Deliberate Rest

A blog about getting more done by working less

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less


Arianna Huffington and I talk about REST at DLD17

“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.

Here I’m collecting links to promotion-related activitiesarticles about the book and deliberate restreviews, as well as information about talksinterviewsradio shows, and other media appearances.

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.

Making to-do lists before bed can help you fall asleep (and solve problems)

The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest reports on a new study that finds that making lists before bed can “help you fall asleep more quickly.”

Before they tried to sleep, half of the participants spent five minutes “writing about everything you have to remember to do tomorrow and over the next few days”. The others spent the same time writing about any activities they’d completed that day and over the previous few days.

The key finding is that the participants in the to-do list condition fell asleep more quickly. They took about 15 minutes to fall asleep, on average, compared with 25 minutes for those in the “jobs already done” condition. Moreover, among those in the to-do list group, the more thorough and specific their list, the more quickly they fell asleep, which would seem to support a kind of off-loading explanation. Another interpretation is that busier people, who had more to write about, tended to fall asleep more quickly. But this is undermined by the fact that among the jobs-done group, those who wrote in more detail tended to take longer to fall asleep.

I write in REST about the creative benefits of stopping work in mid-sentence. It makes it easier to resume work the next day, and it gives your creative subconscious a chance to work on problems while your conscious self does other things. (John Cleese talks about discovering this when he was first writing comedy; Linus Pauling developed a whole method for solving problems around intentionally thinking about problems before bed.)

And when I’m deep in writing, I will spend a couple minutes before bed making a list of the things to write about the next morning. I’ve never tried to figure out if there’s a correlation between list-making and how well I sleep, but when I’m writing I rarely have trouble falling asleep. So maybe that’s an unintended benefit.

Anyway, while this is an early study, it suggests yet another reason to make brief lists before bed: not only will to help you solve problems faster (and even make progress while you sleep), it’ll help you sleep better.
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“Like an empire that has expanded too far, work may be both more powerful and more vulnerable than ever before”

In the MRT
Commute time on the Singapore subway

The Guardian has recently has been publishing some terrific essays on the future of work. Peter Fleming’s piece earlier this week (and for that matter, his various other Guardian essays) turns out to have been just the start: it was followed by John Harris’ piece asking “What happens when the jobs dry up in the new world?” and now Andy Beckett’s long essay on “the radical idea of a world without jobs:”

Like an empire that has expanded too far, work may be both more powerful and more vulnerable than ever before. We know work’s multiplying problems intimately, but it feels impossible to solve them all. Is it time to start thinking of an alternative?

The piece is a high-altitude survey of the work of David Graeber, Benjamin Hunnicutt, Peter Fleming, and other writers who Beckett describes as

members of a loose, transatlantic network of thinkers who advocate a profoundly different future for western economies and societies, and also for poorer countries, where the crises of work and the threat to it from robots and climate change are, they argue, even greater. They call this future “post-work”.

I’m not sure how much of it I agree with– I still find psychological research on the value of work to be pretty compelling– but as someone who’s written about the need to recognize the value of rest, I’m definitely intrigued by this literature. Anyway, the Beckett essay is well worth reading, especially if this literature isn’t yet familiar.

BlackRock pressing for greater social responsibility

This is an interesting development: BlackRock, the world’s largest investor, is preparing to tell companies in its portfolio, “Contribute to Society, or Risk Losing Our Support:”

Laurence D. Fink, founder and chief executive of the investment firm BlackRock, is going to inform business leaders that their companies need to do more than make profits — they need to contribute to society as well if they want to receive the support of BlackRock….

“Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose,” he wrote in a draft of the letter that was shared with me. “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.”

As the article notes, this is the latest example of investors trying to get companies to take their social responsibilities more seriously.

“The costs of overwork can no longer be ignored:” Peter Fleming on working hours and the future of work

Peter Fleming has a piece in The Guardian on the dawning realization that our working hours need a reset:

Following 30 years of neoliberal deregulation, the nine-to-five feels like a relic of a bygone era. Jobs are endlessly stressed and increasingly precarious. Overwork has become the norm in many companies – something expected and even admired. Everything we do outside the office – no matter how rewarding – is quietly denigrated. Relaxation, hobbies, raising children or reading a book are dismissed as laziness. That’s how powerful the mythology of work is.

Technology was supposed to liberate us from much of the daily slog, but has often made things worse: in 2002, fewer than 10% of employees checked their work email outside of office hours. Today, with the help of tablets and smartphones, it is 50%, often before we get out of bed….

