It seems to have the ominous title “part 1,” so there’s more coming!
So I was just on BBC Radio 4’s morning show (it’s night here in California, but 8 hours ahead in London, people are having their coffee and checking the weather). I was on with Paul Johnson of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, talking about careers, aging, retirement, and the challenge of making work suitable for populations that have longer life expectancy (and increasingly, social safety nets and retirement systems that suck).
This was a bit of a last-minute thing: I got a message from a producer this morning asking if I was available, we did a sound check a couple hours later, and they rang me up a couple minutes before the segment ran.
I find that I perform better in these situations when I don’t just rely on my natural brilliance and extemporaneous speaking ability, but actually do some prep– which for me means writing some note about the subject beforehand. (I’ve written other posts about doing radio.)
Here’s what I wrote out and was trying to get across:
People who have very long and productive careers often alternate periods of intensive focused activity, with periods for recovery and reflection. This is true at the weekly level (i.e., detaching from work and having hobbies or other things that occupy your time), and at the level of years (having sabbaticals or other longer breaks).
This is a more sustainable pattern because, as recent work by neuroscientists and psychologists has shown, humans effectively focus for 4-5 hours a day. We’re also more creative when we have time built into our schedules for both hard work and deliberate rest. Finally, we vastly underestimate how much checking email after-hours erodes our ability to recover and recharge, and both our technologies and professional norms make that problem worse.
Whether consciously or not, parents who take time off with their young children, professionals who burn out after a decade in a high-pressure job, “digital nomads” who spend their 20s doing projects while traveling the world, etc. are all trying to find alternatives that play around with more extended periods of time off, or remix work and other things.
But companies have yet to make sense of these experiments, and instead see the traditional linear career as the norm, and these experiments as concessions or deviations. They also see long hours as a sign of dedication and productivity, and have generally been unwilling to share increased productivity with workers in the form of either higher wages or shorter hours. Finally, we see this problem of work-life balance mainly as one to be solved by individuals, not as an organizational design or policy challenge.
However, there are companies (mainly in software, advertising, and financial services) that have shown that it’s possible right now to shift to a 4-day week, or a 6-hour day, simply by using existing technology more productively, making meeting more efficient, and redesigning the workday to give people longer periods of focused, uninterrupted time.
Companies moving to 4-day weeks show that ever-longer hours are not inevitable, nor are they necessary for a company to make money and do good work. And if we can move to a 4-day week just by using our time and technology more wisely, this suggests that by designing new technologies like robots and AI with an eye to helping workers become more skilled and productive, and sharing the resulting time savings with workers, a 3-day week— or Keynes’ vision of a 15-hour workweek— could be closer to hand than we think.
The challenge we face now is to figure out how we can put these parts together: to do things like shorten the work day, rebuild the wall between work and private time, and design careers that allow for longer breaks and sabbaticals.
It’s not that you find the paragraph that best fits the question the presenter asks and then read it, but rather, the point of the exercise is to get you thinking about a subject, and give you a starting-point.
You’ll also notice the post-it that says “Answer JUST the Question.” This is a constant issue with me: I tend to want to answer a question and then discuss the implications, or a related point, and in a short-format radio show, you have to curb than instinct, and let the presenter guide the conversation. (BBC presenters, in my experience, are really outstanding, so it’s best to let them lead.)
Having a serious microphone is also a MUST for things like this. I love my Yeti Blue mic, and adding the wind guard and stand has only improved both the audio quality and ease of use.
I think I’m slowly getting better at these things. It’s not something that comes effortlessly, but it is possible to improve!
Now to bed, as I have to be up very early tomorrow!
Erica Alini interviewed me a couple days ago about rest and vacations, and now how an article in Gobal News about “The smartest vacation: How to get the most R and R, according to science.“
It’s a more important subject than you might think at first, because so many of us overwork and treat vacations like a Miracle Cure-All, a couple weeks when we can de-stress, relax, recover the energy we’be poured into our jobs, and generally make up for months of overextension and mistreatment.
But too often, we design vacations that don’t do us as much good as they could. We overstuff them with activities, or sneak in a little work, or do other things that degrade the restorative value of our vacations.
On a recent episode of my podcast I talked with Jessica de Bloom, a psychologist who specializes in vacations, about her research and findings. She has a number of insights about what makes vacations truly restorative, and some excellent advice about how we can better approach vacation design.
