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)


(From the Happinez Festival, September 2017)

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, including Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and Turkish.

I also have a masterclass on “The Power of Rest” on the Calm app.

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.

Chinese Academy of Social Sciences proposes a 4-day, 36-hour workweek

According to a story in the China Daily, “the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences proposed revising the national work schedule in 2030 to nine hours a day and four days a week.”

For a long time I thought that the 4-day week was mainly a Western, and particularly European, phenomenon, but clearly there’s more to it than that. I recently wrote about Japanese company Zozo and its 30-hour week, and there are a number of other Japanese companies that offer 10-hour, 4-day weeks for employees.

And of course, some of the most overworked countries in the world are in Asia, and they recognize that the costs are now outweighing the benefits. China shifted to a 5-day workweek in the 1990s, South Korea recently passed legislation limiting the workweek to 52 hours (with very mixed results), and the Japanese have struggled for years with this. So it makes sense that these experiments would be happening in Asian countries, too.

According to the Shenzhen Daily, the CASS has a pretty detailed timeline for how this would work:

China should experiment with a four-day (36 hours) workweek in large and medium-sized State-owned enterprises in East China from 2020 to 2025, the newly released report said.

From 2025 onwards, a four-day (36 hours) workweek can be implemented in certain industries in the central and eastern regions.

And from 2030 onwards, Chinese people should be able to take three days of rest for every four working days.

However, the China Daily article also notes that the comments on social media haven’t all been positive; in fact, the general reaction has been skeptical. Why is that?

The answer lies in their anxieties about an uncertain future. As capital gets increasingly more accumulated, ordinary workers, blue-collar and white-collar alike, face the sad and cold fact that unemployment is likely to rise. Many people face the risk of losing their jobs to artificial intelligence and automation.

That’s why many people are rather worried about their futures.

To solve this, the key lies in promoting the idea of “rest”. The right to rest and the right to labor must be protected together so that people can be more certain about their future.

Thinking about work and rest together. Now that’s an idea I can get behind.

「休みは仕事の戦略だ」: Talking about rest in Asahi Globe

The Asahi Globe, the Asahi Shinbun’s weekend magazine, has a special section on rest that features a profile of me, or at least a picture of me sleeping in the hammock in the backyard.

That sweater, incidentally, is one that I bought at the Happinez festival last year, and has become one of my favorites. It’s made from recycled jeans material, and is amazingly comfortable and great to write in, especially in the Bay Area. (As Jenna Maroney said on the 30 Rock, “Have fun always carrying a light sweater” when you move to the Bay Area.)

Listening to “A 4-Day Week: The Time is Now!” Session at The World Transformed

In September, there was an interesting session on the four-day week at The World Transformed, an event in Liverpool that sounds like a fringe festival paralleling the UK Labour Party annual conference. It’s now up on Sound Cloud, and is worth a listen. (The embed below should start right at the beginning of the session; if not, run up to 4:35.)

It’s very much a policy discussion, which makes sense given the context, so some of the concerns— how the four-day week could be legislated, the virtues of it versus universal basic income, etc.— are ones that I’m not focusing on. But the speakers are quite good!

However, I do think that there’s a risk with these policy discussions of the four-day week being cast as something that the state does to businesses, or merely a concession that’s wrung out of capital by politicians aligned with labor, rather than something that businesses do for themselves, for quite compelling and practical reasons. This does turn the four-day week from something that 

You could argue that this drains the potential radicalism from the four-day week, that talking about it as a way of boosting retention, or standing out in the market, or building a more sustainable business, turns it into a managerial technique for propping up the current system, rather than a tool to be used to build something new. But I would argue two things.

First, there’s a lot of value in recognizing that this shouldn’t be an abstract argument about whether we could move to a four-day week, but rather an argument about why the companies that are already doing it are succeeding, and how their lessons can be generalized.

