Friday Fun: Sleeping your way to the top

[Note: this was a Toastmasters speech I gave last year, slightly revised for your reading pleasure.]

It has long been suspected, but scientific studies prove it: Sleeping around the office is a great way to make it to the top.

If you don’t believe me, consider this: A study released by the National Sleep Foundation says that taking afternoon naps increases your productivity.

A Survey of American workers supports this finding with 40% reporting that daytime drowsiness prevents them from doing their best work.

But Napping doesn’t just improve our productivity, it may even save our lives.

Consider this: Fatigue has widely been cited as a contributing factor to both the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents. The Pepsi syndrome? I think not. The ambien syndrome, maybe… You know a few well-placed nap rooms at our nuclear facilities could make the difference between active workers and radioactive workers.

Sleep deprivation has also been cited as a contributing factor to numerous railroad accidents. Engineers need to spend less time on their feet and more time on their… caboose.

There are many studies that show a marked loss of alertness in the afternoon. Did you know that more accidents occur between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. than in any other 2 hour span? And when you consider how many drunk people are bumping into things at 2 am on Saturday night, that’s a truly sobering thought.

So on the one hand we have the possibility of sleepy employees and train derailments and nuclear destruction, and on the other hand we have alert employees and an attentive, productive workforce. And yet nap enthusiasts still find employer resistance to catching a little cubicle snooze. Why?

Why why, why?

Because the poor, sweet, gentle, nap has been unfairly stigmatized as the luxury of the rich or the indulgence of the lazy. This was probably epitomized in the classic Seinfeld episode when George Costanza worked so hard to conceal his dirty little napping secret: a nap chamber custom built into his desk. But as dumb and lazy as George Costanza was, he knew enough to avoid the stigma of the nap!

Unfortunately, the taint of napping in the workplace is all too real, so nap rooms may not soon be coming to an office near you. But fear not fellow dozers, nodders, sleepers, and snoozers, all is not lost! Recent research in the field of creativity suggests that a mere BREAK in the “attentive activity” can lead to clearer, more creative thinking.

Scientists who have spent millions of dollars and years of their lives studying the phenomenon call this an “incubation hypothesis.” You and I call it “taking a break.”

According to the “incubation” hypothesis, it is best if we incubate once or twice a day for a period of 10-20 minutes, enaging in no activity during this incubation. The incubation’s only function is to divert our attention from work, releasing our minds. We are thereby enabled to freshly engage in our tasks and do better creative problem solving when we return from the incubation.

I think Archimedes would wholeheartedly agree with the incubation hypothesis. In Greek probably, but he’d agree. You remember the story of Archimedes? Eureka! Archimedes made a major scientific discovery while soaking in the tub. It’s suggested that Isaac Newton discovered gravity while lounging under an apple tree. And Frederick Banting — who dreamed how insulin could be used to control diabetesand won the Nobel prize for his discovery — would certainly agree that a little shut-eye can work wonders.

So why do most employers still frown on napping and slacking? Maybe nappers need to get the research into the hands of a good PR firm. I can see the billboards now: Save a life, take a nap.

There is at least one major American company seems to get it. Google!  Google permits their employees to spend 20% of their time on non-work related activities. Stacy Sullivan, Google’s HR Director says,

“We want to take as much hurry and worry out of people’s lives as we can, because a relaxed state of mind unleashes creativity. Everybody’s on flextime here, so we don’t reward face time or working super-long hours. We just measure results.”

And as we all know, the results at Google have been pretty good. Hey, maybe George Costanza had it right after all… Maybe sleeping our way to the top really is the way to go.

I will leave you to ponder: To drowse or not to drowse, That is the question.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a great deal of work to do so I’d better get back to my desk and, uh, nod off?

[Sleepy Penguin photo courtesy of: http://flickr.com/photos/slightlynorth/1583420981/ Some rights reserved]

Goodbye Mr. Carlin

George Carlin passed away yesterday. This makes me sad. Carlin was a comedic and linguistic genius as well as a defender–or perhaps practitioner is a better word — of free speech. Probably best known for his bit on the seven dirty words, Carlin shocked, but did not need to shock, to be funny.

His mind was brilliantly attuned to the absurdities of life, and his gift for language and physical humor allowed him to reflect those absurdities back to us in a way that both challenged and tickled our sensibilities.

George Carlin touched me. Literally. In college I was with a group that brought him to Rutgers for a performance . Before the show began I was charged with guarding his dressing room. The door opened and I felt a tap on my shoulder.


“Hey Buddy”.
“Yes Mr. Carlin”, I replied.
“Where’s the rest room?”
“Right down the hall to the left, Mr. Carlin.”
“Thank buddy.”

As “brush with greatness” stories go, perhaps this doesn’t make the top 10, but I was touched by his gentle manner and the way he called me buddy. I remember a lot of his material that night, but one of my favorite bits was his take on license plates:

  • New Hampshire’s license plates say ‘Live Free … or DIE!!’ I don’t think I want to live in a state that actually mentions death right on their license plates. At the other end of the spectrum is Idaho’s license plates – they say ‘Famous Potatoes.’ I don’t know, I think that somewhere between ‘Famous Potatoes’ and ‘Live Free or Die’ the truth lies. And I think it’s closer to ‘Famous Potatoes.’

Goodbye Mr Carlin, and thanks for all the laughs.

Broken signage

I’ve been away from the blog for what feels like a while–but for a good reason! My wife and I met up with some friends that came from the west coast and we did a seven day cruise to the western Caribbean. Lots of rain, no sun, but a good time was still had by all. We swam with dolphins, played with monkeys, ate, slept, read. Who needs the sun anyway?

I never had any desire to vacation on a cruise ship, and while the service and food was generally excellent (with a few notable exceptions), the cruise ship experience is probably just not my bag.

Anyhoo, I’ll get around to getting the monkey and dolphin pics up on flickr, but in the meantime I thought this picture was worth sharing. Yup, that’s the emergency exit door on deck 1 of the Carnival Valor. What message does this sign send to the passengers? I think it should be subtitled, “In case of emergency, good luck!” Hey Carnival, let’s barter: You give me a free seven day cruise and I’ll give you a kick-ass signage audit. 🙂