Nap to productivity

WHAT does US President Donald Trump have in common with the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher besides their affiliation to conservative political parties?

And what does PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi have in common with Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer other than the fact that they’re both female heads of major corporations?

The answer to both these questions is that they all get an average of four hours of sleep every night.

If you aren’t able to emulate these workaholics, don’t feel bad. It’s not just tenacity that allows them to do with so little sleep. Genetics has more than a little to do with it too.

According to Ying-Hui Fu, a biologist and human genetics professor at the University of California, San Francisco, about 90 per cent of the human population needs between seven and nine hours of sleep a night.

Fu, who has been studying the short-sleeping phenomenon since 1996, says that about three to five per cent of the population can make do with around 6.5 hours and less than one per cent can get by with less than four hours. Short sleepers are just born that way.

For the rest of us who belong in that 90 per cent bracket, insufficient sleep is nothing short of torture. All of us know how terrible it feels to be struggling to stay alert right after lunch; and how scary it is to be nodding off at the wheel after a long day at work.

It’s well-established that lack of sleep impacts our health in so many ways — our heart, immune system, metabolism and even fertility — but we don’t need scientific studies to convince us of that. We can literally feel how bad it is for our bodies whenever we don’t get enough sleep.

Similarly, experience tells us that lack of sleep also affects us mentally.

We’re less alert and have difficulty focusing because of it. But what may not be so obvious is just how badly it affects our ability to work.

Research has shown that people who get less than five hours of sleep for a few nights in a row have the equivalent of a 0.10 blood-alcohol level. To give you a sense of what that means, it’s considered a crime to drive in the US if your blood-alcohol level is 0.08!

There’s an economic effect to all this. According to a study published by RAND Europe last November, the lack of sleep among the American workforce costs the US economy approximately US$411 billion (about RM1.8 trillion)


The study, Why Sleep Matters — The Economic Costs of Insufficient Sleep, is the first ever to quantify the economic impact of sleep deprivation.

“Our study shows that the effects from a lack of sleep are massive,” says its lead author, Marco Hafner.

“Sleep deprivation not only influences an individual’s health and wellbeing but has a significant impact on a nation’s economy, with lower productivity levels and a higher mortality risk among workers.”

That same month, Arianna Huffington — of Huffington Post fame — launched a new company called Thrive Global, which advocates the importance of proper sleep for increased productivity.

Huffington has long held a deep interest in the topic of sleep and even wrote a book about it entitled The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time.

She once fainted and fractured her cheekbone due to exhaustion.

Thrive Global will offer corporate workshops for companies that want their employees to have better sleep and thus be more productive.

It will also offer a digital platform for conversations to be held about the topic of sleep and will sell products that help you sleep better.

But getting a good night’s rest is still not enough to foster optimal productivity in workers. Even if you get your eight hours, you’ll still feel drowsy at different times during the day.

That’s because our bodies go through 90-minute cycles where we drift from a state of alertness at the start of the cycle to a drowsy phase at the end of the cycle.

What we tend to do to combat the sleepy phase is go to the washroom to splash water on our faces or drink cups of coffee to help us stay awake.

These things help somewhat but they don’t remove the fatigue our bodies feel.

Author and sleep advocate Tony Schwartz may be on to something with his 4½-hour days, split into three 90-minute sessions.

He says when he first started writing books, he’d write for up to 10 hours a day and it would normally take him about a year to complete a book.

Recently though, he began writing in three uninterrupted 90-minute sessions, with a break after each one.

By writing only 4½ hours per day, he was able to complete his last two books in less than six months each.

It’s clear that those breaks in between his sessions significantly enhanced his productivity.


Imagine if companies started employing this concept and allow employees regular breaks where they can take a nap if they want to.

Actually, some progressive companies in the US are already recognising the value of naps. Uber has nap rooms at its headquarters. Google has nap pods. But it’s not just new economy companies that are recognising the value of power naps. You might be surprised to hear that PricewaterhouseCoopers has nap pods too.

Although it might be counter-intuitive for companies to encourage their workers to take naps in the office, studies have conclusively shown that it does lead to improved performance.

When night-shift air traffic controllers were allowed to take naps when they were too tired, they ended up performing much better on tests that measured vigilance and reaction time compared to those who weren’t allowed to take naps.

