Earlier this year, I wrote about how working from home has been a really good thing for many night owls, many of whom are sleeping a little bit better! It's a step in the right direction. That's for sure.
On the other hand, I have observed that other people are actually having a much more challenging time with sleep. In many cases, their issues relate to the breaking of physical boundaries between work and home. Maybe that's you. If so, how can you have work-life balance, when your home is now where you work?
Now, the issues that people face are obviously varied. Some people are dealing with having other members of the household at home, all at the same time, during work hours. I have, for instance, heard from some self-described introverts that they are in desperate need of space from their families, so that they can just be.
Others are finding it challenging to work at home because of all its associated distractions... and, if their work tends towards the project-based, they may find themselves working at odd hours as they try to balance their work and home lives. While some people have transitioned to the work-from-home situation quite well by now, others are still trying to find their groove.
It could definitely be said that one of the great things about going on site for work is that your day is somewhat regimented. You have these social and environmental cues, such as being at an office or commuting to and from work, that create defined boundaries between work life and home life. These are cues that are not as obvious when one works from home, and the challenge is real.
When not working from home, you can literally walk away from work for the day. After all, you can leave your office, change when you go home, and relax for the evening. Right? Your home can be a refuge; it can be your personal space - free of cues that "signal workplace", something that is not so easy to do when you work from home.
"All good," you say, "but what does this have to do with sleep?" Well, good sleep - as I always say, er, write - is partly a function of the choices that you make during the day as well as the feelings, reactions, and associations that your personal space engenders. You may be working later into the evening than you had expected because of the blurring of boundaries between work life and home life. It is also quite possible that you have come to associate your home with work, thereby hindering your ability to truly unwind after the workday.
As for me, I've been working from home or at a distance for over a decade. In fact, our sleep wellness initiative is 100% based on virtual coaching, virtual programs, and virtual teams. Consequently, I have learned to hack my way to greater productivity while also ensuring that working from home does not interfere with my sleep, which is, itself, one of my greatest productivity hacks!
Now, of course, it wasn't always easy; however, I have now found a sweet spot. Having been the person to determine my own schedule for several years, I have learned how to organise my day to prioritise those things that I absolutely cannot miss, in such a way that I do not compromise my sleep, health, or wellness.
Here are tips that will benefit not only night owls but also morning larks:
1. Plan out your day
Make sure to schedule your day. This is key. List all your tasks and prioritise the most important ones. However, don't think about "tasks"alone. Learn to look at your day from a holistic perspective. List your work tasks, your family activities, and your "me-time" activities. Make sure that your day includes "pro-sleep activities" and good sleep hygiene. Some useful questions include the following:
Have you scheduled in time for the other aspects of your life that need consistent nurturing (e.g., physical activity, socialising, family tasks, etc.)?
Have you scheduled "free time" for yourself?
Have you factored in your 7-9 hours of sleep?
Have you factored in your sleep routine and pro-sleep activities (see below tips)?
It might feel strange planning out your entire 24-hour day, but doing so is beneficial in helping you to see what truly needs to be prioritised. It helps you to gauge what kind of energy, time, and resources can realistically be allotted to each task or activity that you need to do in your day, without forgetting about sleep.
2. Build a routine around your circadian rhythm
Are you a night owl? Take advantage of the evening hours when your performance is at its most optimal. Then, give yourself time to unwind before going to bed. Are you a morning lark, take advantage of your peak time in the morning.
Other things to consider include things like figuring out how to optimise your circadian rhythm's peaks and valleys, given the constraints of the day. Learn about when to schedule your activities as well as downtime to coincide with their corresponding circadian highs and lows.
3. Set up a time for winding down to optimise sleep
You will be that much more productive when sleeping well. You think better and perform better because your mind and body are capable of working better with good rest. This winding-down time will become part of your sleep routine.
4. Respect your sleep schedule
A good sleep schedule includes pro-sleep activities during the day. Be consistent with your sleep, and you will feel that productivity and energy boost. Given that, your sleep schedule is partly determined by how closely aligned your work or business is with your circadian rhythm. If they are at odds with each other, it will be challenging to work at peak performance and productivity. However, there are certain things that you can do to help yourself, such as using light, temperature, and eating times to help you advance or delay your circadian rhythm. It is not ideal, but if you must -- then you must.
I strongly advise you to consider finding work or making sure that your business is aligned with your sleep schedule. It is much better for your health, given that your natural circadian rhythm is genetic, not a choice. You can deal with misalignment, but it's sort of like trying to make the best out of a bad situation.
One day, sooner than later, I'll be giving you more details on exactly what to do and how to align your circadian rhythm for greater health, wellness, and productivity...so, keep an eye out for that training!
4. Be open to some flexibility
Don't be ruled by your schedule. At times, you may find that you will need to adjust priorities or change plans. It may be that your lifestyle requires a different "activity mix". The key is to evaluate how well your schedule is working for you periodically. An inappropriate schedule will cause more stress than it should. Remember to keep your eyes fixed on maintaining alignment -- or "circadian harmony" as someone just put it, during an online conversation with me (thank you!) -- among pro-sleep activities, your circadian rhythm, health and wellness needs, and productivity goals.
5. Set up a designated work area that you can actually leave!
Set up your "office" in an area of your home that is designated for work alone. Keep it separate, preferably in its own room, from other areas so that you can leave work at the end of the workday. This can help you to unwind, so that you can sleep better and be more productive.
Also, remember Sleep Hygiene 101: do not work in your bedroom. Once an association is made between your bedroom and work, it can interfere with your sleep.
What can you do if you are limited on space, like when you live in a studio, bachelor, or 1 1/2?
This is where you need to consider arranging a room into different sub-areas. You may even consider how you position yourself in your room. The key is to keep some sort of a separation among your work, living, and sleeping spaces, if not in terms of the actual room, then in terms of perception at the very least... like, for instance, setting up a corner of the room that you can physically delimit as your work area.
6. Dress for work, home, and sleep
Sure, everyone dresses more comfortably these days (these work-from-home, lockdown days!); however, dressing for the occasion sometimes becomes more important when you work from home. If being able to step away from work is an important cue for priming relaxation and the number of cues we now receive are limited, then dressing for work, living, and sleep makes for extremely important psychological cues that stratify your day, helping you to step away from work and priming yourself for home life and sleep.
7. Consider the other people on your team
If you have a team, get to know their sleep and circadian patterns. You may find the greatest tag teams are those between an extreme night owl and an extreme morning lark. It makes task hand-offs simple, effective, and efficient. Learn to collaborate and schedule your projects to work with one another in consideration of each person's "best" times for productivity. What's holding you back from being innovative? "Nothing" should be your answer, especially if you're the boss.
Ultimately, no cookie-cutter plan is going to work for absolutely everyone. For instance, there is no need for the typical morning routine for the true night owl. Now, the things that comprise a morning routine can be interesting, but they need not be done in the morning, as advised by those who misguidedly advocate for such things in the name of wellness and productivity. So, don't fret... there is no need for a morning routine for some people. A morning routine is absolutely NOT necessary for health, wellness, and productivity. More on this particular topic soon.
Optimal productivity means knowing more about those factors that actually influence it, such as circadian rhythms and sleep. This means not only delving into the research literature but also learning from people who have made their circadian rhythm and sleep part of their productivity tool kit, like our team. Of course, we've had our share of rocky productivity in the past, by not respecting our sleep, but we've learned from experience what to do to optimise ours. Now, we want to share our methods with you. Check out our services for more information and schedule your Sleep Fit Session... or simply subscribe to learn more about sleep wellness and optimisation.