One thing she highlighted was the importance of control as something that affects whether a vacation is good or bad. If you do what you like and don’t have to face unexpected problems, you’re a lot more likely to rate vacations as good, and you’re more likely to benefit from them. This helped me explain why over the years I’ve gone from taking vacations that were really packed with activities, to vacations that feature one or two big things a day (at most), and more time for either doing “nothing at all,” or for exploring things we discover on the ground. If you have a crazy vacation schedule (kind of like your normal life!) and feel like you need to see Absolutely Everything in order for it to have been a success, two things are likely to happen. First, you’ll fail to cross everything off your list, and that will affect your level of satisfaction with your vacation. Or, you’ll push to do it all, but turn the vacation into a slog.
The most interesting thing de Bloom said was that her research has led her to take non-vacation rest more seriously. The more she gets into the science of recovery, and understands the factors that make vacations successes or failures, the more de Bloom appreciates the value of taking evenings off, of putting work away on weekends, of cultivating hobbies. Vacations are great, but maybe the biggest problem with them is that we expect too much of them.
I certainly understand the temptation to Do It All, especially if you want the kids to be exposed to new things, or you spent a lot of money to get to your destination; and if the point of the vacation is to educate your kids, or to see lots of things, then go for it.
But if the point of your vacation is to actually recover the energy you’ve drained while working, or to step back from the precipice of burnout, then you could be better off doing less.
Cloud compensation solution provider PayScale has announced that it will close for the week of the Fourth of July holiday. Inspired by the book, Rest, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, company executives decided to have employees fully unplug from work during the entire Fourth of July week.
This article references Alex Pang’s book “Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less” which I read recently and thoroughly recommend.https://t.co/lnJh9CJ2Fy
— Kings Court Massage (@kingscourtlive) June 22, 2018
Arianna Huffington and I share a byline on a new piece on Thrive Global explaining “How You Can Use Rest as a Tool for Success:”
The lives of Nobel prize-winning scientists, famous novelists, and composers described Rest may seem very different from our own. But even if your day jobs don’t resemble Albert Einstein’s or Toni Morrison’s, we can apply lessons from their lives to our lives. After all, we can learn from elite athletes about how to train, compete, and take care of our ourselves even if we don’t aspire to Usain Bolt-like swiftness.
So what rules guided their rest? They can be distilled down to a Ten Commandments of Rest.
Check out the article to read more.
I was recently on the Psychologists Off the Clock podcast, talking to Yael Schonbrun about Rest, deliberate rest, and how kids are vampires (though I’m not 100% sure that last part made it through edits).
Yael is super-smart, and we had a good conversation.
And while you’re at it, check out my podcast, and my interview with Stephan Aarstol.
Yep, I’m starting a podcast.
The paperback edition of my book is coming out in a couple days (in the US, that is– it came out in the UK a few days ago!) and I’m now doing lots of interviews with people for my next book, so this seems like a good time to dive into the podcasting world.
Here’s a teaser.
I figured I do a lot of interviews, and those are often with very articulate, fascinating, smart people who are very generous with their time; so why not share those with my readers?
Besides, I’m now starting a new book, and rather than keep it all under wraps until the very end, I figured I’d try flipping the process, share the interviews as I go along, and give readers a sense of how the project unfolds. (The blog does a little of that already, so this is really a step in a direction I’ve already taken, not a radical departure in my practice.)
I still need to get it registered with iTunes, etc., but I’ve got material for several more episodes. My plan is not necessarily to release every single week, but rather to organize them into thematic seasons.
The latest episode of the “Psychologists Off the Clock” podcast features a conversation between me and Brown University psychologist Yael Schonbrun, in which we talk about deliberate rest, the role of downtime in creative lives, and why young children are like vampires.
I’ve been doing a little more media recently, as I head toward the release of the paperback edition of REST (with a new foreword by Arianna Huffington) on June 12. I’ve also got a number of other things that are happening to mark the publication of the new edition, and to spread the word, so yesterday I spent a few hours cleaning up my backyard office, getting things together, and making lists of things I need to do before the book comes out.
Interestingly, it’ll be out in the United Kingdom several days earlier, as a retailer wanted to include it among some summer titles, and needed it sooner.
It was a good time, in part because the interview was somewhat more autobiographical than most, and because Srini is doing some pretty interesting stuff. I actually met him when I was in Utrecht for the Happinez festival (he was a fellow speaker), so it was cool to connect again and trade ideas.
For anyone who speaks German, my latest article, “Weniger Stress, mehr Erfolg: ‘Wir müssen lernen, Pausen zu machen’” is out in the German magazine GEO.
I’ll admit I don’t speak German, and the article was translated by someone with far superior language skills!