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Rest For Success: One Leader’s Secret to Staying Creative

By Ray Baird

This piece previously appeared on CEO.com.

When I played water polo in college I had a routine that kept me in the pool for two hours starting at 5:30 AM and for three and a half hours past 2 PM. When I wasn’t swimming, I was studying, eating and taking a mid-day nap that helped me power through school and sports.

The routine worked for me and it stuck. Today, I start work in Southern California well before dawn. The mornings are packed with calls with my branding company’s clients in other time zones. By lunch time, I need to re-boot. Almost every day since I co-founded our brand strategy firm 20 years ago, I have ducked out of the office around that time for a quick snooze. Most often, this means I drive my car to a parking lot with shade trees away from our office in Irvine, Calif. Then I recline my seat, turn on some tunes, and crash for between 15 and 45 minutes. When I’m working from our New York City office, where parking lots and shade trees are hard to find, I try to return to my hotel for a quick mid-day shut eye. It gives me peace and clarity.

While it’s unusual for the head of a company to cop to sleeping on the job, I credit these sacred siestas with my success as an entrepreneur and as a leader. It gives me time to recharge and contemplate important internal and external issues.

Increasingly, there is recognition that a non-stop work life doesn’t cut it for most people. Over summer, the city government in Seoul, South Korea, told city workers that they could nap at work. And Mexico’s Carlos Slim, one of the world’s wealthiest businessmen, argues that professionals should work longer hours but fewer days a week so that they have more time to relax and be creative.

I was once reluctant to share my daily habit with anyone. When I did confide in clients and peers, a few reacted with raised eyebrows. Others were quick to mention famous nap lovers with bold-faced names, including Thomas Edison, Lyndon Johnson and John D. Rockefeller.

Then I realized it was important to set an example for our team. It wasn’t enough to ditch timesheets and allow our team to come and go at hours that are best for them. It is important for me, as a leader, to show that it’s important for everyone to know when and how we perform at our best. While I still choose to snooze in a parking lot away from our office, our team knows my routine.

More CEOs should recognize their hours of peak performance and acknowledge that their employees need breaks during the day to keep doing their most creative work. Most people don’t need to doze. But everyone can benefit from a mid-day stroll, time reading a book or coffee with a friend.

I’ve found that after going back to work after a short nap, I’m able to revisit ideas or conversations and come up with better ideas or solutions.

Recently, I woke with an idea that helped a client resolve a challenge. I was also able to think of an example and a story that conveyed my idea. In fact, I consider my mid-day break so important to good decision-making that I very rarely react to or make a call on an internal issue at our company before I’ve—well—slept on it.