Sleep Your Way to the Top

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I am what is known in the scientific community as, “a really good sleeper.” 

I can fall asleep easily. Anywhere, anytime. 

Trains and buses? No problem. 

Mid-day naps? My specialty. 

My most famous sleep-centric “accomplishment” was falling asleep in between my wife’s contractions as she was giving birth to our first child (don’t look at me like that, it had been a long day). 

The secret to easy sleep is not to “try and fall asleep.” In fact, trying to do anything when going to sleep will only keep you awake.

Instead, what I recommend is imagining your thoughts slowly draining out of your head. 

Don’t focus on any of them. Just open the trapdoor to your brain and let them slide onto the floor like a greased pig (or something). 

It seems like the exact opposite of work.

And yet, I have to admit, this same technique – not applying a lot of effort to the problem at hand – is a big part of my workday. 

For things that involve some level of creativity – writing, preparing a presentation, helping a client simplify the way he or she describes their work, greasing a pig – it’s not helpful to “try hard.”

In fact, like falling asleep, it can make things worse. 

With that in mind, I am pleased to share with you some of the ways I deliberately don’t work during the workday:

  • I walk the streets. For reasons I don’t understand, I find walking to be a very effective way of clarifying my thoughts. I sit in front of a keyboard to write. But I don’t sit until I’ve walked around and have a pretty good idea of where the writing will be going.

  • I go to coffee shops. I don’t work out of my house and I have plenty of coffee in my office. Even so, when I’m looking to shake things up I find that a change of scenery, especially in a bustling coffee shop, is a good way to see things from a different angle.

  • I meet people for lunch. No agenda, no sales pitch, no objectives. Just an hour or so with another small businessperson, shooting the breeze and sharing ideas. Sure, sometimes these same people hire me. But I’m there primarily for the mind jiggling that happens when you start chatting. 

  • I read business books. I read blogs, newspapers and, of course, newsletters, too. But well written books provide a different, usually deeper level of understanding on a given topic.

  • I waste time. All that street wandering, coffee shop visiting, lunch eating, and book reading can seem counterproductive. After all, nobody’s paying me when I’m doing any of it. 

    And yet, I’ve found that if you’re in the business of selling insight and perspective (and if you’re not, you’re probably selling the wrong thing), the time you spend “doing the work” is greatly enhanced by the time you spend not doing it. 

    You don’t need to – and probably shouldn’t – be sitting at your desk when you’re trying to uncover new ideas and solutions. My desk is for work. Everything else is for making the work easier and better. 

Here’s the bottom line. You and I spend approximately four months out of every year fast asleep (six months, if you are a pig, greased or otherwise). On the face of it, that seems very unproductive.

But, as any sleep expert will tell you, it turns out to be a pretty good use of your time. 

It’s the same with work. If you want to get more and better work done, try doing less of it.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever greased a pig? Explain.
  2. How many hours a night do you sleep?
  3. What’s your favorite way of stepping away from work in order to get more done?

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17 thoughts on “Sleep Your Way to the Top

  1. Frank Franiak

    Great post and I couldn’t agree with you more. Taking my mind off a problem or creative challenge is usually when I get an inspired idea that solves the problem.

  2. Nikki

    Yes. I have greased up a pig. It was a very long time ago, while helping at the Doland, SD Fourth of July celebrations and festivities. Very fun to watch a group of 4 year-olds trying to catch a greased piglet.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Amazing. I actually thought I invented the concept. I guess my patent application will not be approved…

  3. Tessa

    I go and find a very cold body of water to swim in. No wetsuit. It rinses out mind-crud like nothing else.

  4. Steve Church

    1. Greased a pig? Well, where shall I begin? It was back in 1977 in the Kalahari desert. There was just me and this Vietnamese Pot-bellied piglet. I hadn’t eaten for days. Neither had he. I just didn’t like that evil look in his eye, so it was either him or me …

    2. 7 hours – plus an afternoon nap (don’t tell my wife)

    3. Next to my desk is a music stand. Every hour, I pick up my clarinet and practice my scales for 5 minutes. The clarinet playing gets no better, but it’s a fun way to annoy the neighbours.

  5. Ken Hablow

    There is no reason to greaser a pig. People get paid to do that.

    I get 7-8 hours of sleep a night – plus a later afternoon 20 minute nap.

    When I need to get away from the computer I go out for a 50-60 mile bike ride. Hmmm… Lately i seem to do that several times a week. But then, I’m good working into the evening, after a good IPA, of course.

  6. Ricky

    I greased a pig when I was a counselor at a summer camp and it was part of an activity. Just glad. Did not have to clean it up afterward.

    2. I have a notification that tells me to start getting ready so I can get 8 hours, but usually end up with 6.5

    3. Getting outdoors. I particularly find if I can get away for 3 days I am a whole lot more productive for a period of time, but even my morning walks are productive

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Ricky! I like the notification idea. My wife and I say to each other, practically every night, “How did it get so late?” So a reminder to go to sleep makes sense!

  7. Erik Kieser

    Damn good blog post. I’m right in the midst of the “standing down” from “working hard”. The trying to sleep comparison is right on.

    1) Don’t grease pigs. They resent it and will find a way to grease YOU.

    2) Between 6-7 hours a night.

    3) My favorite ways of stepping away:
    a) Walking
    b) The Gym
    c) calling someone on the phone


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