A PRODUCTIVITY BOOST STRONGER THAN COFFEE
Let’s imagine this : You are in your office at work and it’s 2:14 p.m. your eyelids are feeling heavy, and now you’re stifling a yawn. A few minutes ago you arrived back in the office, fresh off a satisfying lunch. But now you’re in the throes of what is undeniably a mid-afternoon crash. You reach for your coffee mug and head for a refill when a co-worker stops you in the hall. He’s discovered an alternative treatment, he tells you. Like caffeine, it improves concentration and alleviates drowsiness. But it won’t give you heartburn or heighten your blood pressure. It’s also been clinically proven to elevate your mood, enhance your creativity, and improve your memory. Sound too good to be true?
It turns out that you used to use this technique all the time. So did your ancient ancestors. It’s called napping. Now, before you dismiss the idea of workplace napping out of hand, consider the facts. 20-to-30-minute naps have been shown to:
- boost productivity
- increase alertness
- quicken motor reflexes
- raise accuracy
- heighten perceptions
- strengthen stamina
- improve decision-making
- elevate mood
- enhance creativity
- bolster memory
- lower stress
- reduce dependence on drugs and alcohol
- lessen the frequency of migraines and ulcers
- promote weight loss
- minimize the likelihood of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer risk
Not bad for about the same amount of time it takes to visit a Starbucks. Some studies have shown that learning after a nap is as effective as learning after an entire night’s sleep. So why do most of us scoff at the idea of a mental reboot when our bodies signal the need for rest?
In part, it’s because we misunderstand napping. Because our energy levels dip after lunch, we tend to think feeling drowsy is a consequence of having eaten too much. However, research shows that people are equally drowsy 8 hours after waking, whether or not they’ve had lunch beforehand. If you find this hard to believe (as I did), consider the way you feel after breakfast. The first meal of the day energizes us. Why not the second?
Another napping misconception stems from the fact that people occasionally wake up from a midday rest feeling groggy, or find that it disrupts their evening sleep cycle. This problem arises if you allow yourself to sleep too deeply. Unlike nighttime rest, which involves all 5 stages of the sleep cycle [Stage 1 = Introduction to sleep; Stage 2 = Beginning of sleep; Stage 3 = Slow wave sleep; Stage 4 = Deep sleep; Stage 5 = REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage], napping is most effective when we wake before our bodies descend into deep sleep.
We have a biological need for rest that is no less pressing than our biological need for food or water. When we’re tired, less blood flow reaches the areas of our brain that are critical to thinking. We’re also less capable of forming long-term memories. Sure, we can power through the midday slog when we need to-but only at a reduced level of functioning. Perhaps the biggest reason that we continue to look down on naps, is that we have been misled into equating hours on the job with productivity. If you believe that performance is entirely a function of effort, you see anyone who takes a break as a slacker. In the past, this view had merit.
Line workers’ value was tied to the amount of hours they put in on the factory floor, but the vast majority of us don’t work in a factory anymore. In today’s knowledge economy, it’s the quality of your thinking that matters most, and quality thinking is directly tied to energy level. A related argument can be made for the growing importance of maintaining a positive mood. In a world in which most jobs involve building interpersonal connections and fostering collaborations , feeling irritable can have serious implications for performance. Research shows that when we’re tired, we get into more disagreements, and not just because we’re less patient. It’s because our ability to read other people diminishes. A brief midday rest recharges our minds and allows our memories to consolidate. It relaxes our mental filters and allows unconventional ideas to surface. It re-energizes our ability to concentrate and restores our emotional composure.
Midday napping may sound like an extravagant indulgence that coddles workers. And it’s true that employees reap considerable advantage. But the ultimate beneficiaries of allowing for rest are the companies that create the conditions for optimal functioning. No reasonable person expects to visit a gym and lift weights continuously without a break. We openly acknowledge the limitations of our muscles. But we don’t do so for our minds. Declining performance is not as readily visible to us in the office as it is in the weight room, and so we continue plodding along, oblivious to the fact that We are contributing at a fraction of the rate we were earlier. Ignoring the body’s need for recuperation or drugging it into submission may keep workers awake. What it won’t do is position them deliver their best performance.