Thankfully, a sea change is taking place. The costs of overwork can no longer be ignored. Long-term stress, anxiety and prolonged inactivity have been exposed as potential killers.

In fact, the observation that overwork is costly and counterproductive goes back to the 1860s and 1870s. The French communist Paul Lafargue in The Right to Be Lazy noted:

In his study of machines M.F. Passy quotes the following letter from a great Belgian manufacturer M. Ottevaere: “Our machines, although the same as those of the English spinning mills, do not produce what they ought to produce or what those same machines would produce in England, although the spinners there work two hours a day less. We all work two good hours too much. I am convinced that if we worked only eleven hours instead of thirteen we should have the same product and we should consequently produce more economically.” Again, M. Leroy Beaulieu affirms that it is a remark of a great Belgian manufacturer that the weeks in which a holiday falls result in a product not less than ordinary weeks.

We’ve known for a long time that overwork is problematic; but I suspect that it is becoming both worse, and more obviously counterproductive.

And the solutions are closer to hand. In my recent research on companies that have shortened their working hours, I’ve been impressed at how even in high-stress, demanding industries it’s possible to go from an 8-hour day (or really a 10-hour day) to 6 hours. We often talk about shorter work days or work weeks as nice in theory but completely impractical; in fact, they’re both nice in theory, and entirely practical. You don’t have to be a political radical, or motivated mainly by desires to redistribute wealth or spread employment (though both can be laudable goals); you can be interested in creating a company that is stable, profitable, and built for the long term, and see shorter hours as a great way to help you reach those goals.

Why are Americans’ wages flat? A new article argues it’s about monopsony

Slate reports on a new theory for why Americans can’t get a raise:

The paper… argues that, across different cities and different fields, hiring is concentrated among a relatively small number of businesses, which may have given managers the ability to keep wages lower than if there were more companies vying for talent. This is not the same as saying there are simply too many job hunters chasing too few openings—the paper, which is still in an early draft form, is designed to rule out that possibility. Instead, its authors argue that the labor market may be plagued by what economists call a monopsony problem, where a lack of competition among employers gives businesses outsize power over workers, including the ability to tamp down on pay. If the researchers are right, it could have important implications for how we think about antitrust, unions, and the minimum wage….

The team looked at the number of companies advertising jobs [on CareerBuilder.com] in more than two dozen different occupations, from nurses to accountants to telemarketers, in each of the country’s different metro and nonmetro areas between 2010 and 2013. They then calculated local labor market concentration using the awkwardly named Herfindahl-Hirschman Index, or HHI, which antitrust regulators use to analyze the effects of mergers on competition.

What they found was a bit startling. The Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission consider a market with an HHI score of 2,500 or more to be highly concentrated—if a merger between two wireless companies left that little competition for cell services, for instance, there’s a good chance the government’s lawyers would challenge it. In their paper, the authors find that America’s local labor markets had a whopping average HHI score of 3,157. Employers also tended to advertise lower pay in cities and towns where fewer businesses were posting jobs—suggesting that the lack of competition among companies was letting them suppress pay. According to one of their calculations, moving from the 25th percentile of labor market concentration to the 75th percentile would lower pay in a metro area by 17 percent.

REST “made a more positive difference on my life than anything else I read this year”

Michael Rossmann, a former editor of The Jesuit Post who’s now at Boston College, included Rest in his list of The Best of What I Read in 2017:

10) Darwin Was a Slacker and You Should Be Too, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Nautilus. I have always loved power naps. After this article – and Pang’s book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less – I no longer feel guilty about taking them. Pang’s work made a more positive difference on my life than anything else I read this year. The “deliberate rest” that Pang describes, especially when coupled with deep work, was a recipe for success when writing my thesis.

I’m not Catholic, but I regard this as high praise, as all the Jesuits I’ve met have been frighteningly well-read. (Granted, most of them were teachers and academics, so my sample is somewhat skewed in favor of heavy readers, but still…)

(And glad it helped you write your thesis, Michael!)

This turned out to be one of a number of end-of-2017 mentions of Rest that came across my radar. The Christmas season was a good time for book sales, and it’s also the kind of book that people read for new year inspiration.

The “Think Differently About Kids” letter

Baby and iPhone

JANA Partners and Calstrs have published a pretty amazing open letter calling for Apple to rethink its design of its products, with the aim of making them less addictive to kids.

