A New York state of mind

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(Photo courtesy  Angelo Amboldi via Flickr)
(Photo courtesy Angelo Amboldi via Flickr)

Best of 2014: Why those who work in advertising, an industry that thrives on creativity, need to sleep more

In his "New York State of Mind" track, Nas famously sang, "I never sleep because sleep is the cousin of death." Sleep is scant in New York City. Both the ad industry and the city have an energy and rhythm that makes sleep a lesser priority. This is true, but it strikes me as perhaps an old-fashioned way of working and one that’s not very clever. So, too, does not taking vacations, which Americans seem to do as standard.

A few years back, I tried sleeping less and averaged about four hours a night. I was experimenting, as I thought sleep may be conceptual. It didn’t take long to realize it was, in fact, necessary and no one can outdo it. I later attended a SXSW talk where a scientist had looked at the effects of chronic sleep deprivation on rats and found that those that were deprived keeled over and died. Point made.

So why is our industry still full of people who brag about how little they have slept, and why do they insist on sending emails at 4 a.m. just to show that they’re awake and working? And why do Americans not take their vacations? If we carry on like this, we will create a generation of burned-out, soulless work monkeys. I joined advertising not only because I liked ads, but also because I wanted to be surrounded by brilliant minds. We need to make sure we are looking after those brilliant minds, nurturing and feeding them.

Thankfully, the business leaders of the world are coming to similar conclusions.

Arianna Huffington’s new book, "Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder," talks about the importance of sleep, among other things, and how those who sleep restfully are poised to be more successful.

As the synopsis to her book explains, "Arianna Huffington's personal wake-up call came in the form of a broken cheekbone and a nasty gash over her eye — the result of a fall brought on by exhaustion and lack of sleep."

If we need more evidence, Stanford University researcher Cheri D. Mah found that when she got basketball players to sleep 10 hours per night, their performance during practice significantly improved. The players’ free-throw and three-point shooting increased by an average of 9 percent.

Vacations can also help improve performance. Ernst & Young conducted an internal study that found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their performance improved by 8 percent the following year. They were also more loyal to the company.

It makes sense, then, that Virgin Airlines CEO Richard Branson came out in the press saying he was giving his head office employees unlimited vacation time.

That decision, as Branson told the BBC, was based on "the assumption being that they are only going to do it when they feel 100% comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business — or, for that matter, their careers!" (Branson was inspired by Netflix, which doesn’t track its employees’ vacation days, either.)

Indeed, leaders across a variety of industries are starting to pick up on the trend.

For example, as Arne Sorenson, the CEO of Marriott (one of our clients), wrote in a LinkedIn post: "If your boss added a few hundred extra dollars to your paycheck one week — just for showing up — would you turn it down? At the end of the year, would you write him or her a refund check for that bonus? Would you brag to friends about not taking it? The answer for most of us would be ‘No’ or ‘Are you crazy?’

"Now, let’s change the variable from ‘money’ to ‘days off.’ The average American worker leaves three vacation days unused every year. That’s three full days that workers have earned but choose to refund to their employers. Not very smart if you ask me." And I couldn’t agree more.

There’s lots of research and evidence that shows that re-energizing through daytime workouts, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations increases productivity, job performance and health. Our agency still has a way to go, but we are trying to do some of these things, such as morning workout classes, yoga on the terrace, and a no-weekend-email policy being instituted by our New York president. It’s a start.

The simple fact is that the smart among us will sleep, take vacation and feed our minds. We’ll then be more productive, have better ideas and ultimately be more successful. And our agency cultures will, in turn, be more positive, creative and livelier places, full of even livelier minds.

Nowadays I, for one, try to sleep a full seven hours when I can, and I definitely use all of my vacation time because I come back sharper, more energized and full of ideas. Not to mention a whole lot happier.

Ida Rezvani is managing director at creative ad agency Mcgarrybowen in New York.

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