June 26, 2017

"Sleeping on the job is one of those workplace taboos — like leaving your desk for lunch or taking an afternoon walk — that we’re taught to look down on."

"If someone naps at 2 p.m. while the rest of us furiously write memos and respond to emails, surely it must mean they’re slacking off. Or so the assumption goes."

From a pro-nap article in the NYT.

I'm pro-nap, not that I think anyone else should have to pay you for the time you spend asleep, but what amazes me here is that there is now a culture — is there? — of disrespect for the lunch hour. Eating at your desk is required now?

That quote I put in the post title seems — I hope! — to have a real one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others problem. Lunch relates to a time, not just the non-work behavior. It seems to me that you can go out for a walk or find a discreet place to sleep during the lunch hour just as well as you can go to a restaurant. Eating seems different from walking and sleeping because it is pretty easy to work and eat at the same time. It's hard to walk and work simultaneously and almost impossible to sleep and work at the same time. [ADDED: I'm assuming a desk job.] But what's wrong with not working during the lunch hour? Do whatever you want with your free time.

You want to know how to walk and work? I read and walk all the time, so if reading is part of your work, you can do that. But if thinking is part of your work, you can do some great thinking while walking. You can also be walking with a co-worker or a client and getting something done.

But how to sleep and work? If you're thinking about a work problem during the day, you might find that, after sleeping, you've made new progress toward a solution. I'm not saying you should bill by the hour for the entire sleep period (or even the estimated REM part of it), but I'd count that as work.

Back to the NYT article:
The Japanese even have a word for strategically sleeping on the job: “inemuri,” roughly translated to “sleeping while present.”...
That reminded me of this idea I find intriguing: "Mind-wandering/The rise of the anti-mindfulness movement." Excerpt:
[M]ind-wandering is showing every sign of becoming a thing, buoyed to the surface of popular culture by the overlapping interests of business and self-help. At the root of this turnaround: the idea that mind-wandering is not a waste of attention but simply a different kind of focus....

[M]ind-wandering is offered not as an alternative to mindfulness, but as a complement to it: "One mental mode is potentially just as beneficial as the other," as Fast Company puts it. A better question would be: why are these opposing philosophies of mind gaining popularity at the same time? What does it tell us about ourselves that we desire simultaneously to focus and escape?
ADDED: To sleep at your desk and help the Althouse blog, buy Nap Pillow, BotituDouble Layer Head Office Pillow with Arm Support, for Noon Break Desk Pillow at Amazon.

41 comments:

Yancey Ward said...

The obligatory Seinfeld reference.

Hagar said...

Through most of my working life I would stretch out on my reference table and take a nap after lunch.
Of course, such a thing as a 40 hour week was also regarded as a welcome break.

ProudJew said...

I'm confused, is the New Ork Times saying we should emulate the Japanese? Because wouldn't that be coultural appropriation?

Achilles said...

Posting on this blog is about as productive as sleeping.

Henry said...

A young Chinese programmer in my office used to nap at her desk once or twice a day. She would simply fold her arms, put her head down, and catnap for 15 minutes.

This is not unusual in China.

California Snow said...

"A better question would be: why are these opposing philosophies of mind gaining popularity at the same time? What does it tell us about ourselves that we desire simultaneously to focus and escape?"

This seems like someone is making an excuse for what the internet and smart phones have done in terms of making it harder to stay focused. The non-stop barrage of notifications, constantly checking social media feeds, etc. I often find myself struggling with this at work and home. Then there's getting online at work to check out certain blogs....

Hagar said...

My uncle (in the old country!) insisted that everyone in his office take a 15 minute break in the morning and in the afternoon and put their feet up on their desks and relax.

Gahrie said...

I take naps at work, but do so during my lunch time.

Big Mike said...

Sleeping on the job is one thing. It's snoring on the job that will get you fired.

In my early days at work, when I was in a cube farm, I hated my colleagues who ate at their desks. The crumbs and the food they stored overnight attracted mice and insects.

rhhardin said...

There's a Qantas "stick-shaker" news story that may set the standard of not telling you what you need to know, owing to complete reporter ignorance about everything under the sun.

It's not like aviation is hard. They're just really stupid.

Naps in science class.

Yancey Ward said...

I have never been a napper, but then I also almost never have a problem with sleeping at night- I am one of those who basically falls asleep easily and sleeps soundly when I do.

rhhardin said...

In computer assisted airplanes, they put in a "stick shaker" to simulate the feeling of a manually flown airplane for when a wing stall is about to happen (nothing to do with engines).

The news story doesn't distinguish whether it's a faulty warning, or there actually was an approaching stall. Since the warning continued (if the story is right) it would have to be a faulty warning.

