Deliberate Rest

A blog about getting more done by working less

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My new ebook: Rest in the World: My Morning Routine

I have a new ebook out: Rest in the World: My Morning Routine.

Rest in the World: My Morning Routine

When you write a book, there are stories that you can’t fit into the book, but which deserve to be told at length, or pieces of writing that get left behind, but which deserve to be published somewhere. One of the things I’ve been doing is finding a home for some of those pieces, often in magazines (my recent piece on Britton Chance and sailing is a good example).

I’ve also wanted to experiment more with ebooks. I confess that when I have the option I prefer to read physical books, mainly because I’m a very physical reader, as the picture below illustrates.

Reading is a martial art, 1

However, I can see the value of ebooks for shorter pieces, or things that aren’t meant to be read quite so aggressively as the above.

So I’m experimenting with publishing a couple things on Kindle. The first,  Rest in the World: My Morning Routine, is now out, and it talks about how I write; what scientists have discovered about the virtues of doing creative work in the morning; and how developing my own routine changed the way I think about creativity, and helped me develop a more sustainable way of working.* I actually have a chapter in Rest about morning routines, but there’s always more to say about the subject.

Like lots of people, I’m not actually a morning person; during college and grad school, if I was up at 6 a.m., it was because I’d been up all night, not because I’d just gotten up. I saw plenty of sunrises after starting writing a paper at 11 the night before. This is the kind of thing you do when you’re young and have more energy than sense; but it also reflects an assumption that creativity happens best under pressure (like the pressure of deadlines), and that productivity happens  after you’re inspired. Basically, the model looks like this:

Deadlines —> Pressure —> Creative Breakthrough! —> Frantic Work

Of course, there were plenty of nights when it was more like

Deadlines —> Pressure —> OMG OMG I Got Nothing —> Throw Something Together

…but still it worked well enough most of the time.

As I got older, though, I realized that this model was not sustainable; and I also started to suspect that it wasn’t necessary. The idea that creative work has to require self-sacrifice and self-destruction is one of the most enduring myths of our culture, but as I explain in the new ebook, it’s actually incorrect. In fact, it’s backwards.

So my aim in Rest in the World: My Morning Routine is to talk in detail about how I do my work, and the science and logic behind my choices, as a way of helping readers think about their own practices, and start to experiment with their own routines. I have very specific things I’m trying to do in the early morning, and particular reasons for each of my choices; and so while no reader will want to just adopt what I do, I hope seeing how I construct my routine will help them think more clearly about how to construct theirs.

Finally, a word about Rest in the World. These days I’m working on a couple projects that explore how companies and other organizations are figuring out how to design work days and working practices that respect circadian rhythms, that don’t burn out workers quickly, and that challenge our assumptions that today’s global 24/7 economies require nonstop sacrifice and constant overwork. Rest in the World is meant to be a series, and the next piece will be out before too long.

*(I did have a much bigger version of it up for a little bit, but this is a much lighter, more device-friendly version– and interestingly, as a result it’s a lot cheaper.)

Japanese edition of REST

My copies of the Japanese edition of REST arrived today.

The Japanese edition of REST.

It’s always really cool to see the foreign editions, and to imagine the book being read by people I’ll never meet, in places I’ll never visit. It’s not a kind of immortality, nor is it really influence; it’s more like the satisfaction of seeing a child do well in the world, and exercising strengths that you might have helped them develop, but which they wield.

And of course I hope the book does well– more than many places, Japan needs to appreciate the value of rest, and to have corporate policies that encourage deliberate rest!

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.”

Freelancers need to rest, too

Manchester-based Web site Creative Boom has an article urging freelancers to “ditch the freelance guilt:”

The first couple of years of freelancing weren’t exactly a walk in the park. But now you’re established, and have a few steady clients under your belt, you don’t have to work seven days a week or 12 hour days any more (well, let’s hope not); you can take your foot off the accelerator.

So why aren’t you doing that? What’s stopping you from enjoying a better work/life balance?… If you’ve been wondering lately if freelancing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, it’s time to embrace one of its key perks – and that’s being in control of how you spend your days.

