Deliberate Rest

A blog about getting more done by working less

Category: Travel (page 1 of 5)

Greetings from Seoul, where I’m researching four-day weeks in Asian companies

I’m in Seoul for the next several days, doing some publicity stuff for REST (my dad tells me that the translation is really top-notch), and also doing some interviews and fieldwork for my next book on four-day weeks.

One of the things I’ve noticed in discussions of the four-day week is that most of the discussion centers around companies in Europe, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand (whoever Perpetual Guardian hired to do their PR, they really delivered value for money!). Likewise, the policy discussions mainly cite European trade unions and talking heads.

One of the things I’ve found in my research, though, is that some of the biggest companies shortening their workdays and workweeks are in Japan and Korea. In Japan, I’ve found big tech companies doing 30-hour weeks, little ryokans (traditional inns) operating on a 4-day week schedule, and a big manufacturing company that switches to 4-day weeks during the summer.

Likewise in Korea, there are a whole host of hip tech startups, cosmetics companies, and publishers that have shortened their working hours. (Tech and cosmetics are big industries in Korea, and people still read a lot here.)

Coming over here to see how they do it feels important, for a couple reasons.

First, I really think I’m tracking a global movement that is in its infancy, doesn’t really have a strong collective sense of itself, but in the next few years could become a really serious thing. And because of the size and number of companies, you can’t study this without studying Japan and Korea. The world’s biggest company that does 30-hour weeks is in Japan, and some of the most successful startups working shorter hours are in Korea. Talking about European companies is a good start, but it’s not the end.

Second, for American audiences, when you talk about companies in Sweden and Netherlands, this is what they imagine:

When nations that have powerful unions, strong social welfare, and a words for “cozy evenings by the fire wearing hand-knit socks” opt for working less, it’s both totally unsurprising, and remote. It’s hard for American companies to imagine following the Nordic model in… just about anything. However, when you talk about it being done by companies that are in countries whose languages have words for “working yourself to death,” those same audiences are more likely to sit up and take notice.

Third, while of course there are some serious differences in corporate and national cultures, Japanese and Korean companies are adopting shorter workweeks for pretty much the same reasons that their counterparts in London and Copenhagen are; they do the same things to make them work; and they see the same benefits. So I can make the case that shortening the workweek, for all its variations by nation and industry, follows some underlying rules no matter where you are. (Rules that, needless to say, I’ll lay out in my book!)

Finally, because of geographical and cultural proximity, China is more likely to learn from the Korean and Japanese companies than from companies in the West. There’s already some discussion in China of aiming for a 4-day week by 2030; and if they do, that’ll be a titanic move in the global economy, not to mention a huge change in the lives of a billion-plus people.

So that’s why I’m here. To get this part of the story. Of course, I’m also here for the street food!

Frans Johanssen on the Starbucks epiphany

DSCF2985

Frans Johansson, author of The Click Moment and The Medici Effect, on business travel and Howard Schultz’s discovery of coffee culture:

I’m planning a couple trips myself, and I’ve gotten into the habit to building in some extra time for this kind of exploration. I have some of my best ideas when I’m on the road, but it helps to be open to them!

Hello from London, and the world of 4-day workweeks

Scenes from London

I’ve been terribly remiss in blogging, because I’ve been on the road since the end of September, appearing at a couple events and doing research for my next book, on how companies move to 4-day weeks without sacrificing productivity or profitability.

It’s been a spectacularly useful trip, if rather long. It started with several days at the FOLIO literary festival in Óbidos, Portugal.

Scenes around Óbidos.

Óbidos is a little medieval town, complete with big walls and a castle, and is a wonderfully intimate location for a literary festival.

Edinburgh

After that, it was up to Scotland, where I interviewed companies in Glasgow and Edinburgh. I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time there as I would have liked— I always love Edinburgh, and think I’d really like Glasgow if I got to know it.

From there, it was on to Copenhagen.

Scenes from Copenhagen

Copenhagen is another of my favorite cities, though it’s beauty is more domestic and functional than dramatic: it’s beautiful because everything is so well-designed and proportioned, not because it aims to knock you senseless.

By now, the trip is looking like the worst solution to the traveling salesman problem ever proposed!

Finally, it was back to London, with a brief overnight in Gloucester.

More from London

I did a ton of interviews with company heads and employees at companies that are now running 4-day weeks, mainly by figuring out ways to make their work more productive, so they’re working 30- or 32-hour weeks rather than 40 (or more).

