“You will consider how and why you rest in a completely new light after reading this book.” (Wendy Suzuki, author of Healthy Brain, Happy Life)
“You’re holding some terrific advice in your hands on the virtues of walking, napping, and playing. Pang has written a delightful and thought-provoking book on the science of restful living.” (Clive Thompson, author of Smarter Than You Think)
My new book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less is available at your local bookstore, on Amazon, on Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere. It’s published by Basic Books in the United States, and Penguin Books in the UK (as part of their wonderful new Penguin Life series). It’s also been translated in a number of other languages.
I’m also continuing to collect research and stories about the subjects I cover in Rest: stories about the role of deliberate rest in creative lives, research on the neuroscience and psychology of creativity, the challenges of busyness and overwork, and so on.
September 8, 2017 / askpang / Comments Off on “I think anyone in any type of creative, scientific, or business field should pick this up:” more reviews of REST
Romance writer Roni Loren (you might know her from her nine-book Loving on the Edge series, or maybe the two-book Pleasure Principle series, or her eight other books, and I’m getting exhausted just writing this) reviews Rest on her blog. She recommends it: “I think anyone in any type of creative, scientific, or business field should pick this up,” which is great to read.
But in keeping with my feeling that utility is just as important as beauty, I really consider THIS to be high praise: “[U]sing a lot of these methods over the last week has resulted in a week of steady writing, hitting my word count every day, and having no stress about it. It’s been fantastic.”
Also, Elyse Romano explains “Why Doing Nothing and Wasting Time Are Actually Good For You.” As she writes, “When we blend deliberate rest with deliberate work, we are smarter, more creative, and happier people.” It’s one of the few articles in D’Marge that doesn’t feature Eastern European lingerie models and doesn’t have an [NSFW] warning in the title. Though it does describe itself as a magazine “for Magnificent Bastards,” a phrase I can only repeat in my mind in George C. Scott’s voice. And some people read Playboy for the interviews.
Finally, Paul Gaffney has a nod to Rest in his Irish News article about the importance of vacation— and the challenge of taking a vacation that’s actually restful, rather than stressful.
Recently I noticed several entrepreneurs and career coaches who’d reviewed Rest, and wanted to capture some links to their work.
Business coach Curtis McHale (his motto is “Running a successful business should leave time to be a good dad!”) argues that “The Long and Strong Career You Want is Marked by Rest.” “[D]o I recommend you read Rest? Yes, I do. More than that, I recommend you incorporate times of no work into your day. I recommend you build in weeks away from anything digital. If you can read this book and put its ideas into practice, you’re going to get more done and have longer to contribute to your field in a meaningful way.
Vancouver, Washington-based filmmaker and entrepreneur Chris Martin talks about rest and recovery on his Getting Work to Work podcast. He has a shrewd observation about learning to “press the reset button” on your life, and the particular challenge entrepreneurs and founders face in learning to rest.
“Most projects that change the world take at least 10 years,” Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong writes in his post about Rest on Medium, “so practicing the rest skillset feels important for anyone who wants to have an impact.” Good point! (Also: “I’ve see so much material out there about work, it feels like the other side of the coin, rest, has often been overlooked.” You’re welcome!)
Ovidijus Okinskas takes time off from writing about Java and PDF on the IDR Solutions blog to talk about Rest. “I personally found it can open you up to the ways the mind works and recovers,” he says, and “can completely alter your outlook on how you should treat the two supposed ‘opposite forces’ and allow them to benefit each other.”
Sustainable leadership expert David Ducheyne, Chief People Officer for Securex, suggests that “maybe we need to train (young) people in the art of rest, because many people seem to have lost it….. [I]f we talk about sustainable employability, rest might be the key to combine health and competence development.”
Expat career advisor Tim Rettig writes about “Why All Expats Need Regular Periods of Conscious Rest.” Most expats are not only caught in the usual cultural traps of long hours and performing busyness; “the problems… [of] adapting to a new environment come in addition to the existing problems of the modern society.” So perhaps more than most people, “Expatriates need to plan consciously during which blocks of time they work or expose themselves to other forms of stress, and during which blocks of time they make the space for conscious ways of resting.”
