Deliberate Rest

A blog about getting more done by working less

Category: Advice (page 1 of 7)

How to rest

My new Calm masterclass on “The Power of Rest”


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!

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.

Roombot and meeting scheduling

In my study of how companies shorten their workdays, one of the things I’ve consistently seen is companies shortening meetings, and doing a number of things to make meetings more effective: requiring pre-circulated agendas and goals, sharing background material beforehand, having walking or standing meetings, and making sure that conference call phones and other tech are running smoothly before the meeting is scheduled to start, so you don’t spend the first 10 minutes looking for dry-erase markers or punching in conference codes.

They also use tools to signal when meeting times are up, or when the group only has a few minutes left. The most popular tools are kitchen timers and smartphone alarms (unless your company bans devices in meetings, which is another popular thing), but a couple have taken a more high-tech approach: using Philips Hue lightbulbs and some locally-sourced code to have the room itself signal when you should start wrapping up.

I first heard about this tool at IIH Nordic, a Copenhagen-based SEO firm that moved to a 4-day week, but others use it, too. Philadelphia design firm O3 World calls their RoomBot, and explains how their system works in this video:

It’s a cool system, but the important thing is to have some kind of external tool that announces when your time is up.

Putting REST to use at the New York Times

James Pothen, a software engineer with the New York Times, has a great piece about “ How to Concentrate in a Collaborative Workplace:”

When I first started working in an office, I worked haphazardly. I would come in, check work email, maybe chat with a colleague, start on a task, and then check Facebook or YouTube. Working this way nearly got me fired after two years. So I took the opportunity to be more intentional about what I worked on and how I worked.

What follows is my adaptation of the principles laid out in Cal Newport’s book, “Deep Work.” I’ve also incorporated material from “Rest” by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, and “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg.

I highly recommend it. It’s a nice example of how you can take the ideas from Rest and put them into practice. And everything he says makes lots of sense!

“10 Ways That Working Less Will Make You More Productive”

Singapore Women’s Weekly has a slide show of 10 Ways That Working Less Will Make You More Productive:

It’s hard to say no, especially when there’s work piling up to the walls at the office, but author Alex Soojung-Kim Pang argues in her book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less that this attitude is downright damaging.

I know. Just roll with it. So long as people read the book!

Things to do the night before your vacation starts

A good complement to my recent discussion of vacations: this piece on Business Insider on things to do “before you jet off to some sunny shore:”

you need set your affairs in order at work.

The night before your vacation is a crucial time to prepare.

Effective planning will give you peace of mind while you’re catching some rays, and it will prevent problems from cropping up when you drag your sunburnt self back into the office in a few days.

Talking about restful vacations on CBC Ontario Today

Scenes from Kauai

I was on CBC Radio’s call-in show “Ontario Today” earlier today, talking about “The key to a restful vacation.” You can listen here:

It was a fun time for me at least, partly because it involved more interaction with an audience than many radio interviews, and because I actually went into it with a certain amount of apprehension. To be honest, in Rest I have about six pages about vacations, so I was concerned that I’d have enough to say!

Fortunately, guest host Amanda Pfeffer was outstanding, and did a terrific job of guiding the conversation back to the book. I also do a fair amount of prep before these interviews, and now have a decent system for working through my notes and thinking about my responses, as you can see.


The Stanford Video folks (who are outstanding– they’re all the kinds of low-key professionals you want to work with during stressful situations, or just during moments when you need to be totally focused and on) keep a sheet music stand in the studio, and I make good use of it.

Beforehand, I’ll take some time to write out some notes, the key ideas I want to repeat or return to, and reminders to keep my answers short, stay on point, and let the host guide things. It’s usually the same set of notes, the same points, and same reminders every time (I am talking about the same book, after all); but it helps to write them out every time, to keep them fresh in my mind.

I also carry a copy of the book into the studio, though frankly I don’t refer to it during a live show– there’s not time to page through it.

You’ll notice a couple post-its, which have the host’s name– you never want to get that wrong– and the schedule for breaks.

I also keep my small notebook handy (in my lap), and write down the names of callers and the main points I want to make in response to their stories or questions. The virtue of this is that if I have only one or two points to make, I’ll make them more quickly if I can write them down and refer to them, and I’m less likely to strike off on some digression. I’m also more likely to get people’s names right if I write them down and can refer to them. Finally, if I can connect points that two callers 40 minutes apart make, I look like A Freaking Genius.

Today’s setup is not unusual for me. I’ve learned that interviews go better if I have some aide-memoire to jog my memory, or anchor the conversation. This was the desk when I was interviewed by Bob Edwards about The Distraction Addiction:

Bob Edwards interview


I’m very big on note-taking as a tool for thinking more clearly, as the book below illustrates, so realizing that doing it for interviews would help was a significant thing.

