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.

Things to do the night before your vacation starts

A good complement to my recent discussion of vacations: this piece on Business Insider on things to do “before you jet off to some sunny shore:”

you need set your affairs in order at work.

The night before your vacation is a crucial time to prepare.

Effective planning will give you peace of mind while you’re catching some rays, and it will prevent problems from cropping up when you drag your sunburnt self back into the office in a few days.

Talking about restful vacations on CBC Ontario Today

Scenes from Kauai

I was on CBC Radio’s call-in show “Ontario Today” earlier today, talking about “The key to a restful vacation.” You can listen here:

It was a fun time for me at least, partly because it involved more interaction with an audience than many radio interviews, and because I actually went into it with a certain amount of apprehension. To be honest, in Rest I have about six pages about vacations, so I was concerned that I’d have enough to say!

Fortunately, guest host Amanda Pfeffer was outstanding, and did a terrific job of guiding the conversation back to the book. I also do a fair amount of prep before these interviews, and now have a decent system for working through my notes and thinking about my responses, as you can see.

HipstaPrint

The Stanford Video folks (who are outstanding– they’re all the kinds of low-key professionals you want to work with during stressful situations, or just during moments when you need to be totally focused and on) keep a sheet music stand in the studio, and I make good use of it.

Beforehand, I’ll take some time to write out some notes, the key ideas I want to repeat or return to, and reminders to keep my answers short, stay on point, and let the host guide things. It’s usually the same set of notes, the same points, and same reminders every time (I am talking about the same book, after all); but it helps to write them out every time, to keep them fresh in my mind.

I also carry a copy of the book into the studio, though frankly I don’t refer to it during a live show– there’s not time to page through it.

You’ll notice a couple post-its, which have the host’s name– you never want to get that wrong– and the schedule for breaks.

I also keep my small notebook handy (in my lap), and write down the names of callers and the main points I want to make in response to their stories or questions. The virtue of this is that if I have only one or two points to make, I’ll make them more quickly if I can write them down and refer to them, and I’m less likely to strike off on some digression. I’m also more likely to get people’s names right if I write them down and can refer to them. Finally, if I can connect points that two callers 40 minutes apart make, I look like A Freaking Genius.

Today’s setup is not unusual for me. I’ve learned that interviews go better if I have some aide-memoire to jog my memory, or anchor the conversation. This was the desk when I was interviewed by Bob Edwards about The Distraction Addiction:

Bob Edwards interview

 

I’m very big on note-taking as a tool for thinking more clearly, as the book below illustrates, so realizing that doing it for interviews would help was a significant thing.

Reading is a martial art, 1

I think I’m getting better at interviews, though it’s like being a musician or teacher: it’s one of those pieces of craft that you can refine and improve for a lifetime. But at least I recognize that it’s a craft, and I’m learning how to build a structure that helps me do well and improve. (So I hope.)

“I no longer let myself be bored. I wondered just how bad that was for a writer—or for any other creative type”

Bay Area author Jordan Rosenfeld as a piece in Quartz about “The scientific link between boredom and creativity:”

As a freelance writer, it made sense that I’d check my email frequently. But I also enjoyed surfing the Internet to break up the dull moments of child-rearing. Checking Facebook was a great way to keep tabs on far-flung friends. Before long, I was never bored: not at the post office, the grocery store, or while getting my oil changed. None of this seemed like a problem—until I noticed a creeping feeling of mental clutter, and a significant decline in my creative writing.

It hit me while I was driving one day: I no longer let myself be bored. I wondered just how bad that was for a writer—or for any other creative type.

Vacations, boredom, and stress: Recent articles and an upcoming radio show

Scenes from Kauai

I like to tell people that the only bad vacation is the one that you don’t take. There’s a ton of research on the benefits of vacations, both in the short run and the long run. But Quartz reports that “Going on vacation is stressful, according to recent surveys of workers:”

A poll of 1,000 UK workers conducted by Britain’s Institute of Leadership and Management noted that just the prospect of an upcoming vacation made 73% of respondents anxious. One 2015 survey from US medical information site Healthline found that 62% of over 2,000 readers who responded had “very or somewhat” elevated stress levels during winter holiday vacations. Finances are a major driver of vacation-related stress: CNV Vakmensen, a trade union in the Netherlands, surveyed its members in 2017, and found that being forced to take vacation at certain points of the year, such as the long summer break when children are out of school, stressed people out. Accommodation and travel options tend to be in higher demand during this time, which raises costs.

