Should We Be Sleeping in Shifts, Rather than 7-Hour Blocks?

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Science shows that sleep is essential to memory and creativity. As the NY Times reported, “Sleep improves creative ability to generate aha! moments and to uncover novel connections among seemingly unrelated ideas.” But what if we’re going about sleep all wrong?

Most humans in the industrial world sleep in one long stretch. We go to bed, sleep for 7 or 8 hours if we’re lucky, and then get up and go to work. But, as a recent New Yorker piece by Elizabeth Kolbert explains, this isn’t the way we always slept. And it may be why nearly two thirds of Americans claim that they’re not getting enough rest during the week.

Wolf-Meyer refers to the practice of going to bed at around eleven o’clock at night and staying there until about seven in the morning as sleeping “in a consolidated fashion.” Nowadays, adults are expected to sleep in this manner; anything else–sleeping during the day, sleeping in bursts, waking up in the middle of the night–is taken to be unsound, even deviant. This didn’t use to be the case.

Until a century and a half or so ago, Wolf-Meyer observes, “Americans, like other people around the world, used to sleep in an unconsolidated fashion, that is, in two or more periods throughout the day.” They went to bed not long after the sun went down. Four or five hours later, they work from their “first sleep” and rattled around–praying, chatting, smoking, or making love.(Benjamin Franklin reportedly like to spend this time reading naked in a chair.) Eventually, they went back to bed for their “second sleep.”

Flickr founder Caterina Fake recently discussed her experiments with sleeping with shifts. And creative luminaries from Winston Churchill to Thomas Edison to Salvador Dali have been known to appreciate the art of intermittent sleep.

What’s your take? Are you looking for a better solution than “consolidated sleep”?

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5-Second DIY: Notebook Index

Photo by Adam Akhtar of highfivehq.com

Photo by Adam Akhtar of highfivehq.com

Adam Akhtar of Highfive has a great—albeit surprisingly simple—tip to add visual tags to your notebook or moleskin for organizing your notes. All it takes is your notebook and a pen:

The back of your notebook will act like a tag list or index. Every time you create a new entry at the front of the book you’re going to “tag” it [in the back]…

Now you’d go back to the first page where the [note] is and on the exact same line as the…label you just wrote you’d make a little mark on the right edge. You’d make this mark so that even when the notepad was closed the mark would be visible. After repeating this for various [notes] you’d now have various tags visible on the notebooks edge.

The process is very easy to use, and can be paired with other “hacks” for an added organizational boost (like using different colors for different topics). If you still use a physical notebook, this is one approach you’re definitely going to want to consider.

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Follow Your “Why,” Not Your “What”

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Question designed by Jessica Lock from the Noun Project

Finding purpose in your work not only benefits your life, but helps differentiate you from others in your industry. Sunny Bonnell, co-founder and creative director of Motto, explains: 

Figure out what you stand for and what you believe in, and use that as your point of difference. In a crowd of designers, how will you stand apart? If you’re guilty of leading with what you do, start with why you do it and articulate that on your materials, website and social channels. Find out where your talents and values meet, and use that to leverage the power of your purpose.

Your “why” is a powerful driving force for your life and career. It provides a common goal that directs your actions and provides the dedication to get there. In addition, passion is contagious. Your excitement will excite others who will want to get involved in what you do. As leadership expert Simon Sinek says, “people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

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Share Your Ideas While You Build Them, Not After

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Talking designed by Klara Zalokar from the Noun Project

 The sooner you share your ideas, the sooner you will find a solution that works for everyone. Try to collaborate with your clients during the design process instead of simply presenting to them at the end. That’s what digital strategist Michelle Campbell learned during the SXSW Interactive Festival:

At agencies, we’ve grown used to spending weeks on one idea only to have it thrown away at the last minute. If we opened up this process to more sharing — among ourselves and our clients — we’d have more time to build and evolve better ideas.

Your clients may not know much about design, but they are experts in their industries. Getting their feedback early on will prevent you from getting attached to an idea that isn’t going to work. Campbell reminds us:

… we often rely on people with the word “creative” in their title for ideas, but we forget that inspiration isn’t taught. It comes from real life, and anyone can bring that to the table.

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Purge Paperwork with the One Touch Rule

Paperwork by Matthew Hall from The Noun Project

Paperwork by Matthew Hall from The Noun Project

A recent study found that the average worker loses approximately 80 hours per years as a result of disorganization. That’s nearly two weeks of vacation! When invoices, receipts, contracts. and drafts are piled up everywhere, you’re likely to waste hours shuffling papers from one pile to another.

Ann Gomez of Clear Concept Inc. emphasizes the touch it once principle:

Process each task the first time you touch it.

Triage effectively with Gomez’s one touch rule – as soon as you get it, act on it, delegate it, file it or throw it away. And don’t just stop at paper – this principle easily applies to phone calls, emails and social media notifications.

It’s a simple trick to help you batch your work into scheduled, focus blocks: you won’t open an email until you’re ready to give it your full attention, or you’ll decline to accept your coworker’s rough draft until later when you know you’ll have the time to sit down and do it. 

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In Most Meetings, 3 People Are Doing 70% of the Talking

Brainstorm by Garrett Knoll from The Noun Project

Brainstorm by Garrett Knoll from The Noun Project

There are two leading problems with the average brainstorming session, as researchers at the Kellogg School of Management explain :

  1. In a typical six- or eight-person group, three people do 70 percent of the talking.
  2. Early ideas tend to have disproportionate influence over the rest of the conversation. 

One of the researchers (as well as author of Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration), Professor Leigh Thompson, remarks that the dominant people don’t realize that they’re doing most of the talking. “In fact,” she says, “they vehemently argue that meetings are egalitarian.” 

The solution to these lop-sided meetings is brainwriting, instead of brainstorming. Thompson describes brainwriting as “the simultaneous written generation of ideas.” She breaks it down the process as such:

Step 1: Write just one sentence each. For the first five or 10 minutes of your next idea-generation meeting, every team member writes down one good idea or one proposed solution on, say, each of a small stack of index cards.

Step 2: Consider the idea, not the source. When the timer goes off, all cards are submitted anonymously and taped or thumbtacked to a wall for the whole team’s consideration.

Step 3: Put it to a blind vote. Team members signal their interest in an idea by marking it with a sticker or a Post-it note. Everyone gets a limited number of stickers and, if done right, the best ideas emerge quickly.

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Tom Dixon: Counterculture Is Dead

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In an interview with The Guardian, designer Tom Dixon comments on how counterculture has become mainstream, leaving no room for rebellion in design:

I’ve got a theory that it’s almost impossible now to be countercultural because everything is endorsed. Look at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s show on punk. There’s nothing that isn’t authorised. Everything in fashion and in furniture has become super-legitimised. By the time it’s out there and blogged, it’s over.

Instead designing for or against trends, Dixon strives for his work to have staying power. Products are created for a specific purpose or “as ideas suggested themselves.” Either way, it’s always on his own accord and not because of what others are doing.

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