Tapping into napping so we are wide awake and alert for new things

'Give me a break," said Charlie, my hard-working economic forecaster.
By · 2 Nov 2013
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2 Nov 2013
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'Give me a break," said Charlie, my hard-working economic forecaster.

Charlie believes Napoleon got it wrong in the end because he stopped napping during the day and lost his ability to out-plan his enemies.

I was talking with former chief medical officer John Howorth this week. He was saying the medical profession needs extra time just to rest and reflect if we are to maintain high standards.

The current case-mix funding system for our hospitals doesn't help. It creates a big incentive to cram in as many operations and procedures as possible because it's a bob-a-job system: a hip is so much, a knee another price, but there is not a cent for reflection and planning.

You'd think we would have learnt from some of our most inventive and productive people. When Henry Ford tried to visit his old mate Thomas Edison in the middle of the day, he was told that Edison was asleep.

"I thought Tom didn't sleep much," complained the car boss.

"He doesn't. He just naps a lot," replied Edison's assistant.

Winston Churchill put it well as usual: "Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts 20 minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces."

"They tell me that Jackie Kennedy encouraged JFK to go to bed during the day," says Louise. "He used to eat his lunch in bed."

But despite LBJ being a napper as well, the US seems to have lost its way in these matters in recent times.

This week a Wall Street firm told its hyped-up young executives to take the weekend off. My old mate and sparring partner Kerry Packer built plenty of rest and reflection into his life. It might have been on the polo fields of England, or taking a plunge at Randwick (Kerry wasn't all that keen on spas) or just lying barefoot on his office couch.

Harvard Medical School says, "Sleep loss, and even poor-quality sleep, can lead to an increase in errors at the workplace, decreased productivity, and accidents that cost both lives and resources."

It goes on to say: "Investigations of the grounding of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker, as well as the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, have concluded that sleep deprivation also played a critical role in these accidents."

It's a worry, particularly as the 40-something female executives we need so desperately are working extraordinarily long hours just to prove how effective they are.

The best ideas I've ever had about work came to me when I wasn't working. The opportunities flowing from the arrival of the digital age that threw the media business into turmoil dawned on me, in fact, at dawn. I was out for an early morning stroll when I suddenly realised that the media world was about to be turned on its head and that under such circumstances being at the top could be a decided disadvantage. By the time I hit the office, I had a plan to ride the wave rather than be dumped by it.

Too many of us worry about taking a rest. We even say we don't want to "get caught napping". But this is a big mistake. Harvard-based Dr Charles Czeisler tells us that a week of inadequate sleep can leave us with that same level of competence as if we had been awake continuously for 24 hours.

We need clear agile minds to plan our future and to be creative about it.

Author Peter Carey and I worked together in advertising. As he turned out book after award-winning book he told me he worked three hours a day, five days a week. The rest of it, in theory, he did nothing. But that wasn't the case at all, his mind never stopped.

So when is comes to working hours, less isn't just more. It can be everything.
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