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.

“I devised a way of working like a bat out of hell, or anyway a bat out of the nursery:” Antonia Fraser on writing

Antonia Fraser writes in the The Guardian about her writing routine:

I work with… total calm from about 9.30 until lunchtime. Ideally I then go out to a local Italian restaurant, preferably with someone who talks brilliantly about themselves, not totally impossible to achieve in London W11. I can then covertly mull over the morning’s work. I never work in the afternoon, preferring to go swimming in a local health club, for more mulling as I slowly and happily traverse the pool for 20 minutes. Swimming is the best sport I know for reflecting seriously on history. In the early evening I go back upstairs, but it will be for reading over the day’s pages, and correcting them, rather than something more creative….

The reason that this pattern of work-in-the-morning-only is something so deeply ingrained in me, is that I began trying to write history seriously when I had six children born in 10 years. I have actually written all my life, but history was It. So I devised a way of working like a bat out of hell, or anyway a bat out of the nursery, the moment I could cram the children into cradles, kindergartens, schools … with the wild hope they would stay there. (There are wicked stories of notices on my door saying “Only come in if you have broken something”, which I utterly deny.) Under the circumstances, I never ever suffered from writer’s block.

Today the discipline remains. I still feel odd if I don’t work in the morning, and if I am not alone in the eyrie.

This theme of strict routine as a way of making the most of time that otherwise would be soaked up by kids and chores is one you see with other women writers, like Shirley Jackson. I suppose you could also see it as a way of exerting a measure of control over one’s life and attention– a kid of authorial version of the strategy Janice Radway describes romance readers practicing in Reading the Romance.

Fraser also talks about having “a special computer for work, so that while I’m upstairs I do not receive those delightful distracting emails for which my baser self is secretly longing,” and being  “forced to learn typing on Saturdays at my convent school as a punishment for being uppish,” something that my mother was also forced to learn– though in her case it was so she would have a useful skill and could become a secretary, since that was what high schools girls in the 1950s could look forward to if they weren’t nurses or teachers.

Kazuo Ishiguro on “crash” and writing The Remains of the Day

One of the most popular parts of REST is the chapter on four-hour days, and how lots of writers, artists and others crafted their schedules around those few key hours. (It was excerpted in Nautilus.)

Regent Street at night

However, there are creative people whose day jobs, kids, etc. don’t allow for that kind of rigorous daily practice; and there are times when it feels like a super-concentrated burst of work is what you need to get a project going. The four-hour day is an ideal, and I think even if we can’t adopt it we can learn from it about how to do better work.

Today I ran across a tweet by Dublin-based author Sinéad Gleeson linking to a 2014 Kazuo Ishiguro piece about writing The Remains of the Day. He didn’t write it in four-hour days; in fact, he explicitly rejected that method, in favor of an immersive four-week period that he and his wife called “Crash:”

Many people have to work long hours. When it comes to the writing of novels, however, the consensus seems to be that after four hours or so of continuous writing, diminishing returns set in. I’d always more or less gone along with this view, but as the summer of 1987 approached I became convinced a drastic approach was needed. Lorna, my wife, agreed.

Until that point, since giving up the day job five years earlier, I’d managed reasonably well to maintain a steady rhythm of work and productivity. But my first flurry of public success following my second novel had brought with it many distractions. Potentially career-enhancing proposals, dinner and party invitations, alluring foreign trips and mountains of mail had all but put an end to my “proper” work. I’d written an opening chapter to a new novel the previous summer, but now, almost a year later, I was no further forward.

So Lorna and I came up with a plan. I would, for a four-week period, ruthlessly clear my diary and go on what we somewhat mysteriously called a “Crash”. During the Crash, I would do nothing but write from 9am to 10.30pm, Monday through Saturday. I’d get one hour off for lunch and two for dinner. I’d not see, let alone answer, any mail, and would not go near the phone. No one would come to the house. Lorna, despite her own busy schedule, would for this period do my share of the cooking and housework. In this way, so we hoped, I’d not only complete more work quantitively, but reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one….

I kept it up for the four weeks, and at the end of it I had more or less the entire novel down: though of course a lot more time would be required to write it all up properly, the vital imaginative breakthroughs had all come during the Crash.