WHY DISCONNECTING IS SO MUCH HARDER THAN IT LOOKS
How often do you check your cell phone after leaving work? The answer might reveal your future productivity. When we deny ourselves the opportunity to recuperate, our performance invariably suffers. In many organizations, being available around the clock has be come an unspoken expectation. When a manager sends late-night mails, he implicitly endorses a round-the-dock work culture, paving the way for after-hours stress that spills over into the home, where a curt e-mail can spoil a dinner or ruin a weekend. While there are undoubtedly instances when staying connected is a legitimate necessity, it’s rare for a business to require that every team member stay logged on continuously. Moreover, it’s in a company’s interest to allow employees to recover. If an associate is frequently working late into the night and through the weekend, she is likely doing so at a cost to her long-term engagement.
It used to be the case that managers had to push employees to work harder. Today the opposite seems to be happening. In many industries, a key to retaining top talent involves protecting employees from working nonstop, which is why some pioneering organizations are starting to take matters into their own hands, leaving employees little choice but to recharge. A surprising number of companies have stopped limiting vacation time altogether, including IBM, Evernote, and Netflix: It’s a way of communicating trust in their employees and encouraging them to take the time they need when they need it.
The Lessons of Play
I. Action Items for Managers
Take up gardening.
Relying exclusively on leaders to come up with groundbreaking solutions is a remnant of the past How do today’s innovative companies stay successful? By fostering creativity from the bottom up. If we took away this insight on leadership in the information age then ”You have to think of yourself not as a designer but as a gardener’-seeding, nurturing, inspiring cultivating the ideas coming from below, and then making sure people execute them.” If great ideas are important to your company, start by creating the conditions that promote innovative thinking. Integrating play, exercise, and the occasional break have all been shown to spark creativity.
Exposing people to new and unexpected ideas makes them more creative. How do you put that insight to use? By setting aside time each week for a group viewing of an employee-nominated TED talk, or by scheduling a monthly show-and-tell on industry trends. You can also start a “You Don’t Have to Read the Book” club (as they did at Mercedes-Benz) to stimulate discussion on new ideas. Creativity doesn’t happen when we sink into a routine. It’s when we make exploration a habit that we find unexpected solutions.
Redirect your inner workaholic.
As a manager, if you sit at your desk for 12 hours a day and spend your weekends churning out e-mails, the message is clear: Disconnecting is bad. To get the most from your team and keep them engaged, give your employees the space to recharge. Go ahead and send those evening and weekend e-mails if you want to, but program them to arrive during work hours, so that your employees can spend their off-hours being present at home.
II. Action Items for Emerging Leaders
Put your unconscious to work.
Conscious deliberation is useful for solving simple problems, but when the challenge facing you is complex, you’re more likely to find clearer insights after a period of incubation. To get the most out of unconscious thinking, do the work of getting clarity about your goal and absorbing the data at your disposal. Then, distract yourself by taking a walk, reading an article, or working on something unrelated. Research suggests a 30-minute diversion is often ideal. When you return to your original assignment, you’re likely to see things differ entirely than before you left.
Use mornings for learning and look for insight at night.
The same internal clock that causes your body to feel sluggish in the afternoon also influences other aspects of your performance. Studies show that cognitive skills are sharpest in the morning, when working memory peaks, but that as the day wears on we tend to retain less. Feeling tired also has its upsides. The more fatigued we are, the weaker our internal mental filter, which means more unusual associations come to mind. When you’re looking for a creative solution at work, try reexamining it later in the evening. You’re likely to discover a novel and unexpected way of seeing things.
Reframe exercise as part of your job.
Exercise doesn’t just improve your health; it gives you a mental edge. Many of us neglect going to the gym, especially during weeknights, when we’re concerned about falling behind at work. But what recent research shows is that regular exercise can boost your memory, elevate your creativity, and improve your efficiency. In short, it can make you a better employee. The more complexity you deal with at work, the more value you can derive from keeping your body physically fit.