Deliberate Rest

Designing rest for a busy world

Category: REST (page 1 of 23)

Some personal news: I’m joining the BrightSight Group


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.

The politics of the 4-day workweek in the UK

On the Eye

In the UK, political parties are starting to argue about the merits and economics of the 4-day workweek as they head into a general election. The Labour Party, building on advocacy by UK trade unions, has announced that they want to move to a 4-day week in the next decade. Leading the charge on the conservative side is the Times: on Tuesday, their editorial page wrote,

Jeremy Corbyn’s aim to introduce a four-day working week would cost the taxpayer at least £17 billion a year because of the impact on the public sector wage bill, a new analysis has shown….

Research by the Centre for Policy Studies, a centre-right think tank, has found that reducing the hours of public sector employees, including doctors, nurses, teachers, firefighters and police officers, would impose a significant extra burden on the Treasury because the workforce would have to expand.

In an editorial titled “The Road to Serfdom” (we just can’t quit Hayek is seems), the Times said that “Labour’s unreality is exemplified too in its plan to introduce a four-day working week over ten years with no loss of pay.” So they’re keen to knock down the idea that the 4-day week is viable.

Here’s the core of the Centre for Policy Studies analysis [pdf]:

[I]f we simply reduce the hours worked by each public sector worker, this will impose a cost as you have to expand the workforce to obtain the same results. The total compensation paid to public sector workers was £183.8 billion in 2017 (the latest year available).4 If you assume a simple increase in costs due to lower hours and no increase in productivity, meaning more staff must be hired, the costs of bringing in a four-day work would at present be either £45 billion (assuming we go from 42.5 to 32 hours a week on average) or £26 billion (assuming we go from 37.3 hours to 32 hours a week on average).

However, let us assume that through a version of compressed hours, smarter working, and higher motivation, you might make significant productivity gains. This is incredibly optimistic, given the lack of formal evidence for such a sharp rise in productivity due to simply having lower hours. But if we adopt as our central estimate a 6% gain in productivity, worth half the hours lost, this could (on such heroic assumptions), be worth around a £9 billion increase in productivity, which could partly cancel out the cost of lower hours.

Even under this scenario, however, the shift to a 32-hour working week would mean a £17 billion hit to the public sector on today’s numbers.

Of course, I think any responsible analyst will say that trying to forecast about productivity and labor costs ten years out is basically an exercise in guesswork. However, there are a couple things that seem worth pointing out.

First, this assumes a lower productivity gain than I’ve seen in companies that have moved to 4-day weeks. Only one says that they’ve taken a hit on productivity; the rest talk about being as productive as they were when working 5 days (i.e., being 20% more productive), or being more productive (i.e., getting over 20%). Microsoft Japan reported an increase of almost 40% during their recent trial.

Second, it doesn’t try to figure in the indirect gains and savings that come from shortening the workweek, even at publicly-funded organizations. For example, when a Swedish nursing home moved its nursing staff to a 6-hour day, the program cost about 700k euro per year, but because they hired a bunch of people who hadn’t been working, they saved the government half that in unemployment insurance. At the Glebe, a retirement home in Virginia, a 6-hour workday for nursing staff cost about $145,000 a year, but saved more than $120,000 in overtime, fees to recruiting agencies, and fees to temp agencies– plus there were additional savings because care was better, so residents had fewer injuries, and needed fewer drugs and attention from doctors.

There are also indirect gains that come in the form of better worker health, fewer sick days, less burnout, and lower turnover / higher retention rates– all of which can be expensive for companies, and a burden on societies and economies. (Burnout alone costs the global economy $300 billion a year.) In the UK, KPMG estimates that the inability of professional or skilled women to reenter the job market after having children costs the economy more than £1 billion annually. You could also include lower spending by workers on things like gas and child care; and from reduced spending by the organization on health insurance, and utilities if offices are closed an extra day.

