Deliberate Rest

Designing rest for a busy world

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less


Arianna Huffington and I talk about REST at DLD17.

“You will consider how and why you rest in a completely new light after reading this book.” (Wendy Suzuki, author of Healthy Brain, Happy Life)

At Google, I talked about REST and my forthcoming book SHORTER, about the 4-day week.

“You’re holding some terrific advice in your hands on the virtues of walking, napping, and playing. Pang has written a delightful and thought-provoking book on the science of restful living.” (Clive Thompson, author of Smarter Than You Think)


(From the Happinez Festival, September 2017)

My new book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less is available at your local bookstore, on Amazon, on Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere. It’s published by Basic Books in the United States, and Penguin Books in the UK (as part of their wonderful new Penguin Life series). It’s also been translated in a number of other languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, and Turkish.

I also have a masterclass on “The Power of Rest” on the Calm app.

Here I’m collecting links to promotion-related activitiesarticles about the book and deliberate restreviews, as well as information about talksinterviewsradio shows, and other media appearances. I’m also continuing to collect research and stories about the subjects I cover in Rest: stories about the role of deliberate rest in creative lives, research on the neuroscience and psychology of creativity, the challenges of busyness and overwork, and so on.

Some personal news: I’m joining the BrightSight Group

montreal-g500

I’m on my last business flight of 2019, heading to Bentonville Arkansas to talk at BlakeSt. about work, rest, and the 4-day week.

It’s been a busy year: I’ve traveled from one end of the Silk Road to the other, given talks in the UK, Europe, and Asia, and did a very fun author event at the Googleplex, and will close out the year with a talk at Silicon Foundry in San Francisco.

And with SHORTER (US | UK) coming out next year, 2020 could be even busier.

Which is why I’m really pleased to be able to share some news: going forward, I’m going to be represented by the BrightSight Group, one of the big (and obviously, best!) speakers’ bureaus.

Screen Shot 2019-09-01 at 1.05.59 PM

We’ll be working together on keynotes and other traditional talks, but we’ll also offer workshops to companies and organizations that want to apply the lessons of SHORTER and REST themselves.

Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics

Having organized, facilitated, or participated as an expert in something like 200 workshops in my professional life, in places as far-flung as Cincinnati, Baku, and Kuala Lumpur, this is a kind of work that I really enjoy, and I’m really looking forward to being able to do more of it.

You can contact them here, or 609-924-3060.

New report on women’s working hours finds that women are working more hours (you won’t believe what happens next)

Brigid Schulte points out A new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research about “Gender Inequality, Work Hours, and the Future of Work:”

Technological innovation through machine learning, robotics, and artificial intelligence is likely to automate many tasks and jobs, thus improving productivity, freeing time, and allowing fewer workers to do more. Technological innovation presents an opportunity to rethink the distribution of time spent on paid and unpaid work, tackle the inequality in the division of domestic and care work between women and men, and provide time for upskilling and lifelong learning needed to benefit from future opportunities.

This first section of this report presents analysis on why work hours matter to gender equality, and what role time-related policies may play in reducing gender inequality, and more generally, social and economic inequality. The findings show women’s growing contribution to paid work and highlight that, as women’s average hours at work have increased, men’s have not declined. Inequality in paid and unpaid time has remained particularly stark between mothers and fathers. The report then highlights the growing inequality between those who work a lot and those who work intermittently, part-time, or part-year. In addition, the analysis shows that this polarization in paid time at work is increasingly exacerbating racial inequalities.

The second section of the report focuses on changes in the quality of time at work and workforce policies around scheduling, location, and paid time off. The report notes how a growing lack of schedule control and the absence of paid leave rights reinforce economic and racial/ethnic inequalities and are particularly harmful to parents. The report ends with recommendations to achieve a healthier and more equal distribution of hours worked.

The knock-on effects— lower promotion rates for professional women, lower rates of involvement by fathers who overwork, etc.— will be familiar to anyone who has a Google alert for whenever Claire Cain Miller publishes something new in the New York Times.

Anyway, the study is useful as another data-point in why we need a shorter workweek, and why it will have a disproportionate benefit for working women.