Then there’s the disruptions vacation can cause: In 2013, the Huffington Post surveyed 1,000 adult US workers, and found that having to work longer hours in the run-up to a vacation and longer hours afterwards to make up for lost time, stressed out potential vacation-takers.

I’m not going to alter my recommendation, because the virtues of time off from work are in my view way too well-established to argue that the potential stresses of vacations outweigh the gains.

Embankment

Rather than give up vacations, it would be better for us (and for companies) to learn how to deal better with the financial and logistical challenges. If you prospect of getting stuck at the airport or dealign with rental cars stresses you out, or paying for an expensive vacation keeps you up, the solution isn’t to stay at work: instead, it would be better to make more modest plans, but still take the time off.

San Gregorio State Beach

As a parent, I discovered that not being too worried about, or letting myself be too responsible for, my kids’ emotional states was important for me enjoying my vacation. In particular, I decided at a certain point that if my kids were bored, that was their problem; so long as they didn’t break stuff (or each other), they could be bored.

This is one of the big ideas behind Sandhya Nakani’s “Discover the Perfect Gift for Your Kid This Summer,” which applies some of the ideas in REST to kids and vacations. As she rightly notes, when a kid announces that “I’m bored!” it’s partly a declaration, but also “a challenge, with an embedded invitation for me to find something for her to do or to entertain her.” And it’s liberating to realize that it’s not a challenge we have to accept.

We go on in the article to talk about the role boredom and dealign with boredom plays in creative lives, and the role of down-time in kids’ psychological development.

The wave that may have killed my camera

If you want to skip the neuroscience and child psychology and just go for the listicle, I also offer “5 Summer Vacation Tips for Getting Serious About Rest,” starting with “take rest seriously” and ending with “let kids be bored.”

Finally, I’m talking about this tomorrow on “Ontario Today,” a call-in show on CBC Radio. Tune in and call in!

Find the time to give it a rest

Tasmanian newspaper The Mercury has a long piece (“Find the time to give it a rest“) about REST and Robert Dessaix’s fine book The Pleasures of Leisure:

Ever since my artist friend Maria La Grue told me she did her best painting while talking on the phone to a friend I’ve been fascinated by the notion of deliberate distraction and the possibility of achieving one thing while doing something else. Of working at something while not working at it.

This is not just the realm of artists or creative people who rely on letting go so their subconscious can take over. Think of the times you’ve tried to recall the name of a movie, find a lost object or solve a thorny problem. How you struggled for ages, racked your brain, strained your memory, only to have the answer come to you when you’d finally stopped trying and given it a rest.

Seemingly, it’s a bit of the brain we know little about but which in this overworked country is occupying the minds of some of our best thinkers. That is, that we operate at our best, most notably as high achievers, when we regard non-work, or downtime, as just as relevant and important as work itself. And that, rather than being in conflict, work and play are inextricably linked.

I confess I’ve never been to Tasmania– I’ve been to Perth on business, and stopped for a day in Sydney on the way home– but the piece makes me curious about what Hobart is like.

But having Rest there is almost as good. It’s always nice to see the book traveling and being read in places you’ve never been. It’s good for books to have lives of their own. Books are very much extensions of ourselves, but they’re also more than that; they reflect their author’s interests (and limitations), but they also can go in directions and places that we don’t anticipate. They’re a bit like children in that respect: yours but not yours to control, and your responsibility consists of making sure that they’re ready for the world when they leave.

Sailing, science, and the power of deep play

I seem never to have blogged this, but in the June Penn Gazette I have an article about biophysicist Britton Chance, sailing, and deep play. As I explain in the article, I met Chance when I was a graduate student and writing about a laboratory building that he helped design:

He was in his seventies, but still published dozens of papers a year, advised students, and was able to keep several conversations on completely different topics going at once. And as if that weren’t enough, he was also a world-class sailor who had won a gold medal in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

I was impressed and intimidated. I had trouble finishing my weekly reading and doing the laundry, much less excelling in two completely different fields. I didn’t have the nerve to ask how he managed to do so much, or how his lives as a scientist and sailor might have built on each other.

Years later, though, when working on my latest book, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, I discovered that Chance’s dual life was far from unique. His life still seems extraordinary, but not quite as mysterious, and it offers some lessons that even a young graduate student could absorb.

Outside on writers, running, and the importance of deep play

DSCF8749

Outside Online has a new article, “Eight of Our Favorite Writers on Why They Run.” They’re not simply writers who also happen to enjoy a jog; all of them see a connection between running and writing. For example, here’s nonfiction writer Peter Hessler:

I think the mentality is somewhat similar, this sort of persistence-endurance.

