Monthly Archives: June 2013

The 3 Things I Like About Insomnia (or, How It Can Be Good for You)

Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. If you want facts on the underlying causes, health risks, long-term effects, treatments and cures, you won’t find it here in insomniathis post. (There are many other blogs, plus books and sleep clinics, for that.)

But if you’re eager to learn about the benefits of restless, sleep-deprived nights, every now and then, read on.

In the interest of full disclosure: I’m a light sleeper. I don’t need a full eight hours to feel rested (five to six hours are usually enough).

And despite practicing tips for sound, healthy sleep, I am prone to nocturnal awakenings (especially now, as an expectant mother). Yet rarely does fatigue set in. When it does, I call in sick. Except for the occasional chai tea latte, I stay away from caffeine and other stimulants.

So, here are the three things I like about insomnia (or, here’s how it can be good for you):

1.  Insomnia can prepare you for a BIG EVENT or BIG PROJECT that will require loads of your time and force you to reduce your sleep hours or sleep in shifts.

I keep hearing that being a first-time parent is a big event. Just yesterday, my husband Michael and I attended a four-hour prenatal class that began at 8:30 am. I was alert for the whole thing, despite having slept for just three hours due to a bout with insomnia.

We learned that newborns have very small stomachs and need to be fed every one to three hours (8 to 12 times daily).  Having some sleepless nights now is firsthand training for what’s to come.

Similarly, reduced sleep hours or intermittent sleep might be necessary to complete big, crucial projects. Regardless of your organizational skills, there could come a time when you need to push through the night to get work done or respond to an emergency.  Experience with sleeplessness enables you to pull unavoidable all-nighters.

2. Insomnia can be a WAKE-UP CALL to take action on important stuff.

The question “what keeps you up at night?” often carries negative connotations and presumably involves deep-seated worries. But it can also be taken as a constructive inquiry into the direction and meaning of your life. Approach it with curiosity and openness.

Insomnia frequently stems from unconscious emotions and unexamined behavior. Pay attention to the thoughts and feelings surrounding your restlessness, fear, anxiety or general angst, instead of suppressing them. Without labeling them right or wrong, use them to create positive change.

Are you way off course? Is there some self-destructive behavior that you need to stop? Is there an action step that you must take, but have been delaying? Do you tolerate unhealthy situations that you’re better off without? Do you need to modify your lifestyle or change your habits?

Don’t automatically reach for sleep-aids, meds, or quick, unnatural fixes for insomnia at the expense of tackling the root cause. Take note of what keeps you up at night. Initiate a plan to resolve it or make peace with it.

3. Insomnia can lead to your BEST, CREATIVE WORK. 

The next time you’ve tried everything to fall asleep or stay asleep, but just can’t, get up out of bed. Welcome your wakefulness.

The middle of the night or wee hours of the morning provides quiet, space and solitude that you don’t otherwise get.  Take advantage of it to ponder the big questions, brainstorm ideas, and make uninterrupted progress on highly desired goals.

Rather than pace the floors, toss and turn, or stare at the ceiling because you can’t sleep, get a head start on your day – and do your best, creative work.

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At a time when many are asleep so they don’t struggle to wake up on Monday morning, I’m completing this blog post. (It’s now three minutes before midnight on Sunday.)

While I need rest and rejuvenation through sound sleep, I can appreciate episodic or short-term insomnia – and make good use of it – when all else fails. And so can you.

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Photo by: Benjamin Watson

Multitasking: 6 Steps to Help You Quit

When you have numerous things to do, the best way to complete them in less time and with greater ease is to single-task. Focusing on one task at a time and diving deeply into each create better outcomes.chess

But competing demands, endless crises, constant interruptions, and ongoing distractions can push you into multitasking (i.e. attending to two or more tasks simultaneously).

Like any ingrained habit, multitasking can be hard to break.

Here are 6 steps to help you quit:

Step #1 – Accept your limits and the limits of multitasking.

You are a limited resource. Your energy and attention-span are limited. Your time is limited to 24 hours in a day. Multitasking has its limits, too.

The human brain allows you to juggle only simple, routine tasks that require little attention or use different channels of mental processing. So you might be able to listen to voicemail while you’re cleaning your desk, but not while you’re responding to email.

Multitasking gives the illusion that you’re attending to several active tasks at once. But the most you can really do is switch quickly from one task to the next (switch-tasking). Or perform a mindless and mundane task in the background while you attend to another (background tasking).

