In college, sleep deprivation and stress pushed my heart to the edge and sent me to the doctor one too many times. I’ve made very long strides to take better care of myself since then. Lately, I’ve been sleeping an average 7.8 hours per night if you’d believe it. I’ve always tried to be a badass and keep things cool in spite of the pain. Looking back, the number of times I boasted to peers about all-nighters makes me sick. Anymore, I keep it as cool as possible for my health: playing things down and taking situations less seriously has the magical effect of helping you actually take situations less seriously.
Over the years, I’ve learned one thing about personal investment in your job, projects or activities overall: you can give it all of your time or give it all of your stress, but not both. The cumulative tax on your body and mental health is not sustainable. If you find yourself stressing out about your work, give it time away. If you find yourself completely entrenched in working hours, find whatever way possible to breathe and relax as often as possible.
If you can’t find a way to be at peace with the way you’re spending your time, start considering serious damage control. Life is too short to sell your time, health, happiness and your soul.
I spent the better part of my high school and college years fighting my body and pretending to be immortal. For that, I was rewarded with threats to my heart and notable memory retention deprivation. We’ve only got one body (as far as I know), so what’s the point? It’s like using a million-dollar prize for firewood and burning most of it up in one fell swoop. Damn shame. Why not listen to your body and take care of it? If you’re tired, sleep. If you’re hungover, don’t drink more. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re sick, rest. Simple logic far too often ignored. Very shortsighted to ignore these signals in favor of making a good impression at the office, meeting a deadline or proving a point. Especially dumb to put your body to the test as some public point of pride. Why I bragged about how little sleep I got in high school is beyond me. Don’t do it. It’s dumb. Take care of yourself!
Charles Swindoll said, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” It’s all about attitude and what you take personally. If you don’t let things bother you, life rolls on pretty pain-free. I do not promote ignorance, however, so people with an inherent “whatever” attitude disappoint me with how disconnected they are from the people and issues around them. You need to care – often care a lot – to make a difference in this world. It takes the balance of a monk and the stamina of an olympian to put your heart everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It’s exhausting and you need to make sure you stay in good shape to keep the balance alive. My brother said it well: “If you don’t have the energy to be positive, it’s impossible to be positive – your health is your first priority.” Your reaction to life depends solely on your frame of mind. If you are mentally or physically beat to hell, it’s pretty difficult to muster a positive reaction to anything. Make a point to sleep well, eat well and take real breaks. Take care of yourself. With a healthy mind, you can meet life with a healthy attitude and virtuous reactions. Otherwise, you will foster an exponential geyser of negativity that will only drag you down and keep making life worse.
Sometimes you’ve just gotta do it. If you aspire to work hard, make a difference and get the job done, it takes sacrifices. Not all the time, of course, because that’s not sustainable. But every once in a while, all-nighters, hundred-hour weeks and late Fridays do the trick. If you are able to crumple up your to-do list at the end of the night and call it an accomplished day, very little feels better. Crumpled paper, a glass of wine and a sigh of relief. That’s the stuff.
With that, I’m leaving the office. Fifteen hour day. Suck it.
Most people don’t mention the third part. You need to be vigilant about rest if you’re going to maintain a work hard play hard lifestyle. All three forces need to balance out for you to sustain a productive, fruitful and healthy life. Let me say that again: keep work, play and rest in balance in your life. Bedtime is a magical thing if you observe it regularly. Scheduled playtime and vacations really wake you up. Don’t let work suck you away. Save an equal amount of time and energy to live the good life and recharge your batteries while still getting things done.
You will burn your team out if you expect them to hold a breakneck pace all the time. Demanding consistent, consecutive sprints can only get your group so far. Before you know it, you’ll have a death march on your hands. I know some of the hardest working people alive and even they can’t keep it up forever.
As a manager, you need to pick one or the other: train for sprints or train for a marathon. If you want your team to run faster, make room for breathers in between runs. Expect regular half days or days off. Plan retreats. Schedule time for your people to recover. If you want your team to consistently deliver, you must manage a pace that can sustain itself. Steady days. Reasonable expectations. A full night’s sleep.
Neither is right or wrong. Some groups perform better as sprinters, others as marathon runners. It’s important to study your situation, listen to your team and coach accordingly.
Inspiration is rare and must be acted on as soon as it rears its beautiful head. For me, inspiration tends to come at night when my head is clear of the day. When that happens, I’ve developed a rather unhealthy habit of staying awake to see it through. While I have no intention of encouraging insomnia, I urge you not to waste one of life’s most precious resources. See your inspiration through. Never miss the opportunity – even at the cost of a night’s sleep and rough next day. More often than not, it’s worth it.
Waking up early has advantages. First and foremost, rising early awards you the time to prepare for your day rather than straggle to work or school having dragged yourself out of bed. A leisurely pace in the morning is much healthier and less stressful than a race against truancy. You can make yourself breakfast (the most important meal of the day) and squeeze in some exercise. You have time to get extra work done (like posting to your blog) and enjoy peace & quiet enough to do it. If you get out of the house early, you can beat the rush and save even more time getting to and from. Charged with all of these benefits, you are better-equipped to have a better day.
More often than not, you trap yourself in a logic loop by staring at the same problem for too long. Take a break. Change your scenery. Revisit the puzzle with a fresh set of eyes. Your brain struggles to invent a different approach without new variables to experiment with. While inspiration or counseling may help, tweaks as simple as snacks or fresh air can alter your mental state enough to tackle your situation from a different angle. If you have the time, sleep on it. Trust in the change of pace and you may find the answer you are looking for.
Spurts of energy and productivity are rare – whatever you do, do not waste them. Don’t stop until you drop. This may be antithetical to my advice on health and rest, but sleep is far more accessible than inspiration. You can always sleep; you cannot always break the personal sound barrier.