Dream to Achieve: The Importance of Sleep

Lack of Sleep Sleep deprivation Sleep, Dream, Dreaming

As a society we push ourselves to work long hours, viewing this as a necessary evil in the pursuit of success.  Technology ensures we are constantly connected to our work, even when we are not physically at work.  Popular off-duty activities include fast moving sports and video games.  Even if we take up something calming like yoga, we often rush from yoga class to the supermarket, then home to deal with domestic responsibilities, negating the calmness brought about by the yoga.  With leisure time shrinking and the length of time we work, both per week and over our lifetime, lengthening is it any wonder that many people suffer from lack of sleep?

Many of my clients come to me complaining that they are too busy and have to work exceptionally long hours.  They are tired, stressed and beginning to feel resentful toward the business that they once loved because its demands are getting harder and harder to manage.  Often I hear them tell me they are skimping on sleep in order to keep on top of everything they need to do.

It is World Sleep Day on 15 March so what better time to investigate the impact of lack of sleep on our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

Long work hours result in not only tiredness but also a lack of attentiveness which in certain circumstances can have really dangerous outcomes.  Driving whilst tired is just as dangerous as driving whilst drunk;  our reactions are impaired and it is not unheard of for fatal accidents to result from people actually falling asleep at the wheel.  Those super long days driving between meetings are really not good for your health.

Distracted and Inefficient

Lack of sleep will make you distracted.  Concentration will be more difficult and you will possibly flit about from task to task, unable to quite finish anything.  The plethora of half done tasks will then start to annoy and upset you.  As your judgement and ability to plan is also impaired by lack of sleep, this may lead to poor decision making. You may also fail to realise that the time has come to stop doing a task because you are not achieving anything useful.

When we sleep we are not just laid in bed recharging ourselves like a battery.  Sleep is the time when our brain sorts out all the stuff we have done and learned that day and puts it into the right order to make sense of things.  If you don’t get enough sleep, that won’t happen and you will find you are struggling to learn.  In today’s fast paced world where continued learning is a critical skill in the workplace, lack of sleep can therefore cause real problems.

Memory Failures

Both long and short term memory are affected by lack of sleep.  We might notice that we have to try harder to take on board new information and keep it available in long term memory.  The impact on short term memory is more immediately obvious; we can’t recall things that happened two minutes ago.  This is the point where you go up and down stairs fourteen times before you finally manage to remember that you went up there to get your glasses.

(Not) Getting Things Done

Efficiency and productivity are reduced, so an all-nighter will usually make you less efficient and productive rather than more so.  Brain imaging studies have shown that your brain must work harder when you are sleep deprived, making it less efficient and as a result you are also less efficient.  Taking the time to have the right amount of sleep will actually mean you get more done rather than less.

Because your brain is tired it will rely on the well-worn pathways created by habits. This is fine if the habit is useful, effective and appropriate.  It’s not so good if the habit is unhealthy.

Relationships

Lack of sleep affects our relationships as well.  We have less empathy when we are sleep deprived and can’t read facial expressions as effectively.  This can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts can arise, particularly if both parties are tired.  This can have an impact on relationships as well.  For example, new parents who are being woken throughout the night by their infant may find this places a strain on the relationship.

The Solution

The good news is that just one or two good nights sleep can reverse most of the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation.  The occasional late night/early morning can be coped with but for long term health as well as optimum efficiency and productivity, a regular sleep pattern is recommended.  The type of sleep is more important than the number of hours you are physically laid in bed as well.  There are four sleep stages and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is the most important.  Research suggests that we need about two hours of REM sleep per night in order to feel alert the next day.  Whether you are a morning or evening person makes a difference as well.  If possible, early birds should retire early and get up early whilst night owls might sleep from 2am – 10am and feel wonderful on waking.

If you have too much work and not enough sleep, why not outsource some of your admin so you can sleep in peace, knowing you don’t need to worry about your admin backlog.  Click Here to see the services I offer and  Click Here if you’d like to have a chat.

Colour Creates Clarity

Colour Coding, Organisational Tips, Colour Code, Red Amber Green, RAG System

Colour is not just for kids. Colour can play a strong and effective role in organising your time, tasks and environment.

Red Amber Green  RAG SystemWe are socially conditioned to see some colours as meaningful. In particular, red for danger, amber for caution and green for go. This traffic light system can be used to great effect in planning and organising tasks. It’s a standardised way to indicate issues in reports and to clearly signpost progress. Often shortened to RAG (Red, Amber, Green) it can give information at a glance and is widely understood.

