– Being gritty is good but need to have good health to be gritty;
– Sleep quality affects work performance, moods and relationships;
– Productivity starts at 10pm the night before, not 9am on the working day;
– Break the vicious cycle of work stress-poor sleep;
– Build a strong bed-time routine to heal your body for health, happiness, and performance.
I was in a deep trouble in late 2009 because I couldn’t sleep. My sleep problem had ‘brewed’ since mid 2008 and was ‘on and off’ for very much 12 months. I had sleep problems at that time and I was aware of it.
As a young professor in the academia, I got a rare chance to write a book for a major publisher and I got the book contract in early 2008. I was excited and thought that this would be a great boost for my academic profile. Indeed, to be an author in the academia is not as easy as it looks. Publishers want to ensure that the book will sell and the book topic is new with a large audience. Trust me: it’s very much like selling your novel ideas to a book publisher.
In 2008, I had a heavy loading both in teaching and research. I took over a course from a retiring colleague so I needed to re-develop the course. I also had 6 PhD students at that time and I was struggling supervising them. Research meetings along would occupy two full days on my calendar at that time. When I started writing my book in 2008, I found it difficult to ‘find time’ to write the book. Then I made the right decision to ‘partition’ my week into two lots: writing my book on Thursdays and Fridays and do the other things on the remaining weekdays. Sounds perfect and I did stick to this ‘habit’ for one year and a half. I was gritty, very gritty.
Mid-way into my book writing, I realised that I was stressed and had sleep issues. Then because of the pressure to finish book writing on time, I was so focused on my work that I often found it difficult to ‘switch off’ in the evening before going to bed. So my sleep quality was poor for a long period of time, but I soldiered on no matter what.
I thought that was ‘grit’. I was both right and wrong.
I was right because that’s exactly what grit is about: holding onto something and pursue it relentlessly. I was wrong because I didn’t have the resources to be fully gritty because my health was declining. Once you lose health, nothing else matters!
Situations turned bad to an extent that I knew I would burn out if I didn’t take a break. Then I wrote an email to my Head of School on a September day and asked for a long leave. He agreed so I started a four-week recovery journey. My mother flew to Sydney to visit me during that time and I did almost nothing but eating, exercising, and sleeping.
Situations didn’t improve overnight and I was frustrated. It creates a vicious cycle when you don’t have enough quality sleep: your mood is bad, your productivity drops, you try to maintain productivity by working more, then you are even more stressed due to work; then you can’t sleep well during the night. The vicious cycle started every day for me and I was not along in this ‘highly connected’ world.
I cut the vicious cycle by putting a break on my work and my life. I dropped everything from work and spent four weeks to recover. It was a precious time for me to be ‘alone’ with myself and also spent time to understand my body and soul. By the end of my leave, I was a lot better but paid a heavy toll in my life.
I was wrong with grit. I needed to have resources to be gritty. Otherwise, I would kill myself to achieve my goal and this was stupid. I was wrong about my sleep. I never paid attention to my sleep until I lost it. Now I do it seriously as I do my job in the university. After all, I spend 1/3 of my life doing this ‘sleep job’, so I’d better do it right and enjoy it. I was wrong about productivity, too. Productivity starts from 10pm the night before, not from 9am of your working day. No one can be productive and efficient by skipping sleep; at least, this is the rule for 99% of the human race.
Do you sleep well then?
Dr. C. Richard Wu @ REEAConsulting.com