Deliberate Rest

Designing rest for a busy world

Category: Books and reading (page 1 of 8)

The man who broke the calendar: About IIH Nordic and its 4-day week

IIH Nordic

One of the companies I write about in SHORTER (US | UK) is IIH Nordic, a Copenhagen-based data marketing firm that implemented, and has become a Nordic model for, a 4-day workweek.

IIH Nordic

Now, there’s a new book by journalist Pernille Garde Abilgaard, Manden der knuste kalenderen for at gøre sine medarbejdere lykkelige (the title translates roughly into “The man who broke the calendar to make his employees happy”), about IIH Nordic and its 4-day week.

I spent a little time with Pernille when I was last in Copenhagen, and it sounds like an interesting project. It’s pretty focused on the experience of IIH Nordic, but I don’t find these kinds of deep dives to be competition with a book like SHORTER; I think there’s value in both projects that look in great detail at particular firms (something I can’t do in a book about a hundred companies), and books (like SHORTER) that look across a large number of places, and try to see the commonalities in trials happening on different continents.

Scenes from Copenhagen

Most important, it’s another data-point that indicates that the 4-day week is quickly going from a total curiosity, to something that a growing number of people are at least willing to entertain the idea that a shorter workweek can work.

Die 5-Stunden-Revolution

While SHORTER (US | UK) moves through production (I get the copyedits next week, and have a bunch of revisions to put in), there’s another book about shortening working hours that’s out: Lasse Rheingans’ Die 5-Stunden-Revolution, or “The 5 hour revolution.”

Lasse moved his company to a 5-hour day a couple years ago, a move that garnered a lot of attention.

It’s not yet out in English, but if you read German, it’s worth checking out. However, if you don’t read German, you can listen to my interview with Lasse, or read about his work when SHORTER comes out in March.

“Many modern workplaces, with their lures of perks and prestige, are increasingly resembling the Fyre festival”

Bruce Daisley, podcaster, Twitter executive, and author of The Joy of Work and the forthcoming Eat Sleep Work Repeat, has a short and great piece in The Guardian explaining “Why stressed workers need four-day weeks – not wellness trends:”

The latest wellness trend to assail us? “Gong baths.” For those unfamiliar with the term, a gong bath aims to provide spiritual nourishment via long, calming notes played on a large metallic percussive instrument. Yes, it is just a gong – from an orchestra, maybe, or that excessively styled Cotswolds B&B you stayed at – and people are reportedly chilling out like crazy by lying down next to one while it’s being bonged…. You will not be surprised to learn that large corporations have rushed to embrace gong baths. Some top firms are reportedly booking sessions with gong masters in their endless pursuit of workplace wellness.

From the picture in the article, a gong bath seems to involve going into a Mongolia ger and listening to a gong hit by people who just came from the Sigur Ros reunion show in Oslo.

There is probably nothing bad about seeking escape in the shimmering omm of a gong, but the suggestion that it could undo the mental damage of modern office work is an insult. With every mindful minute, every gong bath, we move away from an honest conversation about how we need to change work. Is the answer to the electronically elongated working day that we trade down to a four-day week? Should we switch to a six-hour day? These are meaningful debates that need to be had – but we are unlikely to start them over the bonging of a gong.

I’m as big a fan of cultivating mindfulness as anyone (I did write a book about it, after all!), but I think that Daisley and other critics of corporate wellness programs are spot on, and that all too often these kinds of programs are used as a salve to help people deal with issues– poor scheduling, meaningless products, bad management– that should be dealt with by organizations,  and communicate the idea that people, not institutions, are responsible for dealing with things that really require structural solutions.

One of the things that’s powerful about the 4-day week is that it moves us away from thinking of issues of work-life balance, burnout, and so on as personal ones that we all have to deal with by ourselves, or in negotiation with our bosses, and into things that can be more efficiently solved with structural changes (that, coincidentally, benefit everyone).

