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.

“I need you to be great for 48 hours, then I need you to go and forget about this:” Ben Shewry on changing the culture of cooking

Ben Shewry talks with food journalist Lisa Abend at the 2018 MAD symposium about becoming a chef, and fighting back against the culture of overwork and harassment:

He starts talking about going to work at Attica around 13:40. At 18:20, Abend directs the conversation toward the changes he’s made in hiring practices; the big impact of having everyone give talks about themselves; the challenge of making it possible for people to come forward with problems; and shortening the hours (from about 37:30).

Here’s what Shewry says about shorter hours (I’ve taken the closed caption transcript that’s automatically generated by YouTube, and cleaned it up a little):

Lisa Abend: …Has it affected quality? do you feel like you’re a less lesser restaurant at the level of cuisine because of it?

Ben Shewry: No I think I mean we’ve— we are working at most 48 hours in the kitchen or less in the front of house at most 45 hours or less— that’s across four days in the kitchen, so they have the staff has three days off. [applause]

I mean the quality is better than ever. Like there’s just no comparison you know? What I’m asking for– I’m not talking about being all lovey-dovey and being soft as some people have have accused me of. You know, that’s not what it is. It’s like, I don’t need 48 hours, I need an elite 48 hours from you, you know? I need you to be great for 48 hours, then I need you to go and forget about this, and have a great life, and concentrate on some stuff that’s good for you. Have breakfast with your boyfriend or your girlfriend or your wife, or you know— like, whatever. Like I don’t care. Please just don’t– don’t be here.

And at the start of this we literally had to police it. Like I’m there first, same time as Carly, and we see in the camera staff coming like two hours before their shift. Literally we have to go out there and say, “Go away!” Like, “You can’t be here! You know, like, your shift is not starting so please— go away, have a coffee, I don’t care.” And so it was a really big cultural shift for them as well, because they never ever work like this, you know? They— they always sort of—  Everybody subscribes to this, “You’ve got to do the hours,” you know, “You just got to do the hours, otherwise you’re not hardcore,” you know, which is such nonsense! What about if you did less hours, and you did them a lot better, you know?

I think there’s something in that, and there definitely is something in that at Attica. That’s how it is, and the food is better than it was. But the culture, particularly the environment, the atmosphere, is like the best of all time, you know.

And that’s not to say that– I’m not sitting here saying well we’re perfect, and that, you know, we live in a bubble, that we aren’t affected by everything the same as you guys are affected by… But the culture is excellent, you know, and and people are, like, genuinely happy and they can do things. They can get a haircut, you know?

What becomes really clear is that the transition to 4-day weeks is part of a much bigger set of changes that he’s made to the culture of restaurant since buying Attica in 2015. Abend does a fabulous job in the conversation of showing how the drive to shorter hours is, for Shewry, part of a bigger effort to create a more humane and empathetic and creative workplace: that fundamentally, if you want to treat people well while also demanding a lot from them on the job, you have to let them have their own lives in exchange.

There’s also some very insightful stuff about gender, working hours, and working conditions, and how reducing hours– and more broadly, making a more humane culture– makes it easier for women cooks to do their work and also manage family obligations.

Sherry’s impatience with the idea that you have to be an abusive person to be a creative genius– or that genius gives you permission to be terrible– is palpable, and hard-won.

It’s really worth listening to the whole thing.

Some of the World’s Best Restaurants are Learning to Rest

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-baub6-9a414a

Cooking at elite restaurants is one of the most creatively and physically demanding jobs in the world. You’re constantly experimenting with new combinations of foods, looking for unusual and imaginative juxtapositions; reinventing ways of preparing familiar dishes; even developing new cooking methods (hello sous vide!). They have to turn creative breakthroughs into viable products: they must take something that took weeks to develop, and turn it into a dish that can be prepared by chefs on the line, night after night. Their work is open-ended: the quest for new dishes and ingredients and ways of cooking never stops. 

