Want to Make Better Decisions? Just Sleep On It

Benjamin Franklin said, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man [person] healthy, wealthy, and wise.” And, sleeping on it may just help you solve your next big challenge.

As leaders and Force Multipliers, we don’t often get to see the good stuff. By the time something lands on our desk or in our inbox, it’s very often because it was a problem that someone else in the organization couldn’t solve or needed additional resources to figure out. But whether it’s deciding who to hire, whether or not a layoff needs to occur, how to manage hybrid work schedules, how to respond to a confrontational email, whether or not to revise your revenue model, if you should merge with another company, and more… quality sleep can be your competitive advantage to solving large problems and making the best decisions for yourself and the organization.

Note: I’m not talking about lower-impact or “Type 2” door decisions here. Sleeping on a decision or issue will typically be relegated to “Type 1” decisions.

We’ve all been there, when the stakes and emotions are high. We’re being pressured (whether internally or externally) to make decisions, take action, or give our thoughts and opinions about a possible solution. Leaders and Force Multipliers are known for being able to think on their feet and problem solve effectively on the fly. But, that’s not always the best course of action for the company. Gaining clarity and perspective is. Pausing and assessing the situation is imperative. Slowing down in order to ask questions, gather information, and then decide is key. And sleeping on the decision may be just what you and the organization needs in order to make the most effective high impact decisions.

To “sleep on it” means exactly what it sounds like. Before making a decision or taking action, take a beat, get a good nights sleep and wait until the next day. After having had some time to think about it and possibly gain a fresh perspective, you will be making a more clear decision. And for leaders, clarity is power. By giving yourself time to rest and reflect, you may come up with new insights or see things in a different light. Not to mention, it gives you the necessary time and space to make a decision from an unemotional, neutral state.

Sleeping on important decisions can be very important for leaders. When making decisions that can have significant consequences for an organization or team, it’s important to take the time to carefully consider all options and potential outcomes. Rushing into a decision without thinking it through can lead to poor results, missed opportunities, or even serious mistakes, not to mention organizational whiplash.

In addition, getting a good night’s sleep can improve cognitive function, memory, and problem-solving abilities, which can all contribute to making better decisions. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making found that people who delayed making a decision for at least one day made better choices than those who made decisions quickly. The study also found that people who delayed making decisions had greater satisfaction with their choices. In another study published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers found that people who were given time to reflect on a decision were more likely to make choices that aligned with their long-term goals and values—a critical consideration for leaders and their right hand partners.

If that wasn’t enough evidence to convince you to prioritize sleep, especially in the face of major business and leadership decisions, consider this: A study published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews found that sleep can improve cognitive flexibility, which is the ability to switch between different tasks and thought processes. The study showed that people who slept well were better able to adjust to changing situations and think creatively. For adults, that means getting between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Good sleep can also improve accuracy, memory, and the ability to make rational decisions.

Of course, when running a company or helping to lead alongside your Principal, there will be times when you must assess the current situation as quickly as possible and act (e.g. a security threat, a litigious former employee, or a major mechanical failure, etc.). However, those are likely rare. More often than not, there is no harm in tabling a decision for a day (or even a week!), until all relevant information can be gathered, key stakeholders consulted, and questions asked. And, sleeping on it will usually yield a clearer perspective and more favorable outcome for all.

The key here is to make sure you continue to communicate your decision-making process, even if the decision itself has yet to be made. Stay open and transparent. Let your team and/or clients know that you are considering options and plan to communicate your decision by a certain date. If you’re open to questions and feedback, let them know that too. It’s not often the lack of a decision that causes dissention in the ranks, but lack of communication around what the leader is thinking and doing. Force Multipliers – this is definitely where you can come in and help with communication management!

As you can see, quality sleep and quality decision-making go hand in hand. Sleep may not solve everything, but it can help you solve a lot. When in doubt, just sleep on it.

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