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.

New things on vacations

I’ve been thinking a bit about vacations, partly because I’m off to England tomorrow for some research, some interviews, and a little time off with my wife.

Big Ben and Parliament

My latest piece on Thrive Global is an argument for ignoring your children while on vacation:

Since my kids were old enough to pack their own suitcases, I’ve had one ironclad rule for family vacations: “I’m not responsible for your feeling entertained.”

What this means is, you’re old enough to be bored if you want, or not bored. You can choose to engage, or not. You’re in charge of your feelings.

I also talk about the science of vacations with University of Groningen postdoctoral fellow Jessica de Bloom on my podcast. De Bloom is a psychologist who’s looked at a number of important issues– when our happiness peaks on vacation, how long the benefits of vacations last, and what factors go into making our time on vacation seem good or bad.

Kauai

I think her work is very interesting, partly because some of her findings are kind of counterintuitive, but it’s also worth using it (and all scientific research on human subjects) with a grain of salt. For example, when you measure the amount of happiness that being on vacation generates and how long those benefits last, her work indicates that shorter, more frequent vacations are better for us. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go on long trips: for example, you can get immersed in a culture, or forge deep friendships, or have other experiences that more than make up for the extra weeks.

My new Red Oxx bag

Travel and vacations can be complicated things, and  rewarding for all kinds of reasons; and I think what’s good about this work is how it helps us think more clearly about how we balance different demands and possibilities. The science doesn’t provide fixed recommendations; it clarifies options.

Anyway, I’m off to England shortly, to put some of those ideas into practice….

Rest with Alex Pang, Episode 4: Jessica de Bloom and the Science of Vacations

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-wn9tz-952bd4

Since we’re in the middle of summer break, I thought it would be fitting to take a break from the shorter hours interviews, and talk about something that’s on everyone’s mind: vacations.

Many of us have a conflicted relationships with vacations. We expect a lot from them, we spend a lot on them, but we don’t always get everything we want from them. When we go somewhere new, our default mode is to pack the days full of activities (this is doubly true if you have children), then we come home feeling like we need a vacation to recover from our vacation.

If we want vacations that are restorative, that recharge us and restore our energy, is there a better way?

In this episode I talk with Jessica de Bloom about the science of vacations. De Bloom is one of a number of academics who have been studying the psychology of restorative activities. I originally discovered her work when I was writing Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, and so it was a pleasure to talk to her in person about her work.

De Bloom’s work has some counterintuitive conclusions about vacations and breaks, and if you like getting away but feel like you’re not getting what you need out of your time away, this episode is for you.

Mentioned in this episode:

Rest, medical education, and Clifford Geertz’s lawn

The Center for Medical Simulation at Harvard discusses Rest in the latest episode of their podcast. It’s a great conversation: in addition to providing a good overview of the book, they talk about deep play, the challenges of making time for rest when you’re a doctor, and other practical things.

Listening to it, I was struck by how much of a role social norms play in making rest more or less available to busy people, by defining whether it’s okay to rest during the day, or rest when other people are still working (which these days means all the time). Robert Simon, the Center’s senior director for educational leadership and international programs (and hence no slacker) says,

I have really tried not to get into my email on the weekends. What I experienced was, “Oh, that’s good” from my colleagues— and then a sense of disappointment from time to time that I hadn’t read something that was important to them… the social pressure that comes from, “You’re resting? Really? You’re not measuring up to my expectations.” I would say something similar about going to take a nap during the day: “I’m working and you’re just sleeping?”

So I think it has to do with some kind of social contract that plays into that….

I try to work at home one day a week. Invariably, I rest for half an hour. Every time, I do that, and I feel so much better for it. That’s so easily accomplished at home, and not when I’m in the office.

I think that we can’t underestimate the value of synchronizing rest time in the workplace, whether it’s by having regular rituals, or shortening the workday. It eliminates the social stigma attached to rest, but also eliminates a lot of the pressure that flexible schedules place on individuals.