Of course, it’s always flattering to see people say nice things about your work, but what’s really gratifying is to see them thinking about how to put it to use. The Roman poet Horace argued that poetry should be dulce et utile, beautiful and useful (or a sweet and useful thing, depending on your preferred translation); it’s always great to see readers take a book seriously enough to apply it to their own lives.
At the time, it looked like it was kind of a failure. Even after they scaled it back from a week to 24 hours (“[W]e couldn’t recruit anybody to take part,” one of the researchers told New Scientist. “We just got empty, horrified stares. And so eventually we backed down to 24 hours.”) Even after that, only about 30 people signed up. (The researchers explained their preliminary findings in a 2015 article.)
However, New Scientist notes, “two-thirds of the participants said they would change how they managed their notifications.” The researchers have gone back to the participants and talked to them about their smartphone use and attitudes towards notifications, and found something really interesting, as they report in a new article (with the somewhat discouraging title “Productive, Anxious, Lonely: 24 Hours Without Push Notifications“).
The New Scientist reports that “half had actually stuck with this goal two years on, suggesting that even a short, enforced holiday is a powerful intervention.” But as they put it in the article,
The evidence indicates that notifications have locked us in a dilemma: without notifications, participants felt less distracted and more productive. But, they also felt no longer able to be as responsive as expected, which made some participants anxious. And, they felt less connected with one’s social group.
It’s really interesting that digital sabbaths can have a long-term effect on behavior.
The other thing I would note is that it’s possible to customize notifications so that you’re still accessible to the people who really matter, but aren’t disturbed by messages about how the online retailer you visited 6 months ago is having 20% off everything. I talk in this article about how to reset your notifications so your phone does what it’s supposed to– keep you accessible to people who count– and not what app makers and retailers want. It’ll help your phone pass what I call the “zombie apocalypse test,” keeping your connected to the people you’d call during the zombie apocalypse, and no one else.
Martin Pielot and Luz Rello, “Productive, Anxious, Lonely – 24 Hours Without Push Notifications,” in Proceedings of MobileHCI ’17 (Vienna, Austria, September 04-07, 2017).
One of the greatest things about a book like REST is that it goes all kinds of places I don’t, and gets picked up by all kinds of interesting people. Case in point: Lebanese fashion designer Saiid Kobeisy, the subject of the Fall 2017 Haute Couture Review in Vogue Arabia.
After talking about this season’s line (which features “Light structured dresses, high collars, playing on volumes, with a touch of gold, and ivory cream colors,” in case you were wondering), the interviewer asks what he’s been reading. Kobeisy replies:
I’ve recently been flipping through the pages of a book entitled “Rest” by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. It’s about getting more work done by working less. In our busy lives, rest is defined by the absence of work, but in this book, the author explains about “active rest” which means doing activities while resting and not necessarily sleeping or watching TV. Dismissing rest suppresses our ability to think creatively and truly recharge. So I’m definitely trying to fit in some “deliberate rest” in my schedule.
It’s hard to say no, especially when there’s work piling up to the walls at the office, but author Alex Soojung-Kim Pang argues in her book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less that this attitude is downright damaging.
I know. Just roll with it. So long as people read the book!
August 16, 2017 / askpang / Comments Off on “I resolved never to read a mathematical book for more than a quarter of an hour at a time, without a break”
Last night I was out with some friends at a birthday celebration at our local pub, and– as often happens among people of a certain age– the conversation turned to back problems. I confessed that one of the great epiphanies of my life was the discovery that, after many hours of sitting (usually in terribly un-ergonomic positions) the way to deal with a sore back was to exercise, not to be sedentary. The lesson that exercise can be a cure for physical ailments became to basis of a more general assumption that we’re usually better off when we choose activity over inactivity– an idea that runs around in the subtext of REST.