The article alternates insights from REST with stories about how freelancers and creatives learn how to work a little less, and draw benefit from doing so. It’s a nice reminder that it’s not just Darwin and John Cleese who benefit from deliberate rest; everybody– and especially people any kind of creative work– can benefit from it.

“there isn’t even a whiff of hippie wishy-washiness:” Readers review REST

REST has received some excellent reviews in places like the New York Times and… well, there’s no place quite like the New York Times, but it’s gotten positive press in the Financial Times, the Guardian, and lots of other magazines, newspapers, and business Web sites.

These are of course gratifying (and occasionally the reviewers read the book closely enough to identify ways it could have been better, which I honestly do appreciate); but I also find that Rest attracts readers who are also pretty thoughtful reviewers. In the last couple days, I’ve come across two of these in particular that stand out.

First is this review by British writer Vicky Charles:

Many books in this field can easily fall into that wishy-washy area of “just take a break, man” – with no actual logic or science behind it. We all know it’s “good” for us to rest, but we all also have a never-ending to-do list and numerous other responsibilities to keep us busy from dawn til dusk. Taking time out is hard to justify if your workload is still as heavy as ever.

What I love about this book is that while it is clearly about taking a break and all the ways you can or should go about doing that, there isn’t even a whiff of hippie wishy-washiness. The book references numerous scientific studies as well as examples of famous and not-so famous people from the modern day and from history. For example, did you know that even at the height of the Second World War, Churchill still got changed in to pyjamas and had a nap every day? Hitler, on the other hand, did not.

Second is this review by pseudonymous writer Veronica Rey:

This concept of active and deliberate rest was the biggest takeaway of the book for me. Rest is not about doing nothing, the author argues. It’s about doing the things that give our brains a break, even if it’s physically strenuous….

As a result of reading this book, I’ve been more intentional about working focused, followed by active rest. It shocked me to discover how hard this was for me! I’m so used to working, working, working that I had to force myself to practice giving my brains a break. After a week or two, I could see benefits already, though, most notably better sleep and way better concentration. I have to admit I slacked off after that, so I’ll have to pick it up again. Like any and all habits, rest, too, takes time to acquire.

By a nice coincidence, Rey is a fan of the work of Jane McGonigal, with whom I collaborated when I worked at Institute for the Future, a number of years ago.

The thing about reader reviews is that while publishing a review in the New York Times is partly about getting your own name in the paper, having a chance to shape The Public Conversation, or giving a new author a leg up (or settle scores with an old rival), reader reviews are motivated mainly by a reader’s own interest, and their sense that your books is worth their taking the time to write about. It’s less a professional work than a gift. (Which is not to say that they’re not as well-written or insightful, only that there’s not so much calculation that goes into them.)

Reader reviews are also different in that they often show how people are using your book. Veronica Rey’s blog, for example, documents her efforts at self-improvement through SuperBetter, and she read Rest as part of an effort to learn how to work and rest better. So the fact that she found it worthwhile, and was able to put it to use, is extra gratifying. It’s cool when someone thinks you’ve written a good book, in the sense of producing a good example of the craft; it’s really terrific when someone is able to use your book to (however slightly) improve their own lives.

And to be totally honest, I was really careful not to sound at all hippyish when writing Rest. Every time I started writing something that sounded vaguely like 1970s-era Jerry Brown, I shut it down. So thanks for noticing, Vicky!

“a life spent dutifully responding to emails is a dull one indeed. And ‘wasted’ time is, in fact, highly fulfilling”

The World Economic Forum blog has an Olivia Goldhill piece that argues for the importance of “wasted” time.

when we spend so long frantically chasing productivity, we refuse to take real breaks. We put off sleeping in, or going for a long walk, or reading by the window—and, even if we do manage time away from the grind, it comes with a looming awareness of the things we should be doing, and so the experience is weighed down by guilt….

The truth is, work expands to fill the time it’s given and, for most of us, we could spend considerably fewer hours at the office and still get the same amount done.

It also has a nice plug for REST, and the Nautilus excerpt of the four hours chapter from a few weeks ago (which has generated a lot of press, proving that you never know what’s going to take off).

