Why We Get More Done When We Rest

Why We Get More Done When We Rest

Lifestyle | Posted by YouInc.com - June 19, 2017 at 12:30 am

Busy has become such a boastful word in conversations about work, it’s almost an automatic response whether at an event, on social media, or having coffee. But, according to Silicon Valley entrepreneur and author Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, working less and resting more can actually increase productivity and improve mental health. In his new book, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Pang makes the case for people to reclaim rest in both their work and personal lives.

We recently discussed with Pang why 'busy' is such a boastful word, how employers can recognize the importance of rest, and what individuals can do to be more restful in their work days:

Why is busy such a boastful word?

We have the example of technology industries and the world of finance that make overwork look profitable and kind of sexy. Those are industries where it seems like there is a genuine payoff to doing hundred hour weeks because you do that for a while and then you get the big house and the fancy car and the billion dollars and then you go off and you go surfing or whatever.

The other problem is that we have moved from a world in which the periods of work are discrete and well-defined. The sun goes down and you come in from the fields to home, or the factory whistle goes off and you go home. Today, especially those of us who are professionals or knowledge workers, live in a world in which the work is never done, in which the standards for good performance are just fuzzy enough to incentivize us to want to make things be a little better or to try and deliver a little bit more improvement on whatever we're working on.

Consequently, it's harder for us. There are fewer external signals about when we should stop work, and so it becomes easier to just keep going. Then the final reason is everybody else does it. We see people performing busyness all the time; if you are someone who is new to a job or new to a career and you see everybody else working that way, of course you're going to work that way, too.

The last reason is that at least for a while it can actually be fun. You’ve got a steep learning curve and you're proving to yourself that you're capable of doing this and you're proving to other people that you are a dedicated professional. But, it's easy to overlook the toll that that style of working takes and to not be aware of the ways in which it is actually genuinely counterproductive.

How do we get people to recognize the importance of rest?

Companies like Basecamp, Asana or Tower Paddle Boards, show that if leaders are willing to put in the time necessary to think hard about how they can use technology to help people be more productive during the times they’re actually in the office, and they understand the rhythm of their businesses well enough to implement these policies that don’t disrupt clients or customers, then it's actually entirely feasible.

At the individual or group level, policies like encouraging people to not check email in the evenings is a good way to put some distance between people and their work. Policies where you encourage that by giving people email-free weekends or email-free evenings, is a good and relatively easy first thing that you can do.

Another that I've started to see in some companies is blocking out periods where people can’t schedule meetings and workers are allowed to focus for two or three hours on their most important stuff. They have permission to not answer email or to let the phone go straight to voicemail. This recognizes that the modern open office is, in terms of attention and concentration, like the devil's floor plan.

What's something that the person who doesn't have access to a nice park nearby can do if they have 5 or 10 minutes of free time?

I would say that if you can do something physical, then that is terrific, and that physical thing can be walking down to the cafeteria and back, or someplace else within your building. That kind of physical activity has immediate cognitive benefits. It's obviously good for your heart, and walking in particular charges up your creativity.

Another thing that you can do is actually do nothing at all; we underestimate the value of what psychologists call mind wandering. That mental state you get into where either you are sitting and nothing is happening or where you are doing something totally on automatic, like folding laundry, that you don't need to concentrate on.

When we mind wander, our minds often keep working on problems that have been occupying our attention, and come up with answers. We've all had the small version of this, of trying to remember the name of that actress who was in that movie we saw, and we can't get it, but the answer comes to us when we're sitting on the bus or we're making dinner.

If someone could take one thing away from reading your book to spread the idea of rest, what do you want them to remember?

I want them to say that rest is actually really important. It's not inactivity or just lounging around, and it's not just a negative space defined by the absence of labour. Rest actually is incredibly valuable in everyone's life, whether you are 5 years old or 50 years old, no matter what profession you are in, we get untold benefit from taking rest and from taking rest seriously. We should recognise that benefit and reclaim it.

To learn more about The Rest Project visit http://www.deliberate.rest/

Tags: culture, productivity, sleep, stress management, time management, work culture, alex aoojung kim pang, the rest project

Kristen Marano

Kristen Marano covers women and their work for publications around the world. She has interviewed some of the most influential business leaders in Canada and the most passionate change makers in towns and cities as isolated as Perth, Western Australia. Most recently she interviewed Canadian businesswoman Zita Cobb about reinvigorating the economy in Newfoundland through the arts. Kristen's work encourages women to share honest and open perspectives about the emotional challenges of their journeys.

Marayna Dickinson
January 10, 2017 at 10:19 am
Great article! Thank you Alex for your insights.
Shirley Bailey
January 15, 2017 at 12:09 pm
I have never been one to follow the crowd. Since 21 years of age... I have been in control of my life, my work and today my business. I particularly know and understand the word PRIORITY... and I'm an expert in TIME MANGAGEMENT. This year 2017... after been in business for over 30 years... I have decided to reduce the operation of my business. In cutting back it will allow me to spend more time in various aspects of my life... and it certainly will include plenty of not only what I want to do... but will certain allow some "just stop and smell the roses" during my work week (Monday to Friday and not at lot on Saturday and absolutely NO WORK ON SUNDAY. Good took 6 days to make this world and he rested on the 7th day. If it was ok for God it's good enough for me. Good article.... Shirley Bailey For the Love of Cats!
Joe Wasylyk
February 18, 2017 at 7:42 pm
I think that in today's corporate world the culture can be describe more as deliberate work rather than deliberate rest. Most traditional jobs today are are still under paying and over working their employees. The more informed workplaces will probably have 'change of pace' activities such as physical games in a recreation room, fitness facilities or even a dark room to take a nap. The sad fact is that the employees are not in full control when they have a corporate job. On the entrepreneurial side, when running a small business there are many more opportunities to have deliberate rest. Although we know that many businesses are run 24/7 the business owners are 100% responsible for deciding where then want to be on the deliberate work to deliberate rest scale for any given day, week, month or year.
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