Cooking also demands perfection, minute after minute, day after day. It’s physically and mentally exhausting; you’re working in a high-stress atmosphere. The industry gives a lot of power to chefs who are visionaries, and some of them use that freedom to be imaginative, inquisitive, curious, and perfectionist; others just turn difficult, demanding, and even abusive. It’s also a field that has more than its share of burnout, substance abuse, and other problems.

So it’s been fascinating to discover that some of the best restaurants in the world have recently started implementing 4-day weeks, hiring more staff to give cooks and staff more time off, and limiting working hours. In this episode, I draw on talks given by Maaemo chef Esben Holmoe Bang and Faviken chef Magnus Nilsson at the 2017 Food on the Edge conference in Galway, the explore this trend. It’s a fascinating part of the story of shortening working hours, and a real inspiration.

Somehow I missed the pun “putting the REST in ‘restaurant’.” Oh well, the moment has passed.

Discussed in this Episode:

“It was really unfair that we were being pushed out of the business that we love… because some other people long before us had constructed a system that was broken:” elite restaurants are taking rest seriously

Edinburgh

A few months ago, I came across an article about an Edinburgh restaurant that shifted to a four-day schedule. A couple days ago, I saw the article again in my notes, and thought to myself, I wonder if there any other restaurants adopting shorter hours?

I wrote a little bit about Ferran Adria and his legendary restaurant El Bulli in REST, and restaurants are an interesting case study for me because of the  working-class yet elite culture, the long hours, the perfectionist workaholism, and the demand (among a certain kind of restaurant at least) to be constantly innovative. (Other people do such a great job of talking about working moms and families, I have to stick to my lane, which seems to be Nobel and Michelin star winners.)

My first dinner in Cambridge

Anyway, a little bit of digging turned up a very interesting fact: there’s a global movement among restaurants to shorten working hours.

The mechanics are different than the other companies I’ve been studying, in part because the restaurant industry is so extreme in its work habits. The environment can run to the difficult, exploitative, and abusive, which makes it easy for people to be exploited. Kitchens at elite restaurants are demanding, competitive places, and competing over how long you can work is common. There’s a long history of elite chefs essentially being educated in kitchens– Jamie Oliver, Noma chef Rene Redzepi, and Attica chef Ben Shewry all left school at 15 and went to work– and the assumption is the more you do and the more hours you work, the steeper your learning curve. 

As a result, six-day weeks and twelve-hour days are common. So moving to a five-day week or a 48-hour week may not seem like a lot, but among chefs it’s pretty radical.

Spiced duck with plum, grilled vegetables and potato

Not surprisingly, you see the trend most clearly at elite restaurants, which are already known for reinventing cooking and dining, can sell out their reservation books in minutes (yes, there are people who will arrange a vacation to Denmark or Sweden around a dinner at Noma or Fäviken); but they’re also places that can have even more extreme cults of personality– the celebrity chef is now part brand, part genius, part viral TED talk– and attract sous chefs who want to launch their own careers, so they could just as easily make exploitation and long hours central to their business model.

But you also see it as less well-known places, like Edinburgh’s Aisle, the Raby Hunt in Darlington, Sat Bains in Nottingham, Enoteca Sociale in Toronto, and Model Milk in Calgary– a mix of places that have solid location reputations, and ones with a Michelin star or two.

The subject of working hours also got onto the agenda at Food on the Edge 2017, a Galway Ireland conference about the restaurant industry. Here’s Esben Holmoe Bang talking about how his Oslo restaurant Maaemo (one of the restaurants that people organize vacations around) moved to a three-day workweek:

They started shortening the workweek after labor inspectors got on their case about working hours (they made the mistake of accurately accounting for their hours, rather than being as creative with their accounting as they are with their cuisine), and went to a four-day week. At first, Bang says, “I was very nervous, because I think cooking is about connecting to what you do. And if you’re not there, you’re definitely not connected to what you do.”

But he quickly saw that

They were happy when they walked through the door. They were energized, excited. And we said, Wait, wait a minute. Maybe we’re onto something here.

Interestingly, some of his employees were skeptical, especially when they moved from a four-day week to three days: they said, “Look, we travel to come to Norway and work this restaurant… What’s the point if we were only going to be here three days a week?”

