#labrat: Do Power Naps Improve Creativity?

Rat Race designed by Luis Prado from The Noun Project

Rat Race designed by Luis Prado from The Noun Project

Conclusion: Power naps work best for brain-reboots. I found that the main key is listening to your own internal clock on when the best “time” is for you that day. Lots of articles advise a set time (and to be fair, I’ve only done this for a week so far), but I found that some days I was in the middle of cruising along in my work and would have to abruptly stop it, because it was my “nap time,” though I wasn’t particularly tired yet. Often, it was hard to pick back up where I left off — but entirely refreshing if it was a project I was struggling with or a problem I needed to solve. Overall, power naps are definitely something I will continue to use in my work process.

Monday, 01/13/14: The best nap-conditions may be tricky at times to find at work, but they’re not impossible.

1.) Stay warm. Your body temperature drops as you snooze, so pull your coat over yourself, put on a hoodie, or find a blanket.
2.) Make it dark. Eye masks are key for those who can’t shut out the lights, and they come in a wide-variety of styles (even ones that don’t press down on your eyes).
3.) Keep it short. If you’re worried about it taking a little longer for you to fall asleep, set your alarm for 30 minutes instead of the 20, so that you have some extra time to doze off before you start eating into your napping time.
4.) Control the noise. Some people are soothed by some background noise, but for the rest of us there are ear plugs. 

Tuesday, 01/14/14: It was hard to shake the guilt and anxiety that hit when I first laid down in our corner-couch nook. It’s still a cultural taboos in most American workplaces. In countries like Japan, it’s not uncommon for the highest (and lowest) ranking workers to fall asleep in their chairs at their desk (it’s called “inemuri,” which translates to “to be asleep while present”) and is a sign of dedication. It’s becoming more common for workplaces to allow, and even encourage, napping, but it’s still something I had never done before this #labrat.

Wednesday, 01/15/14: The more I take naps, the more I shake the sleeping-at-work guilt. Today (after a few minutes of being dazed wore off) I felt refreshed.

Thursday, 01/16/14: I put 27 minutes on my alarm instead of the usual 20, to give myself more room to fall asleep first. It’s surprising the difference a few extra minutes makes.

Friday, 01/17/14: A caffeine nap is when you quickly drink coffee, fall asleep before the caffeine can affect you, and (the idea goes) you wake up extra-awake and ready to go. However, the caffeine nap theory often leaves out how important it is that you drink your coffee black. I chugged my cream-and-sugar-with-coffee coffee in six minutes. At first I felt like I was vibrating. I have no idea how long I was asleep out of the 27 minutes I allotted, but I do know that when my alarm went off, I was up. Usually after a naps it would take me  5 – 10 minutes for the fog to clear. Today I felt like I was launched out of a cannon.

According to your natural circadian rhythm, you’re at your sleepiest between 2 to 4:00 a.m. and 1 to 3:00 p.m. Sounds like a cruel trick with the way the workday was set up, doesn’t it?

For years I’ve combated the “afternoon slump” with coffee, but studies show that you’re better off giving into the call of sleep for a few minutes than fighting it. In fact, napping has much bigger rewards than caffeine; just 20 minutes is said to provide an alertness boost, with 30 to 60 minutes good for cognitive memory and creativity, and 60 to 90 minutes enough for problem solving.

So we’ve decided to test out 20-minute power naps in the real world of open office plans and 9 to 5’s. For this week, I’ll be power napping (or trying to, anyways) every day and reporting back on what it’s really like to declare it nap time in the middle of your work day.

Join us with your own week of afternoon power naps! Follow this post for daily updates and to add yours in the comments, or on Twitter and Instagram using #labrat.

 

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Discover How You Really Spend Your Time

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Are you spending your time on the right things every day? We often misunderstand how we’re spending our time, which leads to lost productivity or overlooked routines. On The Daily Muse, Erin Greenawald presents a useful way of seeing just how you spend your time: draw it on a handy chart. Greenawald writes:

The first step in becoming more productive is understanding where your time is going now!

It’s simple—grab the [included] visual and then either print it out or open it up…using the paint tool (or your colored pencils), give each activity a unique color, and then color in each hour of the circle based on the activity you usually fill that time with.

 …You’ll quickly be able to see how you organize your day, the things you’re doing well, and the things you could probably improve upon.

I tried this exercise the other day, but instead of guessing how I spend my time I set a reminder on my phone to go off every hour. The alarm would go off and I’d write down how I spent the hour. At the end of my day I was able to see some spots where I clearly was spending time on things that don’t align with my higher objectives.

It’s also interesting to compare your chart to those of creative geniuses, something Greenawald highlights in her post.

Drawing out your day like this allows you to quickly see where your time is going and where you might have more free-time than you think. Be sure to download the chart and try tracking your own hours today.

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How One Man Went From IT to “Late Night with Seth Meyers”

Moon designed by Sebastian Langer from the Noun Project

Moon designed by Sebastian Langer from the Noun Project

For 20 years, Bryan Donaldson worked 9-to-5 as an IT Guy in Illinois. At 40, he had a wife, a kid, and a house with a big backyard. He also had a wicked sense of humor and a Twitter account. Two years and 40,000 followers later, he also has a new job as staff writer for Late Night with Seth Meyers. A recent piece for Vulture explains how he made the jump: 

One of Donaldson’s longtime followers is Alex Baze, head writer and producer for Late Night With Seth Meyers. Last fall, when Baze began hiring for the writers’ room in anticipation of a February premiere, he had the notion of looking beyond the piles of packets coming from managers and agents and scouting for raw talent on Twitter. “If I go to somebody’s Twitter, I can see what he’s been doing the last two years — you get a much more complete sense of how he writes,” he says. “It’s like you get to flip through somebody’s comedy notebook.”