Second, revolutionary changes in business, science and the arts often start out very modestly. As Isaac Asimov put it, the most exciting phrase in science is not “Eureka,” but “That’s funny.” What he meant is that revolutions usually start off as explorations of anomalies, and only over time do they turn into something bigger. Likewise, modern architecture didn’t emerge full-fledged from the minds of Gropius and Corbusier as an assault on academic historical design: it evolved gradually, driven mainly by the needs of factories and railroads and inexpensive yet sanitary urban housing. I see something similar with the four-day week: the people who trial it don’t see themselves as challenging the fundamental assumptions of neoliberalism and the 21st-century culture of work, but that’s where they end up.

“We converted 20% less work into 50% more weekend:” Australian company Icelab’s four-day workweek

There’s a classic (classic among grad students, anyway) Matt Groening cartoon about graduate school:

At the risk of being the person who reads another book in order to avoid finishing, I want to flag yet another company that’s been doing four-day weeks for years: Australian Web and interface design company Icelab.

Last year, Icelab founder (and ex-philosophy graduate student!) Michael Honey wrote a piece explaining how they decided to move to four-day weeks. As he tells the story, the move to shorter hours happened gradually after the company’s founding in 2006:

We started the company [Icelab], two of us in a room, working five eight-hour days, and late if we had to: the same hours we were used to at the advertising agency we’d just left, scrounging for work, taking what we could get.

Little by little we got better at what we did, and after two or three years we’d improved our skills and our processes, grown to five people, and we were in a position to do something with that productivity. So we started taking Fridays off.

At first, they worked 10-hour days, Monday through Thursday, but

After six months or so we said stuff it: let’s just do four normal eight-hour days. Thirty-two hours, not forty. And it worked. 

We seemed to get the same amount done as we did before, only now our partners liked us better and we got to see the daylight. We turned some of that productivity into time. We converted 20% less work into 50% more weekend.

According to a 2011 newspaper article, the company moved to four-day weeks in 2008, making them one of the longest-running four-day week companies I’ve found so far.

In an interview with acidlabs founder Steven Collins, he adds to the story:

After having worked for three or four years as regular five-day a week sort of company, not having to do any overnighters, which was appreciated by myself, we made a decision to go to a four day week… We realised that we weren’t getting a lot of extra value out of the couple of hours extra we were theoretically working. So we just stopped doing it, we just decided we’ll work four normal days.

This is similiar to what I heard in a number of interviews, including the ones I did in Europe earlier this month: Fridays are already kind of a lost day, so why not figure out how to eliminate them entirely?

Of course, I far prefer to hear about these companies before I finish the book, rather than after, especially if they’ve been doing it successfully for years. There’s been a quite revolution in work happening for years now, playing out in companies around the world, and it’s time for them to be introduced to a wider audience. And their success raises a question for companies that are struggling to improve engagement, work-life balance, and retain better workers; why aren’t you doing this, too?

Is the biggest company experimenting with 30-hour weeks in… Japan?

I’m still very much trying to track this down, but a friend pointed me to an article in Bloomberg about Yusaku Maezawa, the Japanese billionaire who founded online clothing company Zozo, and who recently made a small splash for buying a ride on Elon Musk’s still-to-be-built spaceship. He sounds like a fascinating guy:

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa says working less, not more, is the reason why he’s been able to build an $8.4 billion company, become a major force in the art world and land a ticket on Elon Musk’s rocket to the moon…. [Maezawa] goes to the office three to four days a week, for a maximum of six hours at a time. The short workday is the reason for the success of Zozo, where he also encourages employees to work more efficiently and find inspiration outside the office.

And he’s not the only one at the company who works less than the Japanese average of 168 hours per week.

“Our employees began working differently under the program: they stopped wasteful activities, wasteful conversations, wasteful meetings. As a result, they could concentrate more, be more productive, and actually go home after six hours,” Maezawa told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo, where he held a news conference to answer questions about the lunar trip.

Zozo, which changed its name this month from Start Today, embraced six-hour workdays in 2012, a spokeswoman said, adding that each department tweaks its implementation. She said the idea of working intensely over fewer hours is a core principle of the company’s culture. As of March, the company had about 1,000 employees.

I haven’t yet been able to reach people at the company, but I definitely want to learn more about their six-hour day. With a thousand employees, they may be the biggest company in the world who’s adopted a six-hour day.