It would be interesting to note whether Ishiguro still goes into Crash to write books, or whether that was a one-time thing. (It sounds like it hasn’t been a consistent feature of his working life, but I’m not sure.) I still look back on writing my dissertation as one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, in part because I was simultaneously doing a ton of research, learning how to write something that large, and going through all the work of self-fashioning an academic identity*. In contrast, in some ways writing Distraction Addiction and Rest was a lot easier, because even through I was learning to write in a new way, the fundamental mechanics of writing had long become a sort of muscle memory, and I felt like I had a better handle on what I was doing, and I knew I could learn how to write for this new audience.

Best. Bookstore. In England.

Ishiguro also talks about how a Tom Waite song inspired him to change the end of the story, and to introduce a twist that I find so brilliant and devastating (it remains my favorite of Ishiguro’s books).

The rest of the thread is also worth reading through– lots of other authors replying to talk about their experience.

*Which as a faculty brat was probably a lot easier for me than for other people. My attitude to a secure place in the academic firmament was rather like the one Lady Mary expresses in an episode of Downton Abbey when her fiancé asks, “Where does your class of people get your furniture?” She replies, “I suppose we inherit it.”

Wealth, inequality, populism, and the end of the Roman Republic

This Lawfare podcast with Mike Duncan, author of The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Late Republic, is well worth a listen if you’re interested in how even a very powerful state can be undermined by growing inequality, populism, and political violence.

What caught me was the fact that the competition between the poor— whose formerly stable lives were being upended by land seizures and other changes— were in competition with a growing population of slaves, and that politicians tried to buy off the poor with something that sounds a bit like a combination of universal basic income and distracting entertainment. The parallel between that period and today— when a growing number of us worry about losing our jobs to automation, and when UBI schemes are discussed in both left-wing and right-wing circles— is not perfect, of course, but still worth exploring.

“Accomplishment is the best form of self-affirmation”

My latest interview, a conversation with journalist Kristen Marano in You Inc., was just published:

How do you build yourself up in moments of self-doubt? 

I’ve gone through enough cycles of self-doubt (about a million) to know that they pass eventually, usually in a day or two. To move the cycle along though, it always helps to cross off even small things on my to-do list: return emails, finish some mindless piece of work, even clean the bathroom. Accomplishment is the best form of self-affirmation.

“I have only read the introduction, but have already underlined something on every page.”

Business coach Sue Miley writes about REST, which she discovered through Leader Box.

I am looking forward to digging in to this book. I have studied sleep and how important it is to our health, our mind, and our productivity. This book goes deeper than sleep. It talks about play as a form of rest too. It also gives examples of people who do strenuous adventure type activities as getting incredible rest.

The key message to me, and to you my fellow entrepreneurs, is we have to leave the guilt at the office. To get the benefit of rest, we have to let our mind and soul absorb it.

Hope you enjoy the rest of the book, Sue!

Excerpt from naps chapter of REST

Michael Hyatt (his Leader Box featured REST as one of its two titles this month) has launched a new magazine, and features an excerpt from REST in the first issue.

The excerpt opens with a visit to the Churchill War Rooms, which my wife and I made during a trip to London in 2015. I’d heard that the War Rooms were cool, but as I recall we went there more or less on a whim (or at least it wasn’t a super-high priority); but it turned out to be a pretty revelatory visit.

The exhibits describe the ups and downs of his political career; his indefatigable energy defending Britain and the empire; his eloquence and skill as a writer; his daily life during the war; and his mix of political opportunism, realpolitik, and idealism. But one aspect of his working life gets only a brief mention, at the end of the tour: his habit of taking daily naps.

Churchill himself regarded his midday naps as essential for maintaining his mental balance, renewing his energy, and reviving his spirits. He had gotten into the habit of napping during World War I, when he was First Lord of the Admiralty, and even during the Blitz, Churchill would retire to his private room in the War Rooms after lunch, undress, and sleep for an hour or two. Unless German bombs were falling, he would then head to 10 Downing Street for a bath, change into fresh clothes, and return to work. Churchill’s valet, Frank Sawyers, later recalled, “It was one of the inflexible rules of Mr. Churchill’s daily routine that he should not miss this rest.”

It was also the visit that got me to pay some attention to Churchill’s love of painting. There are a couple panels devoted to his painting, but they were enough to make me track down his book Painting as a Pastime.

"Armed with a paintbox, one cannot be bored"

That, in turn, made its way into my discussion of “deep play” in the book.

