Deliberate Rest

A blog about getting more done by working less

Tag: interview (page 1 of 4)

The slow but essential work of transcribing interviews

Doing interviews with my new recorder, and taking pictures of sites I’m visiting with my trusty Fuji XE-1.
Interviewing Stuart Ralston, owner and head chef at Aizle, Edinburgh

The last several days I’ve been working through the hours of interviews I conducted on the road, editing reviewing and editing transcripts, and sending them out to people for review and editing and approval.

This has been work I’ve done my entire scholarly and professional career. When I was researching my senior thesis, on electrical engineering at MIT between the world wars, I spent many nights sitting in my summer rental on the edge of the MIT campus, listening to interviews on a cassette tape, transcribing them on a typewriter (a couple of the interviews are in the MIT archives). This is what I did instead of hanging out.

It’s slow work, but it’s essential. Reviewing the transcripts let me get reacquainted with conversations, identify those parts that I’ll later want to quote, and look at the overall structure of the conversation to see if there are themes that people bring up that I hadn’t noticed before.

Of course, they’re all answering questions that I ask, but it’s also important to listen for the things that people bring up on their own. Given how much of my work relies on interviews, this is a step I can never afford to ignore.

Fortunately, I recently stumbled on a new transcription service called Otter.ai (I believe they’re located somewhere here in Silicon Valley).

Scenes from Shoreditch

Otter is pretty good at identifying specific words (though it does make systematic errors, particularly when it’s dealing with Scottish or English accents), but it struggles with sentences, and paragraphs are hopeless. But I don’t think these are flaws in the program; rather, it reveals is how people hardly speak in sentences, and almost never speak in complete paragraphs. I have to decide where one thought ends and another begins, and make a decision about whether to start a new sentence, or create a new paragraph. That’s all editorial judgment on my part; rarely is it something signaled by the transcript itself.

The good news is, the interviews are as detailed as I remember, I managed to get good recordings of all but one (damn 2 GB card), and so it’s all worth that’s worthwhile, and will go a long way to letting me finish what feels more and more like my most important book yet.

Talking about deliberate rest on Bodyshot Performance

Ready for my closeup on BBC Radio 4!

My latest interview, with Bodyshot Performance founder Leanne Spencer, is now up online. (I recently wrote about Leanne’s TED talk on fitness versus weight.)

It seems to have the ominous title “part 1,” so there’s more coming!

Talking about REST on BBC Radio 4

Ready for my closeup on BBC Radio 4!

So I was just on BBC Radio 4’s morning show (it’s night here in California, but 8 hours ahead in London, people are having their coffee and checking the weather). I was on with Paul Johnson of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, talking about careers, aging, retirement, and the challenge of making work suitable for populations that have longer life expectancy (and increasingly, social safety nets and retirement systems that suck).

This was a bit of a last-minute thing: I got a message from a producer this morning asking if I was available, we did a sound check a couple hours later, and they rang me up a couple minutes before the segment ran.

I find that I perform better in these situations when I don’t just rely on my natural brilliance and extemporaneous speaking ability, but actually do some prep– which for me means writing some note about the subject beforehand. (I’ve written other posts about doing radio.)

Here’s what I wrote out and was trying to get across:

People who have very long and productive careers often alternate periods of intensive focused activity, with periods for recovery and reflection. This is true at the weekly level (i.e., detaching from work and having hobbies or other things that occupy your time), and at the level of years (having sabbaticals or other longer breaks).

This is a more sustainable pattern because, as recent work by neuroscientists and psychologists has shown, humans effectively focus for 4-5 hours a day. We’re also more creative when we have time built into our schedules for both hard work and deliberate rest. Finally, we vastly underestimate how much checking email after-hours erodes our ability to recover and recharge, and both our technologies and professional norms make that problem worse.

Whether consciously or not, parents who take time off with their young children, professionals who burn out after a decade in a high-pressure job, “digital nomads” who spend their 20s doing projects while traveling the world, etc. are all trying to find alternatives that play around with more extended periods of time off, or remix work and other things.