“The potential in idleness for greater freedom seems worth the exploration”

University College Dublin philosophy professor Brian O’Connor has a nice piece in Time Magazine about “Why Doing Nothing is One of the Most Important Things You Can Do:”

From the age of Enlightenment onward, philosophers, political leaders and moral authorities of many kinds have tried to convince us that work is one of the most important opportunities for freedom. Through work, we can become a somebody, relish the esteem we gain, structure our lives and, while we are at it, contribute nobly to the common good. This is a strange brew of ideas, but one that has seeped deeper into our psyche than we may realize….

The ever-tightening connection between our work and our personal identity constricts even more. We come to believe that being idle at all is, somehow, the antithesis of freedom. But we would do well to think about idleness more, and rather differently from how we do….

The potential in idleness for greater freedom seems worth the exploration. Or at least an attempt to think about what prevents us from truly doing nothing right now.

I suspect Rest might come in for some criticism from O’Connor, in that it sees work and rest (and leisure and idleness) as partners rather than opposites, and I definitely think of them as sustaining and justifying each other.

His new book Idleness: A Philosophical Essay, which just came out last week, also looks promising. So does Patricia Hampl’s new book The Art of the Wasted Day.

REST in the November Leader Box

REST in the wild: From LeaderBox unboxing
(from Twitter)

Leader Box, a new monthly subscription service that selects new books about leadership, just made its first delivery. Rest is one of the first two books!

LeaderBox unboxing: REST in November's box
(from Twitter)

As I’ve said many times, it’s great to see the book in cool places, and to hear from people who find it useful.

LeaderBox quote from REST
(from Twitter)

I’ve only seen the pictures that readers are sharing, but it seems to me that Leader Box has done an outstanding job with the book. Hope people enjoy the book!

Fortunately Basic Books’ marketing is light-years better than this

I don’t know if this is real or not (I assume not), but this exchange is utterly hilarious.

The alchemy of publishing

So this showed up in my timeline this morning:

(I don’t usually check Twitter until later in the day– I reserve the mornings for more serious writing and thinking– but I was trying to track down someone, and was looking at a Twitter account with their name.)

That’s a nice way to start one’s week! And if the delivery comes in time, I’ll have a copy of the book to carry with me to Europe.

Nicole did a terrific job with the cover design (even coming up with an image that was more resonant than she could have known), and I’m really looking forward to seeing the book for real.

It’s interesting that a project that I’ve lived with for years feels “real”– or at least a different kind of real– the moment it’s bound and shipped, and escapes my control. (I had the same feeling with The Distraction Addiction.) I can talk about the book and promote it and encourage people to write reviews of it, but mine is now a representative or supporting role; from here on, the book gets to stand more on its own.

My desk at Newnham College

I’m still impressed at how publishing a book (or to a lesser degree, an article) feels like a slightly supernatural thing. A manuscript remains tentative and changeable and exploratory, no matter how long you work on it; a book, in contrast, transmutes the words and argument into something more final and definitive-feeling.

Two coffees

Of course, they’re the same words, and people will argue with them or praise them, but still, I’m struck by how I read my own words differently when they’re published.

I think it’s a bit like having children grow up: they’re still yours, but they’re more themselves, more independent, and they’re now going to have lives that unfold according to their own rules, following their own forces, and increasingly will diverge from your own. And on balance that’s good: with both people and book, you want them to be able to stand on their own, with our constantly having to defend them.

Fortunately it can happen a little faster with the books!

Another thing to look for when I’m in London: Nick Littlehales’ new book on sleep

Nick Littlehales, a sleep coach who’s worked with many world-class athletes and is a fellow Penguin Life author (I can’t tell you how cool it is to be able to put myself in that category), has a new book, Sleep: The Myth of 8 Hours, the Power of Naps… and the New Plan to Recharge Your Body and Mind. The Guardian has an excerpt on the secret of power napping.

One of the most important secrets of power naps (or Controlled Recovery Periods, as he calls them), is that you don’t really need to sleep in order to get benefits. There are people who resist naps on the grounds that “they simply ‘can’t nap.’ But,” it turns, out, “it doesn’t matter:”

What’s important is that you use this period to close your eyes and disconnect from the world for a short while. Falling asleep is great, but so is catching that place on the verge of sleep, when you’re not quite awake but not quite asleep either. It’s tapping into that point of the day when you’re not really thinking about anything at all, when your mind is a blank.

