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.

Roombot and meeting scheduling

In my study of how companies shorten their workdays, one of the things I’ve consistently seen is companies shortening meetings, and doing a number of things to make meetings more effective: requiring pre-circulated agendas and goals, sharing background material beforehand, having walking or standing meetings, and making sure that conference call phones and other tech are running smoothly before the meeting is scheduled to start, so you don’t spend the first 10 minutes looking for dry-erase markers or punching in conference codes.

They also use tools to signal when meeting times are up, or when the group only has a few minutes left. The most popular tools are kitchen timers and smartphone alarms (unless your company bans devices in meetings, which is another popular thing), but a couple have taken a more high-tech approach: using Philips Hue lightbulbs and some locally-sourced code to have the room itself signal when you should start wrapping up.

I first heard about this tool at IIH Nordic, a Copenhagen-based SEO firm that moved to a 4-day week, but others use it, too. Philadelphia design firm O3 World calls their RoomBot, and explains how their system works in this video:

It’s a cool system, but the important thing is to have some kind of external tool that announces when your time is up.

REST is available as an audiobook

Microphone

The audiobook version of Rest is now available in the United States, just in case you’re still looking for that perfect Christmas present! You can listen to a sample on SoundCloud.

The reader, Adam Sims, is a big deal: he just won Audio Narrator of the Year for his recording of Flowers for Algernon (one of my favorites).

And he does a good job with Rest. As Audio File magazine says of his performance,

In no-nonsense, declarative tones that suit the author’s style, narrator Adam Sims moves the author’s message ahead at just the right pace as he delivers a mix of scientific studies and anecdotes about writers, scientists, and other creative types who thrive by insisting on integrating leisure into their schedules.

I mean, I guess that’s good.

Lin-Manuel Miranda: “I should take more vacations”

Hamilton
the room where it happens!

It’s always worth repeating: Lin-Manuel Miranda came up with the idea for Hamilton while taking his first vacation since In the Heights. Now that Hamilton is opening in London, it’s worth revising the story.

As I explained in Rest,

Lin-Manuel Miranda had the idea for Hamilton when he read Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton during a vacation to Mexico. He had been working for seven years on his play In the Heights, and as he later put it, “the moment my brain got a moment’s rest, Hamilton walked into it.”

Miranda is one of many people who had great ideas on vacation: Princeton physicist Lyman Spitzer came up with the design for a fusion reactor while skiing in Aspen; the agile software development manifesto was written at a ski lodge in Utah; and 20% of startup founders say they got the idea for their companies while on vacation.

Fortunately, while he’s been busy taking advantage of the crazy variety of offers that the success of Hamilton has brought him, the Guardian notes that Miranda recognizes that rest is important, too:

These are manic, sometimes confounding times for Miranda. Hamilton took the best part of six years to write but now life seems to be happening in fast-forward…. He would also like to start work on a new musical, but he probably just needs to lie in a pool to figure out what the subject is.

“You’re right,” he exclaims, “I should take more vacations, thank you! Yeah, that is the hardest lesson to take hold of: the good idea comes when you are walking your dog or in the shower or resting. And waking up from sleep. I don’t believe it’s an accident that on my first vacation from In the Heights, the best idea of my life shows up. So I have a couple of ideas, but I’m waiting to see which one grabs hold and doesn’t let go.”

So Lin-Manuel fans, don’t worry too much; the odds are good that at some point he’ll slow down, go on vacation, and figure out the next musical.

Learning to nap

Writer, cyclist and “occasional triathlete” AC Shilton talks about a month-long experiment learning how to nap:

I keep farmer’s hours, getting up at 5:30 to squeeze in a workout and feed my horse. While I love having a few ping-free hours before the content mill that is journalism churns to life, 0-dark-30 wakeup times result in drowsy afternoons. Around 2 p.m., after my sandwich has been devoured, I often find myself glassy-eyed and refreshing Twitter ad nauseam. Worse, by the end of the workday, I tend to be overtaken by sloth and skip out on the gym or cut my interval session short….

A nap seemed like it might be the solution to my post-lunch lethargy and workout wussiness. And since I work from home, there was nothing stopping me. I waste a good 30 minutes a day (probably more if we’re being honest) rabbit hole-ing through the Internet, so why not repurpose those squandered minutes into a few gasps of actual rest?

The article is especially good if you’re on of those people who is convinced that they can’t nap, or that you don’t have time for it.

“Never underestimate the power of nature, exercise, and the arts to inspire productivity, creativity and working smarter”

Dr. Resa Lewiss is a pioneer in the use of ultrasound as an everyday tool for doctors (or as they call it in the field, point-of-care ultrasound), rather than reserving it for more exotic cases: it’s a bit like treating ultrasound as like a stethoscope rather than a CAT scan. She has a TEDMed talk about the field:

How do you come up with such a novel idea? Well, if a recent piece in Academic Life and Emergency Medicine offers any guide, one of the things you do is practice deliberate rest. As Lewiss put it in a 2015 interview, we should “Never underestimate the power of nature, exercise, and the arts to inspire productivity, creativity and working smarter.”