Speaking at Life Lessons in London, February 2020

London Bridge and the Shard

I’m going back to London in February to speak at Life Lessons, a conference at the Barbican!

Wellbeing isn’t about lycra and fad diets. Its aim is not weight-loss for image-sake. Wellbeing is a way of life. It’s smart-thinking, sustainable living, community-building and frank-speaking. When well-informed, with an open-mind and with life lessons at our finger-tips, we can all live a happy, healthy and more inspired life.

Welcome to Life Lessons. A weekend of big talks from big thinkers. Where we dare to dream of a better future.

The speaker list is a cool mix, ranging from Richard Darwins to Ruby Wax to James Wallman.

Essentially, the talk will be the start of the publicity campaign for SHORTER (US | UK). I’ll be doing several other talks while I’m there. Watch this space for more updates.

Are articles about the 4-day week are turning into the new “this CEO gets up at 4 am for meditation and archery”?

Cockroach Labs
Cockroach Labs, where they have a 4-day week

Business Insider has another article about the 4-day workweek that casts shorter working hours (not incorrectly) as efforts to give people a chance to disconnect from work, and to reduce burnout:

it seems a growing number of companies are hoping to combat that trend by finding ways to improve work-life balance — most notably by experimenting with a four-day workweek. While the four-day workweek is still far from common, it certainly seems to be growing in popularity.

I’m now starting to see a shift in the way people write about the 4-day week. It’s still regarded as unusual (and in the grand scheme of things, it is), but it’s not treated as this totally nutty thing that some out-there companies are doing. Now, it’s more like something that is unusual, but delivers results.

In that respect the coverage is a bit more like those articles about CEOs who wake up at 4 am, and get more done by 7 than the rest of us do all day.

Cal Newport on shorter working hours and the future of knowledge work

Knowledge Workers of the World... Unplug!
Knowledge workers of the world, unplug!

Cal Newport has a piece in the New York Times about Lasse Rheingans, shorter working hours, and the future of work. Newport makes the point that our approach to knowledge work– the mix of always-on digitally-enabled communication, relative lack of filters, and cultural norms that treat overwork as normal and burnout as a necessary risk– really only took hold in the last couple decades; in fact, the term “knowledge work” was only coined in 1959, by Peter Drucker.

Scenes from London
Brunswick Centre, London

The digital tools that have become so ubiquitous in our lives and work really are pretty new. I got my first email address when I was at Stanford in 1991, having gone through nine years of college and grad school without one (and wi thout anyone ever assuming I had one, which is also telling). I built my first course Web page in 1995 or thereabouts, and got my first cellphone around 2000. So while these are woven into our days, to assume that we’ve already figured out how to use them really well, Newport argues, is

both arrogant and ahistoric. It’s the equivalent of striding into an early-20th-century automobile factory, where each car still required a half day’s worth of labor to produce, and boldly proclaiming, “I think we’ve figured this one out!”

If I’m right and we’re still early in this new phase of digital knowledge work, then more productive — and hopefully much more meaningful and much less draining — approaches to executing this work remain on the horizon. No one knows exactly what this future of knowledge work will look like, but I suspect, along with Mr. Rheingans, that among other transformations it will reject the idea that always-on electronic chatter is a good way to efficiently extract value from human minds….

If like many digital knowledge workers, you’re exhausted by endless work and flooded inboxes, the good news is that better and more sustainable ways of producing valuable output with your brain might be coming — if we can find enough visionaries willing to try out “radical” new ideas about how best to get things done.

I think this is right on, and I would build on it and argue that there are also some important cultural innovations that companies shortening their working hours. (I write about this at greater length in SHORTER (US|UK).)

First, they rewire the relationship between professionalism, effort and skill on one hand, and working hours on the other.

London
Signage, London

Today, in many workplaces we treat long hours as a measure of (or a proxy for) ability, commitment, and enthusiasm. Companies that have shortened their working hours, in contrast, believe that someone who can do the same work in 4 hours or 6 hours is a better worker than the person who needs 10; that you should aspire to be the first person rather than the second; and that a willingness to try to become that person signals an interest in your work, an ability to reflect on your processes and practices, and an experimental, growth mindset. Asking people to work shorter hours is a great way to discover who your most dedicated, passionate, competent workers are.

