Deliberate Rest

Designing rest for a busy world

Category: REST (page 1 of 22)

“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.

REST is one of “5 Business Books That Don’t Actually Suck”

Copies of the UK paperback edition.

Michael Schein’s recent piece in Forbes lists “5 Business Books That Don’t Actually Suck,” and REST is one of them.

The emotion I’m most comfortable with is guilt (Thanks mom!). In the early days of my business, when I would wake up with a start at 3 am with a line of drool connecting my lower lip to my keyboard, I would beat myself up. How could I nap after a mere seventeen hours of work when there were kids in Cupertino forgoing sleep for five days at a stretch? It’s a good thing I came across this book before ending up in a hospital ward with total organ failure. Pang makes a compelling case that most of the stories about business builders who work 365 days straight on 3 hours of sleep each night are image-building myths. His book shows why quality rest is the ideal fuel for creative and commercial productivity and provides a recipe for how to use it to up your chances of achieving your most audacious goals.

Thanks, Michael!

长时间工作可能毫无意义

Pilita Clark’s recent Financial Times piece that talks about REST is now available in Chinese.

Always good to see the argument for rest popping up in other parts of the world!

My appearance on Pepicast

Microphone

You can listen to me talk about distraction, deliberate rest, and 4-day weeks in a conversation with Montreal-based podcaster Gael Gendre on episode 43 of Gael’s podcast, Pepicast.

It’s one of the wider-ranging conversations I’ve had recently, and it got me thinking about some of the deeper connections between my last three books– something I’ll be writing about in my next newsletter.

“there is much to be said for Mr Pang’s conclusion that the belief in the power of the 80-hour week is piffle.”

Views from the Eye

Financial Times editor and columnist Pilita Clark has a piece that puts REST against the workaholic pose of the current government:

Brexit, one of the most important events in British postwar history, may have been placed in the hands of men and women who have gone without a summer break and worked for days on end for the best part of two months straight.

This is not brilliant. This is loopy.

There is plenty of evidence showing people who work mad hours are more prone to get ill, drink heavily and make rubbish decisions….

A lot of people think they can get by with just five or six hours of sleep a night with no serious dip in performance. Experts say they are deluded: all but a tiny portion of us need a good seven to nine hours a night.

Worst of all, more hours do not necessarily mean more productivity. A study of workers at a global consultancy firm a few years ago found their bosses could not tell the difference between those who toiled for 80 hours a week and those who simply pretended to. [Ed: This is the great study by Erin Reid.]

This is especially striking to me because Boris Johnson (whose penchant for overwork, or at for least crisis-provoking procrastination, I’ve noted here before) is a huge fan of Winston Churchill, and so must be aware that during the war Churchill worked a lot, but also was very disciplined about getting rest when he needed.

This was driven home to me when I visited the Churchill War Rooms, the underground complex from which he ran the war. Among the meeting rooms, radio rooms, etc., there’s this:

Churchill War Rooms

Churchill had a bed installed in the War Rooms, and every afternoon he took a nap. As I explain in REST, Churchill

regarded his midday naps as essential for maintaining his mental balance, renewing his energy, and reviving his spirits. He had gotten into the habit of napping during World War I, when he was First Lord of the Admiralty, and even during the Blitz Churchill would retire to his private room in the War Rooms after lunch, undress, and sleep for an hour or two…. Churchill’s valet, Frank Sawyers, later recalled, “It was one of the inflexible rules of Mr. Churchill’s daily routine that he should not miss this rest.”

A couple other rooms also had small beds in them so his more senior could catch up on sleep when they needed.

Churchill War Rooms

Now, Churchill spent a lot of time in the bunker, and it was his command center through the worst of the war, when things looked very dicey for Britain and the Allies. Yet, he still made time for rest. I think it’s hard to argue that this didn’t improve his decision-making and leadership, but it also had a subtler impact, I think:

Not only did a nap help Churchill keep up his energy, his sangfroid also inspired his cabinet and officers. Napping during boring parliamentary debates was one thing. Going to sleep literally while bombs were falling signaled Churchill’s confidence in his staff and his belief that the dark days would pass.

