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Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less Hardcover – December 6, 2016
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"[Pang] writes with an admirable focus on balance, on pleasure as well as success; in the end, it's difficult to argue with his conclusions."―Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe
"Consider this a much-needed guide for the overworked: a credible, factual case for chilling out and getting rest, by a well-known Silicon Valley consultant."
"Finally, a full-throated, exhaustively researched argument for why we should all work less and rest more-not just because we'll feel better (no small thing) but because we'll actually be more creative and productive as a result."―Mason Currey, author of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
"Alex Pang wants us to treat work and rest as equals. In his fascinating, well-researched and highly readable new book Rest, he makes an excellent case for the critical importance of rest in our lives, drawing from the rest habits of some of our most famous scientists, writers and creatives from history, from neuroscience research as well as examples from some of the most productive people working today. You will consider how and why you rest in a completely new light after reading this book."―Wendy Suzuki, Ph.D. professor of neural science and psychology at New York University and author of Healthy Brain Happy Life
"Finally, indisputable proof that to raise happy, healthy, and productive adults, parents and educators must teach the next generation how to practice intentional rest...how to partner work with play, exercise, and sleep."―Nanci Kauffman, head of Castilleja School
"I love this book. Rest weaves fascinating research and captivating stories into a wise prescription for a healthier, more creative, and more fulfilling life in a technology saturated world. At heart, it is rest, in the many ways Pang describes, that contributes to our ability to be the best of what we can be."―
"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, columnist for Wired magazine and the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better
"It's high noon for the global economy's thinking class, who are locked in a losing battle for clarity in a crowded, clickable world. This book is a science-packed call to arms: it's time to claim rest as a right and pay close attention to the needs of our beleaguered brains."―Anthony Townsend, author of Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia
From the Author
- They see rest as a skill: like speaking or running, it's something we all do naturally, and can learn to do better.
- They learn to harness mind-wandering: they develop habits that give their brains a break, or give their unconscious minds time to explore new ideas.
- They treat rest with respect, and make time for it in their daily schedules.
- They recognize rest as a resource that can extend their creative lives.
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Many business people today treat stress and overwork as a badge of honour, and will brag about how little they sleep and how few vacation days they take. However, as Dr Soojung-Kim Pang shows it is a mistake to think of rest as nothing more than the absence of work. Rest is work’s partner that, when correctly understood, improves output exponentially, and the quality of our lives commensurately.
We have made astounding discoveries in sleep research, psychology, neuroscience, organizational behaviour, sports medicine, sociology, and other fields over the last couple of decades. These discoveries have shown the critical role that rest plays in strengthening the brain, enhancing learning, enabling inspiration, and making innovation sustainable.
The book reviews the achievements of world-class musicians, Olympic athletes, writers, designers, and other accomplished and creative people. It shows how they alternate daily periods of intense work and concentration with long restful breaks of the right kind.
Rest is a skill like singing or running that everyone basically knows how to do. However, with a deeper understanding, you can learn to do it a lot better, and enjoy more profound rest and be more refreshed and restored.
It’s often when you’re not obviously working, or trying to work, that you can have some of your best ideas. According to a 2014 survey, one in five start-up founders got the idea for their company during vacations.
The author doesn’t propose a single ‘correct’ system because he doesn’t believe that there’s a single way we all should work. The principle of ‘deliberate rest’ needs to be adapted to your work, whatever that is.
The book has many suggestions of how to enhance the quality of your work through deliberate rest.
Start with this insight: “If some of history’s greatest figures didn’t put in immensely long hours, maybe the key to unlocking the secret of their creativity lies in understanding not just how they laboured but how they rested, and how the two relate.”
Illinois Institute of Technology professors Van Zelst and Kerr surveyed their colleagues’ work habits and schedules. If you expected a correlation between the hours scientists worked, and the number of articles they published, you would be mistaken. The curve rose steeply at first and peaked at between 10-20 hours per week. Then it turned downward so that scientists who spent twenty-five hours in the workplace were no more productive than those who spent five.
Researchers of world-class performers tend to focus only on measurable forms of work, and then try to make those more effective and more productive. What is overlooked is whether there are other ways to improve performance.
There is a popularised belief that world-class performance comes after 10,000 hours of practice. In fact, world-class performance only comes after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice; 12,500 hours of deliberate rest; and 30,000 hours of sleep.
For many thinkers and doers, a walk is an essential part of their daily routine, a source of exercise and solitude. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick walks forty miles a week on the indoor track at the company’s headquarters and walking meetings have become popular, especially among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and CEOs. Steve Jobs was famous for his walking meetings around the leafy streets of Palo Alto. LinkedIn, Google, Facebook and others have walking paths around their headquarters.
