Deliberate Rest

A blog about getting more done by working less

Category: REST (page 1 of 20)

“I need you to be great for 48 hours, then I need you to go and forget about this:” Ben Shewry on changing the culture of cooking

Ben Shewry talks with food journalist Lisa Abend at the 2018 MAD symposium about becoming a chef, and fighting back against the culture of overwork and harassment:

He starts talking about going to work at Attica around 13:40. At 18:20, Abend directs the conversation toward the changes he’s made in hiring practices; the big impact of having everyone give talks about themselves; the challenge of making it possible for people to come forward with problems; and shortening the hours (from about 37:30).

Here’s what Shewry says about shorter hours (I’ve taken the closed caption transcript that’s automatically generated by YouTube, and cleaned it up a little):

Lisa Abend: …Has it affected quality? do you feel like you’re a less lesser restaurant at the level of cuisine because of it?

Ben Shewry: No I think I mean we’ve— we are working at most 48 hours in the kitchen or less in the front of house at most 45 hours or less— that’s across four days in the kitchen, so they have the staff has three days off. [applause]

I mean the quality is better than ever. Like there’s just no comparison you know? What I’m asking for– I’m not talking about being all lovey-dovey and being soft as some people have have accused me of. You know, that’s not what it is. It’s like, I don’t need 48 hours, I need an elite 48 hours from you, you know? I need you to be great for 48 hours, then I need you to go and forget about this, and have a great life, and concentrate on some stuff that’s good for you. Have breakfast with your boyfriend or your girlfriend or your wife, or you know— like, whatever. Like I don’t care. Please just don’t– don’t be here.

And at the start of this we literally had to police it. Like I’m there first, same time as Carly, and we see in the camera staff coming like two hours before their shift. Literally we have to go out there and say, “Go away!” Like, “You can’t be here! You know, like, your shift is not starting so please— go away, have a coffee, I don’t care.” And so it was a really big cultural shift for them as well, because they never ever work like this, you know? They— they always sort of—  Everybody subscribes to this, “You’ve got to do the hours,” you know, “You just got to do the hours, otherwise you’re not hardcore,” you know, which is such nonsense! What about if you did less hours, and you did them a lot better, you know?

I think there’s something in that, and there definitely is something in that at Attica. That’s how it is, and the food is better than it was. But the culture, particularly the environment, the atmosphere, is like the best of all time, you know.

And that’s not to say that– I’m not sitting here saying well we’re perfect, and that, you know, we live in a bubble, that we aren’t affected by everything the same as you guys are affected by… But the culture is excellent, you know, and and people are, like, genuinely happy and they can do things. They can get a haircut, you know?

What becomes really clear is that the transition to 4-day weeks is part of a much bigger set of changes that he’s made to the culture of restaurant since buying Attica in 2015. Abend does a fabulous job in the conversation of showing how the drive to shorter hours is, for Shewry, part of a bigger effort to create a more humane and empathetic and creative workplace: that fundamentally, if you want to treat people well while also demanding a lot from them on the job, you have to let them have their own lives in exchange.

There’s also some very insightful stuff about gender, working hours, and working conditions, and how reducing hours– and more broadly, making a more humane culture– makes it easier for women cooks to do their work and also manage family obligations.

Sherry’s impatience with the idea that you have to be an abusive person to be a creative genius– or that genius gives you permission to be terrible– is palpable, and hard-won.

It’s really worth listening to the whole thing.

Some of the World’s Best Restaurants are Learning to Rest

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-baub6-9a414a

Cooking at elite restaurants is one of the most creatively and physically demanding jobs in the world. You’re constantly experimenting with new combinations of foods, looking for unusual and imaginative juxtapositions; reinventing ways of preparing familiar dishes; even developing new cooking methods (hello sous vide!). They have to turn creative breakthroughs into viable products: they must take something that took weeks to develop, and turn it into a dish that can be prepared by chefs on the line, night after night. Their work is open-ended: the quest for new dishes and ingredients and ways of cooking never stops. 

Cooking also demands perfection, minute after minute, day after day. It’s physically and mentally exhausting; you’re working in a high-stress atmosphere. The industry gives a lot of power to chefs who are visionaries, and some of them use that freedom to be imaginative, inquisitive, curious, and perfectionist; others just turn difficult, demanding, and even abusive. It’s also a field that has more than its share of burnout, substance abuse, and other problems.

