- Elise is leading the effort to complete the annual report. She keeps drifting off and losing focus, unable to keep track of the details.
- Phillip feels exhausted and has neglected some important e-mail messages. Asked about it, he says, “Hey, don’t worry, OK! It will get done.”
- Joe, a VP of development, is putting the finishing touches on a proposal, but notices errors in the budget he completed last night.
These leaders are suffering from fatigue, and their productivity is suffering too. They waste time, make errors, and easily become defensive. And they are not alone. Five years ago, a CDC study reported that 50 to 70 million Americans live tired lives.
Current or aspiring leaders need to realize the critical effect fatigue has on performance
Fatigue impairs effectiveness, inhibits productivity and excellence, and negatively impacts a leader’s attention, memory, or mood. Leadership requires stamina, mental energy, and enthusiasm to think creatively, engage in analytical problem solving, and remain resilient under stressful conditions.
When leaders function without energy or enthusiasm, they are not being good role models, and the negative effects can cascade down through the organization.
Start by asking an important question: to what degree is fatigue undermining your performance as a leader? Here are some signs of fatigue:
- Irritation, impatience, or angry outbursts
• Rigidity—as seen in an all-or-none, now-or-never attitude
- Nonverbal behaviors such as slouching, walking slowly, yawning, or holding your head in your hands
- Work slippages—including inaccurate, incomplete, or missing work
- Forgetfulness, disorganization, inattention, and poor time management
Take the following seven steps to stop fatigue from the eroding your productivity:
Step 1: Increase awareness. Ask, “How often am I running on empty? Is fatigue interfering with my creativity, motivation, or memory?” Figure out what is sapping your mental energy. Keep a sleep journal; consult a doctor to identify any problems like insomnia, snoring, sleep apnea, etc.
Step 2: Take action. Reorganize your sleep routine so you can be better rested. Make sleep a top priority: get to bed earlier. Consider setting an alarm for an hour before bedtime as a signal to stop activities and wind down. The bedroom should be a “no-fly zone” for electronic devices, so you can avoid things like e-mail alerts, which unnecessarily interrupt sleep.
Step 3: Stop the constant state of overwhelm. As a leader you have the legitimate power to impose the rules. Say no nicely, be ruthless about delegating, and take a break or two during the day. Leaders need quiet think-time to analyze and solve problems. One strategy is to impose an electronic lockdown—a specific period of time during which technology does not distract you.
Step 4: Stop multitasking. Don’t buy into the myth that it helps you: recent research indicates that it’s ineffective to do two things at the same time. It drains your mental energy and leads to inaccuracies.
Step 5: Consider the impact of fatigue on safety. When fatigued, don’t drive, use power tools, or undertake risky activities such as climbing ladders.
Step 6: Increase the use of exercise. Even brief exercise periods are helpful to bolster physical and mental energy, endurance, and resilience.
Step 7: Use daily stress-management strategies.
Fatigue is an insidious barrier to leader productivity. Feeling tired increases your vulnerability to other negative conditions, such as stress and its effects. This can make you more apt to procrastinate or avoid a tedious task, causing even more stress. Any improvements you can make in sleep and stress management will help you be a more energized, focused, and effective leader.
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