“You look tired,” the woman sitting next to me said, in a misguided attempt to make conversation.
“Um, yeah. I have four-month-old twins,” I replied, thinking, ‘You think I look tired now? Good thing you didn’t see me in July.’
A year ago, I found it strange that someone I barely know would comment on my apparently obvious exhaustion. But as I’ve recently learned, when you have children — and particularly when you have two infants — everything seems to revolve around sleep, or lack thereof. I’m constantly being asked how the babies are doing at night, and whether I’m able to get any sleep.
I usually fight the urge to give a sarcastic answer such as, “Oh yes, at least 10 to 12 hours a night,” and instead say something like, “Yeah, but it’s tough.”
And while some people will just let the topic end there, others feel compelled to press on, sometimes even offering suggestions like, “Make sure you’re getting some sleep. You have to take care of yourself.”
Great advice, right? It’s the equivalent of telling someone who’s really thirsty that they should drink water.
Believe me, I realize that a full night’s sleep enables one to function at a high level, but sometimes, it just isn’t that easy. There are always clothes to be folded, dishes to be put away, and vacuuming that desperately needs to be done, and sometimes it’s really difficult to sleep — or even relax — knowing that I could be making more productive use of my time.
It made me think about how I often ask CIOs if they’re able to get away from work. I’m sure more than person has fought back the urge to say, “Oh yes. As a matter of fact, I’m hitting the links in a few minutes!”
But for most CIOs, it just isn’t that easy. The commitment required to oversee an organization’s IT strategy while striving to meet Meaningful Use criteria doesn’t leave much time for lunch, let alone weekend getaways. Earlier this year, I spoke to a CIO who told me she hasn’t taken a vacation day in a few years. She would love to, she said, but there never seems to be enough time.
Now I could go on and on about how important it is to take time away from work. I could talk about how John Halamka goes rock climbing to distract himself from the stresses of being a CIO, or how Terri Rini Barber of Southwest General Health Center takes hikes with her husband on trails where there is no cell reception (Chapter 1 of our interview will be published soon). Everyone knows the benefits of being offline.
But what some people might not realize is that “getting away” requires a big commitment. Now, more than ever, CIOs need to block time — whether it’s for a weekend getaway, a dinner with your spouse, or a morning run — and put it in the calendar. Treat it like an appointment you can’t postpone.
Or you can take a page from Maureen Hetu’s book. In a recent interview, the CIO of Lourdes Health System talked about where she draws the line. “I work long hours, but when I do leave here, I leave. If I need to take care of something at home, I do that, and then I shut it off.”
It’s certainly not an easy thing to do, but for today’s CIOs, getting away — even for just a short time — is a must. You can only run on fumes for so long.
As for me, I now have a set bedtime to ensure that I get a sufficient amount of sleep. So even if I’m not done folding clothes or if there’s a good movie on, it doesn’t matter. Lights out.
Of course, there will be some nights when I have to stay up later, and some days when the little ones wake me up earlier than usual, but most of the time, I’m going to force myself to abide by the new schedule.
Because, after all, I have to take care of myself.