Friday, August 29, 2014

Sleeping Your Way to Success

napping at desk
This guy has the right idea
I love sleep. I do it every night, and I always have. (Seriously, I've never pulled an all-nighter.) I'm also pretty good at sleeping during the day. If you give me 5 minutes and a comfortable chair or couch, I can go out like a light.

I love napping, but not because I'm lazy (I don't think I've ever been accused of that). I love napping because it's such a satisfying way to recharge. If I've been working hard all day, especially if I had to wake up early, midday I'll feel my mind start to get cloudy, and my energy will drop.

Most people experience this and rush out for their afternoon coffee. I don't drink coffee, since I'm overly sensitive to caffeine. I also would prefer not to drug myself daily just to remain functional. So weird of me, right, America?

I would much prefer to take a nap. It's nature's energy boost. I find that after a short power nap, I'm more focused, alert, energetic, and creative. Often I'll awake from my nap and tackle a problem that had me stumped just minutes ago. I'll brainstorm ideas and feel motivated to execute them. And I just plain feel better.

I truly believe that my commitment to napping has helped me to be more efficient, productive, and successful. And I'm not alone.

Guess who else regularly took naps? Winston Churchill. Thomas Edison. Napoleon. Leonardo da Vinci. Eleanor Roosevelt. John F. Kennedy. John D. Rockefeller. And look where they ended up.

We're seeing the stirrings of a nap revolution. Despite centuries of stigma, the nap is starting to gain acceptance in the business world, mostly in tech startups. In 2011, about 6% of workplaces had a designated space for napping. Hubspot, for example, has a special nap room, complete with plush carpet and hammock, which staff can reserve like a conference room for a private snooze. Hubspot CEO Brian Halligan defends napping as a catalyst for inspiration.

napping room
Hubspot's nap room
In a given month, I do a lot of very mediocre stuff, but once in a while I come up with a really good idea. Maybe I’ll come up with two in a month. Those two inevitably happen when I’m either falling into a nap, or coming out of a nap, or waking up slowly on a Saturday morning. I’m trying to engineer more of those in my life. I’m trying to encourage more people to have naps because, hopefully, more people will have these brilliant ideas." -- Brian Halligan, CEO of Hubspot
And where has that pro-napping attitude gotten Hubspot? A $100 million IPO. Imagine that!

I kickstarted another napping thought-leader, the creators of the Napwell, a high-tech sleeping mask that stimulates your circadian rhythms for a gentle awakening experience. Their blog has some compelling data on nap history and nap research. They've even launched an online petition to lobby for pro-napping workplace reform. I can hear the rallying cry now: "We're here! We're sleepy! We...mmm....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!"

sleeping mask
Napwell: The World's First Napping Mask
Perhaps the most hilarious napping innovation to hit the market is the ostrich pillow. I see where the designers are coming from. It's very practical. But, much like the snuggy, practicality and comfort can't always overcome public embarrassment. Maybe your time will come, ostrich pillow. Let's sleep on it.

napping pillow
The Ostrich Pillow: The World's Silliest Napping Pillow
If you're not a napper, no pressure. Enjoy your coffee. Enjoy the jitters, the highs and lows, the long lines at Starbucks and the constant drain on your wallet. I'll always favor the nap, because it's always a good idea to listen to your body. If you're sleepy, sleep. Your body will thank you for it.

Up next: Thought Nuggets on: Risk

Monday, August 18, 2014

WAIT - Why Am I Talking?

shhhh quiet

During my first week at Startup Institute, we discussed emotional intelligence, or EQ. The first and most important skill is self-awareness.

My classmate Nicole Nguyen shared a brilliant tactic that I want to trumpet from the heavens. It's called WAIT, which stands for "Why Am I Talking?"

Think you might be rambling? WAIT.

Sense some awkwardness? WAIT.

Feel like no one's listening? WAIT.

After you've paused to ask yourself "Why Am I Talking?", try answering these questions:

Who benefits from this conversation?

A conversation is only valuable if both parties benefit from it. For example, my friend and successful comedian Josh Gondelman hates it when people describe a crazy dream they had the other night. While it may be cathartic for the dreamer to recount their epic story, Josh gets nothing from it, since dreams aren't real. He resents the dreamer for being indulgent, even selfish. While Josh exaggerates this dynamic in his routine, he hits on a very salient point about how conversations should work.

Consider the topic of conversation. Are you providing useful information to the listener? Is this something that would interest them? If the answer is no, it's time to stop talking.

Who is hurt by this conversation?

Gossip is toxic. If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all! Because anything negative you say can and will be held against you.

Bad-mouthing people has obvious repercussions. If the subject would be hurt to overhear what you've said, it's best not to say it. Gossips damage their own reputation by degrading trust and confidentiality with their peers. Bad news all around.

Beyond gossip, there are subtler forms of harmful talk. Consider how the person you're talking to feels. If you're giving them criticism, would hearing what you have to say help them or hurt them? Are you the best person to deliver that message, at this time, in this place, and under these circumstances?

Also beware the back-handed compliment. For example, if you're on a team of 5 people, and you single out 3 of your teammates for public praise, omitting the fourth, that's insulting to your neglected teammate. Those you praised feel uncomfortable accepting such attention, and frankly, you'll look like an asshole. All things to consider.

Are people listening?

If no one's listening, you shouldn't be talking. How can you tell if they're listening? Observe the other person. Here are signs that they're listening:
  • Eye contact
  • Nodding
  • Smiling
  • Ignoring distractions
  • Verbal reactions ("mhm", "oh?", "huh")
  • Body language: facing towards you, especially if their feet/lower half are pointed at you.
If most of these are not happening, you've lost them. If you continue talking after all signs of listening have waned, you're wasting the person's time, and you'll look foolish while doing it. Once you notice their attention straying, you should wrap things up. Even better, strive for brevity next time.

Have I been listening?

It's tempting to want to share your thoughts and feelings and ideas with the world the moment they spring to mind. But first consider if sharing would be redundant. Ask yourself: am I sharing something new? Or am telling them something they already know/reiterating what's already been said/stating the obvious?

Live by the WAIT mantra, and you'll have more meaningful conversations with people that respect you for it.


Up next: "Sleeping Your Way to Success."