This is what scientists call hypnagogia, and it’s a state that some creatives, most notably Salvador Dali, actively used to tap their creative subconscious. But, Littlehales reveals, even if you never have Surrealist visions of melting clocks, bring in that state does you good.

Another book advocating doing less: Tiffany Dufu’s Drop the Ball

Inflating giant balls

Well this looks interesting:

Once the poster girl for doing it all, after she had her first child, Tiffany Dufu, a renowned voice in the women’s leadership movement, struggled to accomplish everything she thought she needed to in order to succeed. Like so many driven and talented women who have been brought up to believe that to have it all, they must do it all, Tiffany began to feel that achieving her career and personal goals was an impossibility. Eventually, she discovered the solution: letting go. In Drop the Ball, Tiffany recounts how she learned to reevaluate expectations, shrink her to-do list, and meaningfully engage the assistance of others—freeing the space she needed to flourish at work and to develop deeper, more meaningful relationships at home.

Packed with actionable advice, Drop the Ball urges women to embrace imperfection, to expect less of themselves and more from others—only then can they focus on what they truly care about, devote the necessary energy to achieving their real goals, and create the type of rich, rewarding life we all desire.

Perhaps between this book (out in February 2017), mine (out in early December), and Tom Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late (out the week before), and Courtney Martin’s The New Better Off (which just came out), we’ll have a bona fide movement.

What’s interesting to me is that these books aren’t written for Jenna Maroney’s Crabcatchers (yes I’ve watched too much television in my lifetime): they’re not arguing that we should just make enough money to pay for the next beach party, but are written to appeal to people who are ambitious and want to do things with their lives (I assume anyone who reads Friedman sees themselves as a potential beneficiary of the trends he so loves to describe).

“National Socialism in pill form:” Drugs and the ideology of perpetual work in the Third Reich

One of the images that always sticks with me when I think about the virtues of rest (and mention in my book) is that of Winston Churchill regularly taking afternoon naps, and Adolf Hitler staying up for days on end on a cocktail of meth, cocaine, and heaven knows what else. Any assumption that long hours inevitably lead to victory are challenged by the way those two lives played out.

But it turns out that, according to a new book, the Nazis were even more into performance-enhancing and energy-boosting drugs, particularly methamphetimine and cocaine, than I realized. Norman Ohler’s new book, brilliantly titled Blitzed, is the first detailed study of drug use in the Third Reich.

A review in The Guardian explains that while lots of drugs were banned on the grounds that they were decadent, etc., some drugs

had their uses, particularly in a society hell bent on keeping up with the energetic Hitler (“Germany awake!” the Nazis ordered, and the nation had no choice but to snap to attention). A substance that could “integrate shirkers, malingerers, defeatists and whiners” into the labour market might even be sanctioned. At a company called Temmler in Berlin, Dr Fritz Hauschild, its head chemist, inspired by the successful use of the American amphetamine Benzedrine at the 1936 Olympic Games, began trying to develop his own wonder drug – and a year later, he patented the first German methyl-amphetamine. Pervitin, as it was known, quickly became a sensation, used as a confidence booster and performance enhancer by everyone from secretaries to actors to train drivers (initially, it could be bought without prescription). It even made its way into confectionery. “Hildebrand chocolates are always a delight,” went the slogan. Women were recommended to eat two or three, after which they would be able to get through their housework in no time at all – with the added bonus that they would also lose weight, given the deleterious effect Pervitin had on the appetite. Ohler describes it as National Socialism in pill form.

Meth was issued to soldiers involved in the invasion France, so they could drive forward for several days without having to stop (and thus giving the enemy time to regroup). “Thereafter, drugs were regarded as an effective weapon by high command, one that could be deployed against the greatest odds.”

The Nazis may be worth a closer look as a great example of an ideology of superhuman performance even more extreme than what we see in today’s hardest-driving professions.

Clearly I need to get a copy of the book when I’m in London in November. Fortunately, I know the publisher!

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