Deliberate Rest

A blog about getting more done by working less

Category: REST (page 1 of 17)

Creative professionals are overworked (surprise!)

According to Fast Company,

A new survey suggests creative professionals are being asked to do more work in less time–and it’s taking a toll.

The survey found that

the speed at which creative teams are expected to work and the volume of demand for their work were respondents’ No. 1 and No. 2 concerns, respectively.

Part of what’s happening is that while the “strategic” importance of design is considered greater than ever, the field is still very much at the beck and call of others: almost 40% of respondents said they have 50 or more internal stakeholders they need to deal with.

Another issue is that while the work of creating and editing any individual image may be easier (no more pots of glue and Xacto knives), the total number of images you have to produce has gone up dramatically. It’s no longer enough to do one web site; you have to optimize for different browsers, for desktop/tablet/mobile, maybe for different countries and languages. In fact, according to a 2011 survey, “71% of creative workers were producing 10 times more work in 2015 compared with 2010.” (My emphasis, because that statistic is totally insane.)

Finally,

Plenty of mundane tasks endemic to creative work have been automated–but others haven’t. 46% of the survey’s respondents report spending three to seven hours a week on administrative tasks, like chasing briefs and getting projects approved. 34% spend a whopping seven hours a week on administrative work–that’s almost a full day out of a 40-hour work week.

(I suspect that the automation of mundane tasks is a really good way to tell if a job is valued.)

Anyway, it’s another reminder that, as I argue in Rest, just because you “do what you love,” you shouldn’t do it 24 hours a day– especially if you have to do it for dozens of different clients, some of whom will want different and mutually exclusive things, and many of whom knowingly exploit your passion and pride in your craft.

Talking about “The Importance of Rest” at the Happinez Festival

This fall I was at the Happinez Festival in Utrecht, and while there I sat down for an an interview about rest. The edited video is now up, and basically features me talking for eight minutes.

The video was shot in a farmhouse adjacent to the festival, which itself was held in a 19th-century fort and barracks that’s been converted into a conference center. Quite the place for an event devoted to happiness!

Happinez Festival

We sat for about half an hour, talking about various parts of the book and my argument, and they did a great job of editing it down without making me sound fragmented or incoherent. (Indeed, it turns out that just as in writing, good editing in video makes the difference between sounding like you’re just wandering around, versus getting to the point.)

Happinez Festival

Between this and the release of the Calm masterclass, it’s quite a week for video!

Happinez Festival

My new Calm masterclass on “The Power of Rest”

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A couple weeks ago I wrote about spending the day in San Francisco, and being the “talent” on a new project. Well, it’s now out:

It’s a new masterclass on “The Power of Rest” from Calm, the company that brought you 2017’s Apple App of the Year.

In the masterclass, I talk about the key insights from my book REST: why rest is important, what kinds of rest help promote creativity and recovery, how famous people have incorporated rest in their daily schedules to enhance their ability to solve problems. I also provide a teaser from the paperback edition of REST, building on the foreword that Arianna Huffington so kindly wrote for the book.

I have to confess, it was a terrific experience working with Calm and the film crew, and they did a FABULOUS job making me look good in this trailer (and on their app, too), but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing video of myself. Maybe this is a generational thing, and my kids and their peers are so accustomed to selfies and videos that they will never have this experience, but I still find hearing myself on answering machines (or more realistically, voicemail or podcasts) kind of odd, and watching myself onscreen is really strange. I wonder how actors do it?

Anyway, don’t mind all that. Check out the class, and get some rest!

“Bekerja Sebentar tapi Efektif, Kunci Sukses:” REST comes to Indonesia

Perhaps my favorite new example of REST going places on its own: a long article in Indonesian about rest and its importance. (It also name-checks Cal Newport, Anders Ericsson, and a couple other folks.)

It also includes this graphic:

My kids are still high school and college age, but I suspect that seeing them go off and have their own lives feels a little like this.

On writer’s block, inspiration, and writing

Today's workplace, with bamboo and dog

Economist Stephen Kinsella talks about “Focus, Productivity, and the Lure of Twitter” with Freedom, and has this story about dealing with writer’s block:

I was working on an essay about transport economics and not getting on very well. I was sighing and making cups of tea and just generally not writing. My father, who was a taxi driver in Dublin, asked me what was wrong. I told him I thought I had writer’s block. He told me he didn’t get f****king taxi driver block and to get back to work. So I did, and I’ve never had it since.

I love this quote, partly for its strategic profanity, but also because it reflects a valuable sensibility: that writing is the product of work, not just inspiration. Sure, you can be inspired, and every writer lives for those moments when the ideas seem to come from somewhere outside yourself; but you don’t have to be in that exalted state to do good work.