Adam Smith disliked overwork

Adam Smith's tomb
Adam Smith’s tomb, Edinburgh

The report from The Mix about its four-day week had a quote from Adam Smith that “the man who works so moderately as to be able to work constantly not only preserves his health the longest, but, in the course of the year, executes the greatest quantity of work.”

Naturally, I had to track the quote down, and it’s from The Wealth of Nations, in the chapter “On the Wages of Labour.” I’ve added some paragraph breaks to make it a bit easier to read, but here’s the relevant section:

The liberal reward of labour, as it encourages the propagation, so it increases the industry of the common people. The wages of labour are the encouragement of industry, which, like every other human quality, improves in proportion to the encouragement it receives. A plentiful subsistence increases the bodily strength of the labourer, and the comfortable hope of bettering his condition, and of ending his days perhaps in ease and plenty, animates him to exert that strength to the utmost. Where wages are high, accordingly, we shall always find the workmen more active, diligent, and expeditious than where they are low: in England, for example, than in Scotland; in the neighbourhood of great towns than in remote country places. Some workmen, indeed, when they can earn in four days what will maintain them through the week, will be idle the other three.

This, however, is by no means the case with the greater part. Workmen, on the contrary, when they are liberally paid by the piece, are very apt to overwork themselves, and to ruin their health and constitution in a few years. A carpenter in London, and in some other places, is not supposed to last in his utmost vigour above eight years. Something of the same kind happens in many other trades, in which the workmen are paid by the piece, as they generally are in manufactures, and even in country labour, wherever wages are higher than ordinary. Almost every class of artificers is subject to some peculiar infirmity occasioned by excessive application to their peculiar species of work. Ramuzzini, an eminent Italian physician, has written a particular book concerning such diseases.

We do not reckon our soldiers the most industrious set of people among us. Yet when soldiers have been employed in some particular sorts of work, and liberally paid by the piece, their officers have frequently been obliged to stipulate with the undertaker, that they should not be allowed to earn above a certain sum every day, according to the rate at which they were paid. Till this stipulation was made, mutual emulation and the desire of greater gain frequently prompted them to overwork themselves, and to hurt their health by excessive labour.

Excessive application during four days of the week is frequently the real cause of the idleness of the other three, so much and so loudly complained of. Great labour, either of mind or body, continued for several days together, is in most men naturally followed by a great desire of relaxation, which, if not restrained by force or by some strong necessity, is almost irresistible. It is the call of nature, which requires to be relieved by some indulgence, sometimes of ease only, but sometimes, too, of dissipation and diversion. If it is not complied with, the consequences are often dangerous, and sometimes fatal, and such as almost always, sooner or later, brings on the peculiar infirmity of the trade.

If masters would always listen to the dictates of reason and humanity, they have frequently occasion rather to moderate than to animate the application of many of their workmen. It will be found, I believe, in every sort of trade, that the man who works so moderately as to be able to work constantly not only preserves his health the longest, but, in the course of the year, executes the greatest quantity of work.

Great!

The Mix’s report on four-day weeks

Scenes from London

One of the places I visited in London during my recent recent trip was The Mix, a research consultancy founded in 2012. Almost exactly a year ago, they transitioned to a four-day workweek, and have had a great experience with it.

To mark the anniversary, they released a report (coauthored with Strategy of Mind) about their four-day week, which you can download here.

It’s quite good, and I say that as someone who knows a LOT about this subject now (thanks entirely to lots of very smart and dedicated people sharing their stories with me).

The Labour Party talks about four-day weeks

More from London
The City, from the 6th floor of Shoreditch House

While I was in England, interviewing companies about how they implement and manage their four-day weeks, the UK’s Labour Party started talking about them too:

The Labour Party says it will look at the option of introducing a four-day working week if it gets into government.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the party would consider reducing the working week.

Speaking on BBC One’s Sunday Politics, he said: “We work the longest hours in Europe yet we’re less productive.

“The Germans and French produce in four days what we produce in five and yet we work the longest hours.