You can apply the traffic light approach to your desk environment and keep three trays, or files, on your desk. Coloured Red, Amber and Green you can store the information for each category in these locations and instantly see what’s urgent. A colourful variation on the old In, Pending and Out trays. The colours impart a sense of urgency that was absent from the standard issue grey plastic trays with tiny little labels.

If you need to quickly note down a task or To Do item you can use Post-Its. Stick them on the relevant folder and you have everything together in one place. You could also use coloured Post-Its to denote urgency if you find this helpful.

Time and Task Management

When in the early stages of planning a complex project, use different coloured Post-Its on a wall planner or large piece of paper pinned to the wall. You can colour code by task, by team responsibilities, primary and secondary taskings or whatever you need to simplify your plan and make it feel more manageable. The Post-Its can be moved around at will, allowing you to create a plan quickly and easily and to alter it as needed until it works effectively. You can then transfer the plan to its final format, using the colour code to make the plan simple and clear for everyone to follow.

Diary Management

Colour coding is absolutely perfect for very busy diaries. Common events can be designated a particular colour. I put my meetings in one colour if they are waiting to be confirmed but use a different colour for meetings which are confirmed.

If you have multiple clients you can use a different colour for each client.  As many of us use the diary on our phone and check it on the run, this can be hugely helpful.

Outlook provides little icons for your diary entries so you can mark them with common activities such as food, travel, meeting etc in addition to the colour options. Helpful whilst you are getting used to the new colour code system.
It can be tempting to go overboard with the colours. However, too many colours will lead to confusion over which colour means what. You are aiming for a few, easily recalled colours, not a diary that resembles an explosion in a paint factory.
In a hard copy diary you can still use a colour code system. Use a different colour pen for client work, meetings or To Do list items. Use highlighters to denote the most important task of the day, or write the top three tasks in red.

Email Management

Gmail’s star system is incredibly useful for quickly identifying emails that need a more considered response. I use a variant of the RAG system for my Gmail diary; RAY, Red, Amber, Yellow, because once it is green it belongs in a file not in the InBox so that’s exactly where it gets put.

If you tend to review emails whilst on the move you can star the ones that you can’t deal with on the move and by colour coding them you can see at a glance which ones you need to tackle first when you get back to your desk. Naturally you can use whatever colour you want to denote urgency and Gmail also provides a small range of coloured icons in the same section as the stars and some people prefer to use these.

If you share an InBox, you can agree a colour code system to allocate responsibility. The person who picks up the Email colours it “their” colour and it is clear at a glance who is handling that particular task. A universal colour for “completed” is useful in some situations but ideally completed items should be filed in one of the folders you’ve set up for the purpose so that items can be found again quickly.

I hope you find the method works well for you.  I love colour coding and use it a lot with my clients, particularly the diary element which a lot of clients find really helpful.  If’ you’d like to find out more about the range of different ways in which  I can help to streamline your workload and get that pesky admin under control, get in touch and let’s have a chat.

Work Overload: An Increasing Problem

Work, Burnout, Overload, Overloaded, Business, Mental Health

Ahead of World Mental Health day which falls on 10th October this year, I want to raise an issue that is, I think, particularly important to small business owners:  Work Overload.

Work overload results when the demands of the job role exceed the limits of reasonable human endurance.  People are expected to, or try to do, too much, in too little time, with too few resources.  It’s characterized by a combination of factors including:

  • Pressure to work long hours
  • Heavy workloads which cannot reasonably be completed by a normal person within the hours allotted to the tasks.
  • Few breaks, little time off and few or no holidays.
  • Unrelenting, constant and highly pressured working pace.
  • Unrealistic expectations of what could be achieved with the available time and resources
  • Carrying out, or trying to carry out, more than one role at once.

There is a lot written about work overload within large corporate and public sector environments but all of the points above afflict small business owners too.  The pressures which lead to the overload are different but the results are the same.  And those results can be devastating.  Particularly for small business owners who in most cases cannot easily choose to walk away from the business and do something else.   This element of having no choice can make the effects of work overload feel even worse.

When work overload is persistent rather than seasonal or occasional, then our bodies can’t recover, rest and restore balance.  Every role has busy periods but if we know it will be followed by a slack period when we can recover, this makes it possible for us to keep going.  That feeling that the work will just keep coming at you constantly with no respite or let up is true overload.

Do I have Work Overload?

Work overload isn’t just about work quantity but also the type of tasks that you have to deal with.  A busy workload with very clearly defined tasks and boundaries is actually good for your mental wellbeing.  What is destructive to mental wellbeing is a chaotic workload.  Competing priorities, extra tasks with short deadlines, being unsure what the day will throw at you, and trying to do tasks for which you feel unqualified.  Working like this means you cannot plan your day effectively, cannot meet everyone’s expectations and never feel you’ve finished your work.

