How to Take a Nap

A what?!

“codefoster, I thought you were all about productivity and being effective and efficient in a development career… being a valuable and highly contributing part of a workgroup. So what’s this about taking naps?”

Yeah, that’s what I’m all about. I get inspired by the folks that get books (emphasis on the plural) out the door, blog like maniacs, have numerous libraries on GitHub, put together informative and inspiring presentations, and do all of that without a single sacrifice to the higher calling of loving their family well and still relaxing and playing and exploring. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of loving to do and a lot of world to explore. I want to be that guy. I call it effective.

So, I get jazzed about the idea of getting twice as much done in a given day. I obviously shed hours when I can, but I work hard to shed minutes too, because last time I checked, 60 of them add up to an hour. In fact, if I discover that a tool like ReSharper by JetBrains can save me seconds, I’ll plug that into my life too.

So back to the nap.

I think a person should be spent at the end of the day. Don’t desire to get through your life with as much ease as possible. If I compare my laziest and least productive days with my best - if I compare how I feel at the end, it’s quite easy to see. Our brains and bodies are meant to be used. If I use them up and am then very deliberate about recovery, I see a marked difference. It’s like the batteries I used to use on my sail boat. Deep cycle batteries hate being tapped 10% and then filled up. They much prefer having most of the life drained out of them and then going through a strong, full recharging cycle.

So, often times after spending time on my first priority - my family - in the evening, I’ll retire to my office for a late night working session. A few isolated hours of concentrated work usually see me landing my head on the pillow around 1-2:00 AM with an exhausted yet excellent feeling of accomplishment.

But the next day, I might need a power nap.

In my opinion, a power nap is the only way to go during the work week. Who has time for a full-blown 2 hour sleep session?! Those are for Sunday afternoon… maybe.

A power nap by my definition is 20 minutes long. I’m far from an expert on the topic, but based on some research and experience, 20 minutes is just enough time and not too much. Here are some things that I’ve found helpful…

  1. Make it happen. The hardest part is making the time. 20 minutes is not hard to carve out of the day, but there’s always something else on the mind or on the task list to keep you from starting. I consider it a major fail when I know I need the snooze and choose to work instead. There’s nothing I can do in 20 minutes time that is as productive as the nap.
  2. Time a boost. Have a short, single shot of coffee just before going to sleep. It will take some time to kick in and that will be about the time you’re getting up. This works well for me as long as I’m not trying to prop the day up with shot after shot of caffeine. A first or second cup of the day just before a power nap is effective. A fifth cup just before is masochistic.
  3. Think about black. It’s hard to block out all of the happenings of the day, that bug you haven’t figured out yet, that task you just thought of and need to writ edown. That’s hard to do. But you have to do it. Just keep reminding yourself that this nap is the most productive decision you can make… and make it. I like to think about black. Just a dark room and the blackness of it. It’s not an inspiring thought, and that’s the point.
  4. 25 min. Set your alarm for 25 minutes. You need a little time to off ramp and fall asleep. I suppose this might need to be adjusted for some folks, but don’t add too much time and give yourself room and permission to keep your mind spinning. You have to get practiced at turning it off.
  5. A distant alarm. Put your alarm across the room and make it loud enough to get you out of your slumber quickly. An abrupt transition from sleep land to work land is best.
  6. Illegalize snooze. If you snooze even once, you’re a goner. That’s why keeping your alarm close to you is dangerous. I am no longer tempted to snooze actually. I know all too well that however alluring it might, the snooze button wants to destory me.

That’s all I have for now.

I hope you’re effective and efficient. Happy napping.