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Justin Locke

Did You Know Napping Can Enhance Productivity?

The pesky issue of rest management.

February 6, 2012
by Justin Locke

Back in the days when I was a fitness nut, my trainer once said something that really struck me. He said, “lifting weights does not make you strong. It tires you out and makes you weak. It’s the rest period, when your muscles rebuild themselves after the stress of the workout, which makes you strong.” I had never thought of it that way before. No TV commercial featuring a great athlete shows them napping away, but that's a big, yet totally invisible part of what makes them a great athlete.

Top performance in any field is cyclical and it requires alternating work with time for adequate rest. Unfortunately, the importance of rest is often overlooked in our culture. It is left to someone else to worry about or even denied altogether.

We often romanticize about working to exhaustion and we view working through sleep denial as being noble or "tough." There is also a common shaming of "sleepyheads" who aren't up at the crack of dawn. Denying yourself sleep isn't like denying yourself fun or chocolate — it's more like living without food or water. This common shaming of our need for rest is misguided and requires addressing. Rest is essential to sustaining top productivity, not to mention health and wellbeing.

There is a considerable legacy of anti-rest tradition to overcome. Sleep deprivation training starts early. All too often I see teenagers and college kids whose schedule unavoidably leads to chronic sleep deprivation. There are simply not enough hours for everything demanded of them, so sleep time gets cut short. You would think that the kids would learn more if they were generally awake and alert instead of groggy and half awake.

Former President Bill Clinton once hypothesized that the reason Congress had become so nonfunctional was because of sleep deprivation. Politicians spend so much time flying home for fundraisers that they have no time to sleep, which makes everyone impatient and irritable.

The news is not all bad though. There are some companies, such as Deloitte and Google, at the forefront of rest management that are creating "nap rooms." And just last year, the medical profession finally ended the practice of requiring first year doctors to work 30-hour shifts.

At this point I could offer the obligatory list of tips and tricks, but I think the problem is not one of method, it is one of cultural attitude. Recharging batteries is a part of enhancing productivity, so maximizing rest opportunities should be a key management goal. For all the romantic imagery of someone working themselves to exhaustion, top performers know that you have to be rested to do your best work.

The FAA has strict rules about how much time a pilot can fly before they must have a serious sleep break. They understand all too well that fatigue and sleep deprivation reduce one’s ability to make critical decisions. Surely your company’s operations are just as important as the operations of daily commuter flights from Poughkeepsie to Newark.

Shouldn’t your overall management policies include making sure that you, and the people who work for you, have enough rest to do their jobs at their highest level?

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Justin Locke is an author and speaker. He spent 18 seasons playing the bass with the Boston Pops, and he is the author of Principles of Applied Stupidity. He was recently featured on authors@google.You can find out more about his presentations on overcoming cultural inertia by visiting his website.

© Justin Locke