But then they're talking about passengers injured as they would be if there were an actual stall (not obvious to me but passengers injure themselves allt he time), in which case why would the warning continue.

This is related to why I threw out the TV in 1971. They're too stupid to watch.

Mike Sylwester said...

Before I began using a CPAP machine for my apnea, I sometimes had to take a nap in my car in the parking lot. Now I am never sleepy in the afternoons.

rhhardin said...

The usual nap at your desk prank was sprinking a torn-up snow of paper over the sleeping guy.

Virtually Unknown said...

[M]ind-wandering is showing every sign of becoming a thing, buoyed to the surface of popular culture by the overlapping interests of business and self-help. At the root of this turnaround: the idea that mind-wandering is not a waste of attention but simply a different kind of focus....


Probably because some people with wandering minds can be very productive of valuable new ideas that people who stay focused 100% of the time will never see. But you wouldn't want them flying your plane.

MayBee said...

When I did consulting work in plants, the guys in the offices were often taking naps at lunch time.

Richard Dillman said...

On the benefits and joys of walking I recommend Thoreau's long essay "Walking." It's still the best thing I've read on the topic.

He calls his version of creative walking "sauntering." I once had a tee shirt that read "Thoreau Sauntering Society." It is a fine art to saunter.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Crikey.com has actual info about the Qantas incident.
If the flight track data they quote is accurate, the activation of the stick-shaker was practically irrelevant.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Some of the best software design ideas I had were created during aimless wanderings around the company garden.

Virtually Unknown said...

I used to make a good living daydreaming of new ideas while the programmers around me who were able to focus better spent their time coding them into salable reality. It wasn't my official job, I was supposed to be coding too, but they tolerate a lot out of a guy who consistently comes up with workable new ideas they can sell for money. I thought I was sort of unique, but over the years I read how some companies looked for guys like me and tried to find ways to test for it in prospective employees. My teachers always figured it was ADD, which is probably correct.

Bruce Hayden said...

"But how to sleep and work? If you're thinking about a work problem during the day, you might find that, after sleeping, you've made new progress toward a solution. I'm not saying you should bill by the hour for the entire sleep period (or even the estimated REM part of it), but I'd count that as work."

It, of course, depends on your job. When I was doing software, I would routinely solve knotty problems by literally sleeping over them - falling asleep at my desk, and waking up maybe 20 minutes later with them solved. Not nearly as much though as a patent attorney, because much more of my work there was process related.

In most of the almost 40 years in those two careers, I was able to nap at my desk for maybe 30 of them. No serious complaints from management because I always worked longer hours than anyone else, and had higher production than most. Most of that 30 years, I had a private office, which makes napping easier. Turned down several job offers that would have put me in cubicles, because I wanted to be able to nap. HP was esp egregious, putting even 2nd level atty supervisors in such.

Napping seems to be somewhat genetic. My father had a sofa in his office, and just never scheduled anything between 12 and 2, which covered lunch and nap. His mother napped, and so does, apparently, my kid. They are in grad school, so are expected to be burning both ends of the candle, or that seems to be the assumption when they fall asleep at their desk. Mother didn't nap until maybe her 60s. So, no surprise - one brother is a Napier, one started in maybe his 50s, and one mostly doesn't.

Scott M said...

Yep...no lunch-hour where I work, nor the two other similar firms before this one. I've always been on salary so I can split and go get lunch whenever I want to, but if I'm not at lunch with a client, I'm expected to be back at my desk.

I'm in transportation, by the way ;)

Bruce Hayden said...

My software career started as an applications programmer. Didn't do well there, because I didn't work well with others. Very quickly moved into systems programming. For awhile this meant figuring out complex systems and data communications problems. The mainframe would crash, and I would figure out from the dumps and code why and how. This is where napping over a problem really paid off. Then moved into data comm development (with some OS programming to support it). Mostly wrote protocol stacks, at a time when that art wasn't well developed (supporting a single connection or session is easy, but simultaneously and efficiently supporting 10 or even 100, is much harder). There, my eureka moments tended to come more on my late night drives home from work, through the cornfields. But did do some walking around during the day too.

tcrosse said...

I worked with an old guy who used to fall asleep in meetings. If anybody woke him, he would cross himself, as if he had been deep in prayer. Nobody was deceived.

Bob Loblaw said...

I'm confused, is the New Ork Times saying we should emulate the Japanese? Because wouldn't that be coultural appropriation?

Japanese work culture is the very last thing any country would want to "appropriate". Your Japanese employer is going to expect you to be at the office 12+ hours per day. And at the end of the work day you have to go out drinking with your coworkers. If they're taking naps it's because otherwise too many of them would just drop dead.

The sad thing is for all those hours they don't get more done than Americans.

wildswan said...