I just wish I’d taken more pictures of the War Rooms while I was there, but given that you see everything from behind big plexiglas sheets, most of the space wouldn’t have photographed very well anyway. Instead, here’s another picture of Big Ben.

Big Ben and Parliament

There are also pieces on the value of sabbaticals, the importance of hobbies (hello deep play!), and drivers of overwork. All worth a read.

“Exploitation is encoded into the systems we are building”

Writer and artist James Bridle has a long, but rather amazing and disturbing, piece arguing that “Something is wrong on the internet.” Specifically he’s talking about how kids’ videos on YouTube have turned super-strange and -dark, thanks to the weird profitability of kids’ videos, their low production standards, efforts to hit the right SEO and keyword notes, etc.. The result, he says, is that

Automated reward systems like YouTube algorithms necessitate exploitation in the same way that capitalism necessitates exploitation, and if you’re someone who bristles at the second half of that equation then maybe this should be what convinces you of its truth. Exploitation is encoded into the systems we are building, making it harder to see, harder to think and explain, harder to counter and defend against. Not in a future of AI overlords and robots in the factories, but right here, now, on your screen, in your living room and in your pocket.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the future of automation and work, and whether it’s possible to avoid the kinds of race-to-the-bottom, exterminate-the-worker imperatives that seem to be implicit in so many automation projects today, so this is a bracing argument.

It goes on, after walking through a number of examples of videos that are literally nightmarish:

To expose children to this content is abuse. We’re not talking about the debatable but undoubtedly real effects of film or videogame violence on teenagers, or the effects of pornography or extreme images on young minds, which were alluded to in my opening description of my own teenage internet use. Those are important debates, but they’re not what is being discussed here. What we’re talking about is very young children, effectively from birth, being deliberately targeted with content which will traumatise and disturb them, via networks which are extremely vulnerable to exactly this form of abuse. It’s not about trolls, but about a kind of violence inherent in the combination of digital systems and capitalist incentives. It’s down to that level of the metal.

This, I think, is my point: The system is complicit in the abuse.

And right now, right here, YouTube and Google are complicit in that system. The architecture they have built to extract the maximum revenue from online video is being hacked by persons unknown to abuse children, perhaps not even deliberately, but at a massive scale. I believe they have an absolute responsibility to deal with this, just as they have a responsibility to deal with the radicalisation of (mostly) young (mostly) men via extremist videos — of any political persuasion. They have so far showed absolutely no inclination to do this, which is in itself despicable. However, a huge part of my troubled response to this issue is that I have no idea how they can respond without shutting down the service itself, and most systems which resemble it. We have built a world which operates at scale, where human oversight is simply impossible, and no manner of inhuman oversight will counter most of the examples I’ve used in this essay.

I spent a little time looking at some of these videos, and they are beyond weird. They combine Second Life-level clunky animation; the kinds of repetition that adults find irritating and toddlers love; that distinctive kids’ music; and extremely strange cuts and changes of scene. About four minutes into one of the videos, the scene shifted from a totally anodyne house to a graveyard in which familiar toys sing a song about how sugar is bad, only they have flayed zombie heads; it was exactly the kind of thing that your mind would cook up as a nightmare.

The Chinese cover of REST

REST will be published later this year in Taiwan by Locus Publishing. I just got a copy of the cover, and it looks awesome!

The Chinese edition of REST!

It’s really interesting to me to see how different artists and markets interpret the cover. Almost everyone keeps the deck chair, but it gets rendered in various ways.

REST in the November Leader Box

REST in the wild: From LeaderBox unboxing
(from Twitter)

Leader Box, a new monthly subscription service that selects new books about leadership, just made its first delivery. Rest is one of the first two books!

LeaderBox unboxing: REST in November's box
(from Twitter)

As I’ve said many times, it’s great to see the book in cool places, and to hear from people who find it useful.

LeaderBox quote from REST
(from Twitter)

I’ve only seen the pictures that readers are sharing, but it seems to me that Leader Box has done an outstanding job with the book. Hope people enjoy the book!

“Love Hope Peace” on REST

Australian writer Emma Missen has a good gloss on REST on her Love Hope Peace blog. “There are a lot of important lessons in this book for people who are ambitious, prone to overwork, and perfectionistic – i.e. people like me,” she says. Glad it’s proved useful!

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