Deliberate Rest

A blog about getting more done by working less

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Why are Americans’ wages flat? A new article argues it’s about monopsony

Slate reports on a new theory for why Americans can’t get a raise:

The paper… argues that, across different cities and different fields, hiring is concentrated among a relatively small number of businesses, which may have given managers the ability to keep wages lower than if there were more companies vying for talent. This is not the same as saying there are simply too many job hunters chasing too few openings—the paper, which is still in an early draft form, is designed to rule out that possibility. Instead, its authors argue that the labor market may be plagued by what economists call a monopsony problem, where a lack of competition among employers gives businesses outsize power over workers, including the ability to tamp down on pay. If the researchers are right, it could have important implications for how we think about antitrust, unions, and the minimum wage….

The team looked at the number of companies advertising jobs [on] in more than two dozen different occupations, from nurses to accountants to telemarketers, in each of the country’s different metro and nonmetro areas between 2010 and 2013. They then calculated local labor market concentration using the awkwardly named Herfindahl-Hirschman Index, or HHI, which antitrust regulators use to analyze the effects of mergers on competition.

What they found was a bit startling. The Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission consider a market with an HHI score of 2,500 or more to be highly concentrated—if a merger between two wireless companies left that little competition for cell services, for instance, there’s a good chance the government’s lawyers would challenge it. In their paper, the authors find that America’s local labor markets had a whopping average HHI score of 3,157. Employers also tended to advertise lower pay in cities and towns where fewer businesses were posting jobs—suggesting that the lack of competition among companies was letting them suppress pay. According to one of their calculations, moving from the 25th percentile of labor market concentration to the 75th percentile would lower pay in a metro area by 17 percent.

REST “made a more positive difference on my life than anything else I read this year”

Michael Rossmann, a former editor of The Jesuit Post who’s now at Boston College, included Rest in his list of The Best of What I Read in 2017:

10) Darwin Was a Slacker and You Should Be Too, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Nautilus. I have always loved power naps. After this article – and Pang’s book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less – I no longer feel guilty about taking them. Pang’s work made a more positive difference on my life than anything else I read this year. The “deliberate rest” that Pang describes, especially when coupled with deep work, was a recipe for success when writing my thesis.

I’m not Catholic, but I regard this as high praise, as all the Jesuits I’ve met have been frighteningly well-read. (Granted, most of them were teachers and academics, so my sample is somewhat skewed in favor of heavy readers, but still…)

(And glad it helped you write your thesis, Michael!)

This turned out to be one of a number of end-of-2017 mentions of Rest that came across my radar. The Christmas season was a good time for book sales, and it’s also the kind of book that people read for new year inspiration.

The “Think Differently About Kids” letter

Baby and iPhone

JANA Partners and Calstrs have published a pretty amazing open letter calling for Apple to rethink its design of its products, with the aim of making them less addictive to kids.

I suspect it’s published elsewhere, but the original is at Think Differently About Kids, and is the first manifesto I’ve ever seen that requires you acknowledge a disclaimer first.

There are a couple interesting thing here. The first is the argument they make that helping people be more mindful in their technology use, and developing more subtle and useful tools for helping parents control their kids’ device use, would establish Apple as market leader– or rather confirm it as the leader it already is:

we believe there is a clear need for Apple to offer parents more choices and tools to help them ensure that young consumers are using your products in an optimal manner.  By doing so, we believe Apple would once again be playing a pioneering role, this time by setting an example about the obligations of technology companies to their youngest customers.  As a company that prides itself on values like inclusiveness, quality education, environmental protection, and supplier responsibility, Apple would also once again be showcasing the innovative spirit that made you the most valuable public company in the world.

Later, they argue that Apple should get on this because the zeitgeist is shifting:

It is true that Apple’s customer satisfaction levels remain incredibly high, which is no surprise given the quality of its products. However, there is also a growing societal unease about whether at least some people are getting too much of a good thing when it comes to technology, which at some point is likely to impact even Apple given the issues described above. In fact, even the original designers of the iPhone user interface and Apple’s current chief design officer have publicly worried about the iPhone’s potential for overuse, and there is no good reason why you should not address this issue proactively.

As a parent of two quite technology-happy kids, it often struck me how few good tools exist for helping parents help kids learn to use digital devices and social media well.

My nephew at the Apple Store, Soho

At the same time, I think this is one of those things that’s really hard to implement: it’s easy to talk about wanting kids to use technology better or be less attached to it, for example, but hard to design for that. Further, lots of the problems we worry about with “technology” are really social problems, or human ones. And I think that technology companies are just as addicted to persuasive design as their users: it feels like too easy a toolkit to use, and there are too many examples of companies that.

Still, after years of talking about technology, addiction, and distraction, it’s good to see this getting some traction.

