Lessons from a 90-minute nap

I wrote in my last post about trying some of the tips in Crystal Paine’s book, 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life. Day 13 suggested reading 168 Hours, which seemed like it might not be so helpful for me (personally — I hope it is for other people!).

But I decided to reread my chapter on “Controlling your calendar” in advance of working on some workday productivity posts. I’ve been struggling with the urge, lately, to look busy — filling my days with stuff that doesn’t matter so I feel like I’m doing something, rather than doing whatever it takes to come up with ideas.

So I was quite happy to read a passage, after I quoted a man complaining about a non-productive meeting (“I might as well be asleep”) that said this:

“Confession: I actually did spend the 90 minutes before I wrote the opening paragraphs of this chapter asleep. Thanks to my very energetic toddler, my day got off to an earlier start than intended, and by 11:30 a.m., I knew I was going to need more coffee to be functional. So I took a nap instead. When I woke up, some previously elusive ideas on chapter organization for this book popped into my brain. I wrote them down and have now spent the afternoon executing against them.

“In other words, during that 90-mintue nap, I made significant progress on my top-priority project for the year. Granted, I did not send a single e-mail, attend any meetings, edit any PowerPoint slides, read any headlines related to my job, call any clients, sit through any conference calls with my colleagues, travel anywhere, manage the papers on my desk, or do anything that most knowledge workers have come to think of as ‘work.’ Still, I’d say it was an incredibly productive morning, though if you’d seen me during those 90 minutes, I doubt that ‘productive’ is the first word that would have popped into your head.”

One of my goals for the next year is coming up with the right narrative non-fiction book idea — one that is fascinating enough and deep enough to consume many months of my time. I love writing books, and if I spent the next two months doing absolutely nothing but puzzling out this problem, and at the end of two months I had a good answer, that would be time well spent. But it’s quite difficult to get one’s head around this idea — that sometimes 90 minute naps in the middle of the day are more productive than anything else one could be doing.

What’s the most productive “non-productive” thing you’ve ever done?


9 thoughts on “Lessons from a 90-minute nap

  1. “Remembering the Sabbath” (by which I mean taking any full day off from work and most chores) on a fairly regular basis helps me be far more productive during the week. Wish I were a napper!

  2. I love love love your blog and I adored 168 hours! I was wondering if you or any if your readers have any tips for me! I am trying to develop my blog and also grow an online business, whilst working full time! As I have started out with this I have been diagnosed with a chronic illness! I really feel making a success of my business would benefit my health as I could at least reduce my hours in my job which involves a commute! My challenge is finding time and honestly motivation when I am feeling pain and fatigue! Any hints or tips would be so welcome! Thank you

  3. I love naps. One reason I would like to be able to work at home more. I’ve worked in too many nap-unfriendly places.

  4. The time I spend walking every day! I walk part of the way to work and then hop on the bus, it likely adds 45 minutes both ways. I find that there is something about the walking that helps me organize my work day or leave it behind.

  5. Walking to a fountain at the library or public square on my lunch hour and reading a book or magazine. The walking, the sunshine, and the sound of water are all therapeutic.

    1. I agree with Sherrie and Susan. Walking, running, getting out and doing anything physical always helps unclog my mental drains. Also, consciously choosing to not think about work for a day or two always helps me be more energetic when I am back in front of the screen.

  6. Laura,
    My mother always told my sisters, and my wife, that the first rule of motherhood is when the baby sleeps YOU SLEEP… I believe that 90 minute “nap” is actually sleep you very much deserve.

    For nearly 10 years now (I’m 47) I rarely miss my daily nap. 20-30 minutes, normally after lunch (feet up and recline), but, if I find myself awake at 3am by 10:30 or 11:00 my eyes close…. I find it by far the single most productive part of my day. ‘In fact, I have learned, I would rather cancel an afternoon meeting with an important client if I have not been able to nap. I simply am not giving that person my best in that instance and it is unfair to them… Accordingly, my most important meetings are normally held over lunch somewhere.

    For the record (and those who label nappers lazy): I’m the owner of a small contracting firm, physically work at least 3 days a week and I’m just shy of 6’2″ and 215lbs.

    The single most productive “unproductive” thing I’ve ever done? Go to marriage counseling with my wife…

    1. @Crete- your naps sound incredibly productive! I haven’t always been good about sleeping when the baby sleeps, but I do believe that nap time should not be chore time. It should either be you time (reading something nice, doing a grown-up project) or maybe something professional, particularly if you’ve stepped back from the workforce for a bit. It’s a good time for keeping yourself in the game (sending a few emails, reading something related to work, etc.)

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