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.

My South China Morning Post piece on 996 and the culture of overwork

Orchard Road

There’s a debate going on in China over 996, the practice of working from 9 to 9, six days a week. (Some very tired yet still imaginative writers have suggested that the next thing will be 007, working from midnight to midnight, seven days a week.)

996 has been a part of Chinese startup culture for a while, but recently people have started pushing back, especially after the CEO of Youzan, a Hong Kong-based e-commerce company, announced that he was going to demand the company adopt those hours in 2019. A couple weeks ago, a leaked internal email from JD.com combined an announcement of layoffs with an exhortation to fight for more work, “regardless of performance, position, tenure, personal well-being issues or family reasons.” This came a month after another message that “asked employees to make ‘full contributions’ by working 12 hours a day at least five days a week.” More generally, it seems to be the case that as the economy starts to slow, and as tech companies have a harder time getting venture funding, etc., they’re trying to enforce longer working hours as a way of sustaining their valuations.

I couldn’t pass up the chance to add something to the debate, and so my piece on why 996 is stupid, and how and why companies should work 4-day weeks, is out in the South China Morning Post.

The recent debate over working hours at China’s tech companies hinges on a question: are long hours truly necessary, or are they simply exploitation?

Advocates of the 996 work schedule – 9am to 9pm, six days a week – say it places young professionals on a fast, steep learning curve, allowing them to unlock achievements they would have thought impossible. It shows companies which employees are most passionate about and devoted to their work. It is necessary for companies that want to do world-changing work. And in a highly competitive, always-on global economy and job market, long hours are the inevitable price of success.

Yet, every one of those statements is wrong.

I had originally written, “But to paraphrase Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, every one of those statements is wrong,” but I can see why they’d cut it.

Interestingly some of the debate in China over 996 has migrated to Github, interestingly, and it seems to have worried the government enough to get Github’s 996.icu repository banned in China. (Even more worrying, there are some reports that Twitter was blocking search results on 996, even for Western users.) Among Westerners following the debate, there’s an argument about whether this is something companies in the US and Europe need to emulate. Some make the case that Western companies need to double down on the workaholism, while Forbes contributor Stephanie Denning points out that for all its success, Alibaba seems less productive than eBay or Amazon, and James Stanier, an engineering VP for English startup Brandwatch, arguing in Medium that “We should work hard, but most importantly, we should go home.”

Now back to writing the book, so I can really make the case for the 4-day week!

Eating together at work and in negotiations

In the interviews I’ve done with leaders and workers at companies that have implemented shorter workweeks, I often hear– in the smaller places at least– that they eat together.

Lunch at the Big Building
Eating together is a powerful form of bonding for any group

At MADE Agency in Norwich, the office closes during lunch hour, and most of the staff goes out to eat together. At Pursuit Marketing, a Glasgow call center, people have breakfast together before diving into the day’s calls. When he decided to fight back against the culture of overwork and burnout in the restaurant industry, one of the changes René Redzepi implemented at Noma was to introduce

real staff meals where you sit down to eat together. We had to change our opening time from six to seven to allow for a one-hour dinner break, but it was worth it. For too long I’ve been eating out of a plastic container while standing next to my section, and I don’t want my cooks getting accustomed to the same thing.

This is one of those small-sounding changes that can make a big difference in organizations. Eating together is a way for people to spend time together in an environment where they can actually pay attention to one another; it can improve social bonding within groups; and if it’s paired with cooking, it becomes a cooperative activity that helps reinforce skills that groups can use in their work.

Old fire station

The canonical example of the last is the firehouse. In “Eating Together at the Firehouse,” Kevin Kniffin and his coauthors found that firehouse that cook and eat together perform better than those that do not. Here’s the research:

Over the course of 15 months, Kniffin and his colleagues conducted interviews and surveys in a large city’s fire department, which included more than 50 firehouses. The researchers asked the department’s 395 supervisors to rate on a scale of zero to 10 the performance of their platoon compared to other fire companies in which they’ve served. The supervisors were also asked how often the platoon eats together in a typical four-day work week. The platoons who ate together most often also got higher marks for their team performance. Conversely, the platoons that did not eat together got lower performance ratings.

