempt to communicate with you via email)?

Consider this: There were 3.3 billion email accounts in 2012 (source: Radacati Group). This is expected to increase to 4.3 billion by 2016. Of these amounts, corporate email makes up 25%, yet accounts for most of the world’s email traffic. In 2012, the number of business emails sent and received per day totaled 89 billion. And this number is expected to reach over 143 billion by year-end 2016. Consumer email, on the other hand, is expected to decrease, but this is partly due to increased use of texting and other social media such as Facebook and Twitter. And mobile email is also increasing.

It’s no wonder that stress is soaring. Juggling the ineffectiveness and inefficiencies imposed by technology at work only to come home to even more of the same can increase stress. So how does one cope with this bombardment? Here are some suggestions to help you stop stress from soaring in your life:

  1. Prepare for work by not rushing to work. Give yourself lots of time to get there. Studies show that if you start your day rushing, you will feel more stressed and be less productive at work.
  2. Keep your email inbox clear. Zero items at the end of the day is the rule, not a suggestion (for work and home email accounts). Immediately move all read items out of your inbox into appropriate storage locations (i.e., personal folders, shared drive folders, delete, print and file, etc.). By doing this, you will reduce your visual clutter and also be able to search for email items more efficiently.
  3. Set priorities for your day and stick to those priorities. Unless there’s an emergency, there’s no reason to shift priorities. Shifting will only pull you behind schedule. You want to be ahead, since by doing so, you will experience less stress.
  4. Go home on time whenever you can. Sometimes you may need to do overtime, but this should be the exception rather than the rule. Going home on time means you are sticking to a schedule. And this means that both you and your family will be relaxed about schedules.
  5. When at home, don’t use your mobile devices or your desktop computer until you’ve had a chance to unwind. This means spend time with your family and enjoy dinner before checking your mobile devices. I check my mobile device only if I am expecting to hear from a friend or family member, or if I want to get in touch with them. Otherwise, work can wait until the morning.
  6. Get enough sleep. Sleep and efficiency go hand in hand. Decreasing sleep by as little as 1.5 hours for just one night reduces daytime alertness by 32 percent. This means your ability to function is about as good as someone who is inebriated. Get at least 7.5-8.0 hours of sleep each and every night. Use time management planning and plan your bedtime, sticking to your normal bedtime routine every night. On time.

Practice the above six steps and you will be helping yourself reduce your stress. You will experience better mood, better sleep, less tension and anxiety; you will make less mistakes at work, gain better concentration, and will be a much happier person all around.

Overworked? Really?

I have worked with many clients over the past few decades and one of the common complaints that I hear repeatedly is that they are “overworked.” While this doesn’t typically surprise me when I hear it from staff, it continues to surprise me when I hear it from executives.

Being overworked implies that there is too much work for the role. I don’t believe this to be true, but the perception of “overwork” is in the eye of the beholder. If you feel overworked, listen up: You are either not fit for your role or your work methodology needs to change. In more cases than not, the latter is true. Staff and leaders alike spend too much time on irrelevant tasks or tasks that can be done by others, resulting in a backlash of complaints of “overwork” and important work not getting done.

I recall one client that spent most of his days in meetings. I asked him why he couldn’t delegate one or more of his senior staff to attend meetings on his behalf. His response was that no one else could do it. But here’s what I see. His real issue is an inability to delegate, resulting in him working after hours and on weekends to catch up on work he should have done during the day. In another instance, a client regularly asked me for my project status report even though the report was emailed to him, like clockwork, on the first of the month. And each time, the email exchange resulted in the client saying that he found it. Overwork? No. This is just poor email management and only one area where my client’s work methodology needed serious improvement.

The next time you claim to be overworked, be honest with yourself. How much time are you spending on activities that can be done by others? How much time are you spending wading through disorganized email? How much time are you spending searching for information to write a report? When was the last time you had a real meal to power your day? What about your fitness routine? Sure, sometimes we all get a surge of work that requires us to put in a few extra hours, but if this is your norm, you need to shape up your approach to your job. There is no excuse for being disorganized (or overworked).

That said, here is a sobering fact. Nine out of ten change initiatives fail. What this means is that for each habit you wish to change, you need to try at least ten times. It does not mean that because the odds of changing are stacked against you that you should not try. Persistence is the key to change.

If you’re overworked, you can dig yourself out of your quandary. First, identify the bad habits that you need to change, then start by changing one habit. And when you’ve changed one habit, practice your new habit for at least three months before moving on to the next habit. Over time, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that overwork is no longer your norm, even though your responsibilities remain the same.

Problems Seen in Inadequate Filing Systems

Mary shares the top five root causes for problems she has seen relating to inadequate filing systems within organizations.


Efficiency Overload

Is there such a thing as too much efficiency? The short answer is “yes,” but let me explain.

The goal of efficiency is to cut out waste and try to do more with less; the end result being that the organization and the individuals in it are more effective (doing the right things – “quality”) by being more efficient (doing things right – “productivity”). In order to achieve this goal, balancing efficiency with available organizational resources is necessary to ensure that the correct amount of efficiency is implemented. It’s really about getting the right balance.

If an organization does not have the precise balance of efficiency in its administrative and operational systems and processes, the resulting ineffectiveness may be worse than if efficiency measures weren’t implemented in the first place. For instance, asking employees to be efficient by measuring everything they do can cause operational paralysis. Not everything can (or should) be reduced to numbers (e.g., how many emails did you answer today? is your inbox at zero by the end of each day?). Instead, quality needs to be built into each task so that efficiency is enabled through the resulting effectiveness. Instead of how many emails did you answer today, the question may be “How many emails did you answer today that needed to be answered today?”

Organizations and employees may disagree on whether there can ever be too much efficiency. The fact is that organizations need to continue to increase efficiencies in order to improve their competitiveness in the marketplace (or in the case of non-profit or government organizations, to improve their service levels). Sometimes this means layoffs and no raises – something that is not favourable to employees. Without competitive advantage, however, organizations disappear and in the process, all (not just some) of their employees lose their jobs. This is why it is important that the right balance of efficiency and effectiveness be implemented in all administrative and operational tasks.

While efficiency may be easy to implement in an industrial or mechanical operation, effectiveness is more important than efficiency for knowledge workers. Each individual needs to become as efficient as possible using good time and process management principles. Applying efficiency techniques to tasks such as managing one’s inbox, email, telephone calls, interruptions, etc., in a way that produces appropriate and quality results will enable knowledge workers to become more efficient and effective.

Implementing efficiency measures from the bottom up will ensure that each individual applies the appropriate balance for the type of work they are doing. This approach may help reduce the organization’s zeal to implement “mass” efficiency measures that may not be appropriate to every employee.