Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Stress Keeping You Up At Night? Eleven Tips To Help You Sleep

Young Couple Sleeping by via Flickr CC

Young Couple Sleeping by via Flickr CC

I have been a terrible sleeper since I was a baby. (And my dad never lets me forget it.) I should say I was a terrible sleeper, until a few years ago when I learned to sleep well.

The standard sleep hygene tips?  They all help, but I resisted trying them for many years. It was a combination of pride and my work-first priorities that held me back. In fact, ever since college if I had a deadline to make, I couldn’t sleep. I was so alert that I could use the time to study. It was my secret weapon.

Unfortunately, as I got older, the sleeplessness remained but I was no longer awake enough to function.

As with many of the changes in my life, I got serious about sleeping after I realigned my values to make people and not work the most important thing in my life. The most important people first value is my own health. But how could health be the top priority if I was working till 11 at night, and getting up at 5 to work some more?

Eleven things I have learned to help me sleep.

  1. Ambien helps, but wasn’t effective if I was working right up until the second I took it. Sleep was fitful, and I was prone to waking up after a few hours because my body never had time to unwind. Therefore I instituted some firm rules and boundaries. 
  2. Lights out at 11, every night including weekends.
  3. Work stops at 9, to give me time to unwind.
  4. The computer, tablet, and phone are shut off at 9. These are stimulating, and too work-like. I can’t help but think about work if the computer is open. The temptation to look at email is too great, and I can easily get sucked into things.
  5. Lights for the kids go out at 9. My wife and I need time to be together without the kids.
  6. I look for ways to enjoy the time between 9 and 11. Ok, in my life some of the time is spent cleaning the kitchen and scooping cat litter, but usually by 9:30 we’re ready to move on to another activity. It is important that this time isn’t all chores – the object is to find some enjoyment to help you relax before bed. Reading, tv, movies, sex, exercise, and music are all good options.
  7. No work until 6 AM. Stress can make me wake up, and if I work it re-enforces the habit of waking up. If I know I can’t work no matter what, it is easier for me to get back to sleep. If necessary, I’ll jot down a few notes to clear my head, knowing I won’t forget the supposedly important thing rambling around in my head.
  8. The bedroom a sacred space: No working, no devices. Sleep, sex, relaxing only! Yes, this means you should stop reading email on your Droid before getting out of bed. Seriously. If this is a habit, put a shoe box outside your bedroom, and drop the phone in before you enter. If you really need to check something, walk out into the hall.
  9. If I wake up at 3 AM and am hungry, I have a cup of ginger tea. It settles my stomach without giving me a sugar fix. The sugar fix rewards waking up. I try to keep it boring.
  10. I have a comfort ritual to help me get back to sleep. If it is 3 or 4, I go downstairs and sleep in the lazy boy in the living room. I put on my favorite original Star Trek episode (The Doomsday Machine), cover myself with my favorite throw, turn out the lights, put on an old pair of sunglasses (to cut down on glare from the tv), close my eyes, and just listen. I am comforted by the familiarity, and am usually asleep within ten minutes. And I know the episode so well I can always tell if I have fallen asleep, because suddenly the chronicle will jump to something 30 minutes later. This totally cuts off the frustration of feeling like you haven’t slept, because I know that I was asleep. This helps me get right back to sleep.
  11. The thing that put me over the top was a guided meditation CD called “Just Relax.” It changed my life. Just Relax describes itself as “dull, boring, and effective.” It delivers big time. I tried it in desperation one night at 5 AM after a week of sleepless nights. . It was a weekend and I slept on the couch till 9:30. The kids were up, around, and I’m told very noisy. I slept through it all, and felt more refreshed than I ever had. I used Just Relax pretty regularly for a while, and now I can play the sounds in my head to help me go to sleep.

Pretty standard sleep hygene on the list. I thought these things were so hokey that I wouldn’t even look at them until a few years ago.  The hokey feeling? A rationalization to prevent me from trying something to help myself. Maybe I was too proud. Whatever the case, I’m glad I got over it.

What is your experience with sleep? Are you a natural sleeper? If not, what has worked for you?

How To Have Sustainable Success

Self Portrait By Jillian Corinne Via Flickr CC

A guest post by Health Coach Catherine Chen, Ph.D.

Do you sometimes fall into this trap?

If I finish this project, then I can relax.

If I get approval from my boss, then I will feel more competent.

If I work on what I want, then I’ll feel like I’m making a difference.

“If-then” thinking is problematic because we don’t actually focus on the present moment. By being concerned with the outcome, we don’t fully mentally engage with what we’re doing or the lessons presented to us. By the time we do achieve the result, we may not feel like we’ve accomplished anything meaningful because the entire journey felt like a blur (life crisis, anyone?).

If we continue to stay in this thought-trap and achieve our desired result, we never feel like we’ve gotten “there” because there is always more to follow. If you finish the project, there’s follow-up work to do, or if you get that promotion or the dream project, unforeseen responsibilities follow, making you wish that you took the time to enjoy what you were doing before. It’s like climbing a mountain quickly to reach the top, only realizing when you get there that there’s more to climb and that you didn’t get a chance to enjoy the views earlier (and now won’t have the energy to do so!). The key is to not bank on a result to make you feel a certain way. Feelings that arise from external accomplishments are fleeting, but attitudes independent of results will sustain you.