Host Jenny Rudolph also shares this great anecdote about Clifford Geertz:

For many years… [Geertz] rented the house next to us in Vermont every summer. And [by the end of his visit] the grass down by the lake right in front of his house… was completely worn down because hw walked back and forth, back and forth, for several hours every day, thinking about his books.

This is not a story I’ve ever run across, and doubt I ever would, so thanks, Jenny!

Rest with Alex Pang, Episode 3: Spencer Kimball and Free Fridays at Cockroach Labs

In this episode I talk to Spencer Kimball, cofounder of Cockroach Labs , a startup that’s reinventing how databases work. It’s kind of technical, but fortunately Spencer does a great job of explaining what they’re doing. He also does an excellent job of explaining Cockroach Labs’ “Free Fridays,” and how they’ve designed their work week to give everyone one day a week to work on their own projects, even as they build a product designed to compete against products made by giants like Microsoft, Amazon and Oracle.

I also talk to Clive Thompson about why 20% time is a significant perk for software developers, and more gnerally, the place that free time plays in the professional and intellectual lives of programmers.

Mentioned in this episode:

Why deliberate rest is important for learning and professional development

Yesterday I wrote about William Heneage Ogilvie’s essay “In Praise of Idleness,” in which he makes the case for the importance of “idleness” in the lives of doctors and surgeons:

Most of us have passed through… spells of hard conscientious work and through spells of idleness. In the first we have acquired knowledge; in the second we have built up wisdom. In the first we have been worthy workers. In the second we have made, or started the train that has brought us to, those personal contributions by which we hope to be remembered when we are dead. For the human mind which has been driven hard does its best work when the tension is outspanned and it is allowed to find the natural paths that shape themselves in idle periods….

For many of us the war [ed: both World War I and World War II, in Ogilvie’s case] has provided such a sabbatical break. We have worked hard even in uniform, but for long times we have remained idle. Then it is that we have discovered to our joy that the disconnected visions of our student days are all fiting into a pattern. Figuratively, we have sprung like Archimedes from the bath in which we have been dozing and have shouted “Eureka.”

Today I saw that Jocelyn Glei wrote about the relative benefits of practice versus reflection in learning and the development of skills. She draws on an article about the role of reflection in individual learning:

In this paper, we build on research on the microfoundations of strategy and learning processes to study the individual underpinnings of organizational learning. We argue that once an individual has accumulated a certain amount of experience with a task, the benefit of accumulating additional experience is inferior to the benefit of deliberately articulating and codifying the experience accumulated in the past. We explain the superior performance outcomes associated with such deliberate learning efforts using both a cognitive (improved task understanding) and an emotional (increased self-efficacy) mechanism. We study the proposed framework by means of a mixed-method experimental design that combines the reach and relevance of a field experiment with the precision of two laboratory experiments. Our results support the proposed theoretical framework and bear important implications from both a theoretical and practical viewpoint.

Yet few workplaces are good at supporting this, and as Glei notes, “taking time to reflect is not intuitive.” The article makes the same point:

Our empirical evidence shows that when given a chance to choose between accumulating additional experience with a task versus articulating and codifying the experience they have already accumulated, individuals largely prefer doing to thinking. The results of this study however also suggest that this is a sub-optimal strategy: participants who chose to reflect outperformed those who chose additional experience.

Nonetheless, the benefit of doing so are pretty clear.

This article shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone living in a post-Donald Schön reflective practitioner universe, though the original article’s mix of laboratory tests and fieldwork is pretty elegant, and I quite like how they take on the question of whether people intuit the importance of reflection versus action.

I see a very similar pattern in the discovery of deliberate rest by my subjects in REST: many are hard-charging, ambitious people who only discover the value of deliberately slowing down and taking rest seriously after almost burning out. When you’re chasing a Nobel prize or facing a deadline, it’s not self-evident that you should schedule time for deliberate rest: it looks like a sub-optimal strategy.

