If you’re already feeling stressed and overworked, perhaps a nap would help? Could you squeeze your working day into a hyper-productive 4 hour segment?
Everybody in the startup and workplace optimisation world seems to be talking about naps and productivity at the moment. Perhaps it all started with a 2008 study by Illinois University that taking breaks from long tasks prevents a drop in performance. Even one or two short breaks during an hour’s work can help you stay more productive. While this makes sense intuitively, we often simply power through and get up from our computers after 3 solid hours, feeling dazed and confused.
So, step 1: Take regular short breaks. (and no, checking your email doesn’t count – get up and take a short walk, do some stretching, look out of the window for a while)
And what about naps? Having a nap and taking a break might seem like two different things. However a nap is the ultimate break, in that you switch off completely. According to the Sleep Foundation, “a study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%”. All it takes is a 20 minute power-nap before a slump starts. (Personally, I’m simply intrigued that such a thing as the Sleep Foundation actually exists!)
While different startups have been embracing napping for a while, I’d argue that it was still seen as a sign of weakness in the general population. I invite you to consider a different perspective.
Since there is evidence to suggest that napping will improve performance, do yourself and your workforce the opportunity to take a nap if you feel the need arising. I’ve tried this many time – rather than powering through when you feel yourself get a bit tired, simply switch off the computer, stretch out on a sofa (or even in the park) and have a short snooze. You’ll not only feel more refreshed afterwards, you’ll also feel empowered that you’re taking care of yourself and are consciously choosing to lead the most effective life available to you.
When we feel tired at work, what do we normally do? Work harder? Randomly search the web or check emails? Start to procrastinate in front of our computers? I know I do all those things and I’m sure I’m not the only one. In a nutshell we switch from productive work into unproductive mode. And what is most often the cause is a sense of guilt, a sense that we should be working harder because there are so many things to accomplish. It takes a strong person to decide to take a walk in the park or lie down for a nap instead. And it’s precisely that strength that will turn you into a more productive individual in the long run. And, looking further afield, it’s that strength to go against the status quo and listen to your own gut and your own needs that will lead to success as an entrepreneur.
Still need convincing that naps have a place in our working lives? Read this article in the New York Times about napping in Japan. As is often the case, non-western cultures are way ahead of us in this respect!
Step 2: Take a nap when you feel the need.
Finally, I’d like to come back to a 4 hour work day. When you look at a normal 8 hour working day, how much of that time would you say is spent with unproductive work? While it might not be 50%, it’s not going to be far off. And wouldn’t you say that you often experience a slump in the afternoon? So here is my recipe for a productive, entrepreneurial existence:
- Use your mornings as your most productive time. This is where the important work gets done.
- Follow productivity methods that build in breaks, such as the Pomodoro Technique or 52 17
- Take a power nap (20 – 30 minutes) around lunch time
- Spend the afternoon rejuvenated and refreshed on tasks that don’t require as much focus
Since you get all your important work done in the morning, you’re essentially working a 4 hour day. Automate the mundane tasks that you are left with in the afternoons and enjoy a more productive, fulfilling and empowering life.
Step 3: Focussed work in the mornings, followed by a nap and a more productive afternoon.
Let me leave you with a quote that I find fits in well with the idea of being empowered by behaving outside conventional wisdom:
“Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Let me know how you stand on the question of napping and taking breaks in the comments. I’m off for a snooze.