Deliberate Rest

Designing rest for a busy world

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)

At Google, I talked about REST and my forthcoming book SHORTER, about the 4-day week.

“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.

Hello from Bentonville Arkansas, most interesting place in the world (I’m not kidding)

This year I’ve given talks in Tokyo, Osaka, Baku, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, London, Montreal, Palm Springs, and other places.

But I think the coolest place I’ve been to all year is Bentonville, Arkansas.

Yes, Bentonville, Arkansas.

A couple months ago I was invited to be part of a speaker series at a new place called BlakeSt. It’s not a country club: there’s no golf course, though there is an ozone pool (better for you than chlorine) and other athletic facilities, and a truly beautiful building. (Part of it is the home of Betty Blake, who went on to marry Will Rogers. The expansion is completely seamless, the beautifully executed.) It’s a bit more like a London club, but with more programming, and more of an emphasis on wellness and creativity, not drinking so much your valet has to pour you into the carriage.

Alas it’s true

One of the striking things about the place is that while the exterior just looks like a really nice, big house— and in this respect it fits right into the area and really respects its location— the interior is a riot of really, really good art. The staircase leading up to the second floor has a bunch of photographic portraits, including one of the only photographs of Abraham Lincoln, and an amazing picture of Biggie Smalls.

Me and Biggie

Of course, the Walton family is known for its art collecting: the Crystal Bridges Museum is the most prominent example, but there are tons of Walton-sponsored art projects and collections.

It also has a truly spectacular music room, which an incredible JBL Paragon D44000 speaker from the 1960s, photographs of rock icons, and a pretty good collection of vinyl records and a fabulous turntable. (Van Halen really sounds amazing through the system.)

BakeSt, Bentonville, Arkansas

Needless to say, when I was prepping for my talk, I took over the music room, selected a bunch of records (Ziggy Stardust, Van Halen 1, Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work,” a couple others), and got down to work.

BakeSt, Bentonville, Arkansas

And because of the curious demographics of Bentonville (about which more below), the crowd was really smart and engaged— they came for active rest, really got into the activities, and asked great and thoughtful questions after the talk.

BakeSt, Bentonville, Arkansas

So a marvelously-curated venue, an interesting crowd— it all made for a cool event.

Bentonville though, is really fascinating. It’s the home of Walmart— the first Walton’s store has been turned into a museum— and BlakeSt is a project started by one member of the Walton clan. I spent part of my childhood in a small town in Virginia, and I keep thinking that Bentonville is a great example of what a small Southern town can become with good-old fashioned grit, determination, American optimism, and tens of billions of dollars.

Neon and night in Bentonville

In most places, new money just steamrolls the past. Think of most Chinese cities, where historic buildings just get crushed by new money. In Bentonville, in contrast, the money hasn’t destroyed the past; what it’s done is something more like fermentation— a transformation that creates something new in which the original is still visible, but also transformed and preserved.

For example, Bentonville has some also some terrific mural work. But you really have to wait until dark to appreciate the most interesting art installations: the awesome neon art all over downtown.

Neon and night in Bentonville

You’d expect to see neon in a small town; but only a few of them are commercial signs. Many of them are art works by Roadhouse Relics founder Todd Sanders, one of the leading neon Pop artists working today. The shift from business to high art, and art works that reference America’s commercial past— a perfect target for Walmart wealth.

Neon and night in Bentonville

The town is also super-clean, there are nice little parks and playgrounds everywhere, and the Bentonville fire station seems to double as a vintage fire engine museum. So unlike lots of wealth, it’s gone back into public infrastructure, not just private collections.

Neon and night in Bentonville

But it isn’t just the Walton family alone that has created this unique environment. Walmart’s global headquarters are still in Bentonville, and so the town has a lot of executives from companies that are major Walmart suppliers or vendors. As a result, people who formerly lived in New York or LA or Seattle, or come from Europe or Asia, now find themselves in Bentonville. And what’s followed this global expat population? A ton of cool restaurants, coffee places, boutiques— the sort of thing they’re used to— as well as BlakeSt, which aims to be a kind of social hub.

Getting to work at @onyxcoffeelab. Talking tonight about DISTRACTION ADDICTION, REST and SHORTER at @blakest_ar, and taking the crowd through exercises illustrating how they can put the concepts of contemplative computing, deliberate rest, and the 4-day w

As a result, you get these crazy juxtapositions. One morning I had an espresso at Onyx Coffee Lab. Onyx is the only place I’ve ever seen in the US that uses a Budapest-style coffee service (the most civilized in the world, as far as I’m concerned). So that was kinda weird.

