#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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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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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”

person-question

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

talking

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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