In interviews, firefighters said daily group meals were a central activity during their shifts. Some firefighters who worked a shift that started at 6 p.m. often ate two dinners, one at home and a second at the firehouse. One firefighter said, in the company of his co-workers, “you don’t want to dis the wife” by turning down the food she prepared – implying that it was just as important to avoid disrespecting his co-workers. “To me, that’s a good example of the importance of the group. It’s comparable to his family,” said Kniffin, whose father was a longtime big-city firefighter.

In fact, the researchers noted firefighters expressed a certain embarrassment when asked about firehouses where they didn’t eat together. “It was basically a signal that something deeper was wrong with the way the group worked,” Kniffin said.

As Kniffin explained, “Eating together is a more intimate act than looking over an Excel spreadsheet together. That intimacy spills back over into work…. From an evolutionary anthropology perspective, eating together has a long, primal tradition as a kind of social glue. That seems to continue in today’s workplaces.”

There’s actually a fascinating culinary culture among firefighters, strong enough so that “learn to cook” is a piece of professional advice that experienced firefighters give newbies. “Confidence in the kitchen will go a long way to make your life and career easier, and help you fit in no matter where you work and no matter who you work with,” one writer warns:

The standards are often very high, and you’ll be up against some tough culinary competition, so start learning to cook now, or work to improve and expand the cooking skills that you do have before you get the job.

When it comes to firehouse cooking, remember this: it takes 100 good meals to make up for one really bad one. And if the meal is bad enough, it can haunt you your entire career. My crew still talks about a terrible meal that I prepared more than 10 years ago.

And it’s not just groups that work together regularly, or have to perform as a team under life-and-death situations, who benefit from eating together. An interesting new study from the University of Chicago looks at “why sharing a plate leads to better negotiation outcomes“:

Here’s a new negotiating tactic: Enjoy a family-style meal with your counterpart before making your opening bid. When people in a business negotiation share not just a meal but a plate, they collaborate better and reach deals faster, according to new research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

The experiment consisted of two parts. Randomly-assigned pairs of students had a snack of chips and salsa, and either shared from the same bowls, or had their own.

Some excellent fish and chips!
Okay, these aren’t the right kinds of chips, but it’s the only picture I had

The pairs then had to negotiate a solution to a labor dispute; if they didn’t settle the dispute in time, a strike would be called, making subsequent rounds increasingly costly.

Essentially, participants that shared food family-style negotiated more effectively and quickly than participants that ate separately:

Teams with shared bowls took nine strike days, on average, to reach a deal, four fewer than pairs that had eaten from separate bowls. This difference translated into significant dollar values, saving both parties a combined (if hypothetical) $1.5 million in losses.

This phenomenon, the researchers write, was unrelated to how two people in a negotiating team felt about each other. Rather, what mattered was how well they coordinated their eating.

The relationship between food, sociability, and organizational performance also serves (so to speak) as an important reminder that an awful lot of the work required to implement a 4-day week and make it a success does not require making dramatic changes in how the company works, or investing in cutting-edge productivity tools, or doing other very disruptive or alien things: it’s small changes that you can undertake at virtually no cost.

There’s no Reverse Parkinson’s Law

So my friends at the 4 Day Week Campaign have released a video about the 4-day workweek:

It’s a nicely-done piece of work, and if you want a 2-minute argument for the benefits of shorter workdays or workweeks, it’s a good one.

I do think it’s worth pointing out one thing that’s a bit more complex, which is that when you open up the black box of companies and see how they make 4-day weeks (or 6-hour days) work, you find that shorter hours increase productivity not because of Reverse Parkinson’s Law. It doesn’t happen automatically and effortlessly.

It happens because leaders and workers redesign the workplace so they can do the same work (for the same financial reward) in less time. It takes some time and effort to figure out how to cut out distractions and wasted time, increase productivity, and make better choices what to work on and how to work; and companies that work 4-day weeks work harder during those four days than companies that work five. But the upside is that, having done all that work, everyone gets more free time, more time to recover, and more time with friends and family.

