#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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  • malynixon

    It works great. After drinking 3 coffees per day I quit coffee 3 months ago and replaced it with strictly 15 min nap at the point when I get tired. This one (sometimes 2 naps per day) nap surprisingly keeps me going whole day alert with no need for coffee. Btw. if you’re used to drink coffee every day, be prepared for withdrawal symptoms (more tired, potential headache), it will take about a week until you’ll be able to tell whether naps work well for you or not.

    • Kirsty Wain

      I’m a fan of the snooze, it works! :)

  • http://www.robertocortese.it/ Roberto Cortese

    It works great! I’ve been doing it for two years now and every afternoon I feel like I’m reborn! Not to mention the number of problems I solve by having great ideas :) I’m sure you’ll enjoy 20 mins naps!

  • Ross

    Haha what? Do you wear sunglasses or something? :S

  • jmmoralespinola

    “Spanish” habit FTW ! Love this #labrat

  • Anthony Wells

    Hey guys, the share link is not working for Facebook and LinkedIn , worked for twitter. Anthony Wells http://www.TheFreelanceSpotlight.com and TheFreelanceSpotlight Podcast on iTunes. Let me know if it’s just my end, could be my iPhone or something, anyways I will try with my CPU, cause I want to share this.

    • Sasha

      Thanks for the head’s up, but they work fine over here on computer AND our iPhones. Try it again and see? Could’ve been a connection issue.

  • car sleeper

    This DOES work and does not require much effort. Well, depending on where you live. I worked for two years in UK near London, and I used to sleep in the car after lunch. 15 minutes daily for 2 years straight, no exceptions thanks to the weather. The result? The happiest and the most creative time of my life. Plus at around 3pm I was always the most alert and clear-thinking person in the office. BTW, I do not drink coffee at all.

  • Revu2

    Hi, faced this challenge when I left freelancing and began a full-time office job. There’s little support in my office for this and it’s shocking how difficult it is to be alone and non-alert in they city. My solution is unorthodox: use tanning rooms w/o the power on! Think about it—these places already have the space and a business model for letting out rooms for 20-30 minutes.

  • Monica Garcia

    I work from home so it’s easy and I noticed that when I take naps I’m able to work longer, I’m more productive and that creative energy just flows. Sometimes it’s only 20 minutes and sometimes it’s two hours – I’ve learned to just let me body go and get the sleep it needs. Of course I’m a night owl – so I’m often working after midnight! Thanks for sharing!

  • Kama

    I have been doing this for the last 8 years and must agree with this article. After the nap Its like your day starts again. Very refreshing. :)

  • Halucinated Design

    I definitely take a 20 minute power nap after lunch. It’s the reason why I got a futon in my office. I wish it was part of the American culture to do so though. =)

  • Dubem Menakaya

    I’ve started taking naps, it definitely does work. It’s like sports – you get tired at the end of a half, so I view the nap as ‘half-time’ and it allows me to attack the second half with renewed vigour!

  • Bogdan

    Napping is individual thing. You feel like you need it – you take it.

    Napping Time as a time interval (duration) is important part for good and discipline napping so you don’t feel crashed after it.

    Thats why me and my friends built an simple power nap app

    Also napping is great for other things too not just to get more working hours .. its also for having more straight & time with your family & friends and other side “things” during the day ..

  • http://todowiz.biz/ Alvis Andersonq

    I personally experience power naps are important and this is a must thing in my daily todo list yeah my daily organizer is http://todowiz.biz/

  • http://www.compulsivecreative.com/ Jason Love

    Since being let go from my job and working on an “at home” business, I find myself taking 2-hour naps daily. I can’t figure out how I lived without them.

    I consider myself a morning person and I feel a major boost of motivation and energy after most naps. Sometimes I sleep too long or I am interrupted. This can throw me off for the rest of the day, but I would say 4 out of 5 times I get the perfect amount and enjoy working more.

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How Pessimism Can Improve Your Life And Work

A new video by The School of Life explores the unappreciated wisdom of pessimism. Negative thinking gets a bad rap, but in fact it can ironically have a positive effect on your productivity and creativity. As The School of Life argues, pessimism prepares you for the worst, reduces your expectations, and protects you from disappointment—all helpful for your psyche as well as your creative output:

We live in an absurdly and painfully optimistic world. Mostly, that’s the result of all the businesses out there trying to sell us things, and understandably using cheerfulness to do it. And partly, it’s the influence of technology, which is always getting better, coloring our view of life as a whole, which often isn’t improving. …

For centuries, religions peddled dark messages. Buddhism told its followers that life was suffering. Christianity spoke of the fallen state of mankind, and of the inevitability of earthly imperfection. That was helpful; it kept our expectations in check.