Muhlenhaupt + Company reimagines REST

Design by “Naz” Luzzi Castro

One of the best things about REST is that it’s attracted some great, engaged readers. Some of them really like the book; a few are quite critical, but in a thoughtful way; and many find ways to build on the ideas, and put them to work in their own lives.

Today I saw a fabulous example of readers reinterpreting the book: designers at the creative agency Muhlenhaupt + Company produced three new designs of the cover of REST. I’ve always been very happy with Nicole Caputo’s cover design, but these are marvelous.

Design by Veronica Llamas

I had no idea that this Designing the “Rest” Book Covers project was going on; I found out about it through Twitter.

Design by Bill Heemer

Here’s what they say about the project:

Designing a book jacket presented Muhlenhaupt and Company’s creative team with a different set of obstacles but not unlike many the team has confronted with similar projects before ultimately delivering outstanding results.

The “Rest” book cover project allowed the designers to showcase their creativity and their interpretation on what “Rest” – the book and the concept – means to them.

The Web site provides some more information about each design, and how the designers thought about the challenge.

They’re each great designs, and even though they’re quite different each one works. I also like how each designer zeroed in on a different aspect of the book’s argument, and made it the centerpiece of their design. I often say that people see different things in the book; this makes that really visible.

So thanks, Muhlenhaupt + Company, and especially “Naz” Luzzi Castro, Veronica Llamas, and Bill Heemer. This is the best Christmas ever!

My appearance on BBC World Service Business Daily

Setup for my BBC World Business Daily interview.

Yesterday I was at Stanford Radio, doing an interview for BBC World Service Business Daily. Their episode on “A Work-Life Balance” is now online.

Should we be working less to achieve more? Maddy Savage reports from Sweden, where workers are trying to balance the traditional outdoor life with longer working hours and increased screen time. Silicon Valley consultant Alex Soojung-Kim Pang puts forward his argument for working less and taking ‘active rest‘ in order to get more done. And could you save time by outsourcing your life? University of California, Berkeley sociologist Arlie Hochschild talks about her research into the rise of outsourcing careers in the United States.

I appear around 06:45, and the producer did a good job of taking the interview and turning it into something that sounds coherent! And it’s always extra fun to be on a show that you listen to. I don’t tune in regularly, but I often listen to BBC World Service, so I catch it now and then.

I can’t figure out how to embed the player, alas.

“There’s no such thing as a good job”

I’m not sure I agree with the title of the talk, but Australian lawyer and Fulbright fellow Melanie Poole’s talk on work and its place in modern life is still worth watching:

Speaking to BBC World Service Business Daily this morning


I have two dogs who think that 6:15 is a great time for breakfast, and a well-developed morning routine supporting my work, so I’m no stranger to early mornings. But this morning I’m at Stanford Video to record a segment with BBC World Service Business Daily.

Not sure when it’ll air, but when I know I’ll tweet it out!

Another example of overwork leading to product flaws: The GoPro Karma drone

Inc. has an article about GoPro and its struggles that includes a look at the failure and recall of the Karma drone in 2016. The drone would suddenly lose power and crash, and they were worried that at several pounds, it could do some real damage if it hit someone:

Teams of employees flew hundreds of the recalled drones above the company parking lot for weeks, and eventually learned that a simple plastic latch was coming loose, causing the battery connection to slip out of place. That meant the problem was easily fixable. But the Hero5 Black issue, too, stemmed from a lapse in quality control. The camera wall was only 0.2 millimeter thick in one spot, Woodman says, and water pressure blew it out. The real cause of both problems, he continues, was that “the teams were killing themselves to launch the products on time. We were doing too many things, and it was taking too long to make decisions because management was juggling too many projects at once.” Brown puts it more bluntly: “We knew that if we didn’t figure out some way to reorganize, the company was just not going to survive.”

This reminds me of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 debacle, which came about after “Samsung pushed its designers, engineers and suppliers beyond the breaking point to produce the Galaxy Note 7 with multiple industry-first features” in an effort to beat Apple to market.

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.

REST is available as an audiobook


The audiobook version of Rest is now available in the United States, just in case you’re still looking for that perfect Christmas present! You can listen to a sample on SoundCloud.

The reader, Adam Sims, is a big deal: he just won Audio Narrator of the Year for his recording of Flowers for Algernon (one of my favorites).

And he does a good job with Rest. As Audio File magazine says of his performance,

In no-nonsense, declarative tones that suit the author’s style, narrator Adam Sims moves the author’s message ahead at just the right pace as he delivers a mix of scientific studies and anecdotes about writers, scientists, and other creative types who thrive by insisting on integrating leisure into their schedules.

I mean, I guess that’s good.

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