Scenes from London

I also put in an appearance at the SOMNEX sleep tech show in Shoreditch, which is a neighborhood I’d never before visited, and which is really great.

Scenes from Shoreditch

The place is, as one of my colleagues put it, the world’s biggest Instagram backdrop, and is filled with amazing street art.

The future is hot

I think I could do a talk consisting of nothing but images of graffiti, posters, and signage from around Brick Lane Road.

Scenes from Shoreditch

It was a terrific trip, and I got a tremendous amount done (which I describe in detail to my newsletter readers). But after almost three weeks away from my family and dogs, I’m glad to be heading home!

New things on vacations

I’ve been thinking a bit about vacations, partly because I’m off to England tomorrow for some research, some interviews, and a little time off with my wife.

Big Ben and Parliament

My latest piece on Thrive Global is an argument for ignoring your children while on vacation:

Since my kids were old enough to pack their own suitcases, I’ve had one ironclad rule for family vacations: “I’m not responsible for your feeling entertained.”

What this means is, you’re old enough to be bored if you want, or not bored. You can choose to engage, or not. You’re in charge of your feelings.

I also talk about the science of vacations with University of Groningen postdoctoral fellow Jessica de Bloom on my podcast. De Bloom is a psychologist who’s looked at a number of important issues– when our happiness peaks on vacation, how long the benefits of vacations last, and what factors go into making our time on vacation seem good or bad.

Kauai

I think her work is very interesting, partly because some of her findings are kind of counterintuitive, but it’s also worth using it (and all scientific research on human subjects) with a grain of salt. For example, when you measure the amount of happiness that being on vacation generates and how long those benefits last, her work indicates that shorter, more frequent vacations are better for us. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go on long trips: for example, you can get immersed in a culture, or forge deep friendships, or have other experiences that more than make up for the extra weeks.

My new Red Oxx bag

Travel and vacations can be complicated things, and  rewarding for all kinds of reasons; and I think what’s good about this work is how it helps us think more clearly about how we balance different demands and possibilities. The science doesn’t provide fixed recommendations; it clarifies options.

Anyway, I’m off to England shortly, to put some of those ideas into practice….

In Squaw Valley

Squaw Valley

I’m at Squaw Valley for the Gruter Institute conference, giving a talk about the future of work. It’s a very intersting time, and not just because it’s up near Lake Tahoe. The Gruter Institut for Law and Behavioral Research

is a research community that fosters collaboration across disciplines in order advance our understanding of the interplay between law, institutions and human behavior.  The goal of the Institute is to build a richer understanding of the underlying behaviors at the heart of society’s most pressing problems and to improve our understanding of how law and other institutions facilitate or hinder those behaviors.

I came here last year to talk about rest and creativity, and this year am talking about my new work on shorter working hours and the future of work.

For me, the event is interesting precisely because I’m not a legal scholar, or biologist, or economist or public policy person; but lots of the issues they talk about turn out to touch on things that I’m interested in, and so for me it’s a chance to pick up some new ideas, and think about my work in a new light.

Though of course being in Squaw Valley doesn’t hurt. To me, this is the quintessential example of a place that supports deliberate rest: I have these intense intellectual exchanges, then can go for a long walk and let these fizzy ideas play on their own and turn into something while I admire the mountains. And even if I’m just going to the coffee shop in the condos across the street, I have a great view of the mountains, which I find helps stimulate divergent thinking.

Indeed, after dinner last night I was walking around, and stopped to make some notes about my talk by a fire pit.

Squaw Valley

I just hope the talk lives up to the place!

The only downside is that that it doesn’t happen during spring break, so my wife can’t make it, too.

There are people who treat conferences like a theatre. I once saw a very eminent scholar who writes on technology and social life arrive at a conference by limo a half hour before their talk, give their talk (it wasn’t that good), shake a couple hands, then leave. As a display of professional eminence it was interesting; but intellectually it was a lost opportunity.

Squaw Valley

But I’ve decided that if I’m going to travel to a conference, and the organizers think I have something worth listening to, that means that they probably have things worth my listening to. And at the very worst, there’s always a nice walk.

A new project on the craft of academic sabbaticals

What makes a successful academic sabbatical? I want to find out. And I want your help.

Few of us get any explicit training in how to take a sabbatical as graduate students. After all, our advisors aren’t around to counsel us, because they’re away.

Once out in the world, we tend to assume that sabbaticals are simple, even unproblematic: once the obligations of teaching and advising are removed, our creativity will naturally uncoil, the Muse will be unleashed, and all the pent-up ideas and articles and revisions will just tumble out.

