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How Sleep Impacts Leadership

How Sleep Impacts Leadership

As a leadership consultant and success coach, I believe that habits are an important element of leadership success. Our daily practices are what support our focus, results, and growth to be at our best every day so we can effectively serve those who we lead. I believe that sleep is one of the most underrated success habits, and when crunched for time, I often choose sleep over other practices I have instilled like meditation and yoga. I see a significant difference in my performance when I get a great night’s sleep.

But what happens when you slip from your routine and choose comfort over discipline?

My typical nightly routine starts after I put my three young children to bed. I read for almost an hour before I turn off my light at 9:30 p.m. to get a full night’s sleep. An ideal night of sleep for me is about eight and a half hours (sometimes nine). When I follow through on this routine, the next morning (after my cappuccino!) I feel refreshed, energized, and ready to take action on my day.

A few weeks ago, my three kids were on spring break, which changed up our routine. Instead of my kids leaving the house at 8:20 a.m. for school, we were shuffling them to a spring break camp for half the day, then over to my mother-in-law’s for the rest of the day. My husband and I didn’t take time off from work that week, and since our normal work routine was interrupted, we were exhausted at the end of the day. The first night of spring break, I told my husband I was too tired to read, and suggested we watch “Billions” on Netflix (he got me hooked on this show a couple of months ago). We proceeded to stay up every night for seven nights in a row binge-watching “Billions” and went to bed between 10:30 and 11:00 p.m. A little mindless TV won’t hurt, right?!

All of last week, I could feel the negative impact of less sleep on my energy and focus. Tasks that are normally easy for me to knock out felt harder to tackle, and I wasn’t nearly as productive as I normally am. My lack of sleep compounded each day, and near the end of the week, I was less patient and more irritable with my kids. My little sleep “experiment” proved that breaking from my routine wasn’t worth it.

Sleep plays a crucial role in our everyday performance, and is necessary for us to perform at our best. In one study, researchers found that managers who lacked sleep were more irritable, impatient, and more hostile toward their employees. Not only does lack of sleep impact decisions and a leader’s personal productivity, but it also has a negative impact on employee engagement, productivity, and decision making. In fact, sleep deprived leaders can actually cause their employees to behave less ethically.

Leaders need sufficient sleep to perform at their best and lead others well. I often hear leaders boast about how little sleep they get, and I’ve even read some books that encourage people to sleep an hour less a day so they can fit other things in. I do believe for many people, getting up a little earlier to exercise or meditate is beneficial, but not at the expense of a good night’s sleep.

In our modern society, we have so many competing demands that can feel overwhelming. Many women bear the brunt of juggling full-time work while also managing children and household duties. As women have grown professionally, they have taken on more and more responsibilities that often feel impossible to manage. Top that off with a global pandemic that, for the better part of a year, has parents managing their children’s virtual school in addition to their work responsibilities. It makes sense that many professionals find it challenging to get adequate sleep. Yet lack of sleep is a perpetual cycle that will only leave managers and professionals more depleted as they try to juggle it all.

A Gallup poll indicated that 40% of Americans report they sleep less than the recommended seven hours of sleep a night. This poll only measured who gets less than seven hours; the National Sleep Foundation’s actual recommendation is that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. We can assume that even more Americans are sleep deprived if there is a segment of the population who needs more than seven and up to nine hours. For me, seven hours is not sufficient. I need at least eight and a half to feel my best.

In our organizations, we need to recognize that behaviors and habits outside of work —both positive and negative—impact the work itself. Individuals and organizations need to think of sleep as essential, not negotiable. We should also stop convincing ourselves that successful people don’t have time to sleep. Highly successful leaders like Jeff Bezos, Arianna Huffington, Barak Obama, and Bill Gates all report that they prioritize sleep. Arianna Huffington even created The Sleep Revolution, and her website has some great sleep resources.

Many organizations are still working mostly virtually because of the pandemic, which adds another layer to the temptation of overwork and lack of sleep. Research shows that most employees work more hours when they work from home. The flexibility offered by working virtually can also create more challenges since employees struggle to disconnect. Working from home can have its benefits (no commute), yet can also bring additional challenges and stress like having to manage children’s schedules or a lack of boundaries.

Setting boundaries is an important part of working successfully in a virtual environment. It’s important to manage your energy so you don’t become overworked and burnt-out. Having a specific end time to your day, taking frequent breaks, and getting physical exercise are important for managing your energy and productivity.

Having a productive day and being at your best actually begins the night before. Creating a nightly ritual to adequately unwind from the stresses of the day and getting enough sleep will make a huge difference in the day ahead.

6 Inspiring Resources to Start the New Year

6 Inspiring Resources to Start the New Year

Doesn’t it feel good to turn the page to 2021? Perhaps not much has changed, but having a fresh start to the new year brings hope of better things to come.