Indeed, it’s more often the case that the reverse is true. Don’t treat inspiration as the signal to start writing. Treat writing as the trigger for inspiration. You’ll get more done, and be more inspired.

On being “talent”

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Last week I spent a day in San Francisco, recording a summary of REST for a company that’s putting together a series of lectures on work-life balance, digital distraction, and other topics. (I’m not sure what I can say about it publicly, hence my obscurity.)

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I spent the morning recording the lectures in a studio that mainly does voice work for video games), then several more hours with a film crew shooting video that’ll go into a set of promotional videos and advertisements for the class.

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Some of it involved responding to questions that’ll be used in a series of advertisements. We then decamped from the studio, and went over to the startup, so they could get some footage of me talking to people, looking thoughtful underneath a logo of the company, and so on.

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I think one of the photographers also caught me napping at one point. We shall see.

It was an interesting experience. Of course I’ve given lots of talks about rest, but it’s still interesting thinking about how to organize your material for listeners you’ll never interact with, who are looking for things they can put to use in their own lives.

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I’ve also done a very little video or TV work, and lots of radio interviews, but this was the first time I’ve done any studio recording, and the first time I’ve worked with a professional camera crew.

For one thing, I was stunned at just how much stuff a professional crew uses. Even in our iPhone-GoPro era, people who do this for a living wrangle a lot of equipment.

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So this was no record-over-Skype kind of deal!

The whole interaction was really interesting because on one hand, there are a half dozen technicians— all very skilled people— who have been mobilized on your behalf, and you are literally the center of everyone’s attention; yet at the same time, you’re utterly objectified. You don’t have a name; you’re “the talent.” The cinematographer and photographer want to make you look great, but that means treating you as a bunch of shadows, angles, posture, etc.. (I guess it’s better than being the opposite of talent….)

Not that they always succeeded, of course.

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And there’s just an enormous amount of artifice that goes into creating natural-looking scenes: the crew might spend 90 minutes setting up cameras for 3 minutes of me talking, and there was endless adjustment of lights, mics, and so on.

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Anyway, it was an illuminating day, and I look forward to the finished product becoming available.

Pastors, workaholics, and “Leading from a Place of Rest”

The term “workaholic” was coined in 1971, in a book called Confessions of a Workaholic: The Facts About Work Addiction. The author Wayne Oates wasn’t a lawyer or HR executive; rather, he was a professor of psychology and pastoral care at the University of Louisville, in Kentucky.

Oates had seen lots of workaholics among the pastors he worked with. It’s a field that people see as a calling. It requires a very high level of commitment and self-sacrifice, years of training, and financial sacrifice. The job has a variety of demands, from the administrative and organizational to the spiritual and intellectual. And it’s very difficult to set boundaries: not only do you have to be prepared to deal with emergencies, your to-list is infinite, and there’s always the sense that you could do a little more good if you just put in a little more time.

Sound familiar? What Oates was describing was a combination of circumstances– high levels of intrinsic commitment, professional demands, organizational demands, high standards for performance (and a worry that failure or detachment could be catastrophic), and a career dynamic in which success is almost certain to lead to greater responsibility and burnout— that you see in doctors, lawyers, military officers, and which has spread into other industries.

Recently, John Wright, a national director of Vineyard Churches in the UK, gave a talk about the importance of rest in the work of ministry. “Leading from a Place of Rest” that deftly weaves together Eugene Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor, Hermann Melville’s Moby Dick, and my book Rest.

Leading From a Place of Rest – John Wright from Vineyard Churches UK & Ireland on Vimeo.

John Wright looks at the importance of Rest as one of the keys to freedom in Leadership.

This is a freedom that only comes when we are not striving and struggling through busy times, but trusting in God and doing those things that he has uniquely created us to do.

God asks us to build rest into our lives because he understands the crucial role that it plays.

It’s a great talk, and well worth listening to, no matter what your calling.

Captains of industry and their hobbies

Grand Central Station

[Note: Every book project leaves material on the cutting-room floor that deserves to be published somewhere. This is a piece based on some research that didn’t make it into REST, and which I recently wrote up for LinkedIn.]

Overwork is one of the great problems of modern life. The pace of business is accelerating, companies demand longer hours, smartphones allow us to carry the office around with us 24/7, and being busy is a badge of honor. But while overwork now has the quality of a public health crisis, for professionals, entrepreneurs and executives in America it’s nothing new. In 1878, a doctor lamented in the New York Times that rest was a “forgotten art.” In the 1890s, Harvard philosopher William James lamented Americans’ love of overwork, and argued his fellow citizens would be more productive if they embraced “the gospel of relaxation.”

