Deliberate Rest

A blog about getting more done by working less

Tag: radio (page 1 of 2)

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!

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.

Talking about restful vacations on CBC Ontario Today

Scenes from Kauai

I was on CBC Radio’s call-in show “Ontario Today” earlier today, talking about “The key to a restful vacation.” You can listen here:

It was a fun time for me at least, partly because it involved more interaction with an audience than many radio interviews, and because I actually went into it with a certain amount of apprehension. To be honest, in Rest I have about six pages about vacations, so I was concerned that I’d have enough to say!

Fortunately, guest host Amanda Pfeffer was outstanding, and did a terrific job of guiding the conversation back to the book. I also do a fair amount of prep before these interviews, and now have a decent system for working through my notes and thinking about my responses, as you can see.

HipstaPrint

The Stanford Video folks (who are outstanding– they’re all the kinds of low-key professionals you want to work with during stressful situations, or just during moments when you need to be totally focused and on) keep a sheet music stand in the studio, and I make good use of it.

Beforehand, I’ll take some time to write out some notes, the key ideas I want to repeat or return to, and reminders to keep my answers short, stay on point, and let the host guide things. It’s usually the same set of notes, the same points, and same reminders every time (I am talking about the same book, after all); but it helps to write them out every time, to keep them fresh in my mind.

I also carry a copy of the book into the studio, though frankly I don’t refer to it during a live show– there’s not time to page through it.

You’ll notice a couple post-its, which have the host’s name– you never want to get that wrong– and the schedule for breaks.

I also keep my small notebook handy (in my lap), and write down the names of callers and the main points I want to make in response to their stories or questions. The virtue of this is that if I have only one or two points to make, I’ll make them more quickly if I can write them down and refer to them, and I’m less likely to strike off on some digression. I’m also more likely to get people’s names right if I write them down and can refer to them. Finally, if I can connect points that two callers 40 minutes apart make, I look like A Freaking Genius.

Today’s setup is not unusual for me. I’ve learned that interviews go better if I have some aide-memoire to jog my memory, or anchor the conversation. This was the desk when I was interviewed by Bob Edwards about The Distraction Addiction:

Bob Edwards interview

 

I’m very big on note-taking as a tool for thinking more clearly, as the book below illustrates, so realizing that doing it for interviews would help was a significant thing.

Reading is a martial art, 1

I think I’m getting better at interviews, though it’s like being a musician or teacher: it’s one of those pieces of craft that you can refine and improve for a lifetime. But at least I recognize that it’s a craft, and I’m learning how to build a structure that helps me do well and improve. (So I hope.)

Talking about “The Importance of Rest” on RadioWest

From my appearance on "West Coast Live" at Berkeley Freight & Salvage

My interview with Doug Fabrizio on The Importance of Rest | RadioWest is now up on the KUER Web site. Doug was a fabulous interviewer, so it’s a particularly good conversation.

For most of us, overwork is the new normal and rest is an afterthought. But the scholar Alex Soojung-Kim Pang says that by dismissing the importance of rest in our lives we stifle our ability to think creatively and truly recharge. Pang will join us to talk about his new book that examines why long walks, afternoon naps, vigorous exercise, and “deep play” stimulate creative work and sustain creative lives.

WAMC Golden Notebook

The Books Pick podcast recommends Rest as a holiday read. the podcast features reviews from the Golden Notebook, a bookstore in Woodstock, New York. The discussion starts at 14:25, though the opening song about books is insane and worth listening to too.

Don’t worry about the fact that they get my name wrong. I have trouble with “James Conrad.”

“The Value Of Rest As Restorative” on Jefferson Public Radio

I recently spent an hour with Jefferson Public Radio, which serves southern Oregon and northernmost California, talking about “The Value Of Rest As Restorative.”

The deadline is bearing down, and you need to produce something to keep the boss, the spouse, or yourself happy.

So step BACK.

Huh?

It is counter-intuitive, but Alex Soojung-Kim Pang is not the first person to suggest that you’re more productive when you’re better-rested.

Yesterday while I was doing the NPR Marketplace interview, it struck me that even in the three years since my last book came out, there’s been a change in the availability of radio shows.