And while academics treasure sabbaticals, the practice is oddly under-studied. The research on academic sabbaticals is not nearly as extensive as sabbaticals themselves: for example, sociologists have studied their effects on job satisfaction, but little attention has been given to what distinguishes successful sabbaticals.

I know first-hand that a great sabbatical can be intellectually transformative. In 2011 I had a three-month sabbatical at Microsoft Research Cambridge. During those three months, I did much of the research behind my 2013 book, The Distraction Addiction, laid the groundwork for my current book, and helped me forge a new sense of my self as a writer.  When I was writing REST, I found lots of examples of scientists, scholars and artists who completed ambitious projects, extended lines of inquiry, or asked questions that defined their careers and occupied decades of their lives.

So my experience is not unusual. But I also don’t think that good sabbaticals are merely the absence of professional obligations and daily distractions. Sabbaticals, like all forms of creative rest, are actually a skill. We can learn a lot about how sabbaticals actually work by collecting stories from scholars of their experiences.

So I want to interview academics about their sabbatical experiences. (I include people who are on tenure lines, who are lecturers or adjuncts, or continue to do scholarly work.) I want to hear how you prepare for sabbaticals; how much you’re able to disconnect (or not) from your normal lives and duties; what your daily sabbatical schedules look like; and what non-professional interests or activities you develop. I want to know how things like e-mail, electronic publishing, the quickened pace of professional life, and publishing pressures have affected the way your spend time on sabbaticals. And of course I want to know what differences sabbaticals really make in professional lives.

How can you help?

I’ve got six open-ended questions, which you can read below. You can email your responses to askpang at restful dot company (yes, “company” is a top-level domain!); alternately, if it would be easier, we can arrange a time to talk via Skype or phone (or in person, if you’re in the Bay Area). I’ll treat all answers as confidential, and not identify people in talks or articles.

Thanks for your help.

THE QUESTIONS

1) I’m curious about how scholars view sabbaticals— what assumptions influence their expectations about the opportunities they present, how they should be used, what long-term effect they can have on one’s work or career. As a student or young professor, what were you taught about the purpose of sabbaticals, and how one should use them? For example, did your advisors or colleagues see the sabbatical as an opportunity to continue ongoing work, to finish existing projects or start new ones without the usual distractions of classes and committees; as a chance to explore a novel area or experiment with a riskier project; or as something more like a retreat, an opportunity for mental restoration and reflection?

2) How connected or removed were you from your normal life on your sabbatical(s)? Where did you go? Did you have regular contact with your graduate students, department, or other institutions, or did you avoid such contacts? Did your family move with you? More broadly, how helpful do you think being away— away from your home campus, normal working routine, and being among people in a similar situation— is for making sabbaticals a success?

3) I’m interested in the daily practices of creative people: how much time they spend each day doing their most important work, when during the day they work best, how regular their schedules or routines are, and what other daily activities (such as walks, cycling, or other exercise) that aren’t obviously productive but which stimulate new ideas or are mentally restorative. Can you describe your daily routine during your sabbatical— how your organized the day, how many hours you spent working? Did your routine include activities you did that to outsiders wouldn’t look like work, but which helped you think? Finally, how different was your daily routine on sabbatical from your routine during the academic year?

4) What difference did your sabbatical make in your intellectual trajectory? What significant publications did you start or complete during the year? Did you develop new research interests or embark on projects that you think you wouldn’t have otherwise?

5) What advice would you give to others about how to get the most from their sabbaticals?

6) For purposes of sorting people into their various scholarly and disciplinary categories, can you tell me what field you work in; when you completed your highest degree; and your current affiliation.

“It might be that rest, more than work, is the ultimate source of big transformations, life-changing disruptions.”

Novelist and critic Nilanjana Roy has a nice essay about vacations and REST in the Financial Times. Normally I quote the parts that say really complimentary things about the book, but this piece is so different and colorful that I’m throwing aside my usual habit:

Behind our cottage, high up on the crest of the hill, a leopard saws into the night. It’s New Year’s Day. I listen to the big cat for a while, alert but deeply content. When I go back to sleep, my dreams are filled with forests, trails and all the large and small creatures that belong to the jungle.

We come back home not just refreshed but rebooted by our short holiday in Gwehri, above an Indian national park. My mind feels on fire; all of last year’s tiredness is blown away like clouds driven by the high mountain winds….