In Malaysia, some companies are starting to warm up to corporate wellness programmes.

I know of two people who conduct workshops and trainings on this topic and they tell me the uptake is very promising. More and more companies realise they have to do this in order to get the most out of their employees.

But for these companies, the focus is more on nutrition, exercise and relaxation. Napping is a much harder sell and requires a huge mindset change on the part of management.

Even in the US, only about five per cent of corporations have a policy allowing workers to take naps during working hours.

Well, if we can’t look to the US for guidance on this matter perhaps we should look East — to Taiwan where it’s not unusual for workers to pull out pillows to take a short nap right after lunch.

Imagine your employer allowing you to sleep after a hearty banana leaf lunch. I guess you could call it a dream job.


Importance of personal branding

AS our economy gradually transforms into a knowledge economy, more and more people are becoming freelancers and self-employed entrepreneurs. That being the case, it is now more important than ever to develop a strong personal brand through the Internet.

Your personal branding is essentially how people perceive you. It’s what they think of you when they hear your name. It’s not too different from how people react to famous companies. Some brands evoke positive emotions while others evoke negative ones.

Obviously you’d want your personal brand to be viewed positively. Having a positive brand not only helps you to win projects and land clients, it helps you get the right projects and the right clients.

In the past, personal branding was cultivated offline through word-of-mouth. Associates and clients would tell others about the experience they had dealing with you and if enough people had positive impressions of you, you’d end up with a good reputation.

Today, we have the Internet and it has made it all that much easier to do personal branding. Of course if handled incorrectly, it can result in very negative branding, which can also spread far and wide very fast. So, the Internet can be a double-edged sword. Here are five tips to help you work the Internet so that you end up with a good personal brand.

1. Think of yourself as a brand

First and foremost, you must think of yourself as a brand. Think about all the famous brands out there that you admire. What do you associate with those brands that make you admire them? Now, think of yourself not as you, the person, but as you, the brand. Then decide what kind of feelings you want to evoke when people think of you. What values do you want them to associate with you? What kind of expertise do you want to be known for? And how are you different (and better) than your competitors? Only when you start thinking this way will you be able to make the right moves to enhance your personal brand.

2. Google yourself

It may sound like a very vain thing to do but Googling yourself is crucial to understanding what the Internet thinks of you. I’ve often said that Google does not lie. That’s because its algorithm paints a pretty accurate perspective of who you are, what you do and what you’ve achieved so far.

When someone Googles you — and you can be sure many potential clients, suppliers, associates and business partners will do this — the results, for better or for worse, will colour their perception of you.

So don’t hesitate to find out what the Internet thinks of you. If it’s largely positive and impressive, you’ve obviously been doing the right things — doing good work and getting recognised for it. If, on the other hand, there’s not much to see or if the results are largely negative, then you know you need to start adopting best practices to gradually improve your Google results. Read on.

3. Do projects

If you Google my name, you’ll find plenty of results. That’s because over the years, I’ve done all kinds of projects — online and offline. I’ve published books, written articles, made blog postings, given speeches, conducted workshops, taught classes, created podcasts, edited videos and so on. Some of these things were done as part of my work and others were passion projects. But I’ve been busy and many of these things have been captured by Google. You can do search engine optimisation (SEO) as much as you want but at the end of the day, it’s not as good as genuine organic results that show off the achievements you’ve made.

4. Maintain a personal website

In the age of social media it might seem anachronistic to have a website. But don’t underestimate the importance of having an online central hub where people can easily find information about you.

It doesn’t have to be a fancy website nor does it have to cost a lot of money. These days, you can easily subscribe to a template-based service like that allows you to develop a very professional-looking website which contains basic details about yourself, past clients, samples of your work and contact details. It should also contain links to all your social media pages.

The URL or web address should ideally be your name. If your name is somewhat unique, then you can probably register it. If, however, you have a very common name like Michael Tan, then you’re probably out of luck. Someone else would have probably registered that domain name already. In such a case, include some initials or add an additional word that describes what you do e.g. There’s a better chance of securing such a domain name.

5. Be active on social media

In this day and age, you have to be active on social media if you want to develop a strong personal brand. You can be sure the people you’ll be dealing with will be on social media and besides Googling your name, will also be checking you out on social media.