The psychologist William James came up with an equation: Happiness = Expectations / Reality. So there are two ways to ensure contentment. Change reality, or change expectations. Pessimists know to reduce the expectations.

Writer Barbara Ehrenreich takes the espousal of pessimism a step further in her acclaimed book Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America. As she writes in a piece for The Guardian, it’s not just that pessimism has benefits for us; optimism can actually be psychologically harmful:

Like a perpetually flashing neon sign in the background, like an inescapable jingle, the injunction to be positive is so ubiquitous that it’s impossible to identify a single source. Oprah routinely trumpets the triumph of attitude over circumstance. A Google search for “positive thinking” turns up 1.92m entries. A whole coaching industry has grown up since the mid-90s, heavily marketed on the internet, to help people improve their attitudes and hence, supposedly, their lives. …

[But this] ideological force in American culture… encourages us to deny reality, submit cheerfully to misfortune and blame only ourselves for our fate.

You undoubtedly have, and will continue to, hit roadblocks on your path in life and work. But by recognizing that cheerfully assuming everything will shake out in your favor, and maintaining unrealistically sky-high expectations, is dangerous and unproductive, you’ll be able to clear those roadblocks in such a way that enables you to learn, grow and—most importantly—move on.

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How (and Why) You Should Read More

Book by Mike Ashley from the Noun Project

Book by Mike Ashley from the Noun Project

There’s no question that reading enriches your life. Reading imparts fresh inspiration, keeps your brain sharp, improves your writing, can relax you, and even benefits your health. Devoting the time and mental energy needed to read an entire book, as opposed to the snackable content (tweets, blog posts, email newsletters) that makes up the Internet, is a deeply rewarding experience. You go on an intimate journey with an author, by way of which you become much more immersed in the topic at hand than you’d be able to after a few hundred words of “like”-able discourse.

But how to make time for reading books (physical or e-)? From Rype’s blog, a few handy suggestions:

Learn To Read Faster

… Since the average reader reads around 250–300 words per minute, being able to double your reading speed at 500–600 words will allow you read twice the number of books in the same amount of time. …

a. use a pointer

Use either a pen or your index finger to keep track of your speed when reading. This will be useful for the second technique.

b. expand your peripheral vision

Start reading 3 words in from the first word of each line and end 3 words in from the last word.

Schedule It

Reading more books can simply come from making more time for it.

Scheduling your most important tasks can become one of the most productive things you can do, whether you’re making time to read, learn a language, or master a skill. …

It can be as little as 15–30 minutes in the morning before your work, or during lunch hours.

Drop It If You Don’t Love It

… If you want to read more books, retain more, and double your knowledge, you need to have a passion for what you’re reading. …

Don’t be afraid to quit if you don’t love it.

It’s what will lead to what you love.

Keeping track of how many books you read each year can be a huge motivator. You get the satisfaction of adding an item to your list each time you close the cover of a book for the last time, and can challenge yourself to increase your total each year. Sites like Goodreads and Shelfari help you log your read count and set an annual goal.

Reading is one of the three R’s of childhood education for a reason. And assuredly, Sir William Curtis—credited with coining the phrase—had books in mind when he said it.


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The Method Actor Approach to Design


Legendary graphic designer Michael Bierut, Pentagram partner and protégé of design legend Massimo Vignelli, lets the world into his creative process in his new monograph How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things. A particularly interesting element is his “method actor” approach to graphic design, as he tells FastCoDesign:

[S]omeone says you want to do the signs for the New York Times?… [T]o do the work properly, I have to talk to editors, I have to sit in on the page-one meeting where they decide how page one is going to be laid out…

If you just have a request for proposal where the client says we need X, Y, and Z, that really just gives you the shopping list… It’s sort of like saying, I need a pair of pants and a shirt. But then, where are you going to wear it, how much are you going to spend? I’ll stand you in front of a mirror and you have to feel like you’re the kind of person who can wear those clothes.

So going to all those meetings, if all I cared about were typefaces or colors, I’d be sitting, fidgeting, thinking, “Why am I here? This is boring.” Instead, I was thinking “I can’t believe I’m here, I can’t believe that without ever taking a journalism class I’m actually sitting with the top editors at the New York Times and I’ll know before any other civilian does what’s going to be the story that appears in the first column on the left of tomorrow’s paper.” I had that momentary thrill.

