THE BLOG
01/06/2015 12:05 am ET Updated Mar 07, 2015

Creative Professionals 'Sleeping Their Way to the Top'

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The super star creative professionals who make well-executed designs, possess rare abilities, work hard and seem to be so lucky inspire us all. So, what "secret sauce" might aid the next tier of top designers? They might be well advised to try sleeping their way to the top.

Studies of design intuition at Art Center College of Design, Copenhagen Business School, Cal State University Long Beach and the Industrial Design Society of America suggest that sleep can provide a definite edge for creativity. Although professional 'creatives' required twenty percent less incubation time than students, for both of these creative groups, sleep decreased the time required for incubating "aha insights." Doubling up on sleep cuts creative incubation time in half with the added benefit of not being sleep deprived like the rest of their peers.

More difficult challenges require longer incubation time and, the more difficult the challenge, the more important planning becomes. We humans have a cognitive bias called the "hard-easy effect." This means that we are overly optimistic and believe we can accomplish complex tasks much faster than they can actually be accomplished. (Think of the time you decided to make that design change at the last moment.)

Unpacking these complex challenges into simpler tasks and creating a schedule helps to more easily manage these tasks. By trading lack of sleep and zombie working conditions in for plenty of sleep and an effectively scheduled workflow, one can seriously reduce the time spent on all-nighters before project deadlines.

Of course, one will no longer have heroic water cooler stories to share about burning the midnight oil and completing the assignment just as the client signed in with the receptionist.

Management, however, will sleep much better knowing that assignments are consistently being completed ahead of schedule with time to spare for any necessary adjustments for increased project profitability.

Expanding on the idea of creative professionals sleeping their way to the top, imagine what more rest and recreation might achieve in the other areas of their life. Americans currently work two thousand hours per year, Scandinavians sixteen hundred hours per year and South Koreans top the charts by working two thousand, two hundred hours per year.

However, Americans only generated $53,042 per person, versus the Dane's $59,832 per person despite working twenty-five percent more, according to the 2013 Gross National Production (GNP). So, where do the Scandinavians spend most of their extra leisure time? Family, parties, travel and their summer vacation homes top the list. In fact, whenever salary negotiations are taking place, additional time off is always ranked higher than additional salary, as they remember that their precious time off cannot be taxed.

"Sharpening the saw" is the seventh habit in Steven Covey's book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", and rest is also ranked as number four in the Ten Commandments, so for thousands of years people have known that it is essential to rest.

Along with sleep, rest and recreation provides new inspiration and offers time to stop, think and contemplate the alignment of one's values, beliefs and actions. One can then make directional corrections instead of mindlessly forging ahead along a path of diminishing returns.

In fact, rest, recreation and sleep are the probably the best investments one can make for their life. They may not be the most sexy investment assets out there - however they do earn interest in the form of "aha moments," and produce endorphins similar to those initially experienced from actually sleeping with the boss.