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.