Third, there are plenty of governments that have implemented 4-day weeks, and shown that it’s possible to do this without cutting services. I was recently in Maine, and found a number of towns that have moved most of their government services to 4 days a week. Granted, these are pretty small towns, but they report that thanks to being about to put some government services– paying taxes, getting licenses and registrations, applying for things– online, and having elected officials be available via email or Skype (or just at the corner diner– I said these are small towns), they reduce the amount of time they need to spend in an office, without being less accessible. (As I recently noted, a Danish municipality is experimenting with 4-day weeks now.) The state government of Utah did this for a years under Jon Huntsman.

There’s another point work making. The CPS study says,

In general, most economists assume that as productivity rises, hours worked decline. This appeared to hold true throughout the 20th century. But there is much less evidence for the opposite argument – that if you reduce hours, productivity automatically increases.

Which is correct, but is not the actual experience of any company or organization that’s shortened its working hours. It’s not a merely automatic effect: productivity goes up because people use shorter hours as a chance to implement managerial reforms, process improvements, and changes in how people use technology– often while spending little or nothing– in order to improve productivity.

Now having said this, it’s definitely the case that you can mandate lower working hours in ways that are problematic; the Korean government’s experience is one cautionary tale, and the French experience has been kinda mixed, too.

But 4-day weeks should be treated as an investment, not an expense, and serious policymakers should try to forecast more comprehensively how they can impact an economy.

Talking about REST and SHORTER at Silicon Foundry, December 4

I’ll be talking about REST and SHORTER at Silicon Foundry in San Francisco on December 4.

Let's talk about distraction

The talk will range cross my last three books, THE DISTRACTION ADDICTION, REST, and SHORTER, laying out my argument for the importance of deliberate rest, explaining how we can develop practices that create more time for focused work, and how companies are redesigning their workdays to build more time for focus– and reduce their working hours at the same time.

Speaking at Somnex

You can pre-register here, but space is limited!

Rest helped me “manage the balance sheet and navigate my part in the P&L through the” crash “in such a way as we made money.“

Banker and portfolio manager Greg McKenna writes in the Australian edition of Business Insider that “As summer approaches, here’s some good news – rest more, work less and get more done:”

Pang said that some of the world’s most creative people… used the restorative properties of rest to “restore their energy while allowing their muse, the mysterious part of their minds that helps drive the creative process, to keep going”.

I myself – one holiday in Yamba in the early days of the global financial crisis (GFC) – had the time to sit on the beach and on the couch to read David Hackett Fischer’s “Great Wave – Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History”. Sure, it was a history of inflation, but it was also coincidentally a history of the economy and banking crises for 800 years.

It set me up perfectly as treasurer of a small bank to manage the balance sheet and navigate my part in the P&L through the GFC in such a way as we made money.

All simply because I took the time to rest, relax, restore, and read.

A great example of how rest is essential and generative even (or maybe especially) during a crisis.

6 reasons why it’s more productive to work less

A while ago I had a piece in CEO Magazine (which I believe is published in Australia and New Zealand) offering “6 reasons why it’s more productive to work less.” I just saw tonight that the piece, which was behind a firewall when it first came out, is now available for free.

Today, overwork is the new normal. A 2015 survey by EY found that half of all managers worked more than 40 hours a week, and 39% were working more hours than in 2010. We treat rest as uninteresting, unimportant, and even a sign of weakness.

There are many reasons people feel the need to put in long working hours, and cultural norms that encourage overwork, but a small army of neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists and engineers have shown that overwork is counterproductive in the long term.

They’ve found that regular breaks, outside hobbies, holidays and sabbaticals, sleep, and even daily naps make you a better worker. Why leaders should pay more attention to rest, and encourage the people who work for them to embrace it, too.

Reading it now, some of it anticipates the issues I talk about in my forthcoming book SHORTER (US | UK). Odd how these ideas run around, only semi-recognized, until they turn into something!