Recording an interview for NPR's "Marketplace."

Programs used to be ephemeral: you were on, it broadcast, and then it was in the past. This meant that if you had a terrible show, you could write it off and move on. Today, though, radio shows are like TV or movies: if you miss the first broadcast, you can just wait for the online version.

Which is great in one sense, because it means people can always hear you; but on the other hand, it raises the sakes for every performance.

Just relax (with me and David Brancaccio)

I’m on NPR’s Marketplace today. David Brancaccio and I talk about overwork, busyness, and Rest. They’ve put the longer interview, with only light edits, up online; the broadcast version will be about two minutes long.

It sounds like I’m right in the studio with David, but actually they sent a sound engineer out to my house, and so I spoke to David on the phone, and recorded my side of the conversation through a studio mic; she then uploaded the interview, and engineers at Marketplace studios synced them together.

Recording an interview for NPR's "Marketplace."

It was a fun experience (radio interviews are an art), and it’s always interesting to see where interviewers decide to take a conversation.

Arianna Huffington talks about REST in “Inside The New York Times Book Review” podcast

The New York Times has a podcast that accompanies its Sunday Book Review. In this week’s episode, Michael Lewis talks about his new book The Undoing Project, and Arianna Huffington (who reviewed Rest in this Sunday’s New York Times) talks about Rest.

I would have loved to hear Arianna take on my full name, but instead she just talks about how great the book is, and lays out the cast for the importance of rest: “This is not about people who want to chill out under a mango tree, but it’s really about people in the arena,” she says. It’s about “realizing that they can be more productive, more creative, but at the same time happier and healthier… if they are deliberate about rest.” Later on, when Pamela Paul asks her what her biggest takeaway from the book was, she says,

I think what I learned was the importance of making it deliberate. That is not something that will just happen, because what will just happen is, we’ll be drawn back to our devices. I think that is a very profound point and it’s going to become increasingly true for people as the technologies and devices become more and more invasive, and social media becomes cleverer and clever in consuming our lives.

You know, I know plenty of critics make fun of Arianna, and see her as marketing a comfortably bourgeois notion of work-life balance (a term she doesn’t like, and neither do I), or as not being that deep; and the working conditions and publishing terms of Huffington Post have come in for their share of criticism. But reviewing the book is exactly the kind of thing she could have tossed to an assistant; instead, she clearly read it and thought seriously about it; and for an author, that’s really gratifying.

Props too to host Pamela Paul for asking great questions.

It’s on the New York Times Web site, but you can also listen to it on iTunes and Google Play.

Wisconsin Public Radio interview is now available online

For your Sunday morning listening: my interview on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Joy Cardin Show, “Work Less, Rest More, and Be Successful,” is now available to stream.

Americans work long hours, take only a few vacations, and retire late in order to complete all their work.  However, they also get less sleep and experience more stress, among other health issues.

Tech Nation and “The Neuroscience of Rest”

Last week I went up to San Francisco to record an interview with Moira Gunn and Tech Nation. The interview is now available online, on their episode “The Neuroscience of Rest.”

KQED this morning

Moira is a terrific interviewer, and she started with a question about Santiago Ramón y Cajal that made me think, “Boy, she’s really read the book closely!” My second thought was, “WHAT DID I WRITE ABOUT RAMON Y CAJAL? THINK!!!”

I feel like I’m getting better, somewhat slowly, at the craft of interviews. When you listen to a good interview, it sounds just like a couple people chatting; but underneath that ease and fluency is a hard bedrock of preparation. Learning what to do in order to prepare, how to anticipate questions, and simply how to sound good, is a challenge.

For Tech Nation, I made sure to get up to San Francisco super-early, and hung out in a coffee place nearby and went over my notes.

Reviewing before my interview

I now put a lot of value in not rushing myself whenever possible. Of course there are times when you have to dash from one thing to another, but if I can avoid it, I find it makes a big difference in my mood and performance.

Anyway, I have another half dozen radio shows scheduled for the next couple weeks, and then there will be UK appearances (one hopes!), so with luck I’ll get good at this. Or at least learn to speak without saying “you know” and “ummm” every third word, which would be a step forward!

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