You can bet this is going into my next talk! Don’t know what #workmode is, but I spotted this windows near the University of Amsterdam.
Workmode, Amsterdam

The second change follows from the first. Figuring out how to work fewer hours redirects the passion for your work, the desire to do a good job and to be recognized for it, that leads you to work long hours, and turns it in a healthier and more sustainable direction. Shortening your workday doesn’t lead to overwork and burnout. It’s a way of making careers longer and more sustainable.

Not only does it encourage you to develop a style of working that lets you continue to do great work for more of your career (and let’s face it, there comes a point where you’re no longer physically able to work insane hours without paying a high price), the nature of the challenge is one that’s more open-ended. If you’re now good enough to do in 5 hours what used to take you 8 hours, what do you have to do to get it down to 4 hours? To 3 hours? Trying to work ever-longer hours is a formula for self-destruction; figuring out how you and your organization can work fewer hours is a formula for self-improvement and self-preservation.

Paddy Bettington on the political radicalism of shorter working hours

In the companies I’ve been studying that have moved to 4-day weeks, unions have played little or no role in setting working hour or working conditions. But unions historically have played a huge role in setting working hours, and that’s one reason unions in the UK and the Labour Party have advocated for a shorter week. Paddy Bettington, a founder of Labour 4 Day Week, explains this in his new essay “Why the Four-Day Week Matters:”

The five-day week, the eight-hour day, paid holiday, sick pay and maternity pay were all instituted by mass movements, trade unions and collective bargaining….

[W]hen John McDonnell announced Labour’s plans to move to a 32-hour week at this year’s conference, he was clear that the primary mechanism to achieve this would be freeing the unions to engage in collective bargaining once more.

In the coming months and years, the Labour Party will enter government and be forced to institute – and prioritise – the myriad elements of their political programme. The move to a 32-hour week mustn’t be seen by the left as a nicety dreamt up by policy wonks, but as an essential means to loosen the grip of capitalism and a necessary foundation of a socialist agenda.

In a previous essay, he made the case for union involvement in the push to 4-day weeks:

The four-day week is not a silver bullet, but does offer a simple way to tackle a range of issues that affect the entire country. It represents a way of redistributing efficiency gains of new technology – if we’re going to have more automated tasks, we need to make sure that workers see the benefit. It would address the unnecessary contradiction of underemployment and overwork existing side-by-side. It would allow undervalued domestic and care work – disproportionately undertaken by women in our economy – to be shared more equally. It would bring our typical working week in line with our more productive neighbours France and Germany. It can lessen the rampant work-consumption cycle that drives climate change. Most importantly, perhaps, it can offer people more control over their lives.

There are individual cases that show a shift is already happening: some companies from across the world employ a four-day week, of their own accord, and see positive results. But we can’t rely on the practices of a handful of enlightened companies. The transformation we want to bring about requires demand from below and responsive policy from above. Using existing democratic structures is key. The Labour Party and trade unions are not only the most effective (and obvious) institutions to play this role, but also the natural champions of such a policy.

Bettington’s right that unions in Europe and United States have played an important role historically in defining national policy and the rules under which large employers organized their workdays, and the pieces are a nice illustration of how working hours and labor power have been connected. And you can believe that when the Times comes out against it, one reason they do is is that they recognize that the campaign for a 4-day week could revitalize labor unions and attract voter to left-wing parties.

European traders talk about shortening their workdays

London Bridge and the Shard

In Europe, stock markets and other trading floors are open from 8 am to 4:30 pm, one of the longest trading days in the world. Now, two “professional bodies representing traders, the Association for Financial Markets in Europe (AFME) and the Investment Association (IA), have asked European exchanges to shorten trading hours by 90 minutes” per day.

