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.

Adam Smith on the value of moderation

Adam Smith's tomb
Adam Smith’s tomb, Edinburgh

Peter Barnard, in a comment on Jenni Russell’s recent column talking about REST (US | UK) points to an Adam Smith quote from the Wealth of Nations about the value of rest:

It will be found, I believe, in every sort of trade, that the man who works so moderately as to be able to work constantly not only preserves his health the longest, but, in the course of the year, executes the greatest quantity of work.

The quote is in Book 1, Chapter 8, “On the Wages of Labor,” and is at the end of this observation.

Excessive application during four days of the week is frequently the real cause of the idleness of the other three, so much and so loudly complained of. Great labour, either of mind or body, continued for several days together, is in most men naturally followed by a great desire of relaxation, which, if not restrained by force or by some strong necessity, is almost irresistible. It is the call of nature, which requires to be relieved by some indulgence, sometimes of ease only, but sometimes, too, of dissipation and diversion. If it is not complied with, the consequences are often dangerous, and sometimes fatal, and such as almost always, sooner or later, brings on the peculiar infirmity of the trade. If masters would always listen to the dictates of reason and humanity, they have frequently occasion rather to moderate than to animate the application of many of their workmen. It will be found, I believe, in every sort of trade, that the man who works so moderately as to be able to work constantly not only preserves his health the longest, but, in the course of the year, executes the greatest quantity of work.

So my next book SHORTER (US | UK) is essentially one long footnote to this paragraph, much as Western philosophy is a footnote to Plato, as Alfred North Whitehead put it.

Why isn’t the four-day week a utopia?

Scenes from Shoreditch
Shoreditch, 2018

Wired UK has a piece by Hazel Sheffield explaining “Why four-day working weeks may not be the utopia they seem.” To my practiced eye, one thing that the article does well is find a new example of a company that’s moved to four-day weeks, and hasn’t been written about much: Big Potato, a board game company in Shoreditch, London:

[Tris] Williams started a board games company called Big Potato with two co-founders in Shoreditch in 2014. It has since expanded to 20 people. Williams had always prided himself on running a progressive company. Big Potato offered its workers flexible working hours and cake and sandwiches on Friday lunchtimes, when everyone got together to play games. When he saw Perpetual Guardian’s story he said to his co-founders Ben Drummond and Dean Tempest: “We own a company, we can do what we want, let’s try it out.”

They end up moving to a four-day week and it went pretty well. So as the title puts it, why isn’t the four-day week a utopia?

Scenes from Shoreditch.
Shoreditch, 2018

Basically, it comes down to 1) not all companies or sectors can do it, 2) some implementations can be tough. Which is fair, but it’s a far cry from the “what manner of evil sorcery is this, foul demon?!?” kind of response the idea got even a year ago. If one of the tougher hits against the four-day week is that not everyone can do it– and the response to that is that not everyone works a five-day, forty-hour week right now, and that’s okay– then the ground is shifting!

Now U.S. labor unions are talking about a 4-day week

Unions in the UK have been talking about the 4-day week for some time, and now American unions are starting to take notice, Alexia Fernández Campbell reports in Vox.

Now labor unions are making the case for even less work: dropping days worked down to four.

That’s one of the changes unions are proposing as part of their vision for the future of work, which is outlined in a report to be released Friday by the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor unions in the US….

As technology makes workers more productive, unions argue, why not give them three-day weekends? Not 40 hours compressed into four days. Labor unions are proposing a 32-hour workweek, with employees earning no less than they did before.

It may seem radical, a change that businesses would resist. But Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, assures me it’s not.

“We are very serious about this,” Trumka told me. “If we’re going to free up jobs for more people, then we have to go there.”

The AFL-CIO has published a new report on The Future of Work and Unions. Here’s the section on working hours:

Predictions that artificial intelligence and other new technologies will make workers far more productive in the future have generated interest in the prospect of a “leisure dividend” that allows for the reduction of overall work hours. The key question is whether this “leisure dividend” will be shared broadly by working people.

Even if the predicted spike in worker productivity never materializes, there is a very strong case for redistributing work hours today—that is, for limiting the excessive hours worked by some people, thereby making more work hours available to those who want to work more, and giving all workers more “time sovereignty” over our working life.

The movement for an eight-hour day, followed by the demand for a 40-hour week, was driven by the U.S. labor movement. The authors of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 intended to redistribute work by giving businesses an incentive to reduce excessive hours for some workers and reallocate them to the unemployed and underemployed.