Donaldson had no idea he was auditioning for a job when he was tweeting. “Being that it’s Twitter, maybe I just couldn’t take it that seriously when those people were following me,” he says. “I never felt that I was at that level, as far as comedy writing.” A direct message from Baze was the first professional contact Donaldson had ever had with anyone in the comedy world. The Peorian greeted it skeptically. “I wasn’t going to consider uprooting my family at age 40 and starting a new career in New York, where I’d never even been before,” Donaldson says. “But my wife basically said I’d be an idiot if I didn’t give this a shot, because it’s such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The world is a meritocracy now more than ever: never be afraid to put your work out there. You never know who might be watching.

Read the rest of the article here.

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Stop Trying to Be Hemingway: The Myth of Creative Routines

Designed by Dmitry Baranovskiy for the Noun Project

Designed by Dmitry Baranovskiy for the Noun Project

The creative routines of famous creatives has been popular internet fodder this year. The Pacific Standard thinks this obsession and trend of emulating famous artist’s habits is problematic, to say the least. The larger picture, says Casey N. Cep, is that most artists did not always followed these routines they’re known for anyways. In the end they would have still produced genius work regardless of the kind of breakfast they ate, hours they worked, or whatever office supplies they used.

The idea that any one of these habits can be isolated from the entirety of the writer’s life and made into a template for the rest of us is nonsense. What none of these lists tell you is that sometimes these highly creative people weren’t waking so early on their own, but were woken by domestic servants. Or that some of these highly productive writers also had spouses or children or assistants enlisted in the effort. Or that often the leisurely patterns of drafting and revising were possible only because generous familial support made the financial demands of everyday life irrelevant.

Some of the more scandalous aspects of these artistic routines are also tragically stripped of context. The writer who never wrote without a few gin and tonics died young from cirrhosis. The journalist who relied on barbiturates died of an overdose. The painter who once said it was impossible to paint while listening to music married a violinist who then played constantly in his studio.

We often talk about process at 99U, so we think this is a great debate. Are we interested in the routines of great artists because we think replicating parts of their process will be what we were missing to succeed all along? While we believe strongly that the creative process matters, it’s worth contemplating whether it’s our process that needs tweaking or the work itself. It’s easier to put the fault on something we can change easily and control, like a routine, than it is to dig into the deep, personal issues within the work we’re putting out.

Read the rest of the article here.

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Top Weekend Reads: The New Skills Required to Nab Top Jobs

Designed by Yazmin Alanis for the Noun Project

Designed by Yazmin Alanis for the Noun Project

As we do every Friday, we’ve collected our most-shared Twitter links for your weekend reading pleasure.

From around the web:

From 99U:

For more, make sure to follow us on Twitter.

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Fight Productivity Paralysis With the 2-Minute Rule

hourglass

Hour Glass designed by Bohdan Burmich from the Noun Project

 

The feeling that you get from crossing things off your to-do list can be addicting. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of adding absolutely everything to your system, including things that can be done in two minutes or less. With enough small and insignificant tasks, you can clog your system and lose considerable time and focus. And if you overwhelm your system enough, you might even paralyze your productivity completely.

Management consultant and author of Getting Things Done, David Allen, has a two-minute rule that can not only make your projects move forward incessantly, but it can also prevent many small things from overloading your system in the first place:

If you determine an action can be done in two minutes, you actually should do it right then because it’ll take longer to organize it and review it than it would be to actually finish it the first time you notice it.

Thinking of your time in two-minute increments will allow you to get a lot of things done.  When you simply do something, you eliminate all of the prioritizing, scheduling and picking of tasks. As Allen put it in a recent interview with Success magazine, the rule “is actually tricking you into making an executive decision about what is the next thing that needs to happen and that’s really the training people need.”  The two-minute rule is in essence, a mind-trick. 

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Are You in Motion or Are You Taking Action?

Motion designed by Nick Abrams from the Noun Project.

Motion designed by Nick Abrams from the Noun Project.

When dealing with clients and working with teams, it’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “get the ball rolling” when describing project progress. But are the phone calls, emails and scheduling of meetings actually considered work? A costly mistake for many is confusing the idea of being in motion with simply taking action. Our real job, the action, should be to produce the actual deliverable. While motion and action might sound similar, they’re not the same. In a recent blog post, entrepreneur and travel photographer James Clear distinguished the two as follows:

Motion is when you’re busy doing something, but that task will never produce an outcome by itself. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will get you a result.

There are many strategies for taking action, but two that have worked for Clear are:

1. Set a schedule for your actions.
2. Pick a date to shift you from motion to action.

Being in motion is not only an inevitable part of getting things done, it’s integral. But we can’t get lost in it. Clear offers a simple way to refocus by asking: “Are you doing something? Or are you just preparing to do it? Are you in motion? Or are you taking action?” Don’t get caught up measuring progress by steps you’ve completed. In the words of ten-time NCAA National Championship winning coach John Wooden, “Never mistake activity for achievement.” Instead, be relentlessly focused on the end-goal. Motion will never produce a final result. Action will. Read the rest of Clear’s blog on motion vs. action here.

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