In January, many of us set goals, intentions, or resolutions. While those practices are helpful and can set our path for a successful year, they can also create a sense of disappointment and failure if we don’t start the year perfectly and stick to our intentions. I personally set goals and intentions for the year, yet I know that I am human and will have setbacks and challenges. I have learned to shift from perfection and focus more on getting better every year.

For example—I planned a two-day juice detox on Monday, January 4th to start the new year. I completed a three-day juice fast in November that I completely stuck to and felt great. For this round, I stuck to the plan most of Monday until dinner. I gave in and had some *delicious* macaroni and cheese I made for my kids (homemade!). As I was dishing the mac-and-cheese onto my plate, I knew it was going against my goal. But my kids were unexpectedly home all day with virtual learning…and, well, I just needed some comfort.

You can say I failed at my first goal of the year, which I technically did. Since I am focused on the long game, I got right back up the next day and completed the fast. This past year, I have focused more on my health than the year before, so I am moving in the right direction. My goal is to improve every year, knowing that I will never reach perfection.

As the saying goes, progress over perfection.

This past month, there are several things that have had a positive impact on me and that are helping me to become better every day. There are many books, videos and practices that can support us in getting better and better.

  1. Hello, Fears: I saw the author of this book, Michelle Poler, speak (virtually) at the National Speakers Association in July and her talk was inspiring and empowering. Michelle set out to conquer 100 fears in 100 days and documented the process. I am almost finished with her book, and I can’t put it down—her lessons and strategies are fantastic, and just what most of us need to hear to get out of our comfort zone and create the best version of ourselves.
  2. Soul: If you haven’t seen Disney Pixar’s new movie, Soul, I highly recommend it! There are so many layers to this movie, including finding meaning in our lives. This touching story follows a jazz musician who thinks he has found his passion. I won’t spoil the movie for you, but if you’ve ever been told the key to happiness is finding your “purpose” or your “passion,” you may find this movie meaningful in more ways than one. Bring tissues.
  3. The Miracle Morning: I first read Hal Elrod’s book several years ago, and last month I read the Millionaire edition—The Miracle Morning Millionaire: What the Wealthy Do Before 8 AM. I’ve studied success for over 25 years, and one of the common habits of successful, productive people is that they have a morning routine that sets them up for the day. Truthfully, I love my sleep. Getting up early is not something I love to do. I won’t be joining The 5 AM Club (also a great book) anytime soon, however, I’ve been getting up 20 minutes earlier each day to meditate and read inspirational material (my favorites are Wayne Dyer’s You are What You Think, and John Maxwell’s Daily Reader).
  4. Disconnecting from Email: I love my work, and I strive to be responsive to my clients. There are often times when I am on vacation that I won’t actively be working, but I regularly check my emails. Can you relate? The challenge is that even if I’m in a tropical setting, when I’m checking emails, I feel a low-grade anxiety about what needs to get done. I find myself thinking about answering a quick email, or checking my calendar to see if I am free for a possible speaking engagement. Even though I’m technically on vacation, on some level I’m still working, so I am not fully resting and rejuvenating. In December, I took one week off and completely disconnected from email. The difference was amazing—after a couple of days, I didn’t have the nervous energy or anxiety about what I needed to do. I could actually be present and enjoy my vacation more. This isn’t the first time I have completely disconnected on a vacation, but truthfully, more times than not I still passively check emails. I’m now committed to completely disconnecting on my vacations going forward.

    This strategy is not new or earth shattering, yet my experience is that most leaders are consistently tied to their work in some way, even on vacation. Even small requests can leave us feeling there are loose ends that need to be tied. If you are skeptical, just try it. And if you lead a team, encourage your employees to disconnect when they are on vacation so they can come back fully recharged. I felt so calm during my vacation that I started turning off my work emails at 6:00 during the week. This way, I am completely focused on my family and kids and my mental energy is not being pulled toward work.

  5. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World: Have you ever had a day full of meetings, interruptions, issues, and emergencies and felt like you didn’t get any real work done? Me too. Most of us struggle to find time to focus on important work rather than urgent work. Cal Newport shares a better way to be productive and get great results. We all know we need to focus on high value work, yet it’s one of the top challenges most leaders struggle with. While I regularly schedule blocks of time to work on projects, this book inspired me to take it to a new level and prioritize more uninterrupted time so I can get more done in less time.
  6. Finally, I’m not typically one for sharing stories from Yahoo!, but this story describing answers a life coach received when she asked people to share how they knew their company workplace was toxic captured my attention. As leaders, we can all learn what NOT to do from many of these examples. Make sure you read all the way to the end—the last one is my favorite.

