When Solving Problems, Do We Consider Sleep as One of the Steps?

Green Speech bubble with snoring icon isolated on blue background. Concept of sleeping, insomnia, alarm clock app, deep sleep, awakening. Abstract circle random dotsMany years ago, when I was a director of something at a long-ago company, our Best Customer had an outage at 8 or 9 in the evening. The customer called our senior management, who called me. “We have a Big Problem that you need to fix Right Now.”

I received that message loud and clear. There was a problem. It was urgent. We needed to fix it.

It didn’t matter that the people we needed were all relaxing at home. Nor did it matter that the customer already had a workaround. No. We needed to fix it NOW.

What would you do?

At that time, and for many more years, I pushed through, stayed awake, and expected that I would make good decisions. I thought I was showing grit.

But I don’t think that well when I’m tired. (In this instance, neither did the other people who needed to fix the problem.) The worse and more urgent the problem is, the more we all need to think well.

The urgency allowed me to delude into thinking I could power through.

Now that I’ve gained more experience, I tend to use this alternative approach for late-in-the-day problems:

  1. Take precautions, so we don’t make the problem worse.
  2. Sleep, so everyone is well-rested the next day.
  3. Then, when we’re awake, generate potential solutions. But we decide when to experiment and when to select an answer when we are in control of our best selves, not our most challenged selves.

There’s a name for this. It’s called “Sleep on it.” Sometimes, sleep even helps us see potential solutions.

I suspect that most of us know sleep helps us. We can rethink to be our best selves to solve these challenging problems.

We Deserve to Solve Problems As Our Best Selves

For years, I thought the problem’s urgency meant I had to choose the problem over my comfort. While I did take the necessary precautions to avoid making the problem worse, I often decided I had to jump right in and solve the problem, regardless of the time of day. Or night.

But even in the morning, when I’m fresh, jumping in might not be the best approach. Over the years, I learned the hard way that it was a better idea to:

  • Contain the problem, so it doesn’t cascade or spread, possibly including swearing to prevent the problem from getting worse.
  • Prepare to solve the problem. If I’m awake, take a few minutes to make some lists: decide what to try, who else I need, and possibly more. Then, if it’s evening, go to sleep. I have been known to wake up and add to my list. But that allowed me to get a reasonable night’s worth of sleep.
  • After this preparation, decide who else I need to help fix the problem and if we need to prepare even more. Bad problems—even if they are urgent—often require experiments. Those experiments can help determine when to experiment and when to fix. That way, we can prevent the situation from getting worse.

That “decide who else” part is just as important as the rest of the problem-solving. That’s because the more diverse the team, the more perspectives we can bring to any Bad problem.

We can solve problems by ourselves, even if the problem arises just before we need to go to sleep. Many of us can push through to find a reasonable solution. And too often, we delude ourselves into thinking we are “just fine.” Most of us are not.

Choose Adaptability and Resilience

When we choose sleep or other preparation, we optimize for adaptability and resilience, not this fake notion of grit.

That’s the question this week: When solving problems, do we consider sleep as one of the steps?

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