“We’ll look at the working week because I think people are working too long.”

The fact that this is starting to attract attention among serious political figures is, I think, a very hopeful development.

The slow but essential work of transcribing interviews

Doing interviews with my new recorder, and taking pictures of sites I’m visiting with my trusty Fuji XE-1.
Interviewing Stuart Ralston, owner and head chef at Aizle, Edinburgh

The last several days I’ve been working through the hours of interviews I conducted on the road, editing reviewing and editing transcripts, and sending them out to people for review and editing and approval.

This has been work I’ve done my entire scholarly and professional career. When I was researching my senior thesis, on electrical engineering at MIT between the world wars, I spent many nights sitting in my summer rental on the edge of the MIT campus, listening to interviews on a cassette tape, transcribing them on a typewriter (a couple of the interviews are in the MIT archives). This is what I did instead of hanging out.

It’s slow work, but it’s essential. Reviewing the transcripts let me get reacquainted with conversations, identify those parts that I’ll later want to quote, and look at the overall structure of the conversation to see if there are themes that people bring up that I hadn’t noticed before.

Of course, they’re all answering questions that I ask, but it’s also important to listen for the things that people bring up on their own. Given how much of my work relies on interviews, this is a step I can never afford to ignore.

Fortunately, I recently stumbled on a new transcription service called Otter.ai (I believe they’re located somewhere here in Silicon Valley).

Scenes from Shoreditch

Otter is pretty good at identifying specific words (though it does make systematic errors, particularly when it’s dealing with Scottish or English accents), but it struggles with sentences, and paragraphs are hopeless. But I don’t think these are flaws in the program; rather, it reveals is how people hardly speak in sentences, and almost never speak in complete paragraphs. I have to decide where one thought ends and another begins, and make a decision about whether to start a new sentence, or create a new paragraph. That’s all editorial judgment on my part; rarely is it something signaled by the transcript itself.

The good news is, the interviews are as detailed as I remember, I managed to get good recordings of all but one (damn 2 GB card), and so it’s all worth that’s worthwhile, and will go a long way to letting me finish what feels more and more like my most important book yet.

Hello from London, and the world of 4-day workweeks

Scenes from London

I’ve been terribly remiss in blogging, because I’ve been on the road since the end of September, appearing at a couple events and doing research for my next book, on how companies move to 4-day weeks without sacrificing productivity or profitability.

It’s been a spectacularly useful trip, if rather long. It started with several days at the FOLIO literary festival in Óbidos, Portugal.

Scenes around Óbidos.

Óbidos is a little medieval town, complete with big walls and a castle, and is a wonderfully intimate location for a literary festival.

Edinburgh

After that, it was up to Scotland, where I interviewed companies in Glasgow and Edinburgh. I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time there as I would have liked— I always love Edinburgh, and think I’d really like Glasgow if I got to know it.

From there, it was on to Copenhagen.

Scenes from Copenhagen

Copenhagen is another of my favorite cities, though it’s beauty is more domestic and functional than dramatic: it’s beautiful because everything is so well-designed and proportioned, not because it aims to knock you senseless.

By now, the trip is looking like the worst solution to the traveling salesman problem ever proposed!

Finally, it was back to London, with a brief overnight in Gloucester.

More from London

I did a ton of interviews with company heads and employees at companies that are now running 4-day weeks, mainly by figuring out ways to make their work more productive, so they’re working 30- or 32-hour weeks rather than 40 (or more).

Scenes from London

I also put in an appearance at the SOMNEX sleep tech show in Shoreditch, which is a neighborhood I’d never before visited, and which is really great.

Scenes from Shoreditch

The place is, as one of my colleagues put it, the world’s biggest Instagram backdrop, and is filled with amazing street art.

Scenes from Shoreditch.

I think I could do a talk consisting of nothing but images of graffiti, posters, and signage from around Brick Lane Road.

Scenes from Shoreditch

It was a terrific trip, and I got a tremendous amount done (which I describe in detail to my newsletter readers). But after almost three weeks away from my family and dogs, I’m glad to be heading home!

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