I was once a member of a choir that occasionally undertook international concert tours. I have many wonderful memories of travelling and performing with 75 of my best musicalfriends.We visiteda host of countries I might not have otherwise seen and we sang in some of the most architecturally and acoustically acclaimed venues you could imagine. There were many unforgettable musical moments.
But one of my most enduring memories from these tours was the overwhelming fatigue that accumulated over the course of the 2 and 3 week tours. We traveled, rehearsed and performed and then attended receptions in each city to meet audiences and dignitaries. We got up early. We went to bed late and often our only rest was a few hours on a bus or train while we were in transit to our next concert.
Towards the end of the tour, I would find myself standing on stage, singing, yet feeling like I was in a dream and not really present. I called these my ‘zombie’ moments and, frankly, they became zombie days as the tour went on.I was on auto-pilot, doing what I needed to do, but I wasn’t really engaged in where I was or what I was doing.
Have you ever experienced this‘presenteeism’ while at work?
Fortunately for me, the tour came to an end after three weeks and we’d get home to our more normal routines of sleeping, waking and working.
But for millions of employees, either because of shiftwork, extended hours of work, multiple jobs, long commutes or onerous personal responsibilities, the ‘tour’ never ends. I was starkly reminded of this recently when I presented to a group of residents at a hospital. With their extended ‘on-call’ hours, they will need to cope with the effects of being ‘on tour’ for many years to come.
How does one ensure performance excellence when one is fatigued?
I could do a perfect performance even when I was very fatigued. This is because endless practice prior to the tour ensured that we all knew our music so well that we could literally perform it in our sleep.
In the workplace, being on auto-pilot is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it limits the need to think while you are working and enables a fatigued brain to do what it has been trained to do. One can give the appearance of being able to do one’s job.
On the other hand, when in auto-pilot, the brain does not have access to higher level decision-making and problem-solving capacities. As long as work tasks and procedures are proceeding normally, things are fine. But what if there was an unusual occurrence, one that required an immediate decision or action that was beyond the usual scope of the job? In this stressful and unusual situation, one may not be able to respond appropriately. This could cause an accident or an error that would likely be attributed to ‘human error.’
Another factor also contributed to me and my choral colleagues being able to deliver excellent performances even though we were fatigued and sleep deprived. Our sole focus was on the music and the performance. All other aspects of the tour – food, hotels, travel schedules, performance times and concert venues – were taken care of by others.
In our real life, most of us do not have the luxury of counting on ‘the help’ to devote themselves to all the non-core work, life and personal tasks that are within our responsibility. We are not only required to perform our core work with excellence, we must tend to all the non-core work as well as the myriad of life and personal tasks that keep our life on track.
Usually, in an effort to do it all, we forgo sleep and the opportunity for regeneration. As a result, we are always ‘on tour’ with limited opportunity to get the rest we need.
If you are finding yourself perpetually ‘on tour,’ learn the ‘PowerUP’ strategies that will give you the energy you need in the moment to help you get through the day.
In the long term, making time for sleep is critical. ‘Be ZZZ… Best You Can Be’ explains why taking time for sleep actually makes you more productive.
At the workplace, good training is essential. Employees who have a high degree of skill at their job can perform more effectively without having to think through each task and each procedure. Procedure lists are also very helpful because they can compensate for a tired brain.
Overwhelmed employees can also benefit by having access to concierge services, accessible child and senior care centers and healthy, take-home meals.
Also consider implementing ‘no contact’ times either at work or after work so that employees can be free of emails or calls for a specified period of time that is dedicated either to core work tasks or personal time after work.