Does Sleeping on a Problem Help You Find a Solution?

Jeff Hawkins, inventor of the palm pilot, thinks so.

Hawkins says he's learned a technique over the years for getting his mind to work while his body's getting a good night's rest. Hawkins, the creator of the original PalmPilot and a host of handheld computer innovations since then, says he uses the technique to get his creative juices flowing and to get over stumbling blocks in his work.

Hawkins discovered that if he works on a problem on paper for 30 to 45 minutes before falling asleep, he often wakes up in the early morning hours with a clearer mind and can reach a solution.

"It sounds stupid, but it really works," Hawkins said in an interview. He notes that it's a technique you can practice and improve on over time.

Hawkins is interested in neuroscience, as I am. I think the things we learn about the brain in the future will contribute to a significantly more productive society, and I think we will actually see a neuroscience-management joint curriculum at some schools in the future. Hawkins also provided this good bit of advice for busy managers.

With his time divided by Handspring and RNI, Hawkins said he has learned to "ruthlessly prioritize." Delegation is key.

"I prioritize my activities in terms of impact," he said. That means Hawkins will skip financial analyst meetings, customer calls, company events and things that can be handled by others. "I'm better off spending my time not going to that meeting and (instead) working on some product designs. That's a better use of my time. . . . I don't do a lot of things I used to do."

He concentrates on the people he needs to work with and on the most important things he needs to do for the long term, he says. He admits that some people aren't happy when he's absent for events, but says something's got to give.

But I would point out that Palm and Handspring have not been very successful from a financial perspective. Hawkins' mistake was that he did not have a sustainable competitive advantage, which is what distinguishes great businesses from companies that are simply good. Nonetheless, I think he has some nice ideas about solving problems.

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