Like teachers, stockbrokers and analysts are expected to put in substantial time preparing for the day; as a result, a day can easily stretch to ten hours or more. The AFME (pdf) notes that

Staff are habitually doing a ten hour working session sat at their desk in an industry where lunch breaks are often still frowned upon. This is not conducive to good mental and physical health. We would note that no firm that we are aware of prevents individuals from leaving their desk, but the prevailing and pervasive culture across the industry is that traders are at their desk for the whole trading day.

The working day is further extended since most traders arrive at least one hour before the market opens, to prepare, and stay at least one hour after the close in order to book trades, assist operations and look at after-market secondary offerings. The IA estimates that the average trader works a 12 hour day starting at 6.30am, representing a 60 hour week.

So why would a shorter day be good? They argue that it would bring several benefits.

London Panorama

Some of them are pretty familiar. For one thing, “a culture of long hours impacted traders’ mental health and wellbeing.” This line of argument will come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed working hours reductions in other high-pressure environments, like health care or restaurants.

There’s also the professional diversity argument: the long hours work against hiring women, and limit the professional lives of anyone with family obligations. “A 2019 survey that covered 129 buyside heads of trading globally reported that the best way to attract and retain more gender diversity in trading,” the AFME report says, “is to provide a better work / life balance. Employees are increasingly looking for more work / life balance when they are looking for jobs.”

London goods

All familiar stuff. But here’s where it gets fascinating.

As one article notes, “The first hour of trading often attracts little liquidity and subsequently is a more costly time to trade, while the final hour attracts around 35% of total daily volume. So a shortened day is a win-win for both traders and trading companies.”

The AFME explains,

The closing auction now consistently represents well over 20% of the daily volume in Europe. To emphasise the shift, around 35% of volume trades in the last hour and that increases to around 50% in the last two and a half hours.

The evidence of a distortion is not just apparent in the traded volumes, but also the actual cost of trading.

The difference in spreads, volatility, and market liquidity in the AM session vs. the PM session result in material differences to the cost of trading.

For a small 1% Average Daily Volume (ADV) trade on the FTSE 100 Index it would cost 4.4bps to execute the trade in the last 30 minutes of the day (excluding the closing auction), whereas the same trade in the first 30 minutes of the day would cost nearly three times more at 11.4bps.

Traders in the London market indeed tell us that the first hour is the most expensive time of day to trade. They consider that this is caused by the wider spreads and lack of liquidity. This cost differential further perpetuates the migration of liquidity to later in the day and a degradation in morning liquidity.

For comparison, in the US market, which is shorter in duration by 2 hours and turns over approximately 6X the volume of the European markets combined, there is still a cheaper cost of trading in the afternoon where liquidity is higher and spreads/volatility lower, but the differential in cost to the morning session is much smaller. This demonstrates greater stability in liquidity conditions over the day in the US market.

Because there’s not as much activity in the first hour, and trading is more expensive, eliminating it would allow traders more time to study charts and do other stuff, and cutting the last half hour would encourage more trading earlier in the day. In other words, “a shorter day will centralise liquidity, facilitating more stable trading conditions and price discovery over the day.”

A shorter trading day will be a more efficient trading day– not just “efficient” in the sense of humans working better, but efficient in the market sense of discovering prices and supporting trading.

London Eye with St Pauls

In other industries, it’s often the case that when you go to a 4-day week, there’s one day that’s really quiet and not much happens: one direct marketing firm found that its sales people made 90% of their sales by Thursday, and in PR Friday is known as a dead day. But I think this is the first example I’ve seen of a proposal to shorten the workday that argues that a shorter day will make markets themselves more efficient.

Computational devices

It should also be noted that, as in other industries, technology helps make a shorter workday possible:

Technology has advanced rapidly and the speed of execution has improved exponentially since the original market hours were established.

Firms advanced trading algorithms are now able to trade in thousandths of a second across multiple venues. The operational processes supporting trading have also evolved significantly, as such it is no longer necessary to have such an extended trading day. For example, the recent 90 minute outage at the London Stock Exchange (LSE) on 16 August 2019 did not result in noticeably less volume going through on that day.

There is other innovation too – for example, the LSE now offers a specific segment to provide investors with the opportunity to reduce time zone risk whilst accessing 6 exposure to global securities.