So it’s been fascinating to discover that some of the best restaurants in the world have recently started implementing 4-day weeks, hiring more staff to give cooks and staff more time off, and limiting working hours. In this episode, I draw on talks given by Maaemo chef Esben Holmoe Bang and Faviken chef Magnus Nilsson at the 2017 Food on the Edge conference in Galway, the explore this trend. It’s a fascinating part of the story of shortening working hours, and a real inspiration.

Somehow I missed the pun “putting the REST in ‘restaurant’.” Oh well, the moment has passed.

Discussed in this Episode:

This is not a crazy idea

Chris Bailey has a piece in the New York Times about focus, distraction, and quality of work:

When it comes to focusing at work, there is no shortage of scapegoats to blame for our wandering minds. Social media, the ever-churning news cycle, chats with colleagues — these distractions can lead to a working state of mind that is far from focused. But there’s one possible cause of frequent distraction we don’t often consider: Our work isn’t complex enough, and there isn’t enough of it.

This isn’t as nuts as it sounds at first glance. The companies I’m studying that shorten their working hours spent plenty of energy on this, sometimes unintentionally.

If you’re in software or advertising, trying to fit the same work into a shorter day isn’t an exercise in just doing the same repetitive task faster, like on an assembly line; rather, you tend find new ways of working more intensively.

Of course it’s easy to imagine it being weaponized by unscrupulous or exploitative managers.

Giving away some books

My UK publishers sent me a box of copies of the new paperback edition of REST (the one with the foreword by Arianna Huffington).

Copies of the UK paperback edition.

One thing I’ve learned is that while it’s cool that they exist at all, and it’s cool to see a bunch of them all together, copies of your book don’t do you any good just sitting on your shelf. It’s like money: you want enough on hand in case you need, but in the long run you’ll be better off it it’s out in the world, circulating and being used.

Rest is the same way. The books do more good when they’re out in the world, and seeing the world. So I’m giving some copies away.

As you can see, I’ve added an unobtrusive newsletter signup at the top of the blog. I’m going to offer a copy a week to a randomly-selected newsletter subscriber, until I’ve put a dent in this pile.

If you want another copy, great. If you know someone who could really use it, and want me to send it to them, your generosity is inspiring. If you want to sell it on eBay, I won’t be angry, just disappointed.*

My one rule: because the cost of shipping books internationally is ridiculous, I’ll send books within the US only. (I’m not made of money, alas!) So if you live outside the States, sorry; but maybe you have an American friend?

In the future, I’ll probably also offer subscribers an early look at the next book, as well as other works-in-progress type things. More reasons to subscribe!

* Disappointed, that is, at how little you’re able to get for it. It’s really it’s not worth going through all the work of listing it, dealing with going to the post office, etc. Just keep the book.

One New Mexico school districts’ 4-day week

My old elementary school
One of my old elementary schools, now closed and scheduled for demolition, Waynesboro, VirginiaPBS’ News Hour recently had a piece about Bayard, New Mexico, a school district that haa moved from a five-day to a four-day school week. It did so mainly for financial reasons, and it’s now assessing the pros and cons of the shift.

It seems that there are benefits in terms of lower absenteeism, better teacher recruitment and retention, and some teachers reporting better classroom performance (both on their own part and on among students). Coaches like it because it makes more time for practices and games. And for kids in rural districts who are spending a lot of time on school buses— kids in this particular district may spend three hours a day commuting to and from school— it means less time on the road.

It’s also interesting how the concerns about the 4-day school week are framed. A lot of it has to do with the babysitting functions of school: librarians complain that they have more unaccompanied kids in their libraries (apparently children in the library are a negative), grandparents and other relatives are more tired, etc.. (This ought to highlight just how much energy teachers have to spend doing these things.) For others, there’s an equity issue: if my kid’s spending less time in school, will they be as well-prepared for college or work as a student who spends more? Equating time spent with outcomes is hardly unusual, in education or the workplace, but still it’s notable how quickly the discussion moves to this ground.