The Heisenberg uncertainty principle came to Heisenberg during a late-night walk in Copenhagen in 1927. He had been working on the uncertainty problem for almost two years.
Walking doesn’t look like an intellectual activity, and there are plenty of times when it’s purely utilitarian or recreational, but we can learn to use it to help us think better. Many creative people are diligent about carrying notebooks when they walk.
An underestimated form of rest is the nap, and the preferred time for a nap is the hour after lunch. Winston Churchill had the daily routine of a nap in the afternoon during WW11, as did Douglas Mac-Arthur and Dwight Eisenhower. Kennedy would normally take a 45-minute nap after lunch, and Lyndon Johnson, broke up his long day with a nap and shower in the afternoon. It was not that these men had comfortable corporate job: they were saving or running the world, with all its problems.
Hitler, in contrast, kept erratic hours. As the Allies closed in on Germany, he tried to stay up for days at a time, powered by a mix of amphetamines, cocaine, and other drugs.
A twenty-minute power nap is enough to give you a mental recharge without leaving you groggy. Power naps boost your ability to concentrate by giving your body a chance to restore depleted energy and increased alertness. But there are other benefits such as improving memory and consolidating things you’ve just learned. A power nap improves emotional regulation and self-control, reduces impulsiveness, and improves frustration tolerance. All are critical leadership skills.
Sleep deprivation has immediate effects on your ability to focus, make good judgments, perform under pressure, and be creative. Long-term sleep deprivation can affect your mental health and physical condition.
If you were raised (as I was,) on the heroics of “pulling all-nighters”, know that advanced science shows that to be as intelligent as driving cars at break-neck speed in urban areas.
Humans need to sleep about seven hours a night on average, and paradoxically, it’s restful because our brains aren’t really shutting down. Instead while we sleep, our bodies shift into maintenance mode and devote themselves to storing energy, fixing or replacing damaged cells, and growing while our brains clean out toxins. The day’s experiences and problems that have been occupying us, are processed.
Our emotional resources are as important for workers as physical energy is for athletes. German sociologist Sabine Sonnentag, has studied how opportunities for recharging the physical and emotional batteries affects workers’ health and well-being, job satisfaction, productivity, and resilience. Across professions the findings have been consistent: people who take opportunities to get away, mentally switch off, and devote their energies elsewhere, are more productive. They also have better attitudes, get along better with their colleagues, and are better able to deal with challenges at work.
Four major factors contribute to recovery: relaxation, control, mastery-experiences, and mental detachment from work. “Breaks that are high in all four are the equivalent of nutritious meals; those that don’t, are like empty calories,” notes the author.
Relaxation is an activity that’s pleasant and undemanding. Control is choosing what you will do on vacation, being crew not a passenger. Mastery-experiences are engaging, interesting and require effort. They are often challenging, mentally absorbing and so are more rewarding when you do them well. In Bletchley Park during World War II, for example, chess was a popular pastime among code-breakers.
Mental detachment from all work issues is necessary to promote recovery. People who carry work smartphones during non-work hours, or who have to keep in touch with the office while they’re on vacation, have higher levels of stress and work-family conflict.
Work and rest and two sides of the same coin. Taking shorter but more frequent vacations every few months provides greater levels of recovery because it is integrated into the work routine, rather than the quite separate annual vacation. Recovery is active, not passive, and we must design it to get greater benefit.
Physical stamina is also as important for creative work as for manual labour. President Barack Obama maintained a strict fitness routine throughout his political career, with daily workouts seen as a key to surviving long campaigns and the rigors of governing.
The impact of sports on the careers of businesswomen may be even stronger. In 2014, four hundred female executives were surveyed about their athletic experiences. 97% of the executives who had “chief” in their titles, had played sports at some point in their lives, 52% had played sports in college, and 53% still played some sport.
We shouldn’t be surprised that people manage to be physically active and do world-class work. We should recognize though that they do world-class work because they are physically active.
“In this book, I’ve argued that we should treat work and rest as equals; that we should treat rest as a skill; that the best, most restorative kinds of rest are active; and that when practiced well, rest can make us more creative and productive.”
Taking rest seriously requires recognizing its importance, and boldly making space for rest in our daily lives.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough! It could be life-changing.
Readability Light ---+- Serious
Insights High +---- Low
Practical High -+--- Low
*Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of the recently released The Executive Update.
Among just about all the children I know, there is a frenetic pace of school and sports and studying and stuff, with little time to really rest and think randomly and just hang out. Would love to see this kind of thinking feed into approaches that might shift this over-scheduled pace to one that would more directly encourage rest and creativity over a full schedule.
I have to say that the author is Not particularly riveting. But, if you can get past the boring prose there is some fascinating content here. Well worth the read!