I’d love for you to share on the blog what has inspired you over the past few months to become better.

Here’s to a joyful, healthy, and successful 2021!

How I Started Taking Unplugged Vacations

How I Started Taking Unplugged Vacations

In mid-August, our family took a ten day vacation to Nashville where we stayed on a 200-acre working ranch with horses, a pool, and a spotty internet connection. If it were over two years ago, I would have panicked at the thought of not being able to check my work email, but on this trip, I deliberately unplugged from work—no emails or phone calls for eight of the ten days. This is progress for me. Although I’ve rarely brought “real” work on vacations, up until two years ago, I had always checked my email several times a day to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, or to answer simple questions. The problem was that I never really disconnected enough to actually enjoy my vacations—there was always an underlying sense of anxiety about what was going on at work.

This all changed two years ago when I joined a program for entrepreneurs. It was there that my coach introduced the entrepreneurial time system, which included free days. Free days are 24-hour periods of complete disconnection from work—no email, no phone calls, no reading any business material. The idea is for you to free your mind and focus on other activities you might enjoy (for me that includes drinking wine, massages, playing tennis, or hiking). This concept seemed so crazy to me at first. What if a potential client emailed me? What if one of my CEO clients had a question? What if people were annoyed, they had to wait over a week for me to get back to them?

In February 2018, I tested the concept out on an eight-day vacation we planned at a resort in southern Virginia. Day one and two were very challenging for me. I found myself frequently grabbing my phone out of habit, but the only thing I could check were my personal email (which was mostly sales emails) and Facebook. I felt an underlying sense of anxiety for two days as I wondered what I could be missing at work. And then something magical happened. By day three, the anxiety had disappeared. I was actually enjoying our vacation—truly enjoying it—without thinking about work. My husband and I went on a hike and had a great conversation, and I wasn’t constantly distracted by things I couldn’t do anything about.

This trip was a huge learning lesson for me. I realized by staying connected to my email, I became worried about small things—things that could wait a week—and it impacted my entire vacation. If a client emailed to ask a simple question, I would think about it all day until I could find a minute to reply. I would begin thinking about all the things I had to do when I got back to the office, instead of being present and enjoying my family who was right in front of me.

It may seem impossible (or feel irresponsible) for you to imagine going on vacation and completely disconnecting from work. I’m sure you take pride in doing a great job, being responsive, and getting things done. But you are truly missing out on an opportunity to free your mind of distractions, improve your relationships, and clear your mind. After your break, you will return more focused and rested, and with creative and better ideas. Your body and mind will get the rest it needs to work at your peak performance.

Our modern culture is so different today then years ago when you didn’t have a phone in your hand or email and texting at your fingertips. As a society we have blurred the lines between work and home. So many professionals are feeling burnt out, exhausted, and overworked from being constantly connected.

There are a couple of things you can do to prepare for your trip to reduce your own anxiety, while also alleviating the questions others may have while you are away.

Set up your auto responders. Before you leave, set up your out of office responder in your email and on your voicemail. This sounds simple, but I can’t tell you how many people I email who are on vacation and forget to put their out of the office message on. This just causes frustration and delays for your members and your colleagues. Here’s a tip: even if you are at a conference or away for one day and plan to check your emails, still set up your out of office responder. This way you are setting the expectation that you will not respond, and if you do, the receiver is pleasantly surprised. For example, I recently attended a four-day conference in Denver and set my auto response message saying I was at a conference and would respond when I returned to the office. I responded to more urgent messages the same day I received them and saved the others for when I actually returned to work.

Provide a contact. Always provide the name and email of someone who can be contacted when you are out of the office (and make sure they are not out of the office too!). When I set up my auto responder, I always include my assistant Lisa’s contact information so clients can have someone to reach out to if they need it. I tell Lisa she can text me if something urgent comes up and she thinks I need to be involved. This rarely happens, but will give you and the person emailing you relief in knowing if something is truly important, it will be handled.

Tie up loose ends. Make sure you follow through on any commitments or projects before you leave the office. Colleagues will be frustrated if you leave and they don’t have what they need while you are gone.

To really enjoy your unplugged vacation, you need to set expectations. Since I started taking unplugged vacations two years ago, I have not once (that anyone has communicated to me) had an issue where a client or partner was frustrated or mad because they received an auto responder and had to wait. In fact, several people have said it’s inspiring to them that I am able to really disconnect. As long as you set expectations of when you will respond and you follow through, it will rarely become an issue. You can be a successful, high performing leader and still take unplugged time to recharge. In fact, you will become more successful and high performing when you do. Personally, I have made more money both years I have taken unplugged vacations compared to years I have not.

And the upside? You will truly enjoy connecting with the special people in your life, and will return more rejuvenated and focused.