Reading is a martial art, 1

I think I’m getting better at interviews, though it’s like being a musician or teacher: it’s one of those pieces of craft that you can refine and improve for a lifetime. But at least I recognize that it’s a craft, and I’m learning how to build a structure that helps me do well and improve. (So I hope.)

A note on morning routines

In REST I had a chapter about why people are more creative in the morning, and here I’ve continued writing about morning routines and their importance in creative lives. Thanks to the BBC Capital Twitter feed, I saw that BBC author Renuka Rayasam poses the question, “Can a morning routine make you better at your job?

Many busy, successful people are early risers who wake at dawn to get things done without distractions…. [E]xperts agree that the period between when people wake up and when they get to the office is ideal for accomplishing activities that are personally meaningful or require discipline, but are not necessarily related to their jobs.  For some that’s exercise and for others it’s spending time with family or working on a novel. But, how do you create an early-bird habit?

Psychologist Martin Hagger, who is himself an early riser, argues for the importance of routines in making a morning work. “With a routine, even an evening person can get into the habit of waking up early and doing difficult things in the morning,” he tells the BBC.

That’s certainly my experience. For me, the key to waking up early is setting up the coffee, laying out my work, etc. the night before, so I can glide as easily through the morning as possible– and just as important, I don’t have any excuse to stay in bed (“ugh, the coffee’s not made, and it’s cold and I don’t want to root around for a sweater”). The more I can do the night before, the more I can make getting up and going automatic, and the more energy I have for doing real work.

Or as the article puts it,

Running on autopilot in the mornings allows people to preserve willpower for more complicated work tasks. Not having to decide between doughnuts and oatmeal for breakfast or to spend energy figuring out whether and how to exercise, saves up willpower for bigger decisions during the day, he [psychology professor Roy Baumeister] said.

“The efficient thing to do is to have your morning be well organised.”

Writing about talking: An old set of posts about the craft of speaking


Sometimes you write something and  forget about it for years, only to rediscover it and think, Hey, this isn’t bad. (More common is rediscovering something and think, Boy, this is terrible. What was I thinking?) In the course of chasing down some broken links, I came across a series of posts about the business of speaking: about making the transition from academic to business speaking, working with an agent, building talks, and the logistics of travel and delivery.

Speaking at The Hopkins School

The pieces were written in 2014, before my most recent round of interviews, podcasts, radio appearances, and conference talks about REST. However, I think the basic advice is still pretty sound. The posts in this series include:

“This interest should be so absorbing that when he is thus engaged, business is banished from mind”

Walter Dill Scott, in his 1914 book Increasing Human Efficiency in Business (available on the Internet Archive), advises workers on the need for hobbies:

Upon entering business every young man should select some form of endeavor or activity apart from business to which he shall devote a part of his attention. This interest should be so absorbing that when he is thus engaged, business is banished from mind. This interest may be a home and a family ; it may be some form of athletics ; it may be club life ; it may be art, literature, philanthropy, or religion. It must be something which appeals to the individual and is adapted to his capabilities. Some men find it advisable to have more than a single interest for the hours of recreation. Some form of athletics or of agriculture is often combined with an interest in art, literature, religion, or other intellectual form of recreation. Thus Gladstone is depicted as a woodchopper and as an author of Greek works. Carnegie is described as an enthusiast in golf and in philanthropy. Rockefeller is believed to be interested in golf and philanthropy, but his philanthropy takes the form of education through endowed schools. Carnegie’s philanthropy is in building libraries.

If the lives of the great business men are studied it will be found that there is a great diversity in the type of recreation chosen; but philanthropy, religion, and athletics are very prominent — perhaps the most popular of the outside interests. These interests cannot be suddenly acquired. Many a man who has reached the years of maturity has found to his sorrow that he is without interests in the world except his specialty or business. With each succeeding year he finds new interests more difficult to acquire. Hence young men should in their youth choose wisely some interests to which they may devote themselves with perfect abandon at more or less regular intervals throughout life.

The more noble and the more worthy the interest, the better will be the results when considered from any point of view. Indeed, the interests which we call the highest are properly so designated, because in the history of mankind they have proved themselves to be the most beneficial to all.

It would be interesting to know if Scott himself practiced what he preached. He had quite an interesting life: he was part of the generation of young American scientists who in the late 1800s absorbed the latest research techniques from Germany (he was a student of William Wundt at Leipzig), brought psychology to advertising and human resources (he helped create the performance evaluation!), and in 1920 became president of Northwestern University. (Perhaps when I’m next in Chicago I’ll check out his personal papers, and see what I can learn about him.)

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