Protecting Moments of Brilliance
Protecting Moments of Brilliance
Steve Pao
August 30, 2022

Back in the industrial era, output scaled with the time put into labor. However, anyone who has ever experienced “writers block” knows that often the raw number of hours staring at a computer screen or tapping away at a keyboard often have little to do with the quality or quantity of output.

Often, 20 minutes spent going for a walk to break free from rigid thinking does more for a project than simply sitting at the computer for yet another hour. A creative spark or an “a-ha! moment” may come during a walk, a shower, while resting, and or even while engrossed in a movie. You can never predict when they’re about to happen, but you can promote their development.

By now, we’ve all heard the expression “Work smarter, not longer.” But what does that mean, and how do we put it into practice in modern teams?

Research shows that working our best is not about how long we work but really about how we string together our “moments of brilliance.” Here are some ways to both promote and protect these moments..

  • Work like a lion
  • Respect the Power of When
  • Remember that ideas are cheap; execution is expensive
  • Juggle the 5 balls of life

In designing Ampll, we aimed to create a system to break free from the old thinking of the industrial area and to encourage habits and visibility to avoid "always on" culture, to honor work beyond the world of 8-5, to provide time for teammates to focus, and to respect work/life boundaries.

Work like a lion

The way people tend to work most effectively, especially in knowledge work, is to sprint as hard as they can while they feel inspired to work, and then rest. They take long breaks.

It’s more like a lion hunting and less like a marathoner running. You sprint and then you rest. You reassess and then you try again. You end up building a marathon of sprints.

Naval Ravikant

The basic concept is that a lion doesn’t hunt 8-16 hours a day but rather spends most of its time resting or sleeping (16 to 20 hours a day) until it spots a gazelle, attacks, and finishes the job only to go back to resting. In the case of creative work, the concept is to get the job done at the peak of one’s creativity and then to rest. This concept is in contrast to a cow that simply grazes all day long, much as many knowledge workers “graze” over many hours and stay “always on” in their email, Slack, and Microsoft Teams.

How Ampll helps

Ampll helps you stay aware of the energy you can put into work and life. Ampll models your energy capacity by noticing the work activities that can drain your energy faster, including back-to-back meetings, Slack and email conversations after hours, and even excessive work activity.

Respect the Power of When

Not everyone works at their best from 8am-5pm. Attributed to Michael Breus, author of The Power of When, optimizing your performance at work is based on when you’re biologically most alert, and your "chronotype" can be determined by when you prefer to sleep.

Breus outlines four chronotypes and provides advice on how different individuals can optimize their work routines for maximum productivity. Protecting your moments of brilliance relies on you and your team understanding when you all work best.

How Ampll helps

Once teammates understand their energy high and low points throughout the day, Ampll provides a place to share those work styles as well as through coaching to remind people when it might not be a good time to reach out to someone.

Remember that ideas are cheap; execution is expensive

For those who do individual work, teams should also give teammates uninterrupted time to execute. After all, we judge brilliance by the result of executing great ideas, not just the ideas themselves.  We call a painter “brilliant” when we look at the actual painting, not simply when the painter describes the idea of the painting. As such, it is important to give yourself and your team enough focus time to execute your work and not just think about it or chat about it.

How Ampll helps

Ampll helps to normalize the concepts of “no meeting days” that allow your teammates to focus on hard work (not long work) and to alert co-workers when individuals may be in a focus flow (time spent working in an application continuously without checking chat or email).

Juggle the 5 Balls of Life

Most important in protecting your team’s moments of brilliance is to see teammates as a “whole person”. While there are always "crunch times", your teammates can’t contribute to the team over the long haul if they are burning out from being "always on", working outside preferred hours, and facing difficulties because they are not honoring their commitments outside of work, whether for family, health, friends, or spirit. Former Coca Cola CEO Brian Dyson is credited with addressing this concept with the metaphor of juggling the 5 balls of life.

How Ampll helps

Ampll offers a system for you and your teammates to be transparent about your needs and commitments outside of work. While it’s up to your teammates to respect those boundaries, Ampll provides a way for everyone on a team to state those boundaries, provide gentle reminders to honor those boundaries, and celebrate the "boosts" that come from people taking time for themselves.


Working smarter, not harder and can be operationalized into your team culture.


  • Working like a lion means you don’t have to be “always on” to work smarter, not longer
  • Respecting chronotypes aligns productivity with biology
  • Execution requires that you honor team members’ time to focus to work harder, not longer
  • Respecting boundaries prevents burnout in work and life

In the end, following these techniques to protect moments of brilliance not only allows people to care for themselves, but also allows teams to function at their best.

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Steve Pao

Steve Pao is Chief Product Officer at Ampll and a member of the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, an opt-in research community of business professionals. Prior to Ampll, Steve was an early employee and product executive at two companies that did IPOs (Latitude Communications in 1999 and Barracuda Networks in 2013). Steve is a proud "empty nester" and lives in Portland, OR with his wife whom he met in 7th grade German class.

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