Self-help ≠ you’re on your own: New work on career advice vs. advocacy

When writing The Distraction Addiction and Rest, I could never shake a certain uneasiness with both projects: my concern that the self-help genre lets corporations and culture off the hook.

I believe very much in value of contemplative computing and deliberate rest. I think practicing both makes your life better. I think that it’s important for people to recognize that they can question technologies and conventional ways of working, and escape narratives of technological or cultural determinism.*

But there’s always the risk that the underlying message would slide from “here are some tools to recognize and solve the problems we all face,” to  “these problems are personal; don’t focus on anything beyond yourself.” By channeling your energy into personal empowerment, these messages deflect energy that might be spent questioning, and ultimately challenging, the structural factors that are responsible for creating these problems (or at least making them worse).

This problem was really driven home to me when I was doing the press tour for Rest, and kept getting asked, “What tips and tricks do you have for a single mom who’s also pursuing a career and needs more rest?” (Never single dads. It’s almost as if some questioners wanted single moms to be deprived of rest.) After about the tenth time of being asked the question, I finally came up with an answer that I liked:

If there were tips and tricks, single mothers would have already found them. The problem they face isn’t that they’re not smart enough about their lives; when it comes to how they spend their time, they’re some of the most ruthlessly efficient, no-nonsense people I know.  The problem is that they live in a society that systematically undervalues the work that parents do; that shifts the burden of parenting disproportionately onto mothers; and expects working women to raise children as if they don’t have careers, and to pursue careers as if they don’t have children. These women don’t need personal tips. They need a different system.

Ephrat Livni’s thought-provoking Quartz essay, ”All career advice for women is a form of gaslighting,” reminded me of these concerns. 

Working women get career advice for how to overcome obstacles and succeed while working in a sexist culture are beyond any individual’s control. And so advocating a do-it-yourself approach to on-the-job equality may actually be a kind of gaslighting—just one more way for institutions to deflect blame and make women question themselves and doubt their sanity. It’s the society we operate in that needs fixing, not how we ask for money, the tone of our voices, or our outfits.

In fact, research by Duke University department of neuroscience professors Grainne Fitzsimons, Aaron Kay, and Jae Yun Kim… shows that overemphasizing messages of individual female empowerment diminishes people’s sense of systemic obstacles that require societal redress. It puts major historic problems on the shoulders of individuals, who are actually minor players. 

Empowerment advice for women provides an “illusion of control” that’s not realistic, the researchers say. The advice may be good insofar as it gives us hope, but it fails to recognize larger, much more powerful forces at work, like a long history of discrimination and patriarchy. 

“We suspected that by arguing that women can solve the problem themselves, advocates of the ‘DIY’ approach may imply that women should be the ones to solve it—that it is their responsibility to do so,” they write. “We also hypothesized that this message could risk leading people to another, potentially dangerous conclusion: that women have caused their own under-representation.”…

The Duke University researchers argue that their findings on DIY equality should worry anyone who believes we need structural and societal change to improve the workplace. ”[T]he more we talk about women leaning in, the more likely people are to hold women responsible, both for causing inequality, and for fixing it,” they write.

“The truth,” Livni writes, “is that women face biases that are far too profound and complex to expect any individual to resolve them on their own.” Self-help books run the risk of flattening that complexity, of absolving companies and culture, and personalizing failure. If you don’t make it, if you don’t get a promotion or have your work recognized, it’s not because the deck is stacked against you; it’s because you didn’t lean in enough.

This is one reason I’ve been looking at companies that are shortening their working hours. I believe strongly that it’s good for people to be thoughtful about and protective of their time, and that they should take rest seriously and make room for it. Yet it’s also unquestionable that there are huge structural and normative impediments to doing so.

So showing that there are companies that have successfully cut 8 or 10 hours from their working weeks, without sacrificing productivity or profitability, is important: it shows that these structures can change, that the impediments can be lowered— and that this doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game in which one side (the side that usually gets to set the rules of the game, not coincidentally) suspects that it is being cheated. This is why I started my podcast with interviews with heads of companies that are leading this trend: I wanted to make it really clear that these people exist, to amplify their stories, and to explain how they do it. Ultimately, I want other companies to ask, why shouldn’t we do this too?

