When to Sleep On It


This is just a brilliant article — one of those that deeply resonated with me from the moment I read it and it goes well with that brilliant management/productivity tool so abhorred by corporations — “napping.”

Apparently, recent research is showing that sleeping on a problem is better than trying to consciously solve it.

In other words, when faced with a complex issue, if time allows, the best method to use is to spend a night to sleep on it, and then make a decision the following day.

Why does this work?

Apparently, the processes that the conscious mind uses are quite limited, and likely to introduce irrelevant information that produces poor decision-making. The unconscious mind, however, is a much better instrument and if given the chance, will do a better job.

According to the author, Ap Dijksterhuis, “The moral? Use your unconscious mind to acquire all the information you need for making a decision — but don’t try to analyze the information. Instead, go on holiday while your unconscious mind digests it for a day or two. Whatever your intuitions then tell you is almost certainly going to be the best choice.”

As someone who majored in Operations Research (and got 2 degrees in the subject) it seems to throw a huge spanner in the works of the profession… after all, we studied things like “decision theory” and “non-linear optimization” in order to bring more rational, WIDE -AWAKE thinking into the process.

I cannot remember a single thing from any of those hi-falutin’ courses.

I think it’s just much easier to sleep on it, and maybe while I’m sleeping my subconscious mind can run around and access the algorithms and heuristics I spent years mastering… that way, perhaps I can justify the thousands of dollars spent on an Ivy-League education, while still making good decisions.

I just might not make a good corporate employee, however, given the high importance I appear to give to sleeping (see my prior post on Nigger-itis.)

The relevant article from the Harvard Business Review List of Breakthrough Ideas for 2007 can be found here (as Idea #9).