These kinds of small but significant moments of enlightenment are often lost to history, in part because they sound mundane and slightly embarrassing: you’re supposed to have epiphanies on the road to Damascus, not in the gym. But this morning I found another example in John Maynard Keynes’ obituary of his Cambridge mentor, economist Alfred Marshall. (This is not as weird as it sounds: it’s a famously well-done piece of work. As the Wikipedia biography of Keynes notes, “Joseph Schumpeter called [it] ‘the most brilliant life of a man of science I have ever read.’ Marshall’s widow was ‘entranced’ by the memorial, while Lytton Strachey rated it as one of Keynes’s ‘best works’.”)
In the obituary, Keynes quotes Marshall’s account of an epiphany he had about the nature of work and rest:
An epoch in my life occurred when I was, I think, about seventeen years old. I was in Regent Street, and saw a workman standing idle before a shop-window: but his face indicated alert energy, so I stood still and watched. He was preparing to sketch on the window of a shop guiding lines for a short statement of the business concerned, which was to be shown by white letters fixed to the glass. Each stroke of arm and hand needed to be made with a single free sweep, so as to give a graceful result; it occupied perhaps two seconds of keen excitement. He stayed still for a few minutes after each stroke, so that his pulse might grow quiet. If he had saved the ten minutes thus lost, his employers would have been injured by more than the value of his wages for a whole day. That set up a train of thought which led me to the resolve never to use my mind when it was not fresh; and to regard the intervals between successive strains as sacred to absolute repose. When I went to Cambridge and became full master of myself, I resolved never to read a mathematical book for more than a quarter of an hour at a time, without a break.
I had some light literature always by my side, and in the breaks I read through more than once nearly the whole of Shakespeare, Boswell’s Life of Johnson, the Agamemnon of Aeschylus (the only Greek play which I could read without effort), a great part of Lucretius and so on. Of course I often got excited by my mathematics, and read for half an hour or more without stopping: but that meant that my mind was intense, and no harm was done.
You never know when inspiration will strike– or perhaps, you never know what apparently ordinary event can lead to some life-changing discovery.
Half a century ago, the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins caused a stir by suggesting that people in hunter-gatherer societies aren’t ceaselessly struggling for survival; on the contrary, they’d built “the original affluent society”, by keeping their needs low, then meeting them. Crunching numbers from Africa and Australia, he calculated the average number of hours hunter-gatherers must work per day, to keep everyone fed. That’s right: it was “three to five hours”.
That number keeps popping up. And thanks for the great piece, Oliver!
Just in time for the end of summer and back to school, more pieces about the virtues and challenges of boredom.
My friend Martin Schwirn points out this piece by Lyn Lenz about how the desire for fulfilling idle days, and the demands of programming a full summer, conflict:
I love the idea of summer. I love the idea of pool days with my kids, watermelon on the patio, building secret forts in the attic during rainstorms, and spoiling our dinner with ice cream. But the reality of summer is altogether something else. The reality of modern summers is an inane slog of scheduling sitters, negotiating work time with my husband, begging grandma’s to babysit, purchasing pool passes, museum passes, and whatever other pass seems appealing at the time. Then, there are camps. This year, my daughter’s teacher suggested three different academic camps for her to attend and the school sent her home with a summer workbook. She’s six.
Say you were bold enough to gather together seven of the recent or upcoming books about boredom. To stack the deck, say you were to do this gathering during a week of intense, attention-imperiling humidity — a week when, purely coincidentally, you’d just reached page 508 of “Moby-Dick,” and thus had arrived at a kind of sweet spot in your appreciation of lengthy descriptions of rope. Would you crack a single one of the boredom brigade open? Or would you soon be found desiccated and near-dead in your apartment, eyeballs dangling from their sockets?
Quietly asserting itself in books and personal essays since 2015, the “boredom boom” would seem to be a reaction to the short attention spans bred by our computers and smartphones. The words “boring” and “interesting” didn’t exist in English till the 1800s, a period when…
… Whoa, is that a candy-colored hula hoop on that book jacket?
I’m at the desk most mornings between 5.30 and 7. Every day is the same. I developed the practice under pressure of external commitments and obligations. I began writing while a young fellow in London in the mid to late 1960s, working at any job I could find. Most began at 8 am, and went on for ever. By the time I came home I was too tired for anything. I discovered a first principle of art: a weary mind in a weary body. So I did my own work first – my writing – which meant rising two hours before leaving the house.