But they all discovered that there were benefits:

If we thought they were energized on the four day, on the three days were looking like ******* Duracell rabbits coming through the door. You know, they were coming in, guys were coming in full of energy, wanting to crush it every single day….

So we started making sure we organize trips to farms to this to go out to visit fishermen travel around Norway, because most of our staff travel to Norway from somewhere. So we started doing trips, kill some reindeers, drink some reindeer blood, you know do all those things…. The staff had time to do it. And they wanted to do it because we try to do it before and the people work five, six days a week. And they say right on your day off, man. We’re gonna say let’s go milk some cows, man…. So now, there’s this, there’s this hunger for more, which I think is amazing.

Not only did they have more energy on the job, they also had more opportunity to do things that taught them about Norway and Norwegian culture and cuisine– which is really important when you work at a restaurant that sees itself as reinventing a region’s cuisine.

More broadly, the experience has made him rethink some of the basics of the culture of cooking:

I think it’s a crazy notion that we, as cooks, focus so much on sustainability, but we kind of forget ourselves in it….

I can’t, you can’t, I can’t demand of people to like, forget their lives, basically forget who they are, and all they can identify with is this dream that I created, basically, you know what I mean?…

All I want to say is this obsession of ours, let’s make it healthy guys, you know, let’s not kill ourselves in the process. Let’s make sure we can last the long run. Let’s not do our five years or 10 years, or whatever it is, and then we got back problems, or we got psychological problems so we have to stay out of the business, which happens so much. Let’s try and see if we can make this business sustainable for ourselves.

The next day, Magnus Nilsson, the founder of Faviken, talked about how he reduced working hours at his company by growing the staff:

Nilsson talks about his own desire to have a more balanced life than some chefs, but I thought this part, where he talks about realizing that they had to change how they worked or everyone was going to burn out, was really striking:

Karin and Jesper, who were the people who’d worked longest with me, they were beginning to see problems with the way we ran our business. We saw that it was just not going to be able to continue the way it was, partly because we didn’t want it to, because we wanted another part of life as well, but also because it wasn’t sustainable with the staff. It just wasn’t. 

When we really decided we had to change, and we had this meeting where we sat down and tried to visualize where we were going to be in 5 years, none of us, none of the three people who mattered most to faviken, could see ourselves working at faviken, the way did then five years down the line. That’s when we really understood that we had to change.

It started from kind of selfish reasons— we wanted to make change for ourselves, to better our everyday life and our existence— but we quickly realized that running a place like Faviken, it would be a terrible thing if you ran a profitable business where you exploit your team in order to make it better for yourself to the degree we wanted to do. [ed: This is a stunningly Nordic perspective; in America, we would call this attitude “everything they teach in business school.”] So we kind of turned it around and said, all of the changes we wanted to do they have to apply to everyone, they have to be the same premises.

We really felt it was really unfair that we were being pushed out of the business that we love, and that we were pretty good at after having trained many years, simply because some other people long before us had constructed a system that was broken, and that we really couldn’t affect in the way we wanted to.

Nilsson also talks about the creative benefits of this approach. He compares Faviken to the sushi restaurant in the movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and how Jiro dedicated himself to perfecting a very specific kind of food– essentially mastering a well-known way of preparing food. This, Nilsson says, isn’t how he cooks, and he needs a different kind of life to do the work he really wants to do:

Creativity is the subconscious human process when our minds put bits and pieces of what we have with us together into new combinations that might prove useful somehow. And if you isolate yourself, and you limit yourself, and limit the amount of impressions that you can take in, then naturally the toolbox for creative combinations and new things to happen will be smaller. And I felt that aside from the human side, i didn’t want this to happen either.

To create the kinds of surprising new dishes that he’s famous for, in other words, he can’t just stay in the kitchen; he needs time to do other things, like work in the garden and travel.