Passage of the FLSA ushered in a period of about four decades in which average weekly work hours steadily fell. In recent decades, however, progress has stalled, and U.S. workers work more hours per year than workers in most other developed countries. At the same time, there has been a recurrence of the problem of insufficient work hours for some and irregular schedules for many, especially for workers in the retail and fast food industries.

In a paper presented to our commission, Prof. Juliet Schor of Boston College, author of The Overworked American (1992), argues that reducing overall working time has the potential to produce a “triple dividend”: (1) spreading work hours to more employees, thus minimizing unemployment; (2) lowering stress levels, increasing leisure time and improving workers’ quality of life; and (3) reducing adverse impact on the environment.

Our commission’s Service and Retail and the Federal Sector Subcommittees recommend strengthening the labor movement by mobilizing around such big issues as shorter work days and workweeks with no reduction in pay for workers. Work hours can be reduced by bargaining or legislating a four-day workweek; earlier retirement; stronger overtime protections; paid holidays; paid vacations; partial unemployment benefits for workers whose hours are reduced (“short-time compensation”); and the “right to disconnect” from digital devices and work. Most of these policies would redistribute work hours to those who have too little work.

Insufficient work hours also can be addressed specifically by legislating or bargaining minimum work hours and giving part-time workers first claim on available work. Unpredictable schedules can be addressed by bargaining or legislating premium pay for on-call scheduling (schedule changes that occur without sufficient warning) and shifts that offer insufficient hours, as well as more worker control over scheduling (“time sovereignty”). Reforms to make scheduling fairer and improve work-life balance will be especially important in meeting the needs of workers, particularly working parents, enabling more of them to pursue their careers. If working people can bargain or legislate more time sovereignty and a “leisure dividend” without any reduction in our pay, this could be a key mechanism to help ensure the benefits of technological progress are shared broadly by working people.

I don’t talk much about unions or government policy in my forthcoming book SHORTER (US | UK), because for the companies I’m looking at, the move has been driven from the top (but very much involves everyone’s participation). So far, it’s happened in industries that are suffering labor shortages, losing experienced people to burnout or work-life imbalance, and see a way to convert technological innovations and productivity increases into time savings for workers, not just higher profits for companies.

These companies are very important as prototypes, in effect: they show that shorter hours can be implemented, today, without wrecking companies. But at some point, in order to move shorter workweeks from the innovators and early adopters into the mainstream, I think it’s going to be necessary to involve policymakers and unions.

“Pang’s argument… is that deep, targeted rest, and more of it, improves the quality of our thinking, our work and our lives“

O’Hare Airport neon sculpture

I flew into O’Hare International Airport this afternoon, and when I switched on my phone, I found that Jenni Russell had published a new column in the Times arguing that “Less is more when it comes to time at work.” It features a lovely bit about REST:

In the age of the smartphone and the internet, professional work scarcely has boundaries at all. It’s the new normal to be sending emails at midnight, to restart projects after a distracted supper, to interrupt family Sunday lunches with work calls. Normal, and miserable. Many of us are stressed, overwhelmed, always typing to keep up. We’ve bought the idea that we’re better for doing more, that for success we must emulate the Steve Jobses and Elon Musks of this world.

We’re mistaken. The ancients knew it, modern neuroscience confirms it, and a Silicon Valley technology forecaster and consultant who stepped back from burnout is trying to reverse our assumptions. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang has marshalled the evidence that long hours are destructive and counterproductive, for employees and employers alike. He’s making the case for complementing work with deliberate, restorative, active rest.

Pang’s argument, in his 2017 book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, is not the familiar claim that we need a work-life balance. It is that deep, targeted rest, and more of it, improves the quality of our thinking, our work and our lives. It is not the wimps’ choice. It is what the most productive deep thinkers, scientists, mathematicians, musicians and writers have always done.

Ironically, it appears the same day as a BBC report about skepticism of the 4-day workweek that includes this argument against shorter working hours:

Matthew Lesh, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, said: “Labour’s bizarre idea to force people to work less will mean lower wages and fewer opportunities for millions….

We should celebrate people who work hard to provide for their families, not take away this freedom. Low income Brits in particular want to work more, not less.”

I hadn’t thought that I would ever read the verbal equivalent of Jacob Rees-Mogg sprawling across the green benches of the House of Commons, but I clearly underestimate the inventiveness of some people.

REST is one of “5 Business Books That Don’t Actually Suck”

Copies of the UK paperback edition.

Michael Schein’s recent piece in Forbes lists “5 Business Books That Don’t Actually Suck,” and REST is one of them.

