It hits every entrepreneur, at some point -- that dreaded lying awake at night. Insomnia is a prime inconvenience, mostly because entrepreneurs like to be well-rested sorts so as to attack the day with gusto, come morning.
Assuming that the issue hasn't developed because of downing too many espressos, people lie awake at night for four reasons: They are so full of excitement and ideas that they can’t sleep. They're thinking of all the things they need to do. Or a pressing business problem (perhaps involving personnel or cash flow) has triggered fear and anxiety. Perhaps they are future-tripping about the “what ifs” related to a business.
Over the long term taking control over this kind of ruminating is more helpful than calling a doctor for a sleeping aid. When lying awake at night, thinking about the business, try these techniques to turn the dynamic around and get the sleep that's needed:
1. Full of excitement and ideas?
To stop this form of entrepreneurial anxiety, put in place a workable system for capturing ideas throughout the day. By workable, I mean one that's worthwhile despite the time it takes to use. Some people use digital systems like Evernote or Basecamp, and others prefer old-fashioned note cards or Post-it notes tucked in appropriate places.
Whatever the system, chose one and be ruthless about using it, banishing forever the days of saying, “I’ll have to write that down later.” Otherwise, later nearly always means the ideas crop up at midnight, while lying in bed.
2. Thinking about everything that needs doing?
Create a system for delegating at work. Entrepreneurs often build their companies using a bootstrapping mentality, and it's a challenge for them to hand over the reins to appropriate, qualified individuals who can help.
When a business leader mulls over a to-do list in bed, that’s a surefire sign that the company needs a method to track important tasks throughout the day or a system for executing them (apart from letting everything rest on entrepreneurial shoulders).
3. Ruminating on a pressing business problem?
Poor cash flow, a tricky personnel issue, a nasty customer who posted a bad review online of the business -- these are the irritations that can keep an entrepreneur up at night.
The antidote to these is three-pronged: First, request help from others, even if it’s just five minutes with a mentor or friend for venting. Second, differentiate between problems that can be controlled versus those that can't. (Cash flow is probably an issue where a solution can be engineered, but someone's decision to post a negative review is not.) Third, try to steer away from rumination by repeating the mantra “I’m doing good by resting my body.” Keeping still, quiet and prone might not induce a state of sleep right away, but it at least the body's muscles and organs relax, and sleep may follow.
4. Future-tripping about the “what ifs.”
One downside of being a forward and future-thinking entrepreneur is going overboard in thinking about potential problems or things that might go wrong. After a hard day at work, the mind at night can wander to all the things that weren't immediately part of the day -- like the future.
The quickest way back to sleep? Recognize that amid all the future anticipation, it's possible to purposefully choose to imagine scenarios that are wholeheartedly positive. When lying there trying to get to sleep, notice when the brain wanders to a place of everything will wrong and remember there’s also the possibility that things could go beautifully right. Imagine those possibilities and become excited by them. And should too much excitement result, see suggestion #1 and immediately start writing things down.
Sleeping can be just as important as having a strategy. The days of glamorizing the stressed-out, overworked entrepreneurial lifestyle are as passé as the dot-com bubble's bursting. Take charge of sleep and get the rest that the company needs because there’s little point in doing work inspired by a passion while being a walking zombie who can’t connect to that passion.