But companies have yet to make sense of these experiments, and instead see the traditional linear career as the norm, and these experiments as concessions or deviations. They also see long hours as a sign of dedication and productivity, and have generally been unwilling to share increased productivity with workers in the form of either higher wages or shorter hours. Finally, we see this problem of work-life balance mainly as one to be solved by individuals, not as an organizational design or policy challenge.

However, there are companies (mainly in software, advertising, and financial services) that have shown that it’s possible right now to shift to a 4-day week, or a 6-hour day, simply by using existing technology more productively, making meeting more efficient, and redesigning the workday to give people longer periods of focused, uninterrupted time.

Companies moving to 4-day weeks show that ever-longer hours are not inevitable, nor are they necessary for a company to make money and do good work. And if we can move to a 4-day week just by using our time and technology more wisely, this suggests that by designing new technologies like robots and AI with an eye to helping workers become more skilled and productive, and sharing the resulting time savings with workers, a 3-day week— or Keynes’ vision of a 15-hour workweek— could be closer to hand than we think.

The challenge we face now is to figure out how we can put these parts together: to do things like shorten the work day, rebuild the wall between work and private time, and design careers that allow for longer breaks and sabbaticals.

It’s not that you find the paragraph that best fits the question the presenter asks and then read it, but rather, the point of the exercise is to get you thinking about a subject, and give you a starting-point.

You’ll also notice the post-it that says “Answer JUST the Question.” This is a constant issue with me: I tend to want to answer a question and then discuss the implications, or a related point, and in a short-format radio show, you have to curb than instinct, and let the presenter guide the conversation. (BBC presenters, in my experience, are really outstanding, so it’s best to let them lead.)

Having a serious microphone is also a MUST for things like this. I love my Yeti Blue mic, and adding the wind guard and stand has only improved both the audio quality and ease of use.

I think I’m slowly getting better at these things. It’s not something that comes effortlessly, but it is possible to improve!

Now to bed, as I have to be up very early tomorrow!

How to have a more restorative vacation

Erica Alini interviewed me a couple days ago about rest and vacations, and now how an article in Gobal News about “The smartest vacation: How to get the most R and R, according to science.“

It’s a more important subject than you might think at first, because so many of us overwork and treat vacations like a Miracle Cure-All, a couple weeks when we can de-stress, relax, recover the energy we’be poured into our jobs, and generally make up for months of overextension and mistreatment.

But too often, we design vacations that don’t do us as much good as they could. We overstuff them with activities, or sneak in a little work, or do other things that degrade the restorative value of our vacations.

On a recent episode of my podcast I talked with Jessica de Bloom, a psychologist who specializes in vacations, about her research and findings. She has a number of insights about what makes vacations truly restorative, and some excellent advice about how we can better approach vacation design.

One thing she highlighted was the importance of control as something that affects whether a vacation is good or bad. If you do what you like and don’t have to face unexpected problems, you’re a lot more likely to rate vacations as good, and you’re more likely to benefit from them. This helped me explain why over the years I’ve gone from taking vacations that were really packed with activities, to vacations that feature one or two big things a day (at most), and more time for either doing “nothing at all,” or for exploring things we discover on the ground. If you have a crazy vacation schedule (kind of like your normal life!) and feel like you need to see Absolutely Everything in order for it to have been a success, two things are likely to happen. First, you’ll fail to cross everything off your list, and that will affect your level of satisfaction with your vacation. Or, you’ll push to do it all, but turn the vacation into a slog.

The most interesting thing de Bloom said was that her research has led her to take non-vacation rest more seriously. The more she gets into the science of recovery, and understands the factors that make vacations successes or failures, the more de Bloom appreciates the value of taking evenings off, of putting work away on weekends, of cultivating hobbies. Vacations are great, but maybe the biggest problem with them is that we expect too much of them.

I certainly understand the temptation to Do It All, especially if you want the kids to be exposed to new things, or you spent a lot of money to get to your destination; and if the point of the vacation is to educate your kids, or to see lots of things, then go for it.