But Onyx is across the street from the Flying Fish, a diner-style place serving fried catfish and crawdads. It looks like it’s been there since 1950.

And the weird thing? Neither one feels out of place.

BakeSt, Bentonville, Arkansas

I can’t decide if the result is more like Disneyland’s Main Street USA, or the Truman Show, or the Southern Reach in Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation— the juxtaposition of real small-town Americana, world-class modern art, and global elite culture is kind of mind-bending. But given my own experience— growing up in the South, living in Silicon Valley, working all over the world— I really love it.

Of course, the old Waltons store stands across the street from the town square where there’s a Confederate statue, and Bentonville itself is on the Trial of Tears, so the history isn’t all Steamboat Willie and patriotic newsreels. And you could make the case that beautiful modern-yet-traditional Bentonville is polished with the rags of all those small town businesses that Wal Mart has eviscerated over the last several decades— that the lovely town is a monument to an enormous transfer of wealth driven by a rapacious business model and ruthless corporation.

But at the same time, there’s something else about the atmosphere, something that I love to see when I go to the Netherlands or Denmark. The amount of well-designed public space and public art, the wealth without ostentation, the power that doesn’t express itself by living outside the rules— it’s all exceptionally orderly and civic in a way we don’t see quite as clearly as we should every day in America. Very unexpectedly, Bentonville has the feel of a social democracy.


Of course, it’s still Arkansas

No one is really innocent (writes the man who got his start in life with a college scholarship from a tobacco company). The question is what people who are lucky enough to have (or to have inherited) wealth and power do with it.

Neon and night in Bentonville

Anyway, going to Baku was awesome, and I’ll never forget it. Likewise, Tokyo and Seoul are always fascinating. But I look forward to seeing what happens next in Bentonville, and where it goes.

Digital distraction is for the birds

The Times reports on a “raise‑a‑chick plan to get pupils off phones:”

It is a question that parents the world over struggle with: how to prise children away from their smartphones? One Indonesian city believes that the answer is to give youngsters chicks to raise.

I talk about books at Blake Street

So I was just in BlakeSt., a truly extraordinary venue in Bentonville, Arkansas, talking about REST and SHORTER. I recorded a little 1-minute video about books in their library that I like.

No huge surprises— who doesn’t think highly of Thinking, Fast and Slow?— but it was fun to do.

More about BlakeSt. and Bentonville later.

Some personal news: I’m joining the BrightSight Group

montreal-g500

I’m on my last business flight of 2019, heading to Bentonville Arkansas to talk at BlakeSt. about work, rest, and the 4-day week.

It’s been a busy year: I’ve traveled from one end of the Silk Road to the other, given talks in the UK, Europe, and Asia, and did a very fun author event at the Googleplex, and will close out the year with a talk at Silicon Foundry in San Francisco.

And with SHORTER (US | UK) coming out next year, 2020 could be even busier.

Which is why I’m really pleased to be able to share some news: going forward, I’m going to be represented by the BrightSight Group, one of the big (and obviously, best!) speakers’ bureaus.

Screen Shot 2019-09-01 at 1.05.59 PM

We’ll be working together on keynotes and other traditional talks, but we’ll also offer workshops to companies and organizations that want to apply the lessons of SHORTER and REST themselves.

Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

Having organized, facilitated, or participated as an expert in something like 200 workshops in my professional life, in places as far-flung as Cincinnati, Baku, and Kuala Lumpur, this is a kind of work that I really enjoy, and I’m really looking forward to being able to do more of it.

You can contact them here, or 609-924-3060.

New report on women’s working hours finds that women are working more hours (you won’t believe what happens next)

Brigid Schulte points out A new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research about “Gender Inequality, Work Hours, and the Future of Work:”

Technological innovation through machine learning, robotics, and artificial intelligence is likely to automate many tasks and jobs, thus improving productivity, freeing time, and allowing fewer workers to do more. Technological innovation presents an opportunity to rethink the distribution of time spent on paid and unpaid work, tackle the inequality in the division of domestic and care work between women and men, and provide time for upskilling and lifelong learning needed to benefit from future opportunities.

This first section of this report presents analysis on why work hours matter to gender equality, and what role time-related policies may play in reducing gender inequality, and more generally, social and economic inequality. The findings show women’s growing contribution to paid work and highlight that, as women’s average hours at work have increased, men’s have not declined. Inequality in paid and unpaid time has remained particularly stark between mothers and fathers. The report then highlights the growing inequality between those who work a lot and those who work intermittently, part-time, or part-year. In addition, the analysis shows that this polarization in paid time at work is increasingly exacerbating racial inequalities.