The idea that serious chefs will use their extra time to do things that help them learn about food, or broaden their knowledge, and that saner hours can make them better chefs, is also echoed by Ben Shewry, the head chef at Attica in Melbourne, Australia. (This New York Times article explains what makes Attica special.) He talks about moving to a 48-hour week in an Instagram post in 2017:

We’ve built the restaurant on the values of questioning everything, EVERYTHING. This year I feel we took a major leap forward in the development of our culture by putting the young men and woman who work in our kitchens on a 48 hour weekly roster. 4 days on, 3 days off.

Are the old ways of flogging yourself and having no life outside of the kitchen right? In my opinion no. Do I regret working the hours I have? No, however there wasn’t another option.

Changing the roster structure to accomodate the fact that cooks are humans, not machines and indeed can have lives as well has been cathartic for not only the team but also the business. We get an elite 48 hours out of each one of them and all of our cooks can work on multiple sections at any given moment, becoming multi skilled in the process.

It might sound like an odd thing to say but many Chefs don’t learn how to cook properly at fine dining restaurants. You get stuck on a section, you pick a ton of herbs and plate tons of beautiful looking food but often you don’t get into the real depths of cooking hard. It is very important to me that our cooks to leave here with the ability to cook properly.

So this is a really positive development, and I hope to see it spread.

Doing what you love doesn’t mean being consumed by it

This morning I saw this tweet by Brooklyn-based illustrator Adam Kurtz:

(And yes, I took a screenshot of the tweet rather than figure out how to embed it. I’m in a hurry. Don’t @ me.)

This brings to mind William Davies’ excellent work about the weaponization of positive psychology (and wellness and yoga) in the workplace, and how the idea that you should “do what you love” can easily be turned against you by unscrupulous or manipulative bosses, and can lead people to take risks that are very unlikely to pan out, or make career and work decisions that are unwise. It’s a pervasive idea; according to some critics, it’s even what drives Pixar movies

One problem is that passion, and even ability, don’t guarantee success. Even in a completely meritocratic system, if there are more people who are capable and qualified and passionate about their work than their are jobs, some people are never going to get jobs. The academic job market is a perfect example: there simply aren’t enough jobs for everyone who is super-qualified, would do a great job, and happily do it for the rest of their lives. Passion doesn’t change that, and enthusiasm doesn’t make up for the disadvantages you have if you’re changing careers or don’t have well-cultivated professional networks. (However, belief that you should be passionate about your work can discourage women from working.) 

https://flic.kr/p/7VkiCo

Just as there may be more qualified people than there are positions for them (whether this is in the professions, or in the culture industry), so too is there a lot of great work out there that’s competing for readers’ and listeners’ and viewers’ attention. It’s easy for fabulous work to get buried, or never given a “fair” chance at finding its audience. Sometimes it takes ages for work to be recognized. And there’s always more coming.

When I was in London this summer, I made a habit of going into bookstores and looking for copies of Rest.

https://flic.kr/p/28xzTEf

I was lucky to find them prominently displayed in some bookstores (Waterstones was especially good about putting it where readers were likely to stumble across it), but I was also struck at HOW MANY BOOKS THERE ARE IN THE WORLD. You’re lucky anybody ever reads you.

https://flic.kr/p/6YZEgR
A bookstore in Vienna

Another problem is that it often assumes that creative work is a kind of titanic struggle involving unruly, chaotic forces. Call this the “agony and the ecstasy” model. In order to do good work, you have to allow yourself to be taken over by muses that are likely to disrupt, and possibly destroy, your life. In the end you might survive, and you might be famous; there’s even the very remote chance that both will happen.

https://flic.kr/p/28fZAS2
REST on the table in Waterstones, near University College, London

But “doing what you love” doesn’t have to mean living without boundaries, or entering into a race between creativity and self-destruction.

One of the big lessons I learned from the people I write about in Rest is that some of the most successful, ambitious, and creative people work hard to put boundaries around their time and their work, and I sense they do this partly out of self-preservation, and partly out of strategic calculation. They recognize that they could enter that arms race, and some in their earlier lives did work that way. But lots of them recognize that their creative drive could just as easily drive over them as make something new.

https://flic.kr/p/bJRfag
“Always scribble scribble scribble, eh, Mr. Gibbon?”