Finally, a harmonisation of market hours across Europe would address any concerns about liquidity shifting from any one market to another as a result of this change. It’s important that all the major markets in Europe move their trading hours together. Liquidity would not drift from one market to another as European markets would be moving their opening hours in concert.

The London Stock Exchange says they’ll think about it.

The politics of the 4-day workweek in the UK

On the Eye

In the UK, political parties are starting to argue about the merits and economics of the 4-day workweek as they head into a general election. The Labour Party, building on advocacy by UK trade unions, has announced that they want to move to a 4-day week in the next decade. Leading the charge on the conservative side is the Times: on Tuesday, their editorial page wrote,

Jeremy Corbyn’s aim to introduce a four-day working week would cost the taxpayer at least £17 billion a year because of the impact on the public sector wage bill, a new analysis has shown….

Research by the Centre for Policy Studies, a centre-right think tank, has found that reducing the hours of public sector employees, including doctors, nurses, teachers, firefighters and police officers, would impose a significant extra burden on the Treasury because the workforce would have to expand.

In an editorial titled “The Road to Serfdom” (we just can’t quit Hayek is seems), the Times said that “Labour’s unreality is exemplified too in its plan to introduce a four-day working week over ten years with no loss of pay.” So they’re keen to knock down the idea that the 4-day week is viable.

Here’s the core of the Centre for Policy Studies analysis [pdf]:

[I]f we simply reduce the hours worked by each public sector worker, this will impose a cost as you have to expand the workforce to obtain the same results. The total compensation paid to public sector workers was £183.8 billion in 2017 (the latest year available).4 If you assume a simple increase in costs due to lower hours and no increase in productivity, meaning more staff must be hired, the costs of bringing in a four-day work would at present be either £45 billion (assuming we go from 42.5 to 32 hours a week on average) or £26 billion (assuming we go from 37.3 hours to 32 hours a week on average).

However, let us assume that through a version of compressed hours, smarter working, and higher motivation, you might make significant productivity gains. This is incredibly optimistic, given the lack of formal evidence for such a sharp rise in productivity due to simply having lower hours. But if we adopt as our central estimate a 6% gain in productivity, worth half the hours lost, this could (on such heroic assumptions), be worth around a £9 billion increase in productivity, which could partly cancel out the cost of lower hours.

Even under this scenario, however, the shift to a 32-hour working week would mean a £17 billion hit to the public sector on today’s numbers.

Of course, I think any responsible analyst will say that trying to forecast about productivity and labor costs ten years out is basically an exercise in guesswork. However, there are a couple things that seem worth pointing out.

First, this assumes a lower productivity gain than I’ve seen in companies that have moved to 4-day weeks. Only one says that they’ve taken a hit on productivity; the rest talk about being as productive as they were when working 5 days (i.e., being 20% more productive), or being more productive (i.e., getting over 20%). Microsoft Japan reported an increase of almost 40% during their recent trial.

Second, it doesn’t try to figure in the indirect gains and savings that come from shortening the workweek, even at publicly-funded organizations. For example, when a Swedish nursing home moved its nursing staff to a 6-hour day, the program cost about 700k euro per year, but because they hired a bunch of people who hadn’t been working, they saved the government half that in unemployment insurance. At the Glebe, a retirement home in Virginia, a 6-hour workday for nursing staff cost about $145,000 a year, but saved more than $120,000 in overtime, fees to recruiting agencies, and fees to temp agencies– plus there were additional savings because care was better, so residents had fewer injuries, and needed fewer drugs and attention from doctors.

There are also indirect gains that come in the form of better worker health, fewer sick days, less burnout, and lower turnover / higher retention rates– all of which can be expensive for companies, and a burden on societies and economies. (Burnout alone costs the global economy $300 billion a year.) In the UK, KPMG estimates that the inability of professional or skilled women to reenter the job market after having children costs the economy more than £1 billion annually. You could also include lower spending by workers on things like gas and child care; and from reduced spending by the organization on health insurance, and utilities if offices are closed an extra day.

