When you are faced with a mountain of work, working harder and longer can seem like the obvious solution. High-achievers tend to focus on doing more by doing more. For many busy women, the work and the responsibilities can seem never-ending—and overwhelming. It’s not at all unusual for me to begin working with a client who can recite in detail how she spends every minute of her day—and she still feels swamped and haunted by a to-do list she can’t keep up with.
Self-care? She often rolls her eyes and tells me it never even makes the list.
Recently, I asked followers on Facebook and Twitter how much sleep they were getting and for those who were sleep deprived (quite a few), what the biggest challenge was with getting enough sleep. The comments below are pretty typical of the challenges people shared.
“Getting some me-time before 10pm (there’s always something I should be doing).”
“Shutting off my thoughts.”
“Stopping for the evening and actually going to bed—it feels like I never finish what’s on my to-do list.”
“There is always more to do.”
And these comments aren’t unusual. Incredible numbers of hardworking women are functioning (or trying to function) on far too little rest, sleep, and rejuvenation. It’s another example of falling for one of the biggest self-care traps and productivity myths there is—the belief that we do more by doing more.
Can I suggest that there’s another, much more powerful way to approach our busy, responsibility-filled lives? It’s a version of working smarter that might really sooth your overloaded soul. That is, if you are willing to accept a major paradigm shift and step off the hamster wheel of your never-ending to-do list.
There’s a limit to the benefit of hard work. We don’t always increase our productivity by working more and by working harder. Sometimes, the best way to increase our effectiveness, productivity, our brilliance, and our impact, is to shift priorities. Cut back on the hard work and allow time and energy to insure that you show up to your life as the brightest, best maintained, fueled, and focused version of yourself.
Sleep and all the other pieces of self-care that allow us to function optimally are not extras or options we can tack on at the end of the day if there is time. They are our most important productivity tools and without them, we’re asking ourselves to function with one arm (or two) tied behind our back.
What would be different if instead of considering self-care a luxury or an option, you treated it as an important success strategy? Tony Schwartz wrote a wonderful article on how approaching self-care differently can get you further. He summarizes some of the important research that is telling us something working moms and busy professionals so desperately need to hear. We need self-care. Schwartz explains how work breaks and daytime workouts, short afternoon naps and longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations actually boost productivity, job performance and, of course, health.
Before you dismiss these findings as “interesting” but not something you could possibly fit into your own reality (“I don’t have time”), consider the assumptions you might be making that support your world staying the same. I literally cannot count the number of high-striving busy women I’ve worked with who came to me in a state of chronic sleep deprivation. Each one of them got there because she believed there was no time for her to sleep more. She believed it wasn’t an option.
Except for short term emergencies, I always take the other tack. It has to be an option, or you, and those who count on you, are going to pay a very big price.
Every time a sleep-deprived client has agreed to make the shift and prioritize getting 7.5 hours of sleep a night, big changes have happened for her and almost always, the hard things have gotten easier to deal with. Appetite goes down (and so do cravings) while metabolism gets better. Energy improves—usually a lot. Focus, creativity, patience, and perspective all benefit. And my hardworking, overwhelmed clients almost always tell me they can’t believe how much more they are getting done.
We’ve got it backwards. Basics like sleep and self-care aren’t rewards or options, and going without them doesn’t make us tougher. Strategic self-care is what makes us strong and powerful and productive. Taking good care of ourselves is what we owe ourselves and our world.
Take good care,