How can you relax/feel more confident/make a difference with the role you have right now? You can be as relaxed, confident, or impactful as you want to be, right now. Find friends or family (or a Health Coach!) to support you towards taking actions that give you a sense of mastery and pro-actively support you towards feeling what you desire. For example, engage with people you care about to relax. Offer to help a colleague with your expertise to be valuable.

Release self-induced pressure by taking action towards feeling what you desire right now, rather than making your feelings dependent on an outcome over which you have no control.

Catherine Chen, Ph.D., is a Health Coach who supports high-octane professionals to achieve with ease, have time for what they love, and live a balanced life. Prior to launching her wellness practice, she worked in the management consulting industry and at one of the leading cancer research biotechnology companies. She’d love to hear from you at Or, sign-up to get work-life balance tips at

How To Leave Work Early When Chronically Overworked

Build Your Community Part 6

In his book Happy, Ian K. Smith argues that happy people have more close relationships, the kind of friendships that take time to build and maintain. According to Smith, (who is quoting the research of Martin Seligman and others) “a strong social network is also associated with lower levels of stress and a longer life span.”[i]

For many in the corporate world, (including myself at one time) corporate idolatry makes close friendships outside of work hard to find.  This is the position Sue found herself in, when she worked herself until she was sick. (See this post in Chapter 6)

Smith advises that someone without a network of friends should “put themselves in a position to meet new people.”  Interestingly, this is exactly how Sue told me she started to get healthy again.

Sue told me her decision to make a change came on a business trip.   Free from the daily meetings that started at 7 AM and often went until 6, she realized that her life did not have time for anything else, and she needed “to go out and get a breath of fresh air.”  Sue developed a deliberate strategy to connect with other people.

She said, “I’m not a runner or biker and I needed something to do that I really enjoyed.  I like to learn, but I didn’t want to go back to school. I wanted to find something that would challenge me in a way that wasn’t drowning like work.  I started photography, I like food, and I love gardening.  I started getting involved in my community which is important to me, e.g. a committee to get a new park in town, which connected me to some other committees and projects.”

But it was Urban Farming  that really caught her passion.  “I change out of my skirt and Santana-Row shoes on Friday afternoon and go.  There is one woman who I hang out with.  We have become really close friends and I would never have met her in the tech industry.”
One advantage to leaving work early for a fun activity – the other people there also have made connecting with other people a higher priority than their company.  Those are just the people to hang out with.
You might also like: Discover How I Avoided Burnout

[i] Happy: Simple Steps To Get the Most Out Of Life by Ian K. Smith.  St Martin’s press.  (2010) p 190

Ten Tips To Reduce Your Work-Related Stress

Ten Tips For Stress Reduction Featured Image

Cold Friendship by Hamed Saber via Flickr CC


Today I’m taking a break from Busting Your Corporate Idol to share some stress reduction tips that were inspired by stories I heard while researching the book.


Three ways to relieve stress at work by putting yourself first

  1. Put your health first.  Take time during the business day to exercise.  If you are suffering from chronic stress, you are probably working too many hours.  If you take time away from work to exercise, your stress will go down and you will become more productive, which will more than make up for the 90 minutes at the gym.
  2. Put your time first.  There are always people asking you for favors, and to do extra things.  If you are good at what you do, there are an infinite number of things you could be doing.  Make sure that you put your time first by learning to say no.  Having fewer commitments will reduce stress
  3. Become a winner at politics.  Are you the type of person who says “I don’t care about the politics, I just want to get it done.”  This is a recipe for being taken advantage of.  Politics is a fact of life, and no one is above it.  If you aren’t playing at least to defend yourself, you risk being played.

Three ways to relieve stress at home by putting people first

  1. Put your health first by stopping all work by 9 PM to give you an hour or two to decompress before bed time.  Sleep deprivation is a guaranteed way to increase stress.
  2. Put your health and family first by having a Sabbath, least one day a week with no work or email at all.  You will be amazed at how refreshed and more creative you feel.
  3. More sex at home.  The research is pretty consistent – people who have sex more often are happier.  And stress leads people to have sex less often.  Use those goal setting skills to have sex at least once during the workweek and once on the weekend.  This will lead you to stop working earlier, and will directly combat feelings of stress.

A key to preventing stress at work is to reduce your workload.  If your boss asks you to do more, here are four things to help you say no.

  1. Don’t feel guilty. There is only so much time in the day, and your health and family are more important than whatever the boss is asking you to do.
  2. Make the boss decide the business priorities.  Your time is a finite company resource.  Explain the trade off decision, and why you think another use of your time is more important.  If the boss insists, ask for his or her support in explaining the changed deadline to the stakeholder whose deliverable is being pushed back.
  3. Offer an alternative solution.  Sometimes the boss is asking for more than he or she needs.  Offer a quick and easy solution instead.
  4. Suggest someone else to do the job.  Your boss needs a solution, but it doesn’t necessarily need to come from you.

If you find at least one of these suggestions helpful, please share using the buttons below.


You might also like Discover How I Avoided Burnout