You know, one of the big reasons we here at HBN like insurance so much is because of this simple fact:
Insurance is one of those few one-time decisions that you don’t have to keep worrying about after you’ve made it.
Unlike daily to-dos, insurance is pretty much a cut-and-dried deal.
But today’s blog isn’t about insurance.
Today’s blog is about you, your brain, and your productivity.
We’ll skip the motivational posters and get straight to the good stuff: the hidden ingredient in the recipe for success.
Is it hustle, and muscle, and hunger, and hope? Is it a graduate degree and the best combination of life insurance with health insurance supplements and an IRA and a bullet-proof budget?
You already know the answer is No, or you wouldn’t have clicked on a blog with the words “Do Nothing” in the title.
So, in the Age of Information, how do we get by with "doing nothing" when the world is claiming threats of rat races, wunderkinds, and information overload?
Well, enough warm-up, here’s the scoop on productivity and success and the part that everybody is afraid to talk about: taking and giving actual, physical breaks.
What Writers, Programmers, and A Certain Genius Can Tell You About Taking It Easy
In his classic Code Complete, programmer Steve McConnell made this one of his key points: “the characteristics that matter most [for a programmer] are humility, curiosity, intellectual honesty, creativity and discipline, and enlightened laziness.”
He went on further to say, “Surprisingly, raw intelligence, experience, persistence, and guts hurt as much as they help.”
Pursuing equally cerebral work, creative writers make much the same claims. Children’s author Madeleine L’Engle once stated that what often looked like sitting and doing nothing was a form of writing: her thinking was as much a part of her craft as her physically pressing keys on her typewriter. She also described other times when her ego took over and she wrote in a frenzy; only to throw out her work the next morning, having realized it was nothing like what her tired brain thought it was the day before.
Extra time = more work done. Unfortunately, that equation isn’t universally true. In fact, it’s often extra time = extra work to do. One study showed that in comparative industries, German companies whose employees worked normal 40-hour weeks delivered the same in terms of productivity and quality as did their Japanese counterparts--whose were putting in 80-hour weeks on average.
There seems to be a threshold for quality--and not only with mental pursuits.
Do you want a sleep-deprived but gutsy pilot to be manning your red-eye flight? Do you want an exhausted but dutiful specialist to come in from an all-night emergency to perform an eight-hour open heart surgery on a loved one?
And how many of us have experienced periods of startling productivity, followed by complete burn-out? We often act as though we’re weighing buckets of sweat--if I sweat more than the next guy, I’ll get to my goal twice as fast, or make twice as much, or be twice as happy.
Take a page from Albert Einstein.
Einstein slept more than 1.5 times the amount of today’s average American. While we clock in a little less than 7 hours, Einstein made a habit of about 10 hours a day.
See, our brains never really turn off. Instead, it clocks in at different shifts. While we snooze, our brain has the ability to enter into REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, a state in which we dream. During the night, we’re treated to three different qualities of sleep: REM, deep sleep, and light sleep. Non-REM sleep is nothing to sneeze at either. In non-REM sleep, your brain activates ‘spindle events,' for one.
In each different phase of sleep, our brain performs different functions. Garbage collection, memory retention, sensory input. Spindle events, to put this metaphorically, put the ‘bokeh’ effect on external information while you sleep--blurring it out, keeping it from affecting your ability to stay asleep. According to neuroscientist Steven Fogel, in his interview with the BBC, “those who have more spindle events tend to have greater ‘fluid intelligence’ --the ability to solve new problems, use logic in new situations, and identify patterns – the kind Einstein had in spades.”
The real test for whether our work is actually getting us anywhere is this: have you done the same thing in ten short bursts and gotten nowhere, despite the elbow grease, or could you have taken longer each time, and gotten it done in less attempts?
Sure, we can overthink, overplan, and oversleep. But more often than not, we’re guilty of overworking. And do we really have any more to show for it?
Just remember--before the Industrial Revolution, everyone from princes to paupers, laborers to housewives made a habit of the Great Afternoon Nap.
“Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!”
The above quote has been attributed to just about everybody--from presidents to actors--but that’s probably more telling than if we had the original speaker’s name. Because the point is, this advice is universal across all walks of life and types of work.
Doing isn’t about doing.
The point of doing is so obvious that we forget it. The point of doing is to have a sense of progress, and there’s no real sense of progress without actual results. And guess what?
There’s no results without a little stillness. You have to stop stirring the cake batter and let it bake at some point.
So take it easy.
Everybody has trouble sleeping every now and then; some more than others. Today’s article covers three different ways to help with the occasional or chronic bout of insomnia.
The Science of Siestas
The subject of naps can so often stray from the scientific--is it a moral affront for anyone over the appropriate age of kindergarten attendance to even think about taking a nap in the afternoon? Or is it cultural--after all, if you’re not pronouncing nap as ‘siesta,’ what are you even doing here? Then again, it could be social--do we worry that not being busy 24/7 and admitting to naps will tarnish our stalwart reputations?
We’d like to put the philosophy aside to simply state the facts:
1. Naps are good for you in 20-minute increments or less. (Time limits and words like ‘increments’ take the warmth out of the idea of a nap, we know. But we’ll get back to the warm and fuzzy part in a bit). Midday is the best time of day for a nap--in the morning you’re more awake while right after lunch you’re reeling from a food coma anyway, and waiting until evening can affect your nighttime sleeping patterns.
2. Naps weren’t built for the soft: back in ancient Rome, everyone from farmers to soldiers took to designated after-lunch naps.