The downsides of early retirement

Travel and Leisure has a piece about a software developer who retired early– then went back to work

Tony said the biggest thing he missed was human connection…. Even on days he felt like being social, he added, all his friends were busy working their nine to five jobs….

Early retirement also lacked the fulfillment his work had brought him.

Apparently there are people who study the downsides of early retirement, and “loss of income and reduced social security, mental and physical decline, loss of social interaction and identity, boredom, and lack of challenge or purpose” are all things that people complain about.

But this should come as no surprise: as much as people may complain about their jobs, work does play a critical role in providing us with social interaction, a sense of purpose (even if you’re “living your passion” or whatever), etc. This, I think, is one of the reasons that we should welcome experiments in shortening the workweek: by making work more sustainable, shorter hours serve to extend people’s ability to work, which at its best is quite a good thing.

4-day weeks at the Rockwood Leadership Institute

Grand Lake Theatre

Almost all the organizations I’ve been looking at for the new book are for-profit companies. This is more or less by design, since I wanted places that had to deal with making payroll, satisfying customers, and all the rest while reducing their working hours.

But nonprofits are often places that have very dedicated workforces that believe in the mission of the organization, want to make a difference, and are susceptible to all the issues around burnout, overwork, and exploitation that you see in startups.

So it was interesting to discover the Rockwood Leadership Institute, an Oakland nonprofit that has been running on a 4-day week for years. As they explain in a post, “The Nonprofit Four-Day Workweek: You Can Take Care of Yourself and Still Change the World:”

One of the six practices we teach social change leaders here at Rockwood Leadership Institute is personal ecology: maintaining balance, pacing and efficiency to sustain your energy over a lifetime of activism. For the past seven years, we’ve found that a wonderful way to support our staff’s personal ecology is by instituting a four-day, 32-hour workweek.

Our four-day workweek experiment began during the 2008 recession when we, like many nonprofits, were finding solutions for some new financial challenges. During that time, we decided to try reducing the salaries of our department directors while also changing their schedules to a four-day, 32-hour workweek (Monday-Thursday). After a very productive year, we extended the four-day, 32-hour workweek to our entire staff (without the salary decrease) to test the idea that a shorter week would strengthen the organization overall. And it did!…

I love that the 4-day week flows from their interest in sustainability and personal ecology. At the same time, they’re also clear about the challenges:

We won’t sugar coat it. Having a four-day week isn’t without its issues. Staff have also reported challenges with answering the email that builds up over the three-day weekend, and with creating efficient systems to get work done in a timely manner. Some staff also expressed guilt about “not doing enough.”

That said, instituting a four-day, 32-hour workweek hasn’t just benefited the staff’s work and personal lives, it has also helped Rockwood grow as an organization. Since implementing a four-day workweek, we have tripled our budget and increased the number of people we serve each year while maintaining the same number of staff (11-13).

The cost of March Madness distraction: $13.3 billion

This isn’t the sort of business-related distraction that I usually pay attention to, but the Guardian has a piece about how March Madness will cost businesses more than $13 billion in lost productivity:

your company is about to forgo about $13.3bn in lost productivity that March Madness will cost American businesses, according to a recent report from outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

“Streaming games during work hours, heading to a local restaurant to watch the games, filling out brackets, or just discussing the games with co-workers will mean hours of distractions during the three-week tournament,” Andrew Challenger, vice-president at the company, warned in a press release.

Here’s how they came up with that figure:

According to staffing firm OfficeTeam, workers spent 25.5 minutes of their workday on March Madness-related activities. That’s 6.375 hours spent during the 15 weekdays beginning with Selection Sunday on March 17 and ending with the National Championship on April 8.

Meanwhile, a 2018 survey conducted by TSheets by quickbooks found 48 percent of workers work on their brackets at work. With 156,949,000 employed Americans, that is 75,335,520 workers engaged in March Madness activities while on the clock.

If 75 million workers spend 6.375 hours of work time on the tournament, the cost to employers in productivity loss is $13,284,100,580.