Wrapping yourself up in the topic of your work so that you’re truly invested doesn’t just translate into more effective and impactful work. It also keeps you more fulfilled and motivated as an artist. Because the method actor approach to acting isn’t just about inhabiting the character fully so that you never lift the veil to reveal your true self until after the project is completed. Ultimately, method acting is about just being, as opposed to putting something on or performing. And if you can get to that place in your work when you’re not feigning interest or curiosity, but truly “feeling it,” that’s where the art lies.


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Austin Kleon: How To Be a “Scenius”

By Austin Kleon

By Austin Kleon

Writer and artist Austin Kleon, of Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work! fame, is a big supporter of creatives that can contribute to an artistic community as opposed creating in their own vacuum. In FastCo Create, he borrows the term “scenius” from the musician Brian Eno to encourage artists to change their end goal from being a genius to being a creative contributor:

Kleon cautions against the artistic myth of the lone genius pounding away in a garret somewhere…. He created his own scenius online. Kleon says, “I think what has been the most remarkable in my career is that I’ve never been part of a geographical scene. I didn’t move to New York after college. I didn’t move to L.A. I moved to Cleveland, and there’s not a whole lot of a scene there. But what I did have was the Internet, and I became part of a scenius by putting my work out there. I started blogging in 2005, and back then, we were all connected, we just didn’t have social media in the same way as we do now. You’d just post things to your blog and people would send you comments or emails and you’d slowly find people as they stumbled across your work. When I did work I really liked and put it online, it attracted the people I wanted to meet. For me, being online, that was my scenius. That was my moving to New York in the ’70s. Or Paris in the ’20s.”

Kleon notes that you don’t have to be in the same medium as the people in your scenius. In fact, it helps if you’re not. He says since moving to Austin, he’s fallen in with musicians and filmmakers in addition to writers and artists, and those relationships have informed his work.

The key to being a scenius is to create something every single day. A constant stream of creative outpout ensures that you remain a vital part of a creative community. As Kleon told 99U in an interview:

We all get 24 hours. No one gets more time. Sure, you might have your job, you might have a kid, you might have a family—I had all of those things when I was writing my first book—but when you get ruthless about what you really want to do, there are so many gaps. So many little spaces in the day where you can find the time….

It happens a lot of in creative work that you finish a project and you don’t know what to do next. It can be a bit disconcerting. And I think that’s why it’s so important to have a daily practice that you do no matter what you are working on.

Your work, no matter what it is, matters. When you put it out there every day for your creative scene to absorb and consume, you cultivate your own brand and the community in tandem. That’s what being a scenius is all about.


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Achieve Goals By Gamifying Them

Benoît Bossy

Illustration by Behance member Benoît Bossy

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits suggests the secret to successfully achieving goals is working up to them level by level, video game style. The idea is that you make incremental changes to your existing behavior over a period of time, pausing along the way to master each level before progressing to the next. He took this approach to losing weight:

Like a video game, the way to changing your health habits is by starting out at the first level, and only going to the next level after you’ve beaten the one before that. The problem is that most people start at Level 10 and fail, and wonder what happened. Most of us want to skip several levels, but we’re just not ready.

So the secret is to start at Level 1, and only advance once you’re done with that level. One level at a time, you’ll master the game of losing weight and getting healthy….

Level 1

1. Start walking just for a few minutes every day.
2. Reduce your eating by a little bit. A very little bit.

Level 2

[D]on’t go to this level until you’ve had a streak of seven days of doing Level 1.

1. Walk every day for a few minutes more. If you’ve been going around the block twice, make it three times. Or add 5 minutes to your walking.
2. Eat a little less than in the previous level. Just a little less — not really noticeable.

Level 3

If you’ve successfully done Level 2 for another week, you’re ready to add more:

1. Walk a little more.
2. Eat/drink less of something that’s empty calories — less soda, sugar, bread, pastries, sweet coffee drink, chips, cookies, pizza. Don’t drop any of these completely, just eat less of it.

And so on. Minor tweaks collectively add up to major changes. The trick is having the patience and diligence to stick with those small shifts and implement them week after week until you’ve achieved your ultimate goal. To stay motivated and track your progress, try using a goal-centered app like Coach.me, LittleBit, or Chains.cc or a more analogue system like Jake Lodwick’s Standards self-management technique.

There’s no bonus round in real life, so make the one you have count.