The second section of the report focuses on changes in the quality of time at work and workforce policies around scheduling, location, and paid time off. The report notes how a growing lack of schedule control and the absence of paid leave rights reinforce economic and racial/ethnic inequalities and are particularly harmful to parents. The report ends with recommendations to achieve a healthier and more equal distribution of hours worked.

The knock-on effects— lower promotion rates for professional women, lower rates of involvement by fathers who overwork, etc.— will be familiar to anyone who has a Google alert for whenever Claire Cain Miller publishes something new in the New York Times.

Anyway, the study is useful as another data-point in why we need a shorter workweek, and why it will have a disproportionate benefit for working women.

Speaking at Life Lessons in London, February 2020

London Bridge and the Shard

I’m going back to London in February to speak at Life Lessons, a conference at the Barbican!

Wellbeing isn’t about lycra and fad diets. Its aim is not weight-loss for image-sake. Wellbeing is a way of life. It’s smart-thinking, sustainable living, community-building and frank-speaking. When well-informed, with an open-mind and with life lessons at our finger-tips, we can all live a happy, healthy and more inspired life.

Welcome to Life Lessons. A weekend of big talks from big thinkers. Where we dare to dream of a better future.

The speaker list is a cool mix, ranging from Richard Darwins to Ruby Wax to James Wallman.

Essentially, the talk will be the start of the publicity campaign for SHORTER (US | UK). I’ll be doing several other talks while I’m there. Watch this space for more updates.

Are articles about the 4-day week are turning into the new “this CEO gets up at 4 am for meditation and archery”?

Cockroach Labs
Cockroach Labs, where they have a 4-day week

Business Insider has another article about the 4-day workweek that casts shorter working hours (not incorrectly) as efforts to give people a chance to disconnect from work, and to reduce burnout:

it seems a growing number of companies are hoping to combat that trend by finding ways to improve work-life balance — most notably by experimenting with a four-day workweek. While the four-day workweek is still far from common, it certainly seems to be growing in popularity.

I’m now starting to see a shift in the way people write about the 4-day week. It’s still regarded as unusual (and in the grand scheme of things, it is), but it’s not treated as this totally nutty thing that some out-there companies are doing. Now, it’s more like something that is unusual, but delivers results.

In that respect the coverage is a bit more like those articles about CEOs who wake up at 4 am, and get more done by 7 than the rest of us do all day.

Cal Newport on shorter working hours and the future of knowledge work

Knowledge Workers of the World... Unplug!
Knowledge workers of the world, unplug!

Cal Newport has a piece in the New York Times about Lasse Rheingans, shorter working hours, and the future of work. Newport makes the point that our approach to knowledge work– the mix of always-on digitally-enabled communication, relative lack of filters, and cultural norms that treat overwork as normal and burnout as a necessary risk– really only took hold in the last couple decades; in fact, the term “knowledge work” was only coined in 1959, by Peter Drucker.

Scenes from London
Brunswick Centre, London

The digital tools that have become so ubiquitous in our lives and work really are pretty new. I got my first email address when I was at Stanford in 1991, having gone through nine years of college and grad school without one (and wi thout anyone ever assuming I had one, which is also telling). I built my first course Web page in 1995 or thereabouts, and got my first cellphone around 2000. So while these are woven into our days, to assume that we’ve already figured out how to use them really well, Newport argues, is

both arrogant and ahistoric. It’s the equivalent of striding into an early-20th-century automobile factory, where each car still required a half day’s worth of labor to produce, and boldly proclaiming, “I think we’ve figured this one out!”

If I’m right and we’re still early in this new phase of digital knowledge work, then more productive — and hopefully much more meaningful and much less draining — approaches to executing this work remain on the horizon. No one knows exactly what this future of knowledge work will look like, but I suspect, along with Mr. Rheingans, that among other transformations it will reject the idea that always-on electronic chatter is a good way to efficiently extract value from human minds….

If like many digital knowledge workers, you’re exhausted by endless work and flooded inboxes, the good news is that better and more sustainable ways of producing valuable output with your brain might be coming — if we can find enough visionaries willing to try out “radical” new ideas about how best to get things done.

I think this is right on, and I would build on it and argue that there are also some important cultural innovations that companies shortening their working hours. (I write about this at greater length in SHORTER (US|UK).)

