Deliberate Rest

A blog about getting more done by working less

Category: REST (page 1 of 16)

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.

Muhlenhaupt + Company reimagines REST

Design by “Naz” Luzzi Castro

One of the best things about REST is that it’s attracted some great, engaged readers. Some of them really like the book; a few are quite critical, but in a thoughtful way; and many find ways to build on the ideas, and put them to work in their own lives.

Today I saw a fabulous example of readers reinterpreting the book: designers at the creative agency Muhlenhaupt + Company produced three new designs of the cover of REST. I’ve always been very happy with Nicole Caputo’s cover design, but these are marvelous.

Design by Veronica Llamas

I had no idea that this Designing the “Rest” Book Covers project was going on; I found out about it through Twitter.

Design by Bill Heemer

Here’s what they say about the project:

Designing a book jacket presented Muhlenhaupt and Company’s creative team with a different set of obstacles but not unlike many the team has confronted with similar projects before ultimately delivering outstanding results.

The “Rest” book cover project allowed the designers to showcase their creativity and their interpretation on what “Rest” – the book and the concept – means to them.

The Web site provides some more information about each design, and how the designers thought about the challenge.

They’re each great designs, and even though they’re quite different each one works. I also like how each designer zeroed in on a different aspect of the book’s argument, and made it the centerpiece of their design. I often say that people see different things in the book; this makes that really visible.

So thanks, Muhlenhaupt + Company, and especially “Naz” Luzzi Castro, Veronica Llamas, and Bill Heemer. This is the best Christmas ever!

My appearance on BBC World Service Business Daily

Setup for my BBC World Business Daily interview.

Yesterday I was at Stanford Radio, doing an interview for BBC World Service Business Daily. Their episode on “A Work-Life Balance” is now online.

Should we be working less to achieve more? Maddy Savage reports from Sweden, where workers are trying to balance the traditional outdoor life with longer working hours and increased screen time. Silicon Valley consultant Alex Soojung-Kim Pang puts forward his argument for working less and taking ‘active rest‘ in order to get more done. And could you save time by outsourcing your life? University of California, Berkeley sociologist Arlie Hochschild talks about her research into the rise of outsourcing careers in the United States.

I appear around 06:45, and the producer did a good job of taking the interview and turning it into something that sounds coherent! And it’s always extra fun to be on a show that you listen to. I don’t tune in regularly, but I often listen to BBC World Service, so I catch it now and then.

I can’t figure out how to embed the player, alas.

Speaking to BBC World Service Business Daily this morning

Microphone

I have two dogs who think that 6:15 is a great time for breakfast, and a well-developed morning routine supporting my work, so I’m no stranger to early mornings. But this morning I’m at Stanford Video to record a segment with BBC World Service Business Daily.

Not sure when it’ll air, but when I know I’ll tweet it out!

Another example of overwork leading to product flaws: The GoPro Karma drone

Inc. has an article about GoPro and its struggles that includes a look at the failure and recall of the Karma drone in 2016. The drone would suddenly lose power and crash, and they were worried that at several pounds, it could do some real damage if it hit someone:

Teams of employees flew hundreds of the recalled drones above the company parking lot for weeks, and eventually learned that a simple plastic latch was coming loose, causing the battery connection to slip out of place. That meant the problem was easily fixable. But the Hero5 Black issue, too, stemmed from a lapse in quality control. The camera wall was only 0.2 millimeter thick in one spot, Woodman says, and water pressure blew it out. The real cause of both problems, he continues, was that “the teams were killing themselves to launch the products on time. We were doing too many things, and it was taking too long to make decisions because management was juggling too many projects at once.” Brown puts it more bluntly: “We knew that if we didn’t figure out some way to reorganize, the company was just not going to survive.”

This reminds me of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 debacle, which came about after “Samsung pushed its designers, engineers and suppliers beyond the breaking point to produce the Galaxy Note 7 with multiple industry-first features” in an effort to beat Apple to market.

REST is available as an audiobook

Microphone

The audiobook version of Rest is now available in the United States, just in case you’re still looking for that perfect Christmas present! You can listen to a sample on SoundCloud.

The reader, Adam Sims, is a big deal: he just won Audio Narrator of the Year for his recording of Flowers for Algernon (one of my favorites).

And he does a good job with Rest. As Audio File magazine says of his performance,

In no-nonsense, declarative tones that suit the author’s style, narrator Adam Sims moves the author’s message ahead at just the right pace as he delivers a mix of scientific studies and anecdotes about writers, scientists, and other creative types who thrive by insisting on integrating leisure into their schedules.

I mean, I guess that’s good.

Lin-Manuel Miranda: “I should take more vacations”

Hamilton
the room where it happens!

It’s always worth repeating: Lin-Manuel Miranda came up with the idea for Hamilton while taking his first vacation since In the Heights. Now that Hamilton is opening in London, it’s worth revising the story.

As I explained in Rest,

Lin-Manuel Miranda had the idea for Hamilton when he read Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton during a vacation to Mexico. He had been working for seven years on his play In the Heights, and as he later put it, “the moment my brain got a moment’s rest, Hamilton walked into it.”

Miranda is one of many people who had great ideas on vacation: Princeton physicist Lyman Spitzer came up with the design for a fusion reactor while skiing in Aspen; the agile software development manifesto was written at a ski lodge in Utah; and 20% of startup founders say they got the idea for their companies while on vacation.

Fortunately, while he’s been busy taking advantage of the crazy variety of offers that the success of Hamilton has brought him, the Guardian notes that Miranda recognizes that rest is important, too:

These are manic, sometimes confounding times for Miranda. Hamilton took the best part of six years to write but now life seems to be happening in fast-forward…. He would also like to start work on a new musical, but he probably just needs to lie in a pool to figure out what the subject is.

“You’re right,” he exclaims, “I should take more vacations, thank you! Yeah, that is the hardest lesson to take hold of: the good idea comes when you are walking your dog or in the shower or resting. And waking up from sleep. I don’t believe it’s an accident that on my first vacation from In the Heights, the best idea of my life shows up. So I have a couple of ideas, but I’m waiting to see which one grabs hold and doesn’t let go.”

So Lin-Manuel fans, don’t worry too much; the odds are good that at some point he’ll slow down, go on vacation, and figure out the next musical.

Older posts

© 2018 Deliberate Rest

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