“I’ve run through a lot of my life, only to discover that the most successful people get more done when they slow down and rest”

Enjoying the sunshine

Maria Shriver has an excerpt of REST on her Web site on this Memorial Day weekend. As she explains, a respect for leisure and rest

isn’t something I grew up with. In fact, I think it’s fair to say it was scorned upon in my home. If either of my parents saw anyone resting, well let’s just say…no one would have dared to try.

But, I’ve come to realize that resting is of value. It doesn’t mean you are weak or too tired to go on. It doesn’t mean something is wrong with you or that you’re un-American (even if Americans like to think of themselves as the hardest, most competitive and most driven people on the planet).

Resting is important. It’s important for your mind, your body, and your heart. When one rests, one can recharge and refocus. One can dream. One can tap into their creative spirit and into their consciousness. One can be at one with one’s self, with one’s own divinity, and with one’s own purpose and mission.

The truth is, I’ve run through a lot of my life, only to discover that the most successful people get more done when they slow down and rest.

You can read the excerpt here. It’s actually a combination of material from the introduction and chapter titled “Four Hours,” but is blended so seamlessly it looks like the piece was written exactly this way. Anyway, nice job, editors!

Portugese edition of REST

I just heard that the Portuguese edition of REST, Descansar: A razão pela qual conseguimos fazer mais quando trabalhamos menos, will be out in June.

The cover is a variation of the English language cover, which I think the Spanish publisher also plans to use.

Portuguese cover of REST

Very nice! The whole world could use more deliberate rest.

Cover of Japanese edition of REST

The Japanese edition of REST will be out pretty soon (next Friday, I think), and the publisher sent me the cover and bookband.

REST Japanese edition cover and bookband

I don’t know why bookbands are such a thing in Japan, nor why there’s a cat on mine, but I like it.

John Cleese, Graham Wallas, and preparation for insight

Monty Python’s John Cleese has given a number of talks over the years about creativity. Today runner and academic Peter Francis tweeted out a link to a talk Cleese gave that nicely echoes what I talk about in REST:

In the video, Cleese talks about discovering the power of the subconscious to help you solve problems– if you do the work first.

I’ve transcribed the critical section, which starts at 1:39:

If I was working on a sketch in the evening, and I got stuck. I would think about it a bit. And then if I went to bed, woke up the next morning and made a cup of coffee, and then I’d go over and sit down and look at it again, 9 times out of 10 I would have the solution.

And I found this absolutely extraordinary: that overnight while I was asleep, the answer just popped up, and when I sat down in the morning after a moment or two of looking at this problem that had completely stumped me the previous night, I saw how to do it.

And what is more, I began to realize that in the morning I didn’t even quite see what the problem had been the previous night.

So this business of sleeping on it, this overnight incubation that went on in my unconscious was an extraordinary phenomenon.

But it did depend on putting the work in the previous evening. You see what I mean: i couldn’t just go out to dinner and go to bed and wake up with an idea. I had to do the thinking. But if I primed the pump, then the ideas came.

So that was an extraordinary discovery.

Then the second: I wrote a script with Graham Chapman, and then, to my great embarrassment, I mislaid it. I was very embarrassed, and I didn’t want to go to graham and say I’ve lost it, it was stupid of me to have lost it.

So I sat down, and I put in a blank sheet, and I recalled it from memory, and I wrote it out. Then, a few hours later, of course, I found the original. I thought, “Oh I must compare the two and see, did I remember the best bits?”

What I discovered was that the version that I remembered was better. The phrasing of certain jokes was better. The construction was slightly better. It was just a bit less verbose, a little bit clearer and more precise. It was better.

I thought, that must mean that between writing the first script and writing the second one, my mind had gone on working on the problems, and actually improving them.

So again I had a perfect example of how one’s subconscious, if you prime the pump properly, will go on giving you answers, as a reward— not as a gift, you have to work for it.


Fascinating indeed. The first example is part of a bigger phenomenon that I’ve talked about before (Linus Pauling described it, for example). The second mirrors experiments that show that the subconscious continues working on problems even after we’ve turned out attention elsewhere– something I talk about in the book. It’s also a story that Cleese has told elsewhere: here’s an account of it in Fast Company from late 2014. And both illustrate Graham Wallas’s argument that creative insight usually follows intensive focus on a problem, followed by a period of incubation.

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