It’s crucial that if you’re using social media for personal branding that activities you do there are all geared towards fostering the branding that you wish to have. Don’t simply post whatever’s on your mind.

That’s fine to do if you’re using social media for social purposes — go ahead, share that picture of the meal you’re about to have — but if you’re using social for branding, every single posting must be purposeful. Ask yourself before posting anything: What does this posting do to enhance my brand?

Of all the social media platforms out there, the one that is most relevant to your career is LinkedIn, which is fundamentally your online resume. But of course it’s much more than that since it is a social media platform.

Enhancing your personal branding

You can share content and updates that could potentially go viral and thus help to establish you as a thought leader for your core domain. You can also contact and connect with other professionals in your field. It’s not as busy as Facebook or Twitter or even Instagram, but it’s got a focused user base. Everybody in there is there for professional reasons. And that’s what makes it valuable for career purposes.

I asked Frank Koo, Head of Southeast Asia Talent Solutions at LinkedIn, what people could do to enhance their personal branding via LinkedIn other than listing their achievements and qualifications. He highlighted three things:

Firstly, complete and optimise your profile. The more complete it is, the more you’ll stand out. Interestingly, LinkedIn has revealed the most overused words found on Malaysians’ profiles. For this year, Malaysia’s top five most commonly-used buzzwords include “specialised”, “leadership”, “passionate”, “experienced” and “responsible”. In doing up your profile, try to avoid such cliches.

Secondly, make it a point to publish articles on LinkedIn and share stories of your professional journey. This will help drive more traffic to your profile and add further credibility to your personal branding.

Thirdly, make meaningful connections with others in the network and engage with them regularly. This will help increase your visibility and open up more doors for your next opportunity.

If you take note of the five things I’ve mentioned above and do them diligently and consistently, you’ll find that in time your online personal branding will improve tremendously.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. reach him at


To Mars and beyond?

INTERSTELLAR, Passengers and Alien: Covenant. The first is science fiction, the second is a romantic drama and the final is a horror story — three very different genres with something in common — all their underlying plots involve an attempt to colonise a new planet.

The notion of humans being a multi-planet race is one that captures the imagination. But there is a practical urgency to this idea if you believe in what Stephen Hawking says.

Late last year, he warned that humans need to colonise another planet within 1,000 years if we are to survive as a species. Just recently though, he’s revised that timeline to a mere 100 years.

Perhaps a mere century to start migrating from Earth is a bit alarmist but the notion that we eventually need to find a new planet to inhabit is an increasingly popular view.

Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX fame put it best when he said: “I really think there are two fundamental paths: One path is we stay on Earth forever, and some eventual extinction event wipes us out. The alternative is, become a spacefaring and multi-planetary species.”

The target planets in the three movies I mentioned earlier were in distant galaxies but the one everyone’s seriously looking at in real life is Mars.


One of the most hyped-up advocates of Mars colonisation is Mars One, which in 2012 announced its plan to establish a Martian settlement by 2027, with funding coming from a reality TV show, among other things.

A year later, in 2013, astronaut Buzz Aldrin (the second person to walk on the moon) wrote an article for the New York Times where he proposed a manned mission to Mars.

Two years after that, in 2015, he presented a master plan to Nasa which called for a colonisation of Mars by 2040.

Last year, SpaceX’s Musk told the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico about his plans for an Interplanetary Transport System (ITS), which would enable the colonisation of Mars through the rapid delivery of a million people, at a rate of 100 passengers per trip.

According to Musk, ITS is a reusable system that will allow us to colonise the Red Planet within the next 50 to 100 years.

“It’ll be, like, really fun to go,” Musk told the congress. “You’ll have a great time.”

Reality tells us otherwise. But let’s first look at why Mars is the default option for those who are looking at space colonisation.


When the planets are most optimally aligned, it’s possible to reach Mars within nine months, which is a very reasonable time frame (there’s no need to invent suspended animation or a wormhole, which is still in the realm of science fiction).

Apparently, there’s water on Mars although it’s currently frozen. The Martian day is also remarkably similar to Earth’s with one solar day being 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds. So far so good, right?

Unfortunately, the challenges of colonising Mars far outweigh the positives.