3. Even naps as short as 5 minutes help lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and decrease the risk of heart problems.
4. More than 85% of mammals sleep sporadically throughout the day (polyphasic) while humans have adopted the minority life style of sleeping in one large chunk each day (monophasic). The basic conclusion is that it is not clear if monophasic sleep is the only or natural style of sleep for humans.
5. Lastly, extra sleep is excellent for your brain. Studies have shown that taking naps after strenuous mental activity helps in the learning process, increasing memory retention, perception, and alertness.
Ever heard the fact that driving sleep-deprived is just as bad (if not worse) than driving drunk? Being alert is incredibly important in our fast-paced world--so take it slow.
Snacks for Insomnia
Our diet is responsible for a number of mood and energy altering phenomena. Bad indigestion often results in a bad attitude, after all. And sometimes our food and drink can even be a help or hindrance to our sleep cycles.
We’re going to focus on the kinds of foods you can add to your diet, rather than take away.
(Special thanks to Dale Pinnock’s The Medicinal Chef).
How To Save On Prescriptions
Over-the-counter meds are one of the most common ways to treat insomnia or any of the factors that may be causing it. You can rest even easier knowing that there’s a way to save on prescriptions!
We have two options for you over on our Drug Assistance page:
Grab a cup of coffee (it’s relevant, we promise) and enjoy today’s deep dive into the twisty history of insurance!
Ancient Origins of Insurance: From China to Mesopotamia
Everything in the modern world can feel needlessly complicated, and insurance is no exception. What’s the difference between whole and term life? Why are there tiers? Who’s my tertiary beneficiary again?
Well, the history of insurance is itself a little complicated. And, like many tidbits of history, it starts in Mesopotamia.
Around 1800 BC, a system called bottomry was in use. A cargo owner would borrow money against his cargo, in case it sunk during a trade voyage. He would pay that money back upon the cargo’s safe arrival, but this way, in case his cargo was lost, he had enough capital to start up again. Ancient contracts, written in cuneiform, depict agreements between caravans and investors.
Insurance was a commercial, rather than private, affair. And it remained this way worldwide at the time. Around the same time on the other side of the globe, Chinese merchants were also drafting risk sharing agreements. Merchants would band together and divide their goods equally among separate ships. If one of the ships could not be retrieved, then the losses were not nearly so devastating. They were shared among a larger pool--an insurance concept that still exists today.
Insurance for the Roman Afterlife: It’s Your Funeral
It was the Roman military that employed the first inklings of health and life insurance as we know it today. In a world where an improper burial could result in curses and ghosts, ever-at-risk-of-death Roman soldiers could join burial clubs.
Basically, whenever a member died, the other members would chip in for their funeral--and the same would be done for them when their time came. This kept the burden off of the dead soldier’s kin and insured a proper, ghostless burial ceremony.
The Middle Ages: The Guild’s The Thing
In the late Middle Ages, economic progress was finally making headway. This had a large part to do with a new system of guilds. Medieval guilds provided what we might call “group insurance” today.
Guilds were defined by their craft: there were guilds of blacksmiths, guilds of carpenters, guilds of different skill-based artisans. Apprentices started when they were young, providing pro bono labor in exchange for food, shelter, and their master’s skill set. An apprentice would start paying dues to the guild once he became a master himself. The guild helped set up more apprentices and protect individuals during times of loss, drawing off their large pool of collected dues and helping to insure employment.
The Renaissance: Pirates, Contracts, and Coffee Cups
In 1347 Genoa, the first insurance contract was set to ink. At this point in time, maritime insurance was commonplace. Like the Chinese and Mesopotamian merchants some millennia before, sea merchants understood the risks involved in trading goods overseas. Rot, disease, sun, moisture, rats, storms, war, mutiny, and pirates were among just a few of the risk factors.
By the 17th century, one major trade good had taken the world by storm: coffee. Coffee transformed the European economy not only through pure trade, but also through an interesting side-effect: all the business meetings held at coffee houses.
Lloyd’s of London, the famous English brokerage known for insuring out-of-left-field requests (like Ozzy Osbourne’s tongue or the possibility of an alien abduction), started off as a coffeehouse where merchants could arrange insurance for--you guessed it--ships and cargo.
But things weren’t perfectly safe on land, either. In fact, the private insurance that we know today came about, as the old adage says, in a trial by fire.
Modern Insurance and the Great Fire of London
The Great Fire of London struck in 1666, a time when most of London consisted of close-knit wooden buildings. It was easy for a stray fire in Pudding Lane to soon go out of control and consume a large chunk of London. In fact, the fire burned for four whole days. Casualties included upwards of 13,500 houses, several places of business and state, and the old St. Paul’s Cathedral--not to mention 87 other churches and chapels. If you happened to be one of the owners of these destroyed buildings, you had no protection against what amounted to a total loss of assets, income, and shelter.
This gave a chap called Nicholas Barbon a good idea. He formed a company that provided the following two services in exchange for an early investment (or premium): 1) if something you had paid money to insure was on fire, Barbon would send around a fire brigade, and 2) would compensate you for your loss.
Nicholas Barbon’s idea soon became a worldwide commonplace service. Today, we call it insurance.
What Does “Insurance” Mean, Anyway?
Insurance originally meant ‘engagement to marry.’ It comes from an old French cognate of the word we use today to mean hedging against the risk of loss.
Of course, the old saying applies either way: ‘til death do us part.