What to Do When You Can't Sleep
One reason I left the “city that never sleeps” is precisely that: It never shuts down. There’s always something going on. That energy and intensity can be exhilarating, especially if you are able to shut it out come bedtime. But if you can’t, there goes YOUR energy and intensity, along with your productivity. (Car alarms were my ultimate downfall.)
Years later in suburban Connecticut at the helm of my own small business and with many other responsibilities and a household to run, I sometimes lie awake, plagued by the buzzing activity of commerce in my head. As I try to think calming thoughts, go to my happy place, what have you, the CEO of Hilory, Inc., reminds me of the list of ongoing projects that are overdue, over budget, and underfunded.
You may be familiar with mindfulness meditation, the practice of focusing your thoughts and awareness on the moment and on your bodily sensations to clear and calm your mind. This can be quite an effective approach, except that in the office building of my body, the clacking of keyboards and marathon strategy sessions are staunch rivals for observing the ins and outs of my breath. So I apply a different mind-game: I visualize a department-by-department shutdown of my internal corporation, patiently and nonjudgmentally allowing the entire staff to take the (rest of the) night off.
The first department to go dark is HR. In this sleep-deprived metaphor, this is the “team” that focuses on hiring and firing (aka "My Relationships"), morale, compensation, compliance, and employee engagement (also aka "My Relationships"). Nighttime is prime time for replaying interactions and criticizing my overall performance. For this area, I suggest focusing only on the benefits as we turn out the lights for the evening.
Next is the accounting department, which for some reason still uses those old-fashioned paper-roll calculators, miles of curled red-printed tapes littering the floor. The accountant usually doesn’t look up the first time I interrupt with a loud "ahem." But when she does, I assure her that the numbers, whatever color they happen to be today, will still be there in the morning, so shut it down, girlfriend! Sure, they are already trading in Japan at this hour, but I remind her that we actually DO NOT OWN ANY JAPANESE STOCKS. Close the books, and lights out.
Strategic planning is a small area—I’ve always been more of a tactical, assignment-driven worker, so this harried employee is a bit out of her league, typically hunched over the laptop, head-in-hands, reading business blog posts or staring out the window blankly in a fugue state. Future visioning is sort of the antithesis to mindfulness, so this one definitely has to go. I tell her there can be no Tomorrow if we expire from exhaustion Today and give her a little shove out the door as I switch off the humming fluorescents.
Much like the car alarm outside my city window, the marketing department continuously seeks attention, suggesting product ideas, blog posts, and event themes. Apparently, accounting has turned down many of her funding requests, so she is constantly on the lookout for low- to no-cost options. Constantly. I remind her how much more effective brainstorming usually is over MORNING coffee, and send her home. Click.
The communications director is most tenacious because, as we all know, e-mails, pins and Instagrams know no earthly timeframe. Even though she claimed to have knocked off for the day, you see her in the dark, her face aglow from her Facebook feed. “There’s no need to post that you can’t sleep,” I remind her, and she promises she’s not actually working, that Words with Friends is “relaxing.” This would be a good time to call the IT director (also still awake, puzzling over new printer options and data plans) and have her block all the WiFi access until the morning.
Shuffling the cleaning crew out the door (she’s NEVER finished, by the way), I turn off the lobby spotlights and lock up. To any lingering number cruncher or project manager I politely say, “You don’t have to go home, but I can’t sleep if you’re here.“ And then, finally, I focus on my breathing and usually drift off.
Okay, so wandering from office to office in my head might sound a little loopy, but then again, it’s late, shadowy and I’m already loopy when I invoke this approach. As with mindfulness, it’s a nonjudgmental way I give myself permission to quiet the crowd, to shut down the grid, and allow the entire “team” to recharge. And sometimes, that’s when the department of strategic planning does her best work, offering some coded vision for the future through the quiet of my dreams.