Let’s start with the relatively “easy” challenges like the inhospitable surface temperature on the Red Planet.

The temperature around midday can be a reasonable 20 degrees C but night time temperatures can go as low as -70 degree C.

The gravity on Mars is also only about 40 per cent of Earth’s. In the short term, that’s okay but in the long term it will have effects on muscle mass and bone density.

Now, let’s look at the much harder challenges, starting with the planet’s low pressure atmosphere, which is about 100 times thinner than that of Earth’s.

Not only that but Martian air consists of 95 per cent carbon dioxide and only about 0.4 per cent oxygen. What these twin factors mean is that we’d not be able to go outside without a pressure suit and oxygen supply.

The lack of a global magnetic field on Mars means there’s no shield or filter for the sun’s cosmic rays. Without strong protective cover, Martian radiation would eventually kill us. To be safe, we would literally have to stay indoors almost all the time.

Far from being fun, life on Mars would be a constant struggle for survival. That said, the challenges are not insurmountable because with the march of progress, we’ll be able to overcome technological barriers. It’s not impossible to colonise Mars. Just incredibly difficult and totally impractical.


It must be said that it’s not a certainty that Earth will someday become uninhabitable. The doomsday scenarios usually refer to a time when ecological damage is so bad that we literally can’t grow food anymore or when the oceans are so polluted that all sea creatures are dead. Or when a nuclear war or huge asteroid has destroyed a huge chunk of our planet.

Granted, any of these scenarios could very well happen but even if they did, the situation would still not be as bad as current conditions on Mars.

The reality is that no matter how bad things get, it’s hard to imagine a dystopian Earth that is more inhospitable than Mars is right now. Remember, the planet is also completely bathed in radiation and there’s no oxygen to breathe!

Let’s say we pollute the air with dangerous levels of carbon dioxide. For it to be worse than Mars, there need to be more than 96 per cent carbon dioxide.

To give you a sense of how unlikely that is, carbon dioxide currently makes up 0.04 per cent of the Earth’s atmosphere.

What about something cataclysmic like a huge asteroid hitting Earth? Well, that did happen some 66 million years ago. It wiped out the dinosaurs and much of the flora and fauna on this planet. But guess what? Some wildlife did manage to survive. We’re living proof of that as our very distant ancestors obviously made it through that global disaster.

Even if there were a nuclear holocaust that made much of the world a wasteland, it would still be easier to rehabilitate the Earth than it would be to terraform Mars.

Even if the land and air had become so bad that we had to construct massive bio-domes or underground cities for people to live in, it’d still be infinitely easier to do that on Earth than it would be in faraway Mars.

Imagine the amount of raw materials, machinery and labour force that need to be transported all the way there just to build a small structure let alone massive bio-domes or whole underground cities.

So, while the colonisation of Mars is a much more adventurous and even romantic notion than contingency plans for an environmental or nuclear disaster on Earth, the latter is much more practical and realistic.

Ultimately, if we are to avert extinction, the best approach is to take good care of Mother Earth and ensure that we elect leaders who will avert war. Prevention, as they say, is always better than cure.


Branding and marketing through content

SEVERAL years ago when I was at an e-book conference in New York, I attended a talk given by an industry analyst who told a roomful of authors and publishers that in the near future: “Your competition is not going to be just each other but also consumer brands.”

She went on to explain that big corporations, especially those which provide goods or services to consumers, are starting to invest in content because that’s the new form of marketing that companies are embracing.

That was several years ago. Today, content marketing has taken the US by storm and almost every major consumer-centric corporation has some kind of content marketing initiative, be it a blog, online magazine, e-book series, podcast or a series of online videos.

Just as the analyst predicted, content has indeed become the hot new approach to marketing. And this is quite a radical change from the way marketing has been done for decades.

So, what is content marketing, exactly? In a nutshell, it is about the use of content for the purpose of marketing and branding. And it’s different from advertising or public relations in three profound ways.

Firstly, advertising or public relations campaigns have a start and end date for the campaign. With content marketing, it’s an ongoing thing, a continuing narrative.

Secondly, unlike advertising — considered a “push” approach in which information is presented to consumers in the hope of catching their attention — content marketing is consider a “pull” approach which rely on consumers seeking out the content. It’s a more immersive experience.

