Life in the C-Suite can mean that your workplace extends across national borders. The fact that travelling for business can take away from your personal life is an issue in itself but more pertinent is the effect that jet lag can have on your efficiency and – importantly – your health.
Can you remember the first time that you travelled overseas? The excitement of arriving in an unknown land is something that cannot be replicated by any other experience. From the nerves at passport control to the thrill of take-off – it’s inexplicable how something so common can be so novel.
Sadly, if we look back to our most recent international trips, most of us would have to search fairly hard to find those same feelings of excitement.
Being an executive requires us to be global citizens. When our organisations cross borders, then so must we. We are all well-acquainted with the backs of seats, neck pillows, cramped toilets and dreaded delays.
As terrible as these experiences can be, most well-travelled executives would be unsurprised when I say that the worst aspect of going abroad follows you home from the airport. The spectre haunting all transnational executives is that of jet-lag.
Jet-lag is indiscriminate in its reach and cripples all that it touches. A study conducted by J Waterhouse, T Reilly and B Edwards in 2004 found that, while travel fatigue tends to only last a day or so, travelling across multiple time zones can manifest in larger problems. In particular, it can reduce performance and the motivation to do work. In fact, it has been found that up to 70% of executives who travel frequently experience the symptoms of jet-lag, which is mainly centred around sleep deprivation.
Most startling from the 2004 study is the fact that it can take up to one day to recover from every time zone that is crossed during your travels.
Think about how often you’re flying for business trips. Think about all the times you’ve felt drained or unmotivated afterwards. It impacts your work and your personal life and can completely destabilise the balance you are attempting to achieve between them.
It’s easy to complain about travel and jet-lag but we have to come to terms with the fact that going overseas will remain a central component of being an executive for years to come. Our question should be, thus, not how to avoid jet-lag but how to mitigate it.
Your body clock becomes in tune with the hours of the city in which you are present based on your exposure to light. That is, you feel tired at 11pm AET because your body is used to the lack of light at this point in the day. Therefore, you can control your body clock by exposing yourself, during plane travel, to bright lights that correspond with daytime at your destination. There are apps that you can get for your phone in which you can plug in your destination and get reminders for when you need to be exposing yourself to LED lights on the app so as to minimise the effects of jet lag upon arrival.
Adjusting your Sleep Cycle
Another technique can be to gradually alter your sleep cycle so as to make it more in tune with the country to which you are flying. Obviously this depends on your place of travel but, considering many executives are finding themselves at meetings with business partners throughout Asia, where the time difference tends to be around 3 hours, you can mitigate the effects of jet-lag by preparing yourself in advance for a new bed and wake up time.
Being a complete leader means more than working at full throttle 24/7. It means demonstrating a mastery in all areas of life – personal and occupational. Therefore, it is vital that you come to grips with the demands of your position – which might include international travel – and prepare accordingly. Only by ensuring that you are at your physical peak can you perform to the best of your abilities.
The Complete Leader Program uses advanced analytics to deliver personalised programs for participants to optimise leadership development. If you are interested in learning about how to balance your health with work demands, please contact Melinda Fell.