You’re on deadline, and the project just isn’t coming together. You fuss, polish, tinker, and do just about everything you can to make it gel, but despite your best efforts, you just can’t seem to make any meaningful headway. So you stop. You quit for a day and get a good night’s sleep. Next morning, the thing comes together beautifully, seemingly without a hitch. Why is that?
Some months ago*, I interviewed a sleep scientist for an article in a science magazine. The doctor’s words came back to me as I read a section in Chapter 9 of The Wealthy Freelancer, entitled “Take Time To Incubate.” It’s the part of the book where authors Steve Slaunwhite, Pete Savage, and Ed Gandia point out that time away from a project—i.e., “sleeping on it”—often works wonders.
It does, and here’s why.
Our brains are compulsive digital recorders. They collect information about every single experience we have. You meet a client over coffee to hash out details for an upcoming report. While your conscious mind deals with the business at hand, your unconscious mind slavishly records everything around you: Your client’s body language. The light levels in the coffee shop where you meet. The music on the loudspeaker. The weather. Every freaking thing.
This is a wondrous ability, but you don’t need to remember everything. You just need to remember the important stuff.
“Remembering the important stuff” is called learning.
The sleep doc used this analogy. “If I teach you how to shoot baskets,” he said, “and I test you after you practice a few hours, chances are you’ll retain a certain level of skill. But if you go home and sleep, the next morning you’ll be better at it than when you finished your practice. It’s not just that time has gone by.Improvement happens when you sleep. If you don’t sleep, you don’t improve.”
Scientists think sleep has a pruning effect. As you sleep, your brain prunes unimportant memories— experiences, colors, sights, sounds, false starts, dead-end concepts—like the dead branches of a tree. Your brain decides what to discard and what to keep.
The goal of sleep is to organize your thoughts and consolidate learning.
You may bristle at the suggestion that you are still learning. But competent freelancers know that projects that push them into new territory help them grow.
The temptation as a freelancer is to ruthlessly push yourself to finish a task, even if it’s not going well, because your income is tied to how quickly you can finish up and invoice.
But you might work smarter if you consciously enlist your unconscious to do its job.
Want to consistently land high-paying projects and clients? Want to raise your income? Want to improve, work efficiently and prosper?
Go to bed.
* This article first appeared on July 24, 2010, on a website run by the authors of the book, The Wealthy Freelancer. I’m reposting it here in an ongoing effort to collect my old posts in one place. The original blog no longer exists, but you can check out the continuing work of author Ed Gandia at High-Income Business Writing.
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