Thirdly, unlike advertising, which appears in media channels, content marketing materials appear on a company’s own channels, such as its website or social media pages.

It should be mentioned that content marketing is seen as an additional form of marketing and not as a replacement for traditional advertising. In other words, it’s something that companies are using to complement their advertising strategies.


While advertising’s approach is to capture attention, content marketing’s approach is to provide materials that educate, enlighten and entertain consumers. And the best types of content marketing materials are the ones that can go viral over social media.

An obvious question is what type of content should a company offer? A natural type of content would be information that can be derived from the company’s domain expertise. For example, a car company could produce videos on safe driving or car maintenance. A diaper company can produce articles about baby care. A sauce or ingredients company could produce an e-cookbook of recipes.

It’s important though that the content does not hard-sell the company’s products or services. In fact, it shouldn’t even be doing any soft-selling. Content marketing is about exposing consumers to a brand’s message through the use of genuinely appealing content.

A really good example of content marketing (or “branded content” as some might call it) is BMW’s series of short films titled The Hire released on the Internet in 2001 and 2002. Each of the eight films was about 10 minutes long and featured famous directors and actors. The films featured BMW cars but the story was not about the cars per se. They had interesting plots and consumers loved them. In a span of four years, the series garnered over 100 million views. It’s hard to imagine BMW getting anywhere close to that kind of viewership if the videos had been advertisements.


The next question is how do companies generate such content? Advertising agencies are experts at producing advertisements but they are not publishers. They are used to producing short content designed to attract attention. They are not used to producing long-form narratives. So ad agencies are really not the best places to go for content marketing.

In the US, because content marketing is already established there are plenty of content marketing agencies whose expertise is precisely to produce content marketing materials. Usually they are staffed with writers and editors who do not come from the advertising industry but from journalism.

Some corporations engaged in content marketing have even started to hire former journalists. Journalists are ideal for producing content because that is what they are trained to do. They know how to gather information and craft an interesting and compelling narrative out of the material they gather in a way that will appeal to the general public.

Content marketing has taken root in the US and it’s no longer a hard-sell for companies to invest in innovative content for marketing and branding purposes. In Malaysia, it’s a different story. Few companies are engaged in this although there is some evidence that it’s starting to happen.


The other day, while I was browsing through my Facebook feed, I came across some sponsored content about Malaysian “super food”, courtesy of an insurance company. True to the content marketing ethos, the article was all about healthy food and there was no hard or soft-selling of any insurance products within the article.

I was intrigued enough by it to be “pulled” into the company’s website where I found related content, also about healthy eating. These were all real articles with useful information. Of course I was fully aware of the company’s brand though, since the article was housed on its own website. So, some local companies are beginning to get it. I do think it will take a while for content marketing to become a trend here. Local companies are used to the concept of advertising and public relations. They are not used to investing in content, which traditionally does not have a marketing function.

And when they do test the waters of content marketing, I’m pretty certain that more than a few will not be able to resist the temptation of incorporating some sales messages into the content they offer. That would be a mistake as it would turn off consumers who will see it as fake content.

Remember, content marketing is not about peddling products. It’s about generating useful, interesting and appealing content that consumers will enjoy. The fact that it’s sponsored (with the company’s branding on it) is fine. Just don’t try to disguise advertising as content.

Just as how other digital marketing trends eventually found their way to our shores, I’m certain that in due time content marketing will become all the rage here too.

One thing’s for sure, like blogs and social media, content marketing is not a fad. It’s a revolution in the way products and services are being marketed and local companies would do well to start taking notice of it.


E-books: download or read online?

THE Internet has democratised media so that anyone can create their own content very easily.

Enterprising video enthusiasts can create their own YouTube channel and generate a huge following.

Those who prefer audio content can create podcasts. Those who wish to have a soapbox to expound on their views can create their own online news sites and blogs.

And so it is with books. There was a time when you had to secure a book publishing deal to get a book out. Now, you can very easily create your own e-book. The question is what format should you adopt?

In the past, I’ve written about how e-books are the last man standing when it comes to media content. Consumers love to watch movies and listen to music digitally. But many people still like to read books the old fashioned way — via print-based physical books.