In Rest, I talk about innovative doctors who discover the value of deliberate rest. The great neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, for example, was an avid sailor, athlete and gardner (he had grown up on a farm in rural Wisconsin), and he made time for those things despite running the Montreal Neuroscience Institute. He was also a great advocate of active, deliberate rest: as he put it in an essay written before I was born, “rest, with nothing else, results in rust.” Likewise, the biophysicist and medical imaging pioneer Britton Chance spent 12-hour days in the lab, but spent his weekends sailing; in fact, he was so serious a sailor that he took a year off to train for the 1952 Olympics– and won a gold medal.

Anyway, it’s great to see that despite all the pressures of professional life today, there are still people who show that you can do great work and take rest seriously.

REST and disconnecting in RescueTime

RescueTime editor Jory MacKay has a piece about “4 ways to disconnect from work and recover from your day” that draws on BJ Fogg, Daniel Pink, Cal Newport, and me:

It might seem counterintuitive that more effort will help you recover from your workday, but that’s exactly what researchers have discovered. By engaging in activities that you enjoy, but that also challenge you, we’re able to disconnect more fully from work.

As Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, explains:

Mastery experiences are engaging, interesting things that you do well. They’re often challenging, but this makes them mentally absorbing and all the more rewarding when they’re proficiently executed.

One great example is of the codebreakers during World War II who spent their days trying to crack the Nazi’s encryption. Rather than use their downtime to relax from their mentally and emotionally taxing work, they chose to play chess. Most of them had played at a high level (and were even recruited for their proficiency), and so playing the game allowed them to work towards their mastery and get in a state of flow—that amazing moment where their abilities matched the difficulty level.

Pursuing mastery is a perfect example of the importance of hobbies outside of work, which not only help you recover, but can lead to more overall happiness due to lower stress, more social relationships, better structure to your day, and a sense of accomplishment and meaning.

MacKay goes on to talk about the value of closing rituals, which I found illuminating. When I’m deep in a project, the last things I do at night all relate to setting up for the next morning’s writing. I’ve been doing this for years, but MacKay’s account makes me realize that this also serves as a good way of closing out the night, and helps me put things to bed (mentally and literally).

Some people really like Rest because it helps them make sense of things that they already do, and understand why they provide benefits. Even though I’ve thought a lot about working practices and rest, I can still have the same experience.

Putting REST to use at the New York Times

James Pothen, a software engineer with the New York Times, has a great piece about “ How to Concentrate in a Collaborative Workplace:”

When I first started working in an office, I worked haphazardly. I would come in, check work email, maybe chat with a colleague, start on a task, and then check Facebook or YouTube. Working this way nearly got me fired after two years. So I took the opportunity to be more intentional about what I worked on and how I worked.

What follows is my adaptation of the principles laid out in Cal Newport’s book, “Deep Work.” I’ve also incorporated material from “Rest” by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, and “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg.

I highly recommend it. It’s a nice example of how you can take the ideas from Rest and put them into practice. And everything he says makes lots of sense!

“you don’t need to choose between your smartphone and self-care,”

Minnesota-based author Elizbaeth Millard talks about my books The Distraction Addiction and Rest in a new article piece about self-care in The Growler, an online magazine about the craft beer and food scene in Minneapolis.

Oxford Retreat
It’s a beer in Oxford, but you get the idea

It’s cool to see one’s work picked up in these places: it suggests a portability and utility of one’s ideas that’s kind of validating.

Jabra video on deliberate rest

In September when I was in Europe, I gave a talk at Jabra corporate headquarters, just outside Copenhagen (where I had some excellent food, and saw some cool cats). We shot some video of me talking about deliberate rest, and Jabra has now created a short video from it. (Sorry about the auto-play.)

As a place that makes some outstanding headsets for office use, Jabra is really interested in issues of focus and concentration in business environments, so it turned out to be a great place to talk about deliberate rest and my earlier work on contemplative computing. (I’ll confess I have no fewer than four pair of Jabra headphones– two sets that I’ve used for everyday listening, a pair of their Bluetooth earbuds, and a set of noise-canceling office headphones. They’re all awesome.) And of course they did a great job with the video!

A few months ago I was doing an Al Jazeera show, and during the sound check beforehand one of the other guests described me as “the silver gent.” I suppose I see what he meant. Mentally I don’t feel like i’ve aged in the last twenty years (I feel like fundamentally the same person I was when I was a postdoc, or first married), but I have gotten more silver.

And anyone who meets me on the road is likely to see me wearing some variation of those clothes– the black shirt and black cashmere jacket, and jeans. What can I say; one of my professors extolled the virtues of wearing black on the road, and I still dress that way out of respect for her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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