A Freelancer’s Guide to Sleeping on the Job
“You could write a book about napping,” says David as we complete our evening walk around the neighbourhood- a habit that we might soon have to forego when winter saps away the day time.
He’s trying to be mock me, but Jesus, he’s right.
Another (envious) friend asked me if I often found it difficult to get my ’14 hours a day’…
Actually, yes. Sometimes I only get 12.
I do know a lot about napping…. Maybe not enough for a book, but definitely enough for a blog post. And not because I’m an incredibly lazy person (although I am that too), but because in my time as a full-time freelancer, I have found that few things revive and restore after being told that my 8th revert is ‘getting there’, quite like a proper power nap.
Working on your own is hard. When you’re juggling between being your own creative director, copywriter, accountant, accounts manager and IT slave, you have a busy, and often draining, day. There’s only so much coffee you can actually consume before your heart literally explodes out of your chest like a grisly firework, but at the same time, a freelancer’s highly volatile lifestyle is all about being the one person, at any given brief, who can do the job faster and at a lower fee than the competition.
So here is how I’ve managed to sneak some serious downtime into an always-on profession:
- Set an Alarm
It’s an obvious one, but you need to be regimented about timing here. Sleep too little and you’ll get cranky. Sleep too much and you’ll be equally fried for the rest of the day. Aim for between 20-30 minutes, maximum, for each nap. That said, you can do this up to 3-4 times a day, just not all in a go.
Get up and be productive for 1-2 hours in between hitting the pillow.
And if you do drink caffeine…
- Do it After Coffee
Lie down straight after you’ve had a decent cup of coffee. The 20 minutes that it will take for the coffee to slam into your unsuspecting bloodstream will be the same time you’re hitting the ‘reset’ button on your brain, so you’ll wake up feeling like you could tear a car in half with your bare hands.
- Sleep in a Bed
Or a really comfy couch. But do whatever you can to shut out noise, light and distractions for the 20-30 minutes you’re power napping. You need to make the most of your nap time to get the best benefits from it.
- Calm Your Mind
This is probably the hardest part of taking a nap during the day, and part of the reason why the 20 minute time limit is a hard ask for a lot of people. You need to, dare I say it, meditate for the first few minutes to get into a good nap space.
That means physically calming and silencing your own mind. Didn’t meet that deadline? Shhhhh….. You can get to it in 20 minutes. Worried about how that meeting went yesterday? Shhhhh…. Who cares? Forgot to feed the cat? Okay, well, you’re a terrible person. Get off your ass and go feed the cat before you take a nap, for god’s sake.
- Fix Your Face
Seriously, sort your mug out, you hideous animal.
If you’re a man, or a woman who doesn’t wear make-up, you can skip this step and go straight to screwing yourself. If, like me, you need careful cosmetic trickery to be considered part of the human race, take heed. DO NOT go straight from a nap to a meeting. You will end up looking like the reserve-clown at a particularly creepy carnival.
- Do it After Lunch
I find I have my biggest slump post lunch. So you know what? Instead of fighting the fatigue, I just embrace that shit with open arms. For hundreds (possibly millions) of years, Mediterranean dwellers have incorporated a ‘siesta’ into their work days. A long, pleasurable lunch, enjoyed with good company and a glass or two of wine, and then a little sleep during the heat of the day. And just look at how their work ethic and economies have flourished as a result.
- Don’t Let it Interfere with Work
In order to get away with regular power naps, you have to be able to prove that they actually work. That means meeting your deadlines and showing up on time for meetings. It’s hard, I know, but that’s life. Always interrupting your dreamy little dreams to dick you around with some hardcore responsibility. It’s okay though. Because your next power nap is just 1-2 hours of frenetic work away.
- Turn Off Your Phone
After all, it’s just 20 minutes, and you can lie and say you were going through a tunnel the whole time. The fact is that during a power nap, and probably for the first 10 minutes afterwards, you are about as useful as a cock-flavoured lollipop. Straight up.
Don’t answer the phone, don’t try to drive a car. Have a glass of water, check your emails, and let the insidious dread and terror of the real world gently welcome you back to awareness before you try having a conversation with anyone.
- Get Up Afterwards
Okay, so after trying to calm yourself down and get the most out of the magical, allotted 20 minutes, you’ve succeeded and had the most awesome nap that was ever napped, right? Excellent. Now is the real hard part: Get back to work.
Remember when I said that calming your mind was the hardest part? Yeah, I lied. I’m a dick like that.
Getting up and getting back to work is the hardest part. But it’s absolutely vital. Getting up and working again is the only thing that separates your power nap from ‘going to bed at three thirty’.
- Keep it Quiet
Like fight club, you can’t just talk to other people about being able to nap in the day. They might laugh and tell you how wonderful that is for you, but secretly, they think you’re an asshole. Talk about the freedom of being able to work from home, and the stress of the many, sudden deadlines you have to deal with. But don’t ever tell them how much, or how often, we sleep.
Apart from avoiding disdainful stares, we freelancers also need to keep our fragile psyches well away from the bitter resentment of our desk-bound peers. They might have pre-booked tickets for us on a first-class guilt trip, but we don’t have to get on that train.
We need to stay strong, persevere and remind ourselves that it is our right to pull out our ‘appel sappies en kussingtjies’* when working from home gets hard.
Guilt is a useless emotion, so you shouldn’t allow it to keep you up at night, or indeed, in the afternoon.
*’Apple juices and little pillows’ for you monoglotic types.