Multitasking doesn’t work for projects that demand high-quality attention, active engagement, complex thought, and creative decision-making.

Once you accept your limits and the drawbacks of multitasking, you will be more inclined to focus on one thing at a time.

Step #2 – Make deliberate choices about your priorities.

All things seem urgent and important when you fail to prioritize. External busyness involves having too much on your agenda. Internal busyness comes from worry and anxiety over unfinished tasks. Instead of trying to get it all done, focus on getting the right things done.

Keep a to-do list that is short, simple and specific. Pick the top three most important tasks that you want to or must complete in the day. Include one meaningful, creative task that will help you reach a long-term goal or make progress on a huge project.

Create a not-to-do list as well. Say no to meaningless tasks that you can avoid, delay or delegate. Shed the things that don’t serve you well and clash with your real to-dos. Don’t agree to every meeting request. Don’t check your email every five minutes. Don’t surf the Web first thing at work.

Step #3 – Block out time to work on your top priorities.

Do your most important tasks or your meaningful, creative tasks first, before the distractions and interruptions pile up. Or schedule appropriate time blocks such as 15, 30, 60 or 90 minutes, when your energy is at its peak, to do them. Designating specific times to focus on your highest priorities will help you screen out your lowest priorities.

Include buffers in your schedule for taking breaks, as well as for accommodating urgent requests or performing administrative duties. When the time block for your top priorities expires (or your energy drops and attention wanes), you can use the white space on your calendar to unwind, perform reactionary work or do routine tasks.

Step #4 – Respond skillfully to urgent requests.  

Reacting quickly to whatever arises at work can provide instant gratification. It feels good to avert a crisis, rescue others, and save the day. But constant firefighting carries long-term costs and consequences. It leaves you with less time to chip away at your important, high-value projects.

When an unexpected, last-minute request comes in, pause and take a breath. Ask yourself whether it’s truly an emergency that you must deal with, right then and there. If it is, get help or describe what else is on your plate. If it’s not, explain why you’re not the best person to handle it or negotiate the due date.

Remind your boss and supervisors about deadlines for other projects and how much time you need to get them done right. Have them make the tough choices and reprioritize for you if you lack the autonomy to do so.

Respond promptly to clients’ urgent requests, but don’t assume you must take immediate action. Describe the next steps and the proposed timeline for delivering the product or service that meets their needs. Demanding clients might just want to blow off steam or explore how much they can push you around. If they truly expect you to drop everything else to satisfy their demands in every situation, consider dropping them.

Step #5 – Set boundaries and push back on interruptions.

Your boss, supervisors, clients and colleagues have their own priorities and agendas, which often conflict with your own. Setting clear expectations and educating others about your work habits and responsibilities will help you minimize interruptions.

Establish boundaries and honor them to ensure that others respect your time. If you need to focus on completing a certain task, close your office door, tell your assistant to hold non-urgent calls, and send an email to key colleagues asking them to connect only on matters that can’t wait.

Push back on interruptions, particularly when you’re working on a major project or you’re up against a deadline. If a colleague stops by your office when you don’t have time to talk, have her send a meeting request or check back with you tomorrow.

Step #6 – Eliminate distractions.  

Emails, IMs, text messages, social media, telephone calls, wi-fi and the like create information overload that can easily distract you from your true priorities. While technology is omnipresent and hard to avoid, unplugging from it at designated times is within reach.

When you need to focus on an important project, silence your cell phone ringer, turn off your email notification, and unplug from the Internet. Respond to telephone messages and emails in batches, once every hour or so. You don’t need to reply to every single telephone call or email as it comes in. Log on to the Internet during a set period, instead of constantly surfing it throughout the day.

Clutter on your desk and in your workspace is also distracting. Keeping piles of files in your field of vision will trigger your multitasking habit. You will spend more time searching for documents, have more trouble focusing, and create stress looking at all the projects and tasks you have yet to do.

Strive to keep your desk clear, except for the one project or task you’re working on in that moment. Maintain a system that allows you to purge, archive and store your files in an organized way, rather than have them grow into a cluttered mess.

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By implementing these 6 steps, you can begin to kick the habit of multitasking and move toward single-tasking. You can start with step #1 or any step that is most practical for you.  They will help you become a focused, single-tasker who gets the right things done in less time and with greater ease.

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Photo by: alvarogd