I always go into a piece of writing with a plan, an idea of what I want to do, but there are things that come to me as I’m working that I didn’t expect, and I have to be loose and relaxed enough to let those things in. I notice that when I run, my mind is in that place, this sort of very free-flowing, unstructured, unfocused place. For me, it’s part of the whole mental space that’s necessary to write.

Here’s Joyce Carol Oates:

Ideally, the runner who’s a writer is running through the land- and cityscapes of her fiction, like a ghost in a real setting.

The structural problems I set for myself in writing, in a long, snarled, frustrating, and sometimes despairing morning of work, for instance, I can usually unsnarl by running in the afternoon.

They generally don’t try to think about problems when they’re running, but do find it’s useful for jogging (as it were) new ideas or giving their subconscious space to think. As Poet Laureate emeritus Kay Ryan says, “Consciously thinking about what I’ll write is something I rarely do, although I may do some revising of poems in my head when I’m running.” Wired editor Nicholas Thompson says

I do notice that a lot of the best thinking I get done, or ideas generation, or problem solving, happens when I’m running and trying to focus on stuff outside of my head…. I think probably for most things I’ve written or edited, there’s been a key insight that came while I was running.

Running also teaches endurance. Here’s Kay Ryan again:

Both can be hard and unpleasant at times. But of the two, writing is much harder. When you go out for a run, you never fail, but you often fail when you set out to write a poem, even if you try your hardest.

This is not to say that all writers are runners, or vice versa. I for one greatly dislike running. I find it boring and uncomfortable, and far prefer a long walk or hike or bike ride, or a couple circuits with the weight machines.

At the Nike Women's Marathon

But even if you don’t run, the article is still worthwhile because it gives a sense of how for them, running is a kind of deep play, and how deep play is important for their literary lives.

I argue at length in Rest that deep play helps people be more creative, and often seems to extend their creative careers. For some people it’s running; for others, it can be sailing, or gardening, or swimming, or painting (or other things).

What all these activities have in common is that they’re a break from work that can otherwise be unhealthily consuming, but they also sustain a person’s ability to work. They provide a physical respite and mental escape, and the means to work better. And they offer similar kinds of challenges and rewards, in very different contexts.

In today’s world, we often don’t think of hobbies as being very important (side gigs and driving for Uber don’t count); but in fact, finding your own deep play is important for having a more creative life.

Overwork as laziness: My latest pieces for Thrive Global

I’ve got a two-part article on Thrive Global up today, around the concept of overwork as laziness.

We think of overwork as a sign that we’re in-demand, living life to the fullest, fulfilling the Protestant Work Ethic, etc.; and as economists and sociologists have noted, in the last thirty or so years, long hours have even become a status symbol among professionals and better-off workers.

But this is a very new way to think about overwork, as I note in part 1. For a long time, philosophers and theologians (ranging from the Roman Stoic Seneca to German theologian Josef Pieper) warned that overwork was a kind of laziness.

And it’s one we should abandon. In fact, as I explain in part 2, some smart companies are already doing that. They’re scaling back on working hours, and their leaders are motivated to do that in part because they’ve come to see overwork as a signal of organizational failure– not a sign that you’ve got highly-motivated employees who want to Crush It, but that you’ve got managers who don’t know how to plan and prioritize.

Get Brainwashed: Talking about work and rest with Brainwash.nl

When I was in Amsterdam, I took some time to do an interview with the Web magazine Brainwash about REST, work in contemporary society, and creativity. The first section of the interview is now up.

In this section I talk about busyness, why it’s so pervasive and persistent, and how Western thinkers used to consider busyness a kind of moral failing or sloth (channeling the great Josef Pieper and his book Leisure the Basis of Culture).

I think another section will be up in the near future!

How good a model is Darwin (or Jefferson, or Hemingway)?

Every now and then a reader suggests that some of the people I talk about in REST aren’t good role models because they were either bad people, or tainted by their wealth and privilege. For example, Luis Villa tweeted this response to my Nautilus piece, “Darwin Was a Slacker and You Should Be Too”:

And Villa’s objection that isn’t just about the practicality of learning from people who have the freedom to spend their time the way they want, nor is it just a moral objection:

(I include screenshots here because I can’t get the embeds to work.)

I thought a fair amount when writing Rest about the question of the utility of past lives as models for our own, and this was a more pressing question when talking about the importance about rest because there are plenty of examples of people whose opportunities to rest depend on appropriating the labor of others.

This is not to say that I always made the right call, or one that can’t be challenged; but it is to say that I did think seriously about it. Here’s my reasoning.
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