I think it’s fair to say that e-books are still at a nascent stage in Malaysia, although it has taken off quite well abroad, where Kindle books (by are very common. I still believe it’s just a matter of time before e-books become mainstream in Malaysia, although that might still be a few years away.

Still, if you are an aspiring author but don’t have the connections to get a book publishing deal - which is becoming harder and harder to secure these days — it’s worth looking into self-publishing via e-books. Companies that want to make full use of content marketing should also consider publishing e-books that help promote awareness of their brand.

In this article, I will try to give a broad overview of where the e-book industry stands right now and what all aspiring authors should consider before making a decision on format.

But first things first: What exactly is an e-book?


If you take the broadest definition, an e-book is simply a digital file that contains the content of a book. Under this very broad definition, you can present a story via Microsoft Word or PDF and technically, you have a book.

But in the publishing world, these two formats are not really considered e-books. For downloadable e-books, the industry standard is something called ePub2. It’s an open source format that’s HTML-based (the same kind of coding for websites) and allows for reflowable text.

That means text size can change depending on your preferences. It also means that the page can adjust to whatever screen size you are viewing the e-book on, whether it’s a device as small as a mobile phone, medium-sized like a tablet or large like a desktop computer.

Many e-book retailers have adopted the ePub2 format for the e-books they sell with one notable exception —, which uses its own proprietary format called Kindle (which is based on format called mobi). The characteristics of a Kindle book are very similar to an ePub2 book, with reflowable text as a key feature.

If you’re an independent publisher or an aspiring self-published author, you really have to consider making your e-books available on these two formats: ePub2 and Kindle.

With ePub2, you are able to make your book available on many e-book stores around the world, but most notably Kobo, which serves both the Malaysian and Singaporean markets. It’s important to have your book in Kindle to penetrate the US and European markets but do note that Kindle is not available to either the Malaysian or Singaporean markets. That’s why it’s important to have both.

Both ePub2 and Kindle are designed for text-based e-books and not graphics-heavy or multimedia e-books. For the latter, you will need to use the ePub3 and Kindle Format 8 (KF8) respectively.

The problem with ePub3 and KF8 is that unlike their text-based cousins (ePub2 and Kindle), which are easy to format, these two multimedia formats require quite complex coding. To date, there is no easy way to create ePub3 or KF8 multimedia e-books.

If you have an e-book you wish to make that really needs to have multimedia elements — such as photo gallery, audio clips, video clips etc — and don’t want to invest in hiring an expensive programmer to do the formatting for you, one solution is to use a web-based publishing service.


There are many such services around, designed specifically to be an idiot-proof way to create multimedia e-magazines and e-books. One service I’ve tried is called Joomag ( and I’ve used it to make a pilot issue of a judo magazine in which I wanted to feature photo galleries and video clips.

Joomag is a subscription-based service. Like many such online publishing services, there is a free option but with very limited functionality. The most affordable paid option costs US$9 (RM38), which is very reasonable.

The more expensive options give you more functionalities but I’ve found for my purposes, the US$9 version is good enough.

The good thing about online publishing is that you can very easily incorporate multimedia content into your e-book without having to do any coding at all. Not all the features are necessarily very intuitive but for those that are more complex, there are online tutorials and videos that you can watch to learn how to use them. If you find that you really cannot figure out how to do something through those tutorials, you can chat with their live operators who can guide you through the whole process.

In the absolute worst case scenario, where neither the tutorials or online chats do the job, the operators can demonstrate how a particular tool or functionality works by taking over your computer remotely and literally executing the process on your laptop as you observe (of course, you must give consent for your computer to be taken over by the operator). I’ve used this option once or twice for some very complex stuff that baffled me.

Joomag has billing systems in place so you can make your e-book available at a certain price (set by you).

However, instead of downloading your e-book, what your customer does is read your e-book online. That means they must have Internet access to read your book.

That might seem limiting or impractical as these days most people have mobile Internet access through their phones. Still, it is not clear whether consumers will embrace online reading as opposed to reading downloaded versions.

If you look at how other media is being consumed, it does seem like young people don’t particularly require their content to be downloaded. Many seem perfectly happy to watch a streamed movie or listen to music via streaming services. Will they also be just as open to reading a “streamed” book? I guess time will tell.