Hitler, in contrast, was famous for his erratic sleep habits and reliance on drugs to keep himself going for long periods. If you wanted someone who illustrates how working long hours doesn’t lead to better results, you couldn’t find a better example. (Indeed, the whole Reich turns out to have been really into stimulants: they described meth as “National Socialism in pill form.”)

And it didn’t send a good message to his subordinates. There’s no better way to say “I don’t trust you to do a good job” than  overwork.

One other point: if you read the comments on the piece, they’re basically why I’ve written my next book:

This all sounds good, except if you work for a company that demands that you work 24/7, you will lose your job if you don’t deliver.  I worked for several companies, on salary, that gave you so much work to do that you had to work virtually 7 days a week to get it done….

Japanese and Koreans, who unnecessarily hang around the workplace after 5pm, need to read this.

My partner is Japanese and is angry at that part of Japanese work culture. I used to work for a large corp in Tokyo and during our busy season we’d stay until midnight. However, after 5/6 pm every day I’d notice a dramatic drop in my energy and focus.

Lots of comments point to the structural impediments that constrain people from working more effectively, and working less; and they’re absolutely right that there are hard limits to how much we can do as individuals to reduce our working hours. This is why it’s important, I think, to show how to change the structures, to look at the companies (in the UK, Asia, United States, and elsewhere) that are already moving to 4-day or 30-hour weeks, and to learn from them how to redesign work.

Also, if the FT firewall gets in your way, there’s also this reprint in Channel News Asia.

Tim Harford writes about REST

Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist, had a nice column in the Financial Times that talks about Rest:

Three reasons to take a holiday — especially a short one

I know a man who used to deal with a stressful job, working 15-18 hour days in a senior role, by slipping away to a rented house near Richmond Park in London.

There, he refused to be interrupted by messages except during office hours, spent time playing bridge well and golf badly, and he ensured that the location of the hideaway was a well-kept secret. The few colleagues who did visit were strictly banned from talking about work. Yet despite his apparently laid-back approach, this fellow got results.

To be clear, I know this person only by reputation; Dwight Eisenhower died before I was born. But this is how he responded to the burdens of being supreme allied forces commander during the second world war. He found it essential to take time off.

We would all like to feel that our work is essential and our personal contribution irreplaceable. But, as Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, notes, we’re unlikely to be doing quite as essential a job as Eisenhower’s. If he benefited from some down time, so might we.

So Harford tells the story better than I did. Still, it’s nice to be noticed!

My appearance on Docuprime

The Korean documentary series Docuprime recently had an episode on work, rest, burnout, which features an appearance by me and the dogs.

From my appearance on Docuprime!

This evening I found it on YouTube!

From my appearance on Docuprime!

Obviously, it’s in Korean.

From my appearance on Docuprime!

Still, it’s exciting to finally see it!

“Success in short sprints”: A gloss on the Google talk

Medium writer Roamy has written a short piece that summarizes some of the key points from my recent Google talk.

As an author, it’s always good to see people taking up your ideas. Seeing them start to take on a life of their own, and no longer require your direct attention and cultivation, is a bit like having kids grow up.

That might sound melancholy, but it’s not. I’m happy to have them out of the house. I need the room.

Korean article about rest

I was recently on a documentary in Korea about rest and creativity, and this article is a gloss of some of the contents.

Of course, since this is Silicon Valley, I had to wear some form of vest!

My talk at Google

Recently I was at Google, at the invitation of the Asian Googlers Network, to talk about Rest, my new work on the 4-day week, and even a bit about contemplative computing. The video of the talk is now up on YouTube:

It was a terrific crowd, and I just hope I did the subject justice!

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