Third, there are plenty of governments that have implemented 4-day weeks, and shown that it’s possible to do this without cutting services. I was recently in Maine, and found a number of towns that have moved most of their government services to 4 days a week. Granted, these are pretty small towns, but they report that thanks to being about to put some government services– paying taxes, getting licenses and registrations, applying for things– online, and having elected officials be available via email or Skype (or just at the corner diner– I said these are small towns), they reduce the amount of time they need to spend in an office, without being less accessible. (As I recently noted, a Danish municipality is experimenting with 4-day weeks now.) The state government of Utah did this for a years under Jon Huntsman.

There’s another point work making. The CPS study says,

In general, most economists assume that as productivity rises, hours worked decline. This appeared to hold true throughout the 20th century. But there is much less evidence for the opposite argument – that if you reduce hours, productivity automatically increases.

Which is correct, but is not the actual experience of any company or organization that’s shortened its working hours. It’s not a merely automatic effect: productivity goes up because people use shorter hours as a chance to implement managerial reforms, process improvements, and changes in how people use technology– often while spending little or nothing– in order to improve productivity.

Now having said this, it’s definitely the case that you can mandate lower working hours in ways that are problematic; the Korean government’s experience is one cautionary tale, and the French experience has been kinda mixed, too.

But 4-day weeks should be treated as an investment, not an expense, and serious policymakers should try to forecast more comprehensively how they can impact an economy.

Talking about REST and SHORTER at Silicon Foundry, December 4

I’ll be talking about REST and SHORTER at Silicon Foundry in San Francisco on December 4.

Let's talk about distraction

The talk will range cross my last three books, THE DISTRACTION ADDICTION, REST, and SHORTER, laying out my argument for the importance of deliberate rest, explaining how we can develop practices that create more time for focused work, and how companies are redesigning their workdays to build more time for focus– and reduce their working hours at the same time.

Speaking at Somnex

You can pre-register here, but space is limited!

Visit to Cockroach Labs

New York City

On Tuesday I went to New York to meet with SHORTER’S American editor and publicity team about the release of the book. (Fortunately, events like the UK general election, in which the Labour Party is advocating for a 4-day workweek (and right-wing think tanks are saying would be terrible), the new Microsoft Japan report, Cal Newport’s New York Times piece, etc. are doing a great job of getting people talking about it!)

I also had a little time to stop in the global headquarters of Cockroach Labs, a startup located on 23rd Street.

Cockroach Labs

They do cloud-based SQL databases, which if you know anything about cloud computing or SQL databases is really cool. (I don’t, but living in Silicon Valley I have friends who are highly technical and think this is an interesting problem.) They also have a 4-day workweek, with the office staying open on Fridays to let people work on their own side projects. This may not sound like a great perk, but for software developers, many of whom are self-taught and are always aware that there are new and interesting technologies that they should learn about, it’s a powerful attractor.

As a result, the average age of company employees is 35, which means that they’re a young company with a surprisingly experienced workforce with the structural support needed to stay up-to-date in their specialties.

For a place on 23rd Street, the office was surprisingly green. The common area has a big wall of moss and ferns, which also serves to absorb sound.

Cockroach Labs

There are other plants throughout the office, which pick up on the green.

Cockroach Labs

This was an especially nice touch: moss on one side of the pillars (since moss only grows on one side of trees).

Cockroach Labs

It’s always great to see these places, because it stimulates questions that you wouldn’t think to ask via Skype, or lets you pick up details that you otherwise wouldn’t notice. For example, I was struck by how quiet the place was: even though it was open office, there was virtually no chatter (except for me). However, they get lunch brought into the kitchen four days a week, and during lunchtime everyone congregates and talks. Being more focused doesn’t make the place less friendly.

Cockroach Labs

There were lots of other interesting details, but I’ll save those for the talks.

While all the humans were very friendly and generous with their time, one of the office dogs was absolutely certain that I was up to no good, and that I needed to be watched carefully.

Cockroach Labs

Fortunately for (fur?) the company, Carl made sure that I wasn’t able to create any trouble.

Cockroach Labs

His friend Remy, in contrast, was a little less suspicious.

Cockroach Labs

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