Work Less Nap More

By on June 9, 2014
Workaholism is a tough nut to crack. Why? Unlike other areas like alcohol and drugs where people overdoing it is frowned upon, overwork is worn as a badge of honor in many countries.

In North America, successful people have replaced the common greeting of “How are you?” with “Are you busy?” Just as one expects a reply of “fine” to the former, the only proper reply to the latter is “yes”. If ever I have the audacity to answer “no”, I am met with one of two responses – quiet pity that I must somehow be failing in my life and business, or undisguised confusion that I could possibly exist in this world without being busy.
In Japan, they have inemuri – the practice of sleeping on the job that, rather than being seen as a sign of laziness is seen as a sign of commitment. If you need to sleep at work, the thinking goes, it must mean that you are super-dedicated and putting in such long hours that you don’t have time to sleep at home.
Despite the increased focus on life-work balance in the last decade, it is still common to feel like a bit of a slacker and believe you are destined for failure if you simply work a 40 hour workweek. Case in point: Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, for many years hid the fact that she left the office every day by 5:30 as she was worried that people would question her competence as a leader for doing so.
The idea that long hours demonstrate greater commitment and lead to greater success is founded on the misguided belief that the more hours a person works, the more they get done. This is simply not true. Decades of research have proven beyond a doubt that working more than 40 hours per week on an ongoing basis actually decreases productivity. The Ford Motor company didn’t just arbitrarily institute a 40 hour workweek in the 1900s – it was based on dozens of tests showing that working longer hours decreased productivity and increased errors.
Bottom line: The most successful and dedicated employees have an obligation to restrict themselves to an 8-hour work day in order to ensure productivity and sustain their ability to be innovative and effective both in the short and the long run.
Does this mean inemuri is on the way out? Absolutely not! Research by NASA has concluded that the more complex your work, the more beneficial napping during the day is to improving focus and hence, productivity. Even if you aren’t into napping, you might want to re-visit your idea that you are demonstrating dedication by working through lunch and skipping breaks. Research on Ultradian rhythms and productivity, suggests that people are more creative and perform best when they work in three-hour blocks with a half hour rest in between. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, auther of Flow, suggests that blocks of 90 minutes are the ideal period between breaks for optimizing attention, focus, flow and innovation.
At the end of the day, all of the above point to the need to re-examine our beliefs about what commitment, dedication and success look like. Lucky for us, the science supports what social pressure does not – the understanding that what is good for people is actually good for business too.

About Andrea Jacques

Andrea Jacques is the founder of Kyosei Consulting and the author of Wabi-Sabi Wisdom: Inspiration for an Authentic Life (available on She has spent more than 20 years developing the potential of people and businesses worldwide, five of which were in Japan. A dynamic speaker, coach, and facilitator, her work integrates spiritual insight with top-tier leadership, wellness and sustainability consulting to help individuals and organizations build thriving, purpose-driven cultures where employees know their work truly matters. She can be contacted through her website at