First, they rewire the relationship between professionalism, effort and skill on one hand, and working hours on the other.

London
Signage, London

Today, in many workplaces we treat long hours as a measure of (or a proxy for) ability, commitment, and enthusiasm. Companies that have shortened their working hours, in contrast, believe that someone who can do the same work in 4 hours or 6 hours is a better worker than the person who needs 10; that you should aspire to be the first person rather than the second; and that a willingness to try to become that person signals an interest in your work, an ability to reflect on your processes and practices, and an experimental, growth mindset. Asking people to work shorter hours is a great way to discover who your most dedicated, passionate, competent workers are.

You can bet this is going into my next talk! Don’t know what #workmode is, but I spotted this windows near the University of Amsterdam.
Workmode, Amsterdam

The second change follows from the first. Figuring out how to work fewer hours redirects the passion for your work, the desire to do a good job and to be recognized for it, that leads you to work long hours, and turns it in a healthier and more sustainable direction. Shortening your workday doesn’t lead to overwork and burnout. It’s a way of making careers longer and more sustainable.

Not only does it encourage you to develop a style of working that lets you continue to do great work for more of your career (and let’s face it, there comes a point where you’re no longer physically able to work insane hours without paying a high price), the nature of the challenge is one that’s more open-ended. If you’re now good enough to do in 5 hours what used to take you 8 hours, what do you have to do to get it down to 4 hours? To 3 hours? Trying to work ever-longer hours is a formula for self-destruction; figuring out how you and your organization can work fewer hours is a formula for self-improvement and self-preservation.

Paddy Bettington on the political radicalism of shorter working hours

In the companies I’ve been studying that have moved to 4-day weeks, unions have played little or no role in setting working hour or working conditions. But unions historically have played a huge role in setting working hours, and that’s one reason unions in the UK and the Labour Party have advocated for a shorter week. Paddy Bettington, a founder of Labour 4 Day Week, explains this in his new essay “Why the Four-Day Week Matters:”

The five-day week, the eight-hour day, paid holiday, sick pay and maternity pay were all instituted by mass movements, trade unions and collective bargaining….

[W]hen John McDonnell announced Labour’s plans to move to a 32-hour week at this year’s conference, he was clear that the primary mechanism to achieve this would be freeing the unions to engage in collective bargaining once more.

In the coming months and years, the Labour Party will enter government and be forced to institute – and prioritise – the myriad elements of their political programme. The move to a 32-hour week mustn’t be seen by the left as a nicety dreamt up by policy wonks, but as an essential means to loosen the grip of capitalism and a necessary foundation of a socialist agenda.

In a previous essay, he made the case for union involvement in the push to 4-day weeks:

The four-day week is not a silver bullet, but does offer a simple way to tackle a range of issues that affect the entire country. It represents a way of redistributing efficiency gains of new technology – if we’re going to have more automated tasks, we need to make sure that workers see the benefit. It would address the unnecessary contradiction of underemployment and overwork existing side-by-side. It would allow undervalued domestic and care work – disproportionately undertaken by women in our economy – to be shared more equally. It would bring our typical working week in line with our more productive neighbours France and Germany. It can lessen the rampant work-consumption cycle that drives climate change. Most importantly, perhaps, it can offer people more control over their lives.

There are individual cases that show a shift is already happening: some companies from across the world employ a four-day week, of their own accord, and see positive results. But we can’t rely on the practices of a handful of enlightened companies. The transformation we want to bring about requires demand from below and responsive policy from above. Using existing democratic structures is key. The Labour Party and trade unions are not only the most effective (and obvious) institutions to play this role, but also the natural champions of such a policy.

Bettington’s right that unions in Europe and United States have played an important role historically in defining national policy and the rules under which large employers organized their workdays, and the pieces are a nice illustration of how working hours and labor power have been connected. And you can believe that when the Times comes out against it, one reason they do is is that they recognize that the campaign for a 4-day week could revitalize labor unions and attract voter to left-wing parties.

European traders talk about shortening their workdays

London Bridge and the Shard

In Europe, stock markets and other trading floors are open from 8 am to 4:30 pm, one of the longest trading days in the world. Now, two “professional bodies representing traders, the Association for Financial Markets in Europe (AFME) and the Investment Association (IA), have asked European exchanges to shorten trading hours by 90 minutes” per day.