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How to Deal When You’re Disappointed In Yourself

By Burnt Toast Creative

By Burnt Toast Creative

Creatives are no stranger to experiencing crushing disappointment. No matter your medium, it’s easy to equate your work with yourself, since your product is a reflection of your inner humanhood. Whenever you’re disappointed in something you’ve produced, or else your failure to actually produce that thing, that feeling of frustration may bleed into general dissatisfaction with yourself as a whole.

Of course, self-disappointment does nothing but further quash your motivation and productivity. If you feel like what you create is worthless or falls frustratingly short, you lose your inspiration to create anything at all. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits offers a few poignant suggestions for overcoming this feeling of not living up to your own standards, including:

See the Greatness of the Present

Let’s turn from the self we haven’t been, to the self we have been. This self might have “failed” at X, but it has also succeeded in lots of other ways. This self has tried. It has gotten a lot done. It’s not perfect, but it has good intentions. This self has been the best it can be, even if that means imperfection. This self has cared, has loved, has strived for better, has made an effort, has wanted the best for others. Not always, but it has. This self deserves that kind of recognition, and love for being the best self it can be….

Work with Curiosity

[G]oing forward, let’s practice tossing out our expectations of how we’re going to do today (and in life in general), and instead adopt an attitude of curiosity. We don’t know how we’re going to do at work, or in our relationships, or with our personal habits. We can’t know. So let’s find out: what will today be like? How will it go?

Be curious, in an attitude of not-knowingness.

It’s fun to find out things!

Yes, expectations will come up for us, and we will fail to live up to them, and we will feel frustration and disappointment again. This will happen, and this too will be a bit disappointing, because we want to be perfect at being curious and present. We’ll have to repeat the process when we notice this happening. That’s OK. That’s how it works — constantly renewing, never done.

But as we get better at this, I promise, we’ll learn to see things with a new curiosity, with a gratitude for every moment that we meet, and with a more loving and kind view of constantly failing but constantly striving selves. These selves are wonderful, and that realization is worth the ever-constant journey.

This combination of mindfulness, self-compassion, and curiosity enables you to move forward in your creative process and continue thinking and making. To take it one step further, you can dig out of a self-disappointment hole completely, as you use the above tactics, by removing direct internal fault-finding from the equation. As Janet Choi comments on what psychologist Ethan Kross has found, avoiding the first person, and addressing yourself as “you” instead, can have powerful positive consequences in silencing that inner critic:

When you get out of “me,” “myself,” and “I,” you mentally gain distance from yourself and get out of your own head. Much like you can gain perspective on a piece of art by stepping back a few feet, you can gain added insight on your thought process by putting some mental distance between your present mindset and your typical nervous, anxious self.

As you’re focusing, per Babauta, on thinking about your next project with a sense of possibility and openness, do so by asking yourself, “Who are you most excited to talk to about this piece?” or suggesting in your head, “You should carve out an hour tomorrow morning to work on this first thing, while you’re fresh.”

Just as you require multiple artistic implements at your disposal to complete a creative project, you need a variety of self-help techniques in your toolkit to conquer inner disappointment.


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When You Should Design “Badly” On Purpose

By Yen Divinagracia

By Yen Divinagracia

As a talented creative, you probably shudder at the thought of purposely designing something badly. Why would you possibly do such a thing, other than out of passive aggressiveness towards an infuriating client? (Bad idea.) UX content strategist Jerry Chao suggests that purposely designing badly can be a great tactic for conquering creative block:

There’s a big difference between having no good ideas, and no ideas at all. Chances are, the more bad ideas you have, the more pressure you apply to come up with good ideas. In these cases, the best way to beat designer’s block is to get all the bad ideas out of your system.

Try designing a mockup in which you make all the wrong decisions on purpose. You may find it strangely productive.

For starters, you’re exercising your design muscles a lot more than just staring at a blank screen: designing badly is better than not designing at all. On a deeper level, designing a purposefully bad mockup forces you to think critically on the same topics, but from a different perspective. If you can figure out the worst place to stick a call-to-action, for example, that will shed some light on the best place. This kind of productive distraction allows you to think about solutions without actually thinking about them.

This process uses the same mental muscles as when an editor considers a piece of writing by placing it upside down or backwards, forcing him- or herself to focus on the bare bones of the work: paragraph structure, word choice, syntax. The technique makes it impossible to glaze over while reading, and can surface interesting patterns or qualities of the work.

Coming at a project from an intentionally awkward angle can offer a refreshing new viewpoint that affords that much-anticipated creative breakthrough. Just don’t publish your bad-on-purpose project to your portfolio–at least without an explanation of the exercise.


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