They also calculate that they’ll be able to do better work, for longer, if they don’t treat love and passion as things that have to be unruly, or impulsive. They treat love of their work as a river, not a flood— that is to say, a source of constant energy, rather than something that could drown them.

https://flic.kr/p/PteAUv
Charles Darwin’s Sandwalk, where he would go after working in the morning

Daily routines, rituals for starting and stopping work, and especially periods of deliberate rest play a critical role in channeling that energy. They make it possible to stop work, because you don’t have to worry so much that if you do you’ll lose the next good idea. They have the added benefit of creating more time and more opportunity for having good ideas, for actually becoming more creative and having a more sustainable creative life.

Learning to not take rejection so personally, or other setback so personally, is another important kind of boundary-setting. Indeed, as I’m discovering, it’s just as essential.

We think that the publishing industry’s business is to manufacture and sell books. And yes, it does that. But from an author’s point of view, what the industry mainly does is manufacture rejection.

You know those stories about how Melville or JK Rowling got dozens of rejections, or how Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was read by twenty editors before finally being accepted? That’s the norm. When we were selling The Distraction Addiction and Rest, I got dozens of rejections.

Ultimately, though, all the rejections put together don’t matter as much as the one yes.

In fact, selling a book is like dating. Yes, you get tons of rejections, people who don’t think you’re right for them, and probably a few jerks. But they’re not as important as the person who says yes.

https://flic.kr/p/2aKmMUd
Outside King’s College

And maybe that’s an important lesson. Loving your work is like being married. Neither relationships nor creative lives (which is another kind of relationship) are sustained by impetuosity and impulse and self-destructive behavior. Both require a passion that is strong, but also steady. I think everyone can intuit that a couple who stays together for fifty years is more of a success, and has to develop and draw on different resources, than one who spends a wild weekend together then splits after a huge fight.

Putting boundaries around your passion for your work doesn’t indicate that you’re not serious. It shows that you care. It shows that you’re in it for the long run.

The school day-workday mismatch

Getting the classroom ready

The Atlantic has an article asking “Why Does the School Day End 2 Hours Before the Workday?”

Across the country, parents are struggling to balance their busy work routine with their children’s school schedule. Both parents work in half of married-couple families, and 70 percent of them work from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., a reality that leaves most families to contend with at least a two-hour gap between when school ends and when the workday ends…. This mismatch between school and workday, a relic of a bygone era and outdated family norms, has left parents and school districts scrambling to find a solution.

Filling this gap can cost families thousands of dollars a year in tuition to after-school programs or payments to child care providers. It can force women to shift to part-time work rather than full-time.

“We often think about this as a problem every family faces, and it just happens over and over again in this systemic way: The mother cuts back on her hours for when school is closed,” said Catherine Brown, an education-policy researcher at the Center for American Progress. “Why do we have a wage gap? Partially it’s because of this, I believe.”

Getting the classroom ready

A 6-hour day can start at 8 and end at 2, which in many places makes it possible for parents to drop off their kids, and pick them up. In interviews I’ve conducted with people at companies that have gone to a 6-hour day, this often comes up as a significant benefit.

Classroom at Nursery Blue

What this piece makes me realize is that they don’t talk about it as an expression of a fuzzy sentiment that “I want to spend more time with my young children;” they recognize that shorter hours solve a really serious problem that lots of young parents have.

[Pictures are from my kids’ time at Peninsula School in Menlo Park.]

This is not a crazy idea

Chris Bailey has a piece in the New York Times about focus, distraction, and quality of work:

When it comes to focusing at work, there is no shortage of scapegoats to blame for our wandering minds. Social media, the ever-churning news cycle, chats with colleagues — these distractions can lead to a working state of mind that is far from focused. But there’s one possible cause of frequent distraction we don’t often consider: Our work isn’t complex enough, and there isn’t enough of it.

This isn’t as nuts as it sounds at first glance. The companies I’m studying that shorten their working hours spent plenty of energy on this, sometimes unintentionally.

If you’re in software or advertising, trying to fit the same work into a shorter day isn’t an exercise in just doing the same repetitive task faster, like on an assembly line; rather, you tend find new ways of working more intensively.