Like teachers, stockbrokers and analysts are expected to put in substantial time preparing for the day; as a result, a day can easily stretch to ten hours or more. The AFME (pdf) notes that

Staff are habitually doing a ten hour working session sat at their desk in an industry where lunch breaks are often still frowned upon. This is not conducive to good mental and physical health. We would note that no firm that we are aware of prevents individuals from leaving their desk, but the prevailing and pervasive culture across the industry is that traders are at their desk for the whole trading day.

The working day is further extended since most traders arrive at least one hour before the market opens, to prepare, and stay at least one hour after the close in order to book trades, assist operations and look at after-market secondary offerings. The IA estimates that the average trader works a 12 hour day starting at 6.30am, representing a 60 hour week.

So why would a shorter day be good? They argue that it would bring several benefits.

London Panorama

Some of them are pretty familiar. For one thing, “a culture of long hours impacted traders’ mental health and wellbeing.” This line of argument will come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed working hours reductions in other high-pressure environments, like health care or restaurants.

There’s also the professional diversity argument: the long hours work against hiring women, and limit the professional lives of anyone with family obligations. “A 2019 survey that covered 129 buyside heads of trading globally reported that the best way to attract and retain more gender diversity in trading,” the AFME report says, “is to provide a better work / life balance. Employees are increasingly looking for more work / life balance when they are looking for jobs.”

London goods

All familiar stuff. But here’s where it gets fascinating.

As one article notes, “The first hour of trading often attracts little liquidity and subsequently is a more costly time to trade, while the final hour attracts around 35% of total daily volume. So a shortened day is a win-win for both traders and trading companies.”

The AFME explains,

The closing auction now consistently represents well over 20% of the daily volume in Europe. To emphasise the shift, around 35% of volume trades in the last hour and that increases to around 50% in the last two and a half hours.

The evidence of a distortion is not just apparent in the traded volumes, but also the actual cost of trading.

The difference in spreads, volatility, and market liquidity in the AM session vs. the PM session result in material differences to the cost of trading.

For a small 1% Average Daily Volume (ADV) trade on the FTSE 100 Index it would cost 4.4bps to execute the trade in the last 30 minutes of the day (excluding the closing auction), whereas the same trade in the first 30 minutes of the day would cost nearly three times more at 11.4bps.

Traders in the London market indeed tell us that the first hour is the most expensive time of day to trade. They consider that this is caused by the wider spreads and lack of liquidity. This cost differential further perpetuates the migration of liquidity to later in the day and a degradation in morning liquidity.

For comparison, in the US market, which is shorter in duration by 2 hours and turns over approximately 6X the volume of the European markets combined, there is still a cheaper cost of trading in the afternoon where liquidity is higher and spreads/volatility lower, but the differential in cost to the morning session is much smaller. This demonstrates greater stability in liquidity conditions over the day in the US market.

Because there’s not as much activity in the first hour, and trading is more expensive, eliminating it would allow traders more time to study charts and do other stuff, and cutting the last half hour would encourage more trading earlier in the day. In other words, “a shorter day will centralise liquidity, facilitating more stable trading conditions and price discovery over the day.”

A shorter trading day will be a more efficient trading day– not just “efficient” in the sense of humans working better, but efficient in the market sense of discovering prices and supporting trading.

London Eye with St Pauls

In other industries, it’s often the case that when you go to a 4-day week, there’s one day that’s really quiet and not much happens: one direct marketing firm found that its sales people made 90% of their sales by Thursday, and in PR Friday is known as a dead day. But I think this is the first example I’ve seen of a proposal to shorten the workday that argues that a shorter day will make markets themselves more efficient.

Computational devices

It should also be noted that, as in other industries, technology helps make a shorter workday possible:

Technology has advanced rapidly and the speed of execution has improved exponentially since the original market hours were established.

Firms advanced trading algorithms are now able to trade in thousandths of a second across multiple venues. The operational processes supporting trading have also evolved significantly, as such it is no longer necessary to have such an extended trading day. For example, the recent 90 minute outage at the London Stock Exchange (LSE) on 16 August 2019 did not result in noticeably less volume going through on that day.

There is other innovation too – for example, the LSE now offers a specific segment to provide investors with the opportunity to reduce time zone risk whilst accessing 6 exposure to global securities.

Finally, a harmonisation of market hours across Europe would address any concerns about liquidity shifting from any one market to another as a result of this change. It’s important that all the major markets in Europe move their trading hours together. Liquidity would not drift from one market to another as European markets would be moving their opening hours in concert.

The London Stock Exchange says they’ll think about it.

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