Better RFP Responses & Management
Time for a Nap

Time for a Nap

People working non-stop on RFP responses don’t just slow down: they dumb down, too. Part of our intelligence resides in our subconscious, but working without rest leaves no space for the subconscious to speak. To find solutions to problems. To improve processes. To come up with great new ideas.  

Proposal management should not aim at getting “the most” out of people: too often that devolves into working long hours and through the weekend. Rather, it should aim at getting “the best”: not just their hard work, but their creativity, too The judicious application of time off actually improves overall productivity.

“We could colour code the tabs.”

It’s 1990, my first year in Proposal Land, and this is my first thought upon waking.  There is no graceful transition from sleep to work – no thinking aimlessly about the day ahead, no leisurely breaking of the fast, no ride downtown followed by chit chat around the coffee machine before getting settled in at my desk.

Nope.  My eyes open and it pops into my head.

“We could colour code the tabs.”

My subconscious, obviously, has been working all night, trying to solve a problem I’d been mulling over sleepily last night–how to help the eventual evaluators find their way through our complex document–and wants to let me know that she has found The Answer. In keeping with the schedule-driven nature of the work (heavy on the “driven”), she feels she must tell me Right Now.

“We could colour code the tabs.”

It is my first experience with how the brain never sleeps in Proposal Land.  It won’t be my last.

Indeed, it’s so common that I come to count on it, both in Proposal Land and abroad.  I consciously hand my subconscious problems all the time now, work or otherwise, and wait for her to speak.  And speak she will, given some space in which to work: a watched pot always boils (never mind what you may have heard to the contrary) but a continually pinged subconscious will sit there, stubbornly mute.  She’s not always brilliant, but she’s always thinking.  I just have to shut up and let her do her thing.

“We could colour code the tabs.”

Indeed we could.  And we did. And it was brilliant.

As I approach another deadline and some seemingly intractable problems, I think I’ll go take  a nap.


  1. Christina M.

    My subconscious hasn’t been the best at logistical problem solving–my teammates have been great for that–but she has certainly stepped up in the “Don’t forget” category. She’ll whisper to me, “Don’t forget to replace those pages in the binders and in the PDF” before my alarm goes off. Or, “Don’t forget that one org chart change actually affects 11 other org charts.”

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Christina – Hah! Oh, yes, endless linked org charts – my favourite. Well, those and resumes. But it’s good to know other people talk to themselves. Thanks for sharing! A long-time proposal colleague came into the office on his first day off in too long looking both pleased and a bit chagrined. The answer to something vexing him about the technical solution had occurred to him while he was standing in line at the bank. Same deal – get the conscious brain off it and the subconscious has a chance to be heard.

  2. How oft have I come up with the perfect title to a (long put-off making) graphic just as I awoke? Or the times I lay there for an hour or more trying to come up with a Heading on Page One to give the whole book meaning? It was
    What We Don’t Know About Nebraska Could Fill a Book… (Nebraska By Dummies)
    It’s a dance my subconscious and I perform to the satisfaction of us both. But sometimes it wakes me, it insistent, me grateful. One night I heard a loud deep voice in the room (not in my head!), “POC-O-LINT, THE GAME — MAKE ME!” I follow these tugs and nags to the letter. Got up, wrote down all the rules (it took quite awhile) and went back to sleep. Got up the next day: deciphered the notes and made the game. It worked!
    Before we left for a visit to New York City, I lay sleepless thinking how to ask tough, busy New Yorkers for their pocket lint… Finally, at dawn, I came up with “What do you do with your pocket lint?” (Here 99% of people say WHAT?!) Then I followed with “TODAY you’re gonna give it to ME.” And they did! Hundreds of them. The Pocket Lint Chronicles (455 pgs) was self-published. A pdf provided to an off-set printer company. Small run of 400 or so. I had complete control. It worked beautifully! I came up with the cash and sold 350 myself. Even made a decent profit!
    Now, for my current book, I get 15 at a time printed. At Grand and Toy Delivered. No closets filled with boxes and boxes.
    And I hear there is a company on-line that will print a book if they sell one. Too many options. So little control with most. Hands off at this stage for you must be like handing your newborn over to a wet-nurse.
    It depends on what you want the book to do — change the world? Make money? Amuse your friends? Get that zen, ego-less space to live in as you write it? Provide a service you think people need?
    However, I do know that eBooks is not the way to go if you want your manual to lay flat. Or is that “lie”? Isabel???

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Barbara – Ah, another subconscious heard from, via her interface with the world. Is it only (or mostly, given buddy in the bank line) women, then? I see a Canada Council research grant in my future. As for book options – yes, way too many. Way. But it seems ungrateful to complain, considering all the generations that lived with only oral history to pass along their thoughts! As for what I want my book to do – well, change the world, of course (at least my small corner of it). As one of my beta readers said, “Just imagine – people might come to proposals prepared! Sign me up for that one!”

      And yes, that should be “lie flat” – but I take issue with your analysis. How can an ebook do anything other than lie flat?

      1. Well, I mean flip-through-able, like a retro book spiral bound. I don’t have an ebook reader (yet) but imagine scrolling through 50-100 pages to see that line (now which section was it in?) you remember is kinda tricky.

        I am also against your book being an ebook because I don’t have a Kindle/Nook/whatever and I really want to read Heather O’Neill’s last two books. Not on paper!

        1. Isabel Gibson

          Barbara – Ah, yes, it won’t be flip-through-able in the same way, that’s for sure. But good news! We are also planning a pbook (printed book) edition. So rest easy.

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