Unfortunately, many people who overwork and burn out assume that the key to success is just working harder, not learning how to use rest more strategically. It’s a bit like being a long-term value investor, rather than a day-trader: you have to be willing to accept some ups and downs, some short-term losses and less spectacular returns, on the belief that in the long run you’ll do better. And, one might add, in the belief that you’ll have a long run.

As Glei puts it,

In order to stop doing busywork and start doing our best work, we have to make a point of scheduling in regular time for reflection. We have to celebrate, appreciate, and analyze our past performances, so that we can synthesize what we’ve learned and apply that knowledge to take it up a notch next time.

We do our “most important work when” we let the mind “wander at its own pace round the paths over which it has been rushing”

I recently discovered an essay by the surgeon William Heneage Ogilvie titled “In Praise of Idleness,” which I found while looking for stuff on Bertrand Russell’s essay of the same name. This “Praise of Idleness” appeared in the April 16 1949 issue of the British Medical Journal, and talks about the importance of down-time in the development of physicians:

My thesis is the very simple one that the man who works hard and conscientiously does his most important work when he outspans his mind and allows it to wander at its own pace round the paths over which it has been rushing, and that science is advanced further in a shorter time by the informal chatter of a few like-minded friends over cocktails than by the formal exchange of papers or by any number of congresses.

(As you’d expect from 1949, the piece only speaks about men. But Ogilvie was giving a talk in South Africa, and mentions that it had taken five days via seaplane to get there from London— “I have once again enjoyed the pleasures of idleness, the armchair existence of a five-days flight in a Plymouth flying-boat”, he says— so it really was a different era.)

Anyway, this is the part that jumped out at me:

We can recognize among our students two types. At one extreme we have the overpowering enthusiast who attends all lectures and takes down every word. After a hurried meal he goes to the library and pores over a textbook til the time comes for a ward round, when he listens eagerly to every comment and again enters it in his book. At the other extreme is the footballer who strolls into the lecture a little late and does not really get into his stride as a listener til he has filled and lit his pipe and gets it drawing to his satisfaction. [Ed: The image of the athlete smoking is kind of anachronistic, too!] His notes are sparse, and at rounds he is attentive but not verbose. Yet when it comes to a practical task the second one approaches it with a common-sense outlook; when he is asked a question whose answer is not in the textbook he is able to see through the problem to its essentials and give an answer that may not be the right one but that embodies his personal experience; at examinations he beats his more studious fellow student, in the practicals at any rate, and when he goes into the world he makes a better doctor.

Most of us have passed through both of these phases, through spells of hard conscientious work and through spells of idleness. In the first we have acquired knowledge; in the second we have built up wisdom. In the first we have been worthy workers. In the second we have made, or started the train that has brought us to, those personal contributions by which we hope to be remembered when we are dead. For the human mind which has been driven hard does its best work when the tension is outspanned and it is allowed to find the natural paths that shape themselves in idle periods.

This aside is also kind of striking:

For many of us the war has provided such a sabbatical break. We have worked hard even in uniform, but for long times we have remained idle. Then it is that we have discovered to our joy that the disconnected visions of our student days are all fiting into a pattern. Figuratively, we have sprung like Archimedes from the bath in which we have been dozing and have shouted “Eureka.”

This may sound unlikely, but one of the first studies that established that the restorative properties of time away from work (like on vacation) are determined less by how long you’re away, than by how mentally detached you are from your job and normal life, focused on reservists in the Israeli Defense Forces.

Anyway, the advice remains sound, even in an era of jet travel and women professionals.