But one of the early twentieth century’s most consistent critics of chronic busyness and overwork was one of the most unexpected: Bertie Forbes, the pioneering business journalist and founder of Forbes magazine.

Bertie Charles Forbes was born in 1880, and spent his childhood in the Scottish Highlands. At seventeen he became a reporter in Dundee; in 1901 he went to South Africa to cover the Boer War, then in 1905 moved to New York, where he became of the leading financial reporters of his day. He then started the B. C. Forbes Publishing Company; his eponymous magazine first appeared in 1917.

One of Forbes’ specialities was the biographical profile of industrialists, bankers, and inventors who oversaw the growth of its modern industrial and corporate America. In his profiles of leading businessmen (and in the early twentieth century they were pretty much all men), Forbes almost always noted the strategies his subjects discovered– often after periods of overwork and burnout– for maintaining their health, restoring their mental and physical energy, and balancing hard work with recreation. He anticipates by a century current research (summarized in my book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less) that finds that rest doesn’t just restore mental and physical energy, but– when taken in the right ways– can stimulate innovative thinking and sustain creative lives.

These profiles almost always called attention to the hobbies of the era’s industrial giants. Andrew Carnegie “lived a well-diversified life in New York, with frequent trips to Europe, interspersed with journeys to the Orient and other distant places,” and “no man goes in more whole-heartedly for sport and other forms of recreation than” Coleman du Pont. Teddy Roosevelt was an exemplar of the busy public figure who “boisterously… enters into recreation.” US Steel president James Farrell and mining entrepreneur August Heckscher were avid sailors. Railroad magnate James “Empire Builder” Hill was an accomplished violinist. Retail pioneer John Shedd praised golf as “one of the greatest blessings of modern times… for it has drawn men of responsible affairs away from their tasks into the open air.”

Others, Forbes reported, preferred more down-to-earth pursuits. Charles Nash would hunt and fish in the forests of Michigan and Wisconsin when he wasn’t running Nash Motors and turning around distressed companies. Tire giant Harvey Firestone spent weeks camping, albeit in the company of figures like naturalist John Burroughs, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and President Warren Harding. “Tramping and camping in the woods is the best thing I know of for developing, not only a man’s physique, but his mentality and his soul,” inventor Cyrus McCormick told Forbes.

Executives’ respect for the restorative power of rest sometimes influenced company policies. Dodge CEO Frederick Haynes declared that while he “would never think of putting up a recreation building at the plant” since “men want to get away from the plant after their day’s work, to be with their families,” his company supported worker-organized clubs and teams. George Reynolds implemented a five-day week at his Chicago bank, arguing that in modern finance, “The pace is so rapid and the pressure so great that a man cannot stand up against it… if he works more than five days a week.”

For someone who subtitled his magazine “Devoted to Doers and Doings,” this attention to recreation may seem odd. But Forbes argued that the right kind of rest, taken in the right doses, was essential for success.

According to Forbes, successful people revealed that “How we spend our non-working hours determines very largely how capably or incapably we spend our working hours.” It was essential to recognize that “Real recreation quickens aspiration,” and helps “to increase our fitness, enhance our usefulness, spur achievement.” Too many people ”confound recreation with dissipation,” wasting their time on idle amusements and subverting their careers. Other more senior executives “are committing suicide by overwork.”

But this did not mean that recreation was the purpose of life, or that work was to be avoided. America’s industrialists had “taught effete aristocrats of Europe that industry is no disgrace, that honest work and money-making soil not the best of hands.” Indeed, the idle rich “are of all men the most miserable,” Forbes argued, for “[w]ithout toil there can be no blissful relaxation or recreation.” Hard work and healthy rest balanced and justified each other. “The person who has no work,” Forbes said, “can have no recreation, no relaxation.”

So what sorts of rest were the most restorative? Choosing a hobby, Forbes argued, couldn’t be done on a whim; “You need to settle that wisely and not by chance.” Recreation had to balance a busy life. Office workers and sedentary professionals needed sports and exercise; merchants and traders would benefit from retreats in contemplative and artistic activities; executives bearing the solitude of leadership needed the companionship of others in similar situations. Forbes was especially keen on exercise, advising readers to join a golf club or gym, or even “move into the country where you will have to walk a mile to catch the train even in the dead of winter.”

Forbes was not along among early business writers in taking rest seriously. Walter Dill Scott, who pioneered the use of psychology in advertising, advised his busy readers on the need to balance long hours with a hobby “so absorbing that when he is thus engaged, business is banished from mind.” Winston Churchill wrote that “The cultivation of a hobby” is “of first importance to a public man.