But if the point of your vacation is to actually recover the energy you’ve drained while working, or to step back from the precipice of burnout, then you could be better off doing less.

Interview on Psychologists Off the Clock

The latest episode of the “Psychologists Off the Clock” podcast features a conversation between me and Brown University psychologist Yael Schonbrun, in which we talk about deliberate rest, the role of downtime in creative lives, and why young children are like vampires.

I’ve been doing a little more media recently, as I head toward the release of the paperback edition of REST (with a new foreword by Arianna Huffington) on June 12.  I’ve also got a number of other things that are happening to mark the publication of the new edition, and to spread the word, so yesterday I spent a few hours cleaning up my backyard office, getting things together, and making lists of things I need to do before the book comes out.

Tidying up the backyard office. The paperback version of REST is out next month, and I've got a bunch of things I'm doing to kick it off!

Interestingly, it’ll be out in the United Kingdom several days earlier, as a retailer wanted to include it among some summer titles, and needed it sooner.

 

New interview on Tracking Wonder with Srini Pillay

The Tracking Wonder podcast has an interview with me and Srini Pillay, a psychiatrist and author of Tinker Dabble Doodle Try.

It was a good time, in part because the interview was somewhat more autobiographical than most, and because Srini is doing some pretty interesting stuff. I actually met him when I was in Utrecht for the Happinez festival (he was a fellow speaker), so it was cool to connect again and trade ideas.

Talking about “The Importance of Rest” at the Happinez Festival

This fall I was at the Happinez Festival in Utrecht, and while there I sat down for an an interview about rest. The edited video is now up, and basically features me talking for eight minutes.

The video was shot in a farmhouse adjacent to the festival, which itself was held in a 19th-century fort and barracks that’s been converted into a conference center. Quite the place for an event devoted to happiness!

Happinez Festival

We sat for about half an hour, talking about various parts of the book and my argument, and they did a great job of editing it down without making me sound fragmented or incoherent. (Indeed, it turns out that just as in writing, good editing in video makes the difference between sounding like you’re just wandering around, versus getting to the point.)

Happinez Festival

Between this and the release of the Calm masterclass, it’s quite a week for video!

Happinez Festival

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.

Jabra video on deliberate rest

In September when I was in Europe, I gave a talk at Jabra corporate headquarters, just outside Copenhagen (where I had some excellent food, and saw some cool cats). We shot some video of me talking about deliberate rest, and Jabra has now created a short video from it. (Sorry about the auto-play.)

As a place that makes some outstanding headsets for office use, Jabra is really interested in issues of focus and concentration in business environments, so it turned out to be a great place to talk about deliberate rest and my earlier work on contemplative computing. (I’ll confess I have no fewer than four pair of Jabra headphones– two sets that I’ve used for everyday listening, a pair of their Bluetooth earbuds, and a set of noise-canceling office headphones. They’re all awesome.) And of course they did a great job with the video!

A few months ago I was doing an Al Jazeera show, and during the sound check beforehand one of the other guests described me as “the silver gent.” I suppose I see what he meant. Mentally I don’t feel like i’ve aged in the last twenty years (I feel like fundamentally the same person I was when I was a postdoc, or first married), but I have gotten more silver.

And anyone who meets me on the road is likely to see me wearing some variation of those clothes– the black shirt and black cashmere jacket, and jeans. What can I say; one of my professors extolled the virtues of wearing black on the road, and I still dress that way out of respect for her.

“Accomplishment is the best form of self-affirmation”

My latest interview, a conversation with journalist Kristen Marano in You Inc., was just published:

How do you build yourself up in moments of self-doubt? 

I’ve gone through enough cycles of self-doubt (about a million) to know that they pass eventually, usually in a day or two. To move the cycle along though, it always helps to cross off even small things on my to-do list: return emails, finish some mindless piece of work, even clean the bathroom. Accomplishment is the best form of self-affirmation.

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