Of course it’s easy to imagine it being weaponized by unscrupulous or exploitative managers.

Giving away some books

My UK publishers sent me a box of copies of the new paperback edition of REST (the one with the foreword by Arianna Huffington).

Copies of the UK paperback edition.

One thing I’ve learned is that while it’s cool that they exist at all, and it’s cool to see a bunch of them all together, copies of your book don’t do you any good just sitting on your shelf. It’s like money: you want enough on hand in case you need, but in the long run you’ll be better off it it’s out in the world, circulating and being used.

Rest is the same way. The books do more good when they’re out in the world, and seeing the world. So I’m giving some copies away.

As you can see, I’ve added an unobtrusive newsletter signup at the top of the blog. I’m going to offer a copy a week to a randomly-selected newsletter subscriber, until I’ve put a dent in this pile.

If you want another copy, great. If you know someone who could really use it, and want me to send it to them, your generosity is inspiring. If you want to sell it on eBay, I won’t be angry, just disappointed.*

My one rule: because the cost of shipping books internationally is ridiculous, I’ll send books within the US only. (I’m not made of money, alas!) So if you live outside the States, sorry; but maybe you have an American friend?

In the future, I’ll probably also offer subscribers an early look at the next book, as well as other works-in-progress type things. More reasons to subscribe!

* Disappointed, that is, at how little you’re able to get for it. It’s really it’s not worth going through all the work of listing it, dealing with going to the post office, etc. Just keep the book.

One New Mexico school districts’ 4-day week

My old elementary school
One of my old elementary schools, now closed and scheduled for demolition, Waynesboro, VirginiaPBS’ News Hour recently had a piece about Bayard, New Mexico, a school district that haa moved from a five-day to a four-day school week. It did so mainly for financial reasons, and it’s now assessing the pros and cons of the shift.

It seems that there are benefits in terms of lower absenteeism, better teacher recruitment and retention, and some teachers reporting better classroom performance (both on their own part and on among students). Coaches like it because it makes more time for practices and games. And for kids in rural districts who are spending a lot of time on school buses— kids in this particular district may spend three hours a day commuting to and from school— it means less time on the road.

It’s also interesting how the concerns about the 4-day school week are framed. A lot of it has to do with the babysitting functions of school: librarians complain that they have more unaccompanied kids in their libraries (apparently children in the library are a negative), grandparents and other relatives are more tired, etc.. (This ought to highlight just how much energy teachers have to spend doing these things.) For others, there’s an equity issue: if my kid’s spending less time in school, will they be as well-prepared for college or work as a student who spends more? Equating time spent with outcomes is hardly unusual, in education or the workplace, but still it’s notable how quickly the discussion moves to this ground.

Self-help ≠ you’re on your own: New work on career advice vs. advocacy

When writing The Distraction Addiction and Rest, I could never shake a certain uneasiness with both projects: my concern that the self-help genre lets corporations and culture off the hook.

I believe very much in value of contemplative computing and deliberate rest. I think practicing both makes your life better. I think that it’s important for people to recognize that they can question technologies and conventional ways of working, and escape narratives of technological or cultural determinism.*

But there’s always the risk that the underlying message would slide from “here are some tools to recognize and solve the problems we all face,” to  “these problems are personal; don’t focus on anything beyond yourself.” By channeling your energy into personal empowerment, these messages deflect energy that might be spent questioning, and ultimately challenging, the structural factors that are responsible for creating these problems (or at least making them worse).

This problem was really driven home to me when I was doing the press tour for Rest, and kept getting asked, “What tips and tricks do you have for a single mom who’s also pursuing a career and needs more rest?” (Never single dads. It’s almost as if some questioners wanted single moms to be deprived of rest.) After about the tenth time of being asked the question, I finally came up with an answer that I liked:

If there were tips and tricks, single mothers would have already found them. The problem they face isn’t that they’re not smart enough about their lives; when it comes to how they spend their time, they’re some of the most ruthlessly efficient, no-nonsense people I know.  The problem is that they live in a society that systematically undervalues the work that parents do; that shifts the burden of parenting disproportionately onto mothers; and expects working women to raise children as if they don’t have careers, and to pursue careers as if they don’t have children. These women don’t need personal tips. They need a different system.