The gendered consequences of “Do what you love”

The Atlantic has an article arguing that our belief that you should be passionate about your work has the unintended effect of discouraging women from working if they don’t land in a high-paying, high-reward job. When you already have competing demands from home and children, it’s easier to decide that those things should take priority over employment. From “When ‘Love What You Do’ Pushes Women to Quit:”

the idea that one should feel fervently about one’s work disproportionately affects women, who may already feel that their job is a hardship for their family. For women who don’t inherently see their role in the family as “economic provider,” staying in a job that might not pay much and that they’re not crazy about feels frivolous and selfish.

Perhaps it’s worth stating the obvious: Passions often don’t translate into lucrative careers. Our friends’ passions included acting, singing, sports teams, and yoga—all activities those friends tried to monetize at one time or another, for very low pay. While intellectually most women know they won’t earn much chasing a dream, the reality of trying to balance a low-paying job with raising a family and running a household, especially if your spouse way outearns you, is enough to make many women leave the workplace, particularly those women who don’t feel they must be economically independent.

Digital nomads on the s-curve

Aloha from Kauai!

The digital nomads movement exists in a bit of a legal grey area: people who travel the world, renting houses or hanging out in coworking spaces while freelancing or building their businesses can be considered to be violating their tourist visas, even though they’re essentially bringing work with them. (On the other hand, since they’re generally not hiring locals under the table to work on their businesses, and tend to be more law-abiding and quieter than backpackers who are looking for the next great rave, they also tend not to attract a lot of Official Attention.)

Now, Thailand— which is one of the hobs of the digital nomad movement— is now creating a new visa designed in part for digital nomads:

Thailand’s Smart Visa will only be available to people who work in “S-Curve” industries such as automation and robotics, biotech, and next-gen automotive. The visa will allow holders to work in Thailand without a work permit for four years, compared to one year previously. It’s a one-of-a-kind visa that I hope will be replicated in other countries, especially those looking to expand their talent base and offer companies the best talent from all over the world, instead of hindering them with current archaic visa rules and regulations.

The concept of an s-curve visa— effectively, one that makes it easier for people in new, high-tech industries of the future to come work in your country— is something I’ve not seen before.

I did a few interviews with digital nomads for REST, but I never quite got that section to work. Hwoever, I might go back and do some interviews for the podcast, as they’re managing their time and working hours in some interesting ways.

Rest with Alex Pang, Episode 2: Annie Tevelin and SkinOwl’s 24-Hour Week

More Los Angeles.

This week on my podcast I talk to Annie Tevelin, founder and head of SkinOwl, a Los Angeles-based cosmetics company that works a 24-hour week. SkinOwl makes vegan cosmetics (apparently the Geranium Beauty Drops are quite popular), and Annie started the company after working as a market up artist in Hollywood for Lancôme and studying cosmetic chemistry at UCLA.

When she founded SkinOwl, Annie didn’t want a company that expected the kinds of crazy hours that are typical in Hollywood, and she’s created a workplace in which people are able to quickly fill orders, deal with customers, handle thousand-item B2B orders (the products are available on five continents), all in a four-day week. And those are 6-hour days, not 10-hour days.

This was an especially fun interview, and quite enlightening for me: not only did I learn a few things about working shorter hours, I also learned a little about cosmetics, a world that to be honest was a black box before now. An exquisitely designed, tasteful black box, protected by a friendly yet intimidating sales person.

Annie Tevelin and SkinOwl’s 24-Hour Week

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-7dhzh-942a06

In this episode, I talk to Annie Tevelin, the founder of Los Angeles-based cosmetics company SkinOwl. Annie founded SkinOwl after studying cosmetics chemistry at UCLA; before that, she had a career in Hollywood as a makeup artist with Lancôme. SkinOwl is sold online, and is sold on five continents– not bad for a small company that operates on a 4-day week and a 6-hour day.

Annie talks about her background, how SkinOwl provides great customer service and feedback while giving people Mondays off, and how to fill six thousand bottles of Geranium Beauty Drops.

Mentioned in this podcast:

Have feedback? Ideas for future episodes? Leave a comment and let me know!

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