I have a seven week old. She’s adorable and I love her so much, but I already understand why Adam Mansbach’s notorious NSFW parenting book is a bestseller. My tiny human is not a fan of sleep, and I’m operating on less than I ever have. (I see you, college finals week, and I’m laughing at the idea that those were tiring all-nighters.)
I’m also back at work, and while my colleagues know it’s a transition period, it’s still my job to, well, do my job. I don’t want to be pigeonholed as the tired new mom and get passed over for something exciting that requires attention to detail. So, I’ve come up with a four-step plan to save me from my most sleep-deprived self so I can still do good work.
Step 1: Proofread Everything
When I say everything, I mean everything. Yes, that includes obvious things like reading the body of an email aloud before you hit send. (I’ve learned that just like you’d fast-forward through commercials to get to the main program, I seem to skip over including prepositions in my first drafts—and you won’t make a good impression if the sentences in your business emails read like tweets.)
But that’s not all. For some reason, in my head, I automate to signing everything “Love, Sara.” So after I make sure the email to my boss reads correctly word-for-word, I keep reading all the way to the very bottom. (Because, no, autocorrect, I’m not wishing her “All the beast,” either.)
Keeping your emails polished gives off the impression that you still have it together, and have enough resources to communicate effectively. No one will know if you spend an extra five minutes on everything you write—but they will notice if you skip this step.
Step 2: Only Write Things You’d Make Public
Before I hit send, I also double check the “to” field. Have you ever accidentally sent an email to the person you’re talking about, instead of the intended recipient? Well, situations like this are all the more likely when you’re exhausted and your brain connects “email about Mary” to “email Mary.”
Therefore, it’s critical that you only type things absolutely anyone could read, and still hold a favorable impression of you. Sure, you should do this anyways, but haven’t we all forwarded an email to a colleague and attached a snarky comment to go along with it? Well, you can not do this when you’re sleep-deprived.
Face it: You’re not at the top of your game. So, make sure absolutely everything you send reflects the best you. That way, at worst you’re sending an email that says “Whoops, I meant to forward that to Dave!” and not trying to find a way to say, “So sorry I called you an idiot!”
Step 3: Allow for Response Time
Speaking of not being at your best, there’s a higher likelihood your initial take on things won’t be your final take. My manager gave me pretty benign feedback on an article this week and I immediately responded with slew of reasons why that was absolutely not the right approach. (Fast-forward to me getting the whole scoop and realizing her suggestion was the exact right course of action.)
If you’re tempted to immediately jump on board (or shun) a plan—wait. Give everything some time to process and sink in. It’s OK if you’re no longer the person who raises her hand first in the meeting or who emails back within 10 minutes.
It’s much better to take your time and come up with a thoughtful answer, than to have to keep retracing your steps. Plus, you’ll seem just as on top of things as ever (as opposed to reactive).
Step 4: Save Tough Tasks for When You’re Better Rested
Naps aren’t just the best sounding thing in the whole world: They’re beneficial. (It’s science.) Maybe you work in an office where you can’t nap at your desk. Maybe, like me, you find the idea of “sleeping when the baby sleeps” laughable because she parties like a rockstar, and when she actually goes down you need to do things like work, eat, and drink water.
However, somehow, at some point, you will find yourself able to take advantage of that magical opportunity to get some shut eye. When you wake up, you’ll be sharper than you have been in hours. So, do not head on over to Facebook or Instagram or that pile of chores. Instead, give yourself a few minutes to think on whatever was stumping you earlier that day. That tricky email you put off? Read it again. That idea your boss asked you to brainstorm? Think about it for a few minutes now.
I’ll admit it: it’s more of a work-life integration than a work-life balance model to immediately think about your job after you’ve gotten some sleep. And if you’re religious about leaving work at the office, this step may not be for you. However, it can be a lifesaver if you’re trying to counterbalance some working hours where your brain wasn’t at its sharpest. So, maybe find a middle ground where you’re not devoting all of your best brain time to your job, but you spend a few minutes thinking through at least one tricky task so you’ll be prepared to tackle it later.
Working on no sleep is neither fun, nor sustainable. But, there will likely be windows of time in your life when it is what it is. So, try the plan above to keep your sanity—and your job—until that beautiful time in the future when you’re able to get more rest.