Today, businesses and busy professionals are beginning to rediscover that, as Forbes put it, “Whether we use our leisure to re-create power or dissipate power is of decisive moment.” Efforts to improve work-life balance, encourage workers to take vacations, unplug in the evenings, get more exercise, or even take catnaps during the day all recognize that rest need not be work’s competitor, but can be its partner. Neuroscientists and psychologists are documenting the value of walks for stimulating creative insight, of time in nature for restoring emotional balance, and of a healthy social life for promoting resilience.

And as I explain in my book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, many highly creative, prolific, and successful people organize their days around bouts of hard work and “deliberate rest,” and choose leisure that stimulates their creativity, supports good habits, and sustains long creative lives. The careers of Nobel Prize-winners, authors, artists, and even generals show that, as Forbes wrote a century ago, success “is most often won during non business hours, the hours that are spent away from the bench or the office; the hours during which we are our own masters; the hours we are at liberty to use or misuse.”

It’s high time we re-read Forbes’ lessons, and applied them to our own lives.

Happiness and LSE podcasts

rerum cognoscere causas

I’m a fan of podcasts. When I take the dogs out walking in the evening, I’ll often listen to a podcast, since the dogs generally have little to talk about. (In the mornings I’m often still focused on writing, and so I listen to music– not so much because I want to concentrate, but because I want to let my mind wander, and I can’t do that if I’m listening to a podcast.)

Recently I discovered the London School of Economics Public Lectures and Events podcast, and I’m really enjoying it. The audio quality is middling, but the intellectual quality is outstanding. It helps to be familiar with these kinds of events already: they’re not TED talk-level short and smooth, but if the frayed edges of academic conversation strike you as charming rather than irritating, you’ll learn a lot.

I particularly found this event about “the origins of happiness” to be really interesting. It’s a talk by Richard Layard, an LSE economic and the author of Thrive, Happiness, and coauthor of the new book The Origins of Happiness.

The event was to commemorate the publication of the new book The Origins of Happiness, which Princeton University Press is releasing in the US in a couple weeks. Here’s a description of the book:

What makes people happy? Why should governments care about people’s well-being? How would policy change if well-being was the main objective? The Origins of Happiness seeks to revolutionize how we think about human priorities and to promote public policy changes that are based on what really matters to people. Drawing on a uniquely comprehensive range of evidence from longitudinal data on over one hundred thousand individuals in Britain, the United States, Australia, and Germany, the authors consider the key factors that affect human well-being.

The authors explore factors such as income, education, employment, family conflict, health, childcare, and crime—and their findings are not what we might expect. Contrary to received wisdom, income inequality accounts for only two percent or less of the variance in happiness across the population; the critical factors affecting a person’s happiness are their relationships and their mental and physical health. More people are in misery due to mental illness than to poverty, unemployment, or physical illness. Examining how childhood influences happiness in adulthood, the authors show that academic performance is a less important predictor than emotional health and behavior, which is shaped tremendously by schools, individual teachers, and parents. For policymakers, the authors propose new forms of cost-effectiveness analysis that places well-being at center stage.

This resonates with me for a couple thanks to my work on companies that are implementing shorter working hours, for a couple reasons. First, I’ve been struck by how willing people are to trade income for greater control at work, and more free time. Working in a place that has a 5- or 6-hour day requires being able to focus and work harder than at a place where you are there for 8 or 10 hours, and it requires being able to work under conditions where you have a higher degree of autonomy and responsibility.

Second, it strikes me that if income inequality is less of a source of unhappiness than relationships and personal health, then as a matter of public or economic policy, giving people more time– which translates into more time for family and friends, and more time for yourself– could be the more important long-term aim. (This is not to say that inequality should be ignored or tolerated, but I suspect there are plenty of CEOs who’d have an easier time accepting shorter working hours for their company than higher taxes on themselves.)

Their new podcast on solitude versus loneliness is well worth listening to, too. But I need to add Layard’s work to my to-read list.

REST “made a more positive difference on my life than anything else I read this year”

Michael Rossmann, a former editor of The Jesuit Post who’s now at Boston College, included Rest in his list of The Best of What I Read in 2017:

10) Darwin Was a Slacker and You Should Be Too, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Nautilus. I have always loved power naps. After this article – and Pang’s book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less – I no longer feel guilty about taking them. Pang’s work made a more positive difference on my life than anything else I read this year. The “deliberate rest” that Pang describes, especially when coupled with deep work, was a recipe for success when writing my thesis.

I’m not Catholic, but I regard this as high praise, as all the Jesuits I’ve met have been frighteningly well-read. (Granted, most of them were teachers and academics, so my sample is somewhat skewed in favor of heavy readers, but still…)

(And glad it helped you write your thesis, Michael!)

This turned out to be one of a number of end-of-2017 mentions of Rest that came across my radar. The Christmas season was a good time for book sales, and it’s also the kind of book that people read for new year inspiration.

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