* Another reason I haven’t written much about how companies try to manipulate our attention and time is that I don’t have any illusions about trying to change Facebook’s or Twitter’s strategy. They’ve made enormous amounts of money, and invest ungodly amounts of time and energy, getting people to spend as much time as possible on their sites, and getting them to behave in ways that are appealing to advertisers. If anything, these companies are even more addicted to behavior design than we are. One book isn’t going to get you to rethink your strategy if that strategy has allowed you to pay cash for a mountain in Hawaii or Montana.

Lasse Rheingans and the 5-Hour Workday at Rheingans Digital Enabler

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-4zdsx-987466

And we’re back! I’m afraid I was off for a couple weeks in England, doing some research and other interviews, then had lots of other things that demanded my attention when I got back. So my apologies for the hiatus. I know there are so few podcasts in the world, it’s a hardship to be without an episode.

But the wait is worth it. Here, I talk with Lasse Rheingans, the head of Rheingans Digital Enabler, about moving his company to a 5-hour workday. It’s a fascinating conversation, and it’s good to get a bit of European perspective on the subject of shorter hours.

My hope is to get back on a weekly schedule, as I have a ton of other interviews waiting to be shared.

Mentioned in this podcast:

Talking about deliberate rest on Bodyshot Performance

Ready for my closeup on BBC Radio 4!

My latest interview, with Bodyshot Performance founder Leanne Spencer, is now up online. (I recently wrote about Leanne’s TED talk on fitness versus weight.)

It seems to have the ominous title “part 1,” so there’s more coming!

Aging and work

Last week I was on BBC Radio 4’s morning show talking about REST and the need to change work and careers in a world where life expectancies are going up. Since then, I’ve seen several other pieces about this subject.

In the Globe and Mail, Linda Nazareth asks, “Should we consider delaying full-time work until 40?” As Paul Johnson has pointed out in our BBC Radio 4 conversation, you could see retirement as a system in which we bank the time we’ve saved by improved productivity at work, and spend it at the end of our lives. But, as Nazareth points out, longer lives should make us rethink retirement, and not just along the lines of raising retirement ages:

if everyone’s lifespan is getting longer (and hopefully healthier), maybe we should think about how traditional work lives could change. Some figure this should simply mean everyone working a couple of more decades, which would give them more income in the years when they are indeed retired….

Another model suggests that we think of work more creatively, not as something that we do intensively for several decades but rather as something that we dip in and out of over the course of our lives.

In conversations about the challenges of work-life balance, I’ve argued that one of the big problems we all face (but women in particular) is that we work in a system in which we’re expected to invest most intensively in our careers at exactly the same time we start families. And forget about prioritizing one over the other: we’re supporsed to work like we don’t have kids, while raising kids like we don’t have jobs.

I’m hardly the only one to notice this: in her article, Nazareth draws in part on the work of Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, whose work on extending careers could help ease these pressures was the subject of a recent article in Quartz by Corinne Purtill:

For people smack in the mad mid-life rush of managing full-time careers, dependent children, and aging parents, nothing feels so short in supply as time.

But there is time to get it all done, says psychologist Laura Carstensen…. The only problem is that we’ve arranged life all wrong.

A woman who is 40 years old today can expect to live another 45 years, on average, while 5% will live to see their 100th birthday. The average 40-year-old man will live another 42. For many people, most of those years will be healthy enough to continue work that doesn’t involve intense physical labor. So why are we still packing all of our career and family obligations into a few frantic decades?

Rather than a four-decade professional sprint that ends abruptly at 65, Carstensen argues, we should be planning for marathon careers that last longer but have more breaks along the way for learning, family needs, and obligations outside the workplace.

I wrote about how Australian historian Inga Clendinnen pioneered this kind of model decades ago, and that her example suggests that we think of work-life balance as something that plays out over years and decades, and that our lives would be better and easier (or at least we would be more forgiving and realistic about our lives) if we didn’t expect every day to be a jewel of work-life balance.

I also suspect that shorter working hours could help with this, by allowing more time for important but competing activities, and by offering a model of work that would support longer, more sustainable careers.

Talking about REST on BBC Radio 4

Ready for my closeup on BBC Radio 4!

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!

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