Could the art of rest be as important as the art of productivity?… [F]rom reading biographies of writers, architects, artists and others, I know that a lot of the truly great professionals seemed to plan leisure and creativity-boosting breaks. They viewed time off with the same seriousness and thought that they brought to their work, whether it was Georgia O’Keeffe, travelling in her later years, or Le Corbusier’s compact, kitchenless cabin in Roquebrune, where he spent time while working on some of his most important projects.

I should write something on these kinds of retreats: Wittgenstein spent several years in a little shack by a fjord, and plenty of other people have done great work on writers’ retreats and in similar spaces.

Driving back through the forests of Uttarakhand, stopping to let two elephants, a mother and her calf, have right of way, I’m thinking about the restaurateur Ferran Adrià’s practice of closing El Bulli down from mid-December to mid-June, so that he and his staff could work on the ideas that drove his food. He followed this innovation by taking a two-year sabbatical that stretched to three years. When he came back, he didn’t restart the restaurant; instead, he opened the El Bulli Foundation, a kitchen of ideas instead of food, which is still developing and taking form.

As well as taking time off, Adrià took on a bigger risk than most people might be willing to. The long goodbye from work is exhilarating but ushers in change, too. It might be that rest, more than work, is the ultimate source of big transformations, life-changing disruptions. The chatty leopard is, of course, optional.

I confess I’ll probably never get to Gwehri or any Indian national park, but I love the idea of the book going places without me. When I was an academic I was usually writing for an audience of about twelve people, or for a tribe whose members I could identify instantly; the great virtue of Rest, in contrast, is that people can make it their own, and (I hope) take it places I would never think to go.

Off to Europe next week

My new Red Oxx bag

I’m spending this weekend with family and dogs, and starting to get things together for my first REST-related trip abroad. I’m going to be in London to promote the Penguin Life edition of Rest, then will go to Amsterdam for the release of the Dutch edition of Rest and a talk sponsored by The School of Life.

I’ll be blogging the details of the trip on my personal blog, and if time allows may also post some to Twitter and Flickr; though I prefer to save up my experiences until the end of the day and write about them, rather than try to document them in real time.

If I lose my Amsterdam talk, I’ll have help finding it

The first translation of REST is actually going to appear before the American edition: my super-fast Dutch publisher Kosmos (who also published a translation of The Distraction Addiction) is going to bring out a couple weeks before the book drops (as the kids say today) in the U.S. Which is why I’ll be speaking in the Netherlands at the end of November.

My plan is to deliver my main talk (sponsored by the School of Life) without slides, since I’m in a fabulous space that I don’t want to compete with. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to try to confine people’s attention to Powerpoint slides when you’re in one of Europe’s great churches.

Normally I do my best to write my talk before I leave, but I will sometimes tweak it a little on the way. Fortunately this helpful guy will be at the Amsterdam airport in case I leave my talk on the plane:

Speaking at the Westerkerk: Come for the rest, stay for the magnificent 17th century architecture!

I’m going to be going to Amsterdam in November to promote the Dutch edition of my new book REST, and one of the events I’ll do is a talk organized by the School of Life on November 23.

I was looking at the logistical details, and it turns out that the evening will be held at the Westerkerk, a 17th-century Protestant church that’s one of the largest in the Netherlands and looks absolutely spectacular (and has a great view of the city).

When I was younger I did a lot of choral singing at churches, so I’m more familiar performing in this kind of environment than your average non-religious person. Indeed, I find myself writing about subjects that aren’t precisely religious in nature, but do overlap with religious issues, or are explored by theologians and ministers.

And one of my favorite contemplative computing talks took place at a Buddhist monastery in upstate New York.

Talking about contemplative computing

Nothing like an audience of thousands of divinities to call out your A game!

So perhaps speaking the Westerkerk will offer a chance to reflect a bit on the religious or spiritual dimensions of rest (what a rich topic!), and at least note the degree to which rest has been seen not just as a respite or idleness, but as an opportunity for restoration and common with the divine– turning it from the absence of work into a time with its own purpose, a purpose that we often forget in our more secular world.

Too often we see rest as either disposable (which it’s not), or just as a negative space defined by the absence of work– which it shouldn’t be. Thinking of it this way impoverishes rest, and reduces our appreciation of its potential and value to us. Arguably, observance of the Sabbath provided a framework for experiencing rest as valuable, and the retreat of religious observance has left us in need of a new foundation for making sense of rest in our lives.

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