Part of what makes March Madness so distracting, as my wife points out, is that it features multiple games per day for weeks at a time, the prospect of Cinderella teams having wonderful surprising upsets before being crushed by Duke, a continuous drama that’s the sports world’s closest equivalent to Love Island.

Interestingly, they don’t advocate shutting off the Internet or doing anything radical, but rather rolling with it, partly for team-building, and partly to attract The Youth of Today:

“The tournament is a perfect opportunity for colleagues to bond in the workplace. Any attempt to keep workers from the games would most likely result in real damage to employee morale, loyalty, and engagement that would far outweigh any short-term benefit to productivity,” he added.

“Company-wide office pools that are free to enter and offer lunches or gift cards to the winners are a great way to use the games to create a fun atmosphere at work. Employers can also set up a television or computer monitor where workers can gather to watch the games.”

“To give workers the ability to watch full games, employers could consider giving employees extended lunches or offering longer breaks at other times throughout the day to allow them to catch games that interest them. Employers could also offer telecommuting options so workers who are able can have the games on in the background at home as they work.”…

“In a tight labor market, companies can use the tournament for recruiting, promoting how the office celebrates March Madness. This could be especially effective among Millennial and Gen Z workers.”

Is this the solution to overwork? [Narrator: It was not the solution.]

A while ago I saw this in article asking “How Can We Curb ‘Death by Overwork’?“:

North is referring to “T-FREND,” a first-of-its-kind drone currently in development by the Japanese security firm Taisei. Come October, T-FREND will hover over after-hours workers blasting “Auld Lang Syne,” commonly played when stores are closing in Japan, to force them to leave. “Great attention has been paid to overworking in Japan,” says Taisei’s Norihiro Kato, who confirms T-FREND is being created to tackle the problem.

This will not solve the problem.

“the key to his fantastic work… was that he was phenomenally boring”

Sophie Beck’s essay on Joan Miró gets at something important:

I came to believe that the key to his fantastic work, to the sheer volume of work—he kept working without pause from age nineteen to ninety—was that he was phenomenally boring.

Miró didn’t do the sorts of things I can sensationalize—he just dug in and worked after a sensible breakfast like an accountant sitting down to his ledger. I stopped, aware that everything I had to say of Miró had boiled down to the subject of ordinary toil.

According to his friend and biographer Jacques Dupin, Miró’s routine and life were “utterly free of disorder or excess…. Nothing is left to chance, not even in his daily habits: there is a time to take a walk, a time to read, there is a time to be with his family and there is a time to work.”

There’s boring, and there’s boring with a purpose. Miró was the second.

Long hours, weekends and mental health

This 2018 episode of the Life’s Work podcast has an interesting brief conversation about the impact of working long hours and weekends on mental health?

UCL researcher and consultant in wellbeing at work Gill Weston discusses her research looking at the links between working long hours and weekend work and signs of depression in both men and women. Key findings from the research:

  • Women who worked 55 hours a week or longer showed more signs of depression than those who worked a standard 35-40 hour week;
  • Women who worked weekends showed more signs of depression than those who didn’t;
  • Men who worked weekends in poor quality jobs with little control or job satisfaction also showed high numbers of depressive symptoms compared with their peers who worked weekends but were in good quality jobs

The restaurants just keep coming: Los Angeles’ n/naka

One more example of a great restaurant that operates on a four-day week: Los Angeles’ n/naka, profiled by Helen Rosner in this week’s issue of The New Yorker:

The most prominent American kaiseki restaurant is n/naka, a small Los Angeles establishment owned and run by the forty-four-year-old Japanese-American chef Niki Nakayama. Japanese cuisine, at the high end, is virtually all made by men. When n/naka opened, it may have been the only kaiseki restaurant run by a woman in any country. Housed in a low gray building on a quiet corner in Palms, a neighborhood tucked between sleepy Culver City and the Santa Monica Freeway, it is open four nights a week, and seats twenty-six guests at a time.

She’s also featured in an episode of the Netflix show Chef’s Table:

Not sure I want to try to fit in one more interview, but at the very least, I’d love to know if the restaurant is open four days a week because it’s so great, or it’s great because it’s only open four days a week.

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