Wealth “is disposable time, and nothing more”

From The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties, Deduced from Principles of Political Economy, in a Letter to Lord John Russell (published anonymously and later credited to Charles Dilke, and available online):

[W]here men heretofore laboured twelve hours they would now labour six, and this is national wealth, this is national prosperity… [W]ealth is liberty– liberty to seek recreation–liberty to enjoy life–liberty to improve the mind: it is disposable time, and nothing more.

Adam Smith on the value of moderation

Adam Smith's tomb
Adam Smith’s tomb, Edinburgh

Peter Barnard, in a comment on Jenni Russell’s recent column talking about REST (US | UK) points to an Adam Smith quote from the Wealth of Nations about the value of rest:

It will be found, I believe, in every sort of trade, that the man who works so moderately as to be able to work constantly not only preserves his health the longest, but, in the course of the year, executes the greatest quantity of work.

The quote is in Book 1, Chapter 8, “On the Wages of Labor,” and is at the end of this observation.

Excessive application during four days of the week is frequently the real cause of the idleness of the other three, so much and so loudly complained of. Great labour, either of mind or body, continued for several days together, is in most men naturally followed by a great desire of relaxation, which, if not restrained by force or by some strong necessity, is almost irresistible. It is the call of nature, which requires to be relieved by some indulgence, sometimes of ease only, but sometimes, too, of dissipation and diversion. If it is not complied with, the consequences are often dangerous, and sometimes fatal, and such as almost always, sooner or later, brings on the peculiar infirmity of the trade. If masters would always listen to the dictates of reason and humanity, they have frequently occasion rather to moderate than to animate the application of many of their workmen. It will be found, I believe, in every sort of trade, that the man who works so moderately as to be able to work constantly not only preserves his health the longest, but, in the course of the year, executes the greatest quantity of work.

So my next book SHORTER (US | UK) is essentially one long footnote to this paragraph, much as Western philosophy is a footnote to Plato, as Alfred North Whitehead put it.

“Pang’s argument… is that deep, targeted rest, and more of it, improves the quality of our thinking, our work and our lives“

O’Hare Airport neon sculpture

I flew into O’Hare International Airport this afternoon, and when I switched on my phone, I found that Jenni Russell had published a new column in the Times arguing that “Less is more when it comes to time at work.” It features a lovely bit about REST:

In the age of the smartphone and the internet, professional work scarcely has boundaries at all. It’s the new normal to be sending emails at midnight, to restart projects after a distracted supper, to interrupt family Sunday lunches with work calls. Normal, and miserable. Many of us are stressed, overwhelmed, always typing to keep up. We’ve bought the idea that we’re better for doing more, that for success we must emulate the Steve Jobses and Elon Musks of this world.

We’re mistaken. The ancients knew it, modern neuroscience confirms it, and a Silicon Valley technology forecaster and consultant who stepped back from burnout is trying to reverse our assumptions. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang has marshalled the evidence that long hours are destructive and counterproductive, for employees and employers alike. He’s making the case for complementing work with deliberate, restorative, active rest.

Pang’s argument, in his 2017 book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, is not the familiar claim that we need a work-life balance. It is that deep, targeted rest, and more of it, improves the quality of our thinking, our work and our lives. It is not the wimps’ choice. It is what the most productive deep thinkers, scientists, mathematicians, musicians and writers have always done.

Ironically, it appears the same day as a BBC report about skepticism of the 4-day workweek that includes this argument against shorter working hours:

Matthew Lesh, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, said: “Labour’s bizarre idea to force people to work less will mean lower wages and fewer opportunities for millions….

We should celebrate people who work hard to provide for their families, not take away this freedom. Low income Brits in particular want to work more, not less.”

I hadn’t thought that I would ever read the verbal equivalent of Jacob Rees-Mogg sprawling across the green benches of the House of Commons, but I clearly underestimate the inventiveness of some people.

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