The emotion I’m most comfortable with is guilt (Thanks mom!). In the early days of my business, when I would wake up with a start at 3 am with a line of drool connecting my lower lip to my keyboard, I would beat myself up. How could I nap after a mere seventeen hours of work when there were kids in Cupertino forgoing sleep for five days at a stretch? It’s a good thing I came across this book before ending up in a hospital ward with total organ failure. Pang makes a compelling case that most of the stories about business builders who work 365 days straight on 3 hours of sleep each night are image-building myths. His book shows why quality rest is the ideal fuel for creative and commercial productivity and provides a recipe for how to use it to up your chances of achieving your most audacious goals.

Thanks, Michael!

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.

长时间工作可能毫无意义

Pilita Clark’s recent Financial Times piece that talks about REST is now available in Chinese.

Always good to see the argument for rest popping up in other parts of the world!

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.

My appearance on Pepicast

Microphone

You can listen to me talk about distraction, deliberate rest, and 4-day weeks in a conversation with Montreal-based podcaster Gael Gendre on episode 43 of Gael’s podcast, Pepicast.

It’s one of the wider-ranging conversations I’ve had recently, and it got me thinking about some of the deeper connections between my last three books– something I’ll be writing about in my next newsletter.

“The idea here is not that we should start to off random senior scientists to make room for the new blood”. (Or is it?)

MIT's Stata Center
Stata Center, MIT

Inside Higher Ed reports on a new study by MIT professor Pierre Azoulay on the impact of the deaths of star scientists on their fields. It turns out, it’s not all bad (except for the star scientist in question, obviously):

For their study, Azoulay and his co-authors examined the relationship between the relatively early or sudden deaths of 452 eminent scientists between 1975 and 2003 and the subsequent “vitality” of the field, measured in publication rates and flow of federal funding.

The total sample of elite scientists was about 13,000, or about 5 percent of the total labor market. The average age of premature death was 61, and all scientists included in this subgroup were still active researchers before they died.

Following the deaths of star scientists, subfields saw an 8.6 percent increase in articles published by those scientists who had not previously collaborated with the late luminaries. Those papers were disproportionately likely to be highly cited. All effects are compared to control subfields, which are associated with superstars who did not die.

The effects were more pronounced for those who were previously “outsiders” to the subfields.

“To our surprise, it is not competitors from within a subfield that assume the mantle of leadership, but rather entrants from other fields that step in to fill the void created by a star’s absence,” the paper says. “Importantly, this surge in contributions from outsiders draws upon a different scientific corpus and is disproportionately likely to be highly cited.”

Here’s the abstract of the original article, available here.

We examine how the premature death of eminent life scientists alters the vitality of their fields. While the flow of articles by collaborators into affected fields decreases after the death of a star scientist, the flow of articles by non-collaborators increases markedly. This surge in contributions from outsiders draws upon a different scientific corpus and is disproportionately likely to be highly cited. While outsiders appear reluctant to challenge leadership within a field when the star is alive, the loss of a luminary provides an opportunity for fields to evolve in new directions that advance the frontier of knowledge.

This reminds me of something else life-science related: Margaret Heffernan’s work (described in this TED talk) on “superchickens,” and the importance of social cohesion over charisma in workplaces. She builds on the work of biologist William Muir, who:

wanted to know what could make his chickens more productive, so he devised a beautiful experiment. Chickens live in groups, so first of all, he selected just an average flock, and he let it alone for six generations. But then he created a second group of the individually most productive chickens — you could call them superchickens — and he put them together in a superflock, and each generation, he selected only the most productive for breeding.

After six generations had passed, what did he find? Well, the first group, the average group, was doing just fine. They were all plump and fully feathered and egg production had increased dramatically. What about the second group? Well, all but three were dead. They’d pecked the rest to death. The individually productive chickens had only achieved their success by suppressing the productivity of the rest….

[F]or the past 50 years, we’ve run most organizations and some societies along the superchicken model. We’ve thought that success is achieved by picking the superstars, the brightest men, or occasionally women, in the room, and giving them all the resources and all the power. And the result has been just the same as in William Muir’s experiment: aggression, dysfunction and waste. If the only way the most productive can be successful is by suppressing the productivity of the rest, then we badly need to find a better way to work and a richer way to live.

One striking feature of the companies I write about in SHORTER (US | UK) is that they avoid being superchicken organizations, and they use a variety of tools to make sure that they privilege cohesion and collaboration over heroic action. In fact, I first heard about Margaret Heffernan nd the superchicken phenomenon from Tash Walker, who moved her company to a 4-day week a couple years ago.

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