“Read it! It will change your life!” said my daughter’s high school principle in a tone full of determination. “Wow” I thought. “Now I am intrigued!”, although the title “Rest: Why you get more done when you work less” did not seem to hide any big surprises. We all know the importance of rest in our life and when things go offhand, becomes a key medical advice. Well, maybe the second part of the title “Why you get more done when you work less” might reveal some new information, I said to myself, and remaining open to the recommendation, I decided to buy it.
When I read it, life was still normal. Office schedules, hectic weeks, a feeling of anticipation for the coming weekend to relax and rest. All the great ingredients of modern society portraying rest as the opposite of work or laziness with the accompanied feeling of guilt. Well, and here is how the author of the book Alex Soojung-Kim Pang tries to change this false perception by advocating that rest is actually work’s ally, not its enemy and that “deliberate rest” is a learned skill that boosts creativity and productivity,
He brings in the lens of neuroscience shedding light on the secret life of the resting mind. Brain scans show that when people stop working on external tasks, a “default mode network” continues solving problems during the subsequent rest period. Another brain phenomenon, “mind-wandering” isalso activated when we perform more automatic activities, like cleaning. Letting our mind wander, helps us manage memories, imagine future possibilities and connect parts of the brain that do not interact when our mental focus is on specific tasks.
But let’s get to the practical stuff and explore some of his proven methods:
• 4 hours
Spend approximately four hours daily on focused work, and spend the rest of our day engaged in deliberate rest. An early-1950s survey of academic research scientists at the Illinois Institute of Technology supports the idea that shorter periods of more concentrated effort yield greater results: Scientists who worked in their labs 35 hours per week were 50% less productive than scientists who worked 20 hours per week.
• Stick to a Schedule
When we get things done first thing in the morning, we can feel better and more relaxed about stopping work at our designated time. Psychological studies show that lowered inhibition can increase creativity – and lowered inhibition coincides with periods when people are at their most tired: “the low points in their daily circadian rhythm.” Early rising can help create a clearer distinction between our work and rest periods and greater peace of mind about both.
• Maintain Momentum
By forcing ourselves to stop at a strategic moment, we are more likely to produce worthy work more regularly. Author Ernest Hemingway believed that by stopping work mid-sentence, he gave his mind something to work on during periods of leisure.
• The Power of Sleep
When we take a nap and for how long determines the benefits we receive. Winston Churchill would never sacrifice his daily nap even in the midst of WWII. Salvador Dalí regularly exploited the “hypnagogic state” you enter right before falling fully asleep to generate ideas.
• Get Moving
Exercise strengthens brain structures, helps new brain tissue grow and sends more blood to the brain, which, in turn, boost our ability to concentrate on problems. Nobel Prize–winning physicist Eugene Wigner claimed that too many hours indoors brought his thought “to a standstill” but that a walk could restart the flow without any deliberate mental effort. Werner Heisenberg’s idea of the uncertainty principle came to him during a nighttime walk through Copenhagen.
• Take a Break
Taking time away from work to disconnect fully helps you perform at our best. Samsung Electronics first began arranging sabbaticals for its executives in 1990. The groundbreaking ideas born of the experiment directly contributed to the company’s successful global expansion. Playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda got the idea for his Broadway musical Hamilton while reading a biography of Alexander Hamilton during a vacation in Mexico.
• Deep Play
Deep play (hobbies) builds from building on existing personal interests and learning the skills to form new ones. It unites different pieces of our life. Deep play can lead to new careers. J.R.R. Tolkien’s lifelong study of languages prompted him to imagine new myths and to create The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
These are a few of the many interesting, real-life stories the author uses to persuade us about the benefits of rest. In reality, it is these stories that make this book so unique and amusing. The Covid-19 crisis forced companies around the world to switch to remote working. For some companies, if an employee was not “seen” in the office, was not actually working. Many articles have been written about “presenteeism” and its disastrous effects on organizations and yet, work needed to be observable, and with that goes the perception about rest. In my case, remote has been the most productive period of my working career both professionally and personally. I was able to incorporate some of the proven methods described in the book, which helped sustain my productivity and well-being!
To sum up, my key takeaways from the book are:
- “Deliberate rest” is work’s powerful ally
- Resting brains create too, vital connections and consolidate information as the conscious mind
- The proven methods of:
- Beginning work early and sticking to a schedule
- Regular exercise, a good night’s sleep or timely naps
- Stopping our day’s work at an unfinished point
- Taking regular vacations or use sabbaticals
- Pursuing hobbies (deep play) are necessary for good health, better problem-solving and improved decision-making.
By engaging in rest as intensely as we engage in work, we give ourselves the opportunity to have a more creative, productive and meaningful life! My next aim is to make use of a sabbatical. I owe it to myself after all these years of hard work. What will be your aim? Which proven method of “Rest” are you planning to take forward?
Senior Organizational Development Professional, Executive & Team Coach