Well-Being//

Napping My Way To Success In Silicon Valley

How a daily 20-minute nap helped me slow down, recharge, and succeed.

Regina Podolsky / EyeEm/ Getty Images
Regina Podolsky / EyeEm/ Getty Images

The most important 20 minutes of my day are always the same.

Whenever I start feeling tired, be it mid-morning or late afternoon, that’s my cue.

I set my timer for 20 minutes (at home, it’s an old iPod Touch that I use for just this purpose; on the road, I use the timer feature in Chrome or my phone), then lie down for a nap.

Hopefully, I get to lie down in my own bed, but I’ve trained myself to nap under many other circumstances. Here’s a short list of places where I’ve taken a nap:

  • In the driver’s seat of my car (provided I’m in a safe, shady place)

  • In a camping cot that I stored in my office

  • Curled up on a conference room couch

  • While waiting on the runway for a delayed flight to take off

  • On a rickety tour bus in Hawaii, while traveling to the Dole fruit plantation

  • On the floor of a school, while my son was taking a music lesson

  • In a chartered Cessna, flying home from Burning Man

I close my eyes and meditate, alternating between two simple words: love and happiness. Breathe in on love. Breathe out on happiness.

Okay, sometimes I might also be thinking about a basketball game. Or maybe pondering something I read. But my strict rule is that I won’t think about anything that constitutes “work.” It’s not that I won’t fall asleep–it’s that I don’t want to waste the inspiration if I come up with a brilliant insight, then fall asleep and forget it.

I usually wake up with between 8-12 minutes left on the timer (maybe more if I’m home, and my dog Misty starts barking at her arch-nemesis, the UPS delivery man), feeling refreshed and ready to return to work.

***

My napping adventure began after my son Jason was born. The sleep deprivation of becoming a parent gave me a newfound appreciation for the incredible value of naps. When our kids were young, my wife Alisha and I quickly learned that any time that Jason, and then later, Jason and our daughter Marissa went down for a nap, that was our cue to grab as much sleep as possible. These were traditional weekend naps that might last anywhere from 30-90 minutes.

Even after the kids were older, I still remembered the energy and joy I got from those naps. I loved naps so much, that when I wrote a blog post about how my life would change if I suddenly become a billionaire, my conclusion was that I’d take more naps:

http://chrisyeh.blogspot.com/2008/06/best-solution-to-sleepiness-take-nap.html

And then, in 2008, the realization struck: Why did I need to wait (possibly forever) to become a billionaire to take more naps?

Assuming that you have a job that allows you to carve out 20-30 minutes during the day (I wouldn’t recommend napping on an assembly line!) what’s stopping you?

I would argue that it’s mostly about societal norms. Here in hard-working America, we don’t take naps at work. Daytime nappers are malingerers, like George Costanza on Seinfeld, sleeping under his desk. It doesn’t matter that we’re a sleep-deprived nation, or that more naps would reduce accidents and boost productivity. Naps are for lazy bums!

Fortunately, I’ve always worked in the startup world, where a lot of unusual behavior is tolerated if you produce. I decided that the only negative impact I’d suffer if I started napping is that people would think I was eccentric. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I’ve always had a reputation for being an eccentric, so there would be no real cost at all!

My first step was to move a camping cot into my office. At first, falling asleep was a challenge. As any insomniac knows, one of the hardest things to do is to fall asleep under pressure. “Dammit, I need to fall asleep,” you might think, “I have to try harder to relax!”

I solved this challenge by telling myself a simple rationalization: “It’s okay if you don’t fall asleep right now. Even if all you do is lie down and rest quietly for 20 minutes, then get up when your alarm goes off, you’ll still feel better and more alert.” Now don’t be mistaken; falling asleep is a lot more restful than lying down while conscious. But lying down is still beneficial, so it’s not really a lie!

Once I stopped worrying about falling asleep, I started falling asleep much faster. Today, I can generally count on falling asleep and waking up before the alarm. I’ve felt rested after as little as 5 minutes after lying down!

I estimate that each nap I take during the work day has the same impact of sleeping an extra hour at night. On days after a bad night’s sleep, I might take two or even three naps to compensate. Rather than drifting through the day like a zombie, I’m able to maintain my normal level of (high) productivity.

And if anyone ever decided to criticize me for napping on the job, I had a simple answer. I’d ask, “How long does it take one of our people to go to Starbucks to get a cup of coffee? I’d say those coffee breaks last at least 20 minutes and probably average 30. I can take a nap and be back on the job before someone who goes for coffee even picks up their order.”

Amazingly enough, in over a decade of my workday napping, no one has ever even brought up a hint of criticism. Either my reputation as an eccentric has taken on Howard Hughes proportions, or most people just don’t care, and all our worries about the societal norms against napping are unfounded and unnecessary.

Meanwhile, the career benefits of napping have been huge.

When I started napping at the office in 2008, I was the VP Marketing for PBworks, one of my earliest startup investments. Since then, I’ve co-authored a Harvard Business Review article, a New York Times best-selling book (The Alliance), and a second book that will probably also be a best-seller (Blitzscaling). I’ve co-founded three operating companies (InfluenceLogic, Allied Talent, and the Global Scaling Academy), three venture funds (Wasabi Ventures, Blitzscaling Ventures, and the Women’s Startup Lab Fund), and made dozens of investments. I’ve built a speaking career that has allowed me to share my ideas with audiences around the world, from Santiago to Seoul. And I’ve done it all while taking hundreds of naps per year. And oh yeah, I’m still also the VP Marketing for PBworks, which is now called Dokkio.

While I can’t prove that napping is responsible for the success I’ve had over the past decade, I can tell you that I’ve accomplished an order of magnitude more in the past decade (2008-2018) than the previous decade (1998-2008).

So if napping can help you succeed as a Silicon Valley executive, venture capitalist, and best-selling author, why can’t it help you in your career? Give it a try. I’d love to hear how it goes!

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