Having to stay at your desk during lunch seems very oppressive to me. I worked for 45 years without ever being forced or even encouraged to eat at my desk all the time. I loved eating in parks in the summer, especially if there was a fountain as there often is in DC. The various restaurants and cafeterias were places for gossip and camaraderie which had somewhat the same effect that people seem to be looking for in napping and "mind-wandering". As for sleeping at my desk I would have been fired and if I said I was being creative I would have been fired twice as far.
But now I recollect, that the very end of my working days I worked with a Millie who used to arrange the stockroom perfectly and then climb up to top shelf and sleep. I didn't fire him because his work was perfectly done and I would never get anyone to do it better and also because he seemed so sure that it was OK as long as his work was done. But I knew I was in a new world.

Matthew Sablan said...

I used to fall asleep during some of my lecture classes. Apparently, I wasn't asleep-asleep, because the professor called on me and, so she says, I gave a cogent response (it was about revolutionary history in Latin America and the J-curve about how things need to get somewhat better before you can have a revolution, you can't just have it when things are at the worst, roughly.)

So, I guess sleeping-while-present is *possible*, but best avoided.

Yancey Ward said...

Some of my very best ideas as a chemist came to me while I was asleep- usually happens if I am thinking about a problem after going to bed for the night. Dreaming/daydreaming is the best way I know of in getting a broader out-of-the-box thought process than a rigid and focused effort to work something out.

Static Ping said...

Eating at your desk is required now?

I suppose that is dependent on the job. In IT work, if you need someone for a problem right now and that person is out for lunch for an hour, that can be frustrating. Of course, cell phones make that easier to stay in contact wherever you are, though that is frustrating for the person who wants to eat his damn waffle. I got in the habit of eating at the desk after constantly being called back into the office whenever I went outside to do anything. Less stressful.

There is definitely a struggle between focus and creativity. Once I am focused on something I do not like to stop for anything. I suspect it is like being high on drugs, except productive. There are days where I skipped lunch for that very reason. The problem is when I get focused on something that is not working and end up wasting a lot of time trying to make it work. It's at that point that taking a walk outside or, in more extreme cases, dropping the matter and sleeping on it, is a great way to reset and come up with a new plan.

n.n said...

I am pro-nap. A short nap. A power nap will improve productivity when people's minds are prone to wandering. The goal should be production, not merely engagement or presence.

TWW said...

The Navy also has award for sleeping on the job. Courts-Martial

Bob Loblaw said...

A few years back I had a coworker that would crawl under his desk and sleep (he had his own office). This was even before the Seinfeld episode. I don't think his boss realized it, either. The funny thing was due to circumstances that really had nothing to do with his productivity, the company was paying him $150/hr while the rest of us were making far less.

I had a summer night job at the beach during college. My boss was putting a second story on his house, so he would work all day on the house, then come into work, drive his truck out into the sand and go to sleep. We got away with quite a bit on that job, but because he left the headlights on you couldn't see into the cab and thus could never tell if he was asleep right that moment. It was a city job, so the people who would have cared were safely in their beds.

bagoh20 said...

My understanding is that it is illegal to have people work during the their break times, even the paid breaks. I guess that only applies to hourly workers, but why would you expect people to work during a break. We stagger breaks so that people who answer the phone don't even need to do that while on break. I don't care if you sleep, eat, or have sex during your break. Just don't get wasted and comeback and cut off your hand. Whatever you do, wash it off before going back to work. It's your time, I don't want to know unless it's gonna hurt somebody.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

A lot of this furious memo writing is blog comments.

readering said...

I had boring jobs for 5 straight summers and used to sneak in naps. I wondered how I would be able to handle a real job. But I felt less need for naps once I got real jobs with interesting work.

bagoh20 said...

The worst jobs are not hard work, or too much, but rather lack of it.

Personally, I hate breaks. It just slows you down, usually just when you are catching the wind. I would prefer three 13 hour days, no breaks. All the rest of my time is mine, on my terms, where I want it to happen, and as contiguous as possible.

Known Unknown said...

I was just asked to take part of my lunch break for a conference call that was originally scheduled for 11 am but was being moved to accommodate the producer who could not (at last moment) make the call.

I declined.

Freeman Hunt said...

But if thinking is part of your work, you can do some great thinking while walking.

Thinking is a major part of my husband's work. He takes 2-4 walks a day because walking is so ideal for thinking.

Freeman Hunt said...

My father-in-law once had a sleep study and woke up to find the machines off and the guy in the booth fast asleep. He removed the monitors, said nothing, and left.

Be said...

At the former desk job, I used to hide myself in an unused conference room to take periodic nap breaks.

Jupiter said...

"But what's wrong with not working during the lunch hour? Do whatever you want with your free time."

Perhaps the few people still working at the NYT feel that this is not a good time to press the issue.