Ephrat Livni’s thought-provoking Quartz essay, ”All career advice for women is a form of gaslighting,” reminded me of these concerns. 

Working women get career advice for how to overcome obstacles and succeed while working in a sexist culture are beyond any individual’s control. And so advocating a do-it-yourself approach to on-the-job equality may actually be a kind of gaslighting—just one more way for institutions to deflect blame and make women question themselves and doubt their sanity. It’s the society we operate in that needs fixing, not how we ask for money, the tone of our voices, or our outfits.

In fact, research by Duke University department of neuroscience professors Grainne Fitzsimons, Aaron Kay, and Jae Yun Kim… shows that overemphasizing messages of individual female empowerment diminishes people’s sense of systemic obstacles that require societal redress. It puts major historic problems on the shoulders of individuals, who are actually minor players. 

Empowerment advice for women provides an “illusion of control” that’s not realistic, the researchers say. The advice may be good insofar as it gives us hope, but it fails to recognize larger, much more powerful forces at work, like a long history of discrimination and patriarchy. 

“We suspected that by arguing that women can solve the problem themselves, advocates of the ‘DIY’ approach may imply that women should be the ones to solve it—that it is their responsibility to do so,” they write. “We also hypothesized that this message could risk leading people to another, potentially dangerous conclusion: that women have caused their own under-representation.”…

The Duke University researchers argue that their findings on DIY equality should worry anyone who believes we need structural and societal change to improve the workplace. ”[T]he more we talk about women leaning in, the more likely people are to hold women responsible, both for causing inequality, and for fixing it,” they write.

“The truth,” Livni writes, “is that women face biases that are far too profound and complex to expect any individual to resolve them on their own.” Self-help books run the risk of flattening that complexity, of absolving companies and culture, and personalizing failure. If you don’t make it, if you don’t get a promotion or have your work recognized, it’s not because the deck is stacked against you; it’s because you didn’t lean in enough.

This is one reason I’ve been looking at companies that are shortening their working hours. I believe strongly that it’s good for people to be thoughtful about and protective of their time, and that they should take rest seriously and make room for it. Yet it’s also unquestionable that there are huge structural and normative impediments to doing so.

So showing that there are companies that have successfully cut 8 or 10 hours from their working weeks, without sacrificing productivity or profitability, is important: it shows that these structures can change, that the impediments can be lowered— and that this doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game in which one side (the side that usually gets to set the rules of the game, not coincidentally) suspects that it is being cheated. This is why I started my podcast with interviews with heads of companies that are leading this trend: I wanted to make it really clear that these people exist, to amplify their stories, and to explain how they do it. Ultimately, I want other companies to ask, why shouldn’t we do this too?

* Another reason I haven’t written much about how companies try to manipulate our attention and time is that I don’t have any illusions about trying to change Facebook’s or Twitter’s strategy. They’ve made enormous amounts of money, and invest ungodly amounts of time and energy, getting people to spend as much time as possible on their sites, and getting them to behave in ways that are appealing to advertisers. If anything, these companies are even more addicted to behavior design than we are. One book isn’t going to get you to rethink your strategy if that strategy has allowed you to pay cash for a mountain in Hawaii or Montana.

Lasse Rheingans and the 5-Hour Workday at Rheingans Digital Enabler

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-4zdsx-987466

And we’re back! I’m afraid I was off for a couple weeks in England, doing some research and other interviews, then had lots of other things that demanded my attention when I got back. So my apologies for the hiatus. I know there are so few podcasts in the world, it’s a hardship to be without an episode.

But the wait is worth it. Here, I talk with Lasse Rheingans, the head of Rheingans Digital Enabler, about moving his company to a 5-hour workday. It’s a fascinating conversation, and it’s good to get a bit of European perspective on the subject of shorter hours.

My hope is to get back on a weekly schedule, as I have a ton of other interviews waiting to be shared.

Mentioned in this podcast:

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