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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DesignStudio: Design from the Start

DesignStudio

DesignStudio, responsible for the recent Airbnb rebrand, believes if you really want to benefit from design thinking, it needs to be incorporated from the start of the project. Co-founders Paul Stafford and Ben Wright found that all too often large agencies were not consulting designers until the last 20% of the project.

We didn’t understand why design wasn’t at the forefront; why designers weren’t in the initial meetings…One of our founding principles was that design and designers were always in the project from start to finish. Design thinking is a bit of a buzzword but we didn’t set up on that, it just kind of made sense for us.

As their studio grows, Stafford and Wright are focused on hiring designers as oppose to account managers to avoid the disconnect additional hierarchy can cause. Designers will still have the support of client services and project managers, but they will always be directly involved in the projects. Wright explains, “I think for designers that’s a huge motivation, stripping away account directors and allowing designers that ownership.”

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The Seven Step Method to Better Meetings

Notes designed by Ema Dimitrova from the Noun Project

Notes designed by Ema Dimitrova from the Noun Project

Brainstorming meetings can be disastrous, often eating up time and leading to poor decisions. Google Ventures has a way to avoid the pain of traditional meetings with a seven step method.

Over at Fast Company, Jake Knapp explains:

The next time you need to make a decision or come up with a new idea in a group, call timeout and give the note-and-vote a try.

1. Note: Distribute paper and pens to each person. Set a timer for five to 10 minutes. Everyone writes down as many ideas as they can…

2. Self-edit: Set the timer for two minutes. Each person reviews his or her own list and picks one or two favorites…

3. Share and capture: One at a time, each person shares his or her top idea(s). No sales pitch. Just say what you wrote and move on…

4. Vote: Set the timer for five minutes. Each person chooses a favorite from the ideas on the whiteboard…

5. Share and capture: One at a time, each person says their vote…

6. Decide: Who is the decider? She [or he] should make the final call—not the group…

7. Rejoice: That only took 15 minutes!

The “Note and Vote” technique works by circumventing the usual suspects that cause brainstorming meetings to go awry: personal feelings, fear of being unheard, and building ideas off one another rather than focusing on originality.

Knapp also explains that this approach forces your meetings to be run in parallel (where everyone is contributing at the same time, without shouting) whereas traditional meetings are run in a serial fashion.

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Where Do You Fall on the Creativity Spectrum?

The Creativity Spectrum from Kevan Lee at Buffer

The Creativity Spectrum from Kevan Lee at Buffer

We often hear the advice “just start,” but it comes without a clear explanation as to how. Visualizing the gap between mediocre and great work in this way makes it evident that the only way to get on that scale is to overcome the bigger gap between nothing and something.

Over at Buffer, Kevan Lee gives us an answer by taking creative author Shirky’s notes to create The Creativity Spectrum.:

What holds you back from creating something?

For many of us, it’s fear. Fear that something might not be good enough, unique enough or novel enough.

Overcoming this fear is a huge and important step… Author Clay Shirky noted the importance of the simple act of creating—creating anything, even a silly thing—in his book Cognitive Surplus: “The stupidest possible creative act is still a creative act. On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between the mediocre and the good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.

The message is clear: to create great work requires that we create any work to begin with. Because until we have something to work with, great work isn’t even on our scale of possibilities.

Lee provides plenty of other creative insights in addition to this one over on the Buffer blog.

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6 Coffee Alternatives That Are Better for Productivity

Designed by Claire Jones for the Noun Project

Designed by Claire Jones for the Noun Project

Regardless of where you fall on the “is coffee good or bad for you” debate, there will come a workday when you can barely keep your head up at your desk, and coffee is not an option. Maybe you’ve already had two or three cups with no real effect, or maybe you’ve been trying to quit but still haven’t found a good alternative yet.

As part of Fast Company‘s “Coffee Week” coverage, Lisa Evans offers a number (6 in all) of other options. Here’s a few of our favorites: 

Green Tea: This beverage has become known as the healthiest coffee alternative thanks to its high concentration of antioxidants and its link to lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Green tea does contain caffeine, but a smaller amount than your regular cup of coffee, so you don’t end up with the same jittery side effects. Not only can green tea boost mental alertness, studies show it can also make you smarter. One recent study published in the journal Psychopharmacology found green tea is effective at improving memory and cognition.

Eat Some Chocolate and Have a Laugh: That cute cat video your aunt emailed you may be just what you need when you feel a dip in energy. Researchers from the University of Warwick showed boosting employee happiness by offering chocolate and showing stand-up comedy videos improved productivity by 12%…

Raise the Heat in the Office: That chill you feel in the office may be causing your productivity to drop along with your temperature. Cornell University researchers found employees working in offices with low temperatures (of 68 degrees) committed 44% more errors and were less than half as productive than employees working in a warm office (of 77 degrees). When the body’s temperature drops, it uses up energy to stay warm. This leaves the brain with less energy to concentrate or to be creative. If you can’t raise the office temperature, be sure to pack a sweater or get a space heater.

And if what you’re really jonesing for are the sweet, soothing sounds of a coffee shop while you work, there’s always Coffitivity.

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Do Elite Colleges Produce Risk-Averse Students?

Statue of John Harvard aka the "statue of three lies" at Harvard University.

Statue of John Harvard aka the “statue of three lies” at Harvard University.

Extracurriculars, straight A’s, volunteer work. . . Getting into top-flight colleges demands a ridiculous amount of free time, dedication, and energy, which are exactly the kinds of things that stifle learning. So does that mean that the Ivy Leagues are now producing students who are better at following orders than experimenting?

The New Yorker takes on the issue using William Deresiewicz’s book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life as a backdrop:

They’re meant to do it all, and they do. But they don’t know why, or how, to find fulfillment in the absence of new hoops to jump through.

Learning is supposed to be about falling down and getting up again until you do it right. But, in an academic culture that demands constant achievement, failures seem so perilous that the best and the brightest often spend their young years in terrariums of excellence. The result is what Deresiewicz calls “a violent aversion to risk.” Even after graduation, élite students show a taste for track-based, well-paid industries like finance and consulting (which in 2010 together claimed more than a third of the jobs taken by the graduating classes of Harvard, Cornell, and Princeton). And no wonder. A striver can “get into” Goldman Sachs the way that she got into Harvard. There is no résumé submission or recruiting booth if you want to make a career as a novelist.

If our brightest minds are mainly falling into fields like finance, what does that mean for the next generation of leaders?

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The Case Against “Doing What You Love”

Cartoon by Rachel Nabors

Cartoon by Rachel Nabors

Web developer Rachel Nabors followed her passion and was a full-time comic book artist. But an unexpected surgery and a lack of health insurance debunked her plans and gave her a new outlook on creative work. Now? She believes that “do what you love” is bad advice.

My first love, comics, gives me an edge in this industry. If I’d just gone straight into web development because it seemed like a money-maker, I wouldn’t be half as excited about what I can do or as interesting to others in my field. I and my community are better for the years I spent making comics, even if it wasn’t a successful career choice.

But, if I’d kept “doing what I love” in the industry that didn’t love me back, I would have never realized that there are other, more profitable, things I love.

Rather than telling you to do what you love, I’d like to say this:

Don’t do something you hate for a living.

There is no glory in suffering. Because you can grow to hate something you love if it puts you in a bad position, this advice gives you permission to move on to greener pastures if what you love is making you cry at night. Whatever you love should love you back. And if it’s not working out, it’s ok to find something else to love.

We all have more than one true passion in us — sometimes it just takes time to find it.

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