I suspect it’s published elsewhere, but the original is at Think Differently About Kids, and is the first manifesto I’ve ever seen that requires you acknowledge a disclaimer first.

There are a couple interesting thing here. The first is the argument they make that helping people be more mindful in their technology use, and developing more subtle and useful tools for helping parents control their kids’ device use, would establish Apple as market leader– or rather confirm it as the leader it already is:

we believe there is a clear need for Apple to offer parents more choices and tools to help them ensure that young consumers are using your products in an optimal manner.  By doing so, we believe Apple would once again be playing a pioneering role, this time by setting an example about the obligations of technology companies to their youngest customers.  As a company that prides itself on values like inclusiveness, quality education, environmental protection, and supplier responsibility, Apple would also once again be showcasing the innovative spirit that made you the most valuable public company in the world.

Later, they argue that Apple should get on this because the zeitgeist is shifting:

It is true that Apple’s customer satisfaction levels remain incredibly high, which is no surprise given the quality of its products. However, there is also a growing societal unease about whether at least some people are getting too much of a good thing when it comes to technology, which at some point is likely to impact even Apple given the issues described above. In fact, even the original designers of the iPhone user interface and Apple’s current chief design officer have publicly worried about the iPhone’s potential for overuse, and there is no good reason why you should not address this issue proactively.

As a parent of two quite technology-happy kids, it often struck me how few good tools exist for helping parents help kids learn to use digital devices and social media well.

My nephew at the Apple Store, Soho

At the same time, I think this is one of those things that’s really hard to implement: it’s easy to talk about wanting kids to use technology better or be less attached to it, for example, but hard to design for that. Further, lots of the problems we worry about with “technology” are really social problems, or human ones. And I think that technology companies are just as addicted to persuasive design as their users: it feels like too easy a toolkit to use, and there are too many examples of companies that.

Still, after years of talking about technology, addiction, and distraction, it’s good to see this getting some traction.

Muhlenhaupt + Company reimagines REST

Design by “Naz” Luzzi Castro

One of the best things about REST is that it’s attracted some great, engaged readers. Some of them really like the book; a few are quite critical, but in a thoughtful way; and many find ways to build on the ideas, and put them to work in their own lives.

Today I saw a fabulous example of readers reinterpreting the book: designers at the creative agency Muhlenhaupt + Company produced three new designs of the cover of REST. I’ve always been very happy with Nicole Caputo’s cover design, but these are marvelous.

Design by Veronica Llamas

I had no idea that this Designing the “Rest” Book Covers project was going on; I found out about it through Twitter.

Design by Bill Heemer

Here’s what they say about the project:

Designing a book jacket presented Muhlenhaupt and Company’s creative team with a different set of obstacles but not unlike many the team has confronted with similar projects before ultimately delivering outstanding results.

The “Rest” book cover project allowed the designers to showcase their creativity and their interpretation on what “Rest” – the book and the concept – means to them.

The Web site provides some more information about each design, and how the designers thought about the challenge.

They’re each great designs, and even though they’re quite different each one works. I also like how each designer zeroed in on a different aspect of the book’s argument, and made it the centerpiece of their design. I often say that people see different things in the book; this makes that really visible.

So thanks, Muhlenhaupt + Company, and especially “Naz” Luzzi Castro, Veronica Llamas, and Bill Heemer. This is the best Christmas ever!

My appearance on BBC World Service Business Daily

Setup for my BBC World Business Daily interview.

Yesterday I was at Stanford Radio, doing an interview for BBC World Service Business Daily. Their episode on “A Work-Life Balance” is now online.

Should we be working less to achieve more? Maddy Savage reports from Sweden, where workers are trying to balance the traditional outdoor life with longer working hours and increased screen time. Silicon Valley consultant Alex Soojung-Kim Pang puts forward his argument for working less and taking ‘active rest‘ in order to get more done. And could you save time by outsourcing your life? University of California, Berkeley sociologist Arlie Hochschild talks about her research into the rise of outsourcing careers in the United States.

I appear around 06:45, and the producer did a good job of taking the interview and turning it into something that sounds coherent! And it’s always extra fun to be on a show that you listen to. I don’t tune in regularly, but I often listen to BBC World Service, so I catch it now and then.

I can’t figure out how to embed the player, alas.

“There’s no such thing as a good job”

I’m not sure I agree with the title of the talk, but Australian lawyer and Fulbright fellow Melanie Poole’s talk on work and its place in modern life is still worth watching:

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