Technology also adds to the pressure.  Work messages ping onto your phone all evening when you are trying to relax.  Home becomes an extension of work, particularly for staff who work from home and home-based small business owners.  Many articles suggest shutting the door of the home office.  This only works if the phone is trapped in there being ignored.  And how many of us do that?

When work bleeds into our home life the work overload affects our family too.  Couples end up spending more time working than they do with their family.  There are constant pressures to be the perfect parent, and the perfect worker, with Social Media telling everyone they can have it all and it’s easy.  But it’s not is it?  Something has to give and that something is often the couple’s relationship with each other and with their children.

What can you do to avoid work overload?

date night, holding hands, relationshipsMake home life and health a priority

Ensure you do not neglect your social life and any artistic or cultural activities which you value.  Whether you like to go to Rock Concerts, read quietly in a corner, create Airfix models or work in your garden, make sure you find time each week for these activities.  Schedule them into the diary if you can and make sure that you don’t make excuses not to do them.  Don’t neglect Date Nights with your significant other.  It’s important to ensure your relationship remains healthy so you can support each other when you each need it.

Get Enough Sleep.

Make it a habit to always ensure you get adequate sleep.  This has a huge impact on health and wellbeing.  Views vary on what the ideal amount of sleep is, but 6-8 hours is good unless you really are one of those rare people who only need four hours.

Exercise

Just three hours a week spread throughout the week will have a positive effect.  Ideally include both aerobic and strength training but if you aren’t that athletic, even a simple daily walk will help.  And if you choose the walking option, try to look around you as you walk.  It’s easy to plod along, looking at the ground, pondering about work issues.  Instead look at the leaves, the trees, listen for the birds, watch dogs running in the park.  If you are in a built up area, look up at the architecture and sky, or at the plants in people’s gardens.  Concentrate on the air you are breathing, notice how the earth smells in the rain, how the sun feels, or how the cold air is so fresh in the winter.

Relax your mind and body

Meditation can be very helpful in reducing stress on a daily basis.  If you make it a habit for the start and end of the day this can have a really positive impact on stress reduction.   It can also be helpful to take a couple of minutes in the daytime if things are particularly fraught, and just breathe in, and out, slowly whilst thinking of a calm and quiet place.

Frequent three day weekends can be a great idea, particularly for small business owners who struggle to get away from the business for a longer holiday.  When you are feeling overworked it can feel stressful to go away for a longer holiday as you may feel worried about what you are going to get home to.  Long weekends are a great alternative.  Try to do something truly relaxing with your long weekend.  Something that fulfills you but is not goal driven.

Feed your health

Restrict caffeine and alcohol since they produce chemical stressors on the body which can make stress worse.  Ensure you are taking in enough potassium as this affects the adrenal glands which produce the hormones that govern our fight or flight and stress response.  Potassium is found in fruit and vegetables particularly bananas, oranges, raisins, potatoes, mushrooms, cooked broccoli, spinach and soy beans.

In the workplace

There are some steps you can take to control your workload so that it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. These include:

  • Setting aside blocks of time for work and for appointments, and putting this in the diary so you have a shape to your day and know when you are working and can plan tasks that will fit the time you have available.  As mentioned earlier, it can be useful to block out time for relaxation too… it gives a goal and an end point when things are fraught and is something to look forward to.
  • Discouraging people from just “dropping by”.  The latter can be a real problem for home-based workers as friends seem to think you will be able to just stop what you are doing and have coffee with them whenever it takes their fancy.
  • Learn how to say no really diplomatically.  Someone once told me that the epitome of diplomacy was the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that the person really enjoyed the journey.    It is OK to say No.  No one ever died from being told No.
  • Leave your phone in another room whilst you are working, turn off the notifications or put it on silent.
  • Prioritise emails and correspondence.  Try to avoid the knee jerk response of “ooh, email… must answer now”.  Look at it dispassionately.  Do you really need to reply to that now?  Will it wait?
  • Break large tasks and projects into smaller bits and tackle them one at a time.  It’s easier and less overwhelming.  I’ve recently written blog posts about successful project planning here and here which you may find useful.
  • Learn to delegate.  No one can do everything.  I do lots of things myself but I have an absolutely lovely lady who does my accounts.  This was the first thing I ever outsourced because I knew that the time saved and the reduction in stress would be completely worth it.  If you aren’t sure what to delegate or how to do it, I wrote a blog post here.  However, in essence it recommends that you either automate or outsource the tasks you hate, are not good at, or those that take forever to complete.

And if the things you hate to do are admin related, you can get in touch with me here.  Let’s have a chat about the things that are causing you stress, eating into your time and stopping you from increasing your business revenue.