In 1969 I met Marie and we married the same year. I continued writing and working after the same fashion. In my mid 20s I was driving buses. We had two kids by then. If a shift began at 5 am I would have managed an hour on a story before taking the first bus out of the garage. It was a wrench leaving the story but better that than trying to write in the aftermath of a 12-hour shift.
I was stealing time, operating a simple maxim: make the best hours your own rather than those you sell to an employer. It worked. During the formative years I discovered another first principle: “writer’s block” is an economic luxury. It was inconceivable that I could steal time to write and be unable to write.
This is a geat example of how writers discover early morning routines: as often as not, they’re forced it in by circumstance and schedules, and only after doing it for a while do they discover that there are creative benefits to early hours.
The idea that you should “make the best hours your own rather than those you sell to an employer” is also an important one. I’ve always loved John Le Carré’s description of being careful to give his country second best when he was writing novels on the train to and from work. This isn’t license to do a bad job on the job, but it is a reminder that you should be honest about what’s your most important work, and let your expenditure of time and energy– and especially those hours during which you can do your best work– reflect those priorities.
July 30, 2017 / askpang / Comments Off on “the best players know the importance of freshness and rest:” Ed Smith on practice and rest
Former professional cricketer Ed Smith has an essay in the New Statesman explaining how “the best players know the importance of freshness and rest.” The nice thing about the essay is that, in addition to the brief mention of my book, he traces how the ideals of the amateur and professional in sports have changed the way people view practice– and how each obscured certain important facts about both the virtue of practice, and the value of rest:
The amateur ideology was a narrative myth about accidental excellence, gifts conferred at birth that had been protected from the evils of the marketplace, washed down with false modesty for public consumption. The professional ideology denied converse truths: effective practice rests on focus not relentlessness; the best players seldom practise the most hours; freshness is as important as dedication; and rest is bound up with discipline.
When I was a professional cricketer, before each season – just before the team got together as a group – I would block out a few consecutive days and dedicate them entirely to practising batting. My only goal was to become a better player, to develop new skills. This wasn’t the humdrum practice that happens throughout the season. This was my selfish time: it was as close as my cricket practice got to a creative exercise.
Which days ended with me batting significantly better than I started out? The best days followed the same pattern – an intense morning session, around two and a half hours long, followed by a shorter, lighter afternoon session, perhaps lasting an hour or 90 minutes. In total, then, I would do about four hours, just as Russell wanted.
Strangely, when I spent many more hours practising, spreading the work across the whole day, my game stood still or even slightly deteriorated. Quite simply, you cannot work all day, at least not at a high level. When you are performing near your limits, you use up your psychological resources very quickly. The obvious point follows: stopping practising at the right moment is a vital form of self-discipline, every bit as important as “putting the hours in” and “giving it your all”. There is an optimal amount of work.
Smith was one of the few people I’ve read who caught the important point that Anders Ericsson makes, in his classic article about deliberate practice, that rest also matters. As he said back in 2012:
Nor should we trust the popularised social science alleging that “geniuses” evolve inevitably from 10,000 hours of practice. In his study of talented young musicians in Berlin, K Anders Ericsson asked what separated the outstanding soloists from those who were merely good. The difference was not – as is often misquoted – that the best players practised more. Instead, they practised intensely and then allowed themselves more time to relax and recoup.
This is essentially the same pattern that explains the 4-hour paradox that I describe in this essay (which is part of REST): that some people of tremendous accomplishment organize their whole lives to give themselves space to think and be creative, but they labor at the desk or blackboard as little as four hours a day. What they’re doing is creating time for highly focused work, which in turn creates more time for deliberate rest. Indeed, I think the very best of them are quite a bit like world-class athletes: they’re able to shrink their work day quite dramatically, and even if we can’t get ours down to four hours (any more than we can run as fast as Usain Bolt or play tennis as well as Roger Federer), we can still learn from them about how to improve our own working lives.