“Pang’s argument… is that deep, targeted rest, and more of it, improves the quality of our thinking, our work and our lives“

O’Hare Airport neon sculpture

I flew into O’Hare International Airport this afternoon, and when I switched on my phone, I found that Jenni Russell had published a new column in the Times arguing that “Less is more when it comes to time at work.” It features a lovely bit about REST:

In the age of the smartphone and the internet, professional work scarcely has boundaries at all. It’s the new normal to be sending emails at midnight, to restart projects after a distracted supper, to interrupt family Sunday lunches with work calls. Normal, and miserable. Many of us are stressed, overwhelmed, always typing to keep up. We’ve bought the idea that we’re better for doing more, that for success we must emulate the Steve Jobses and Elon Musks of this world.

We’re mistaken. The ancients knew it, modern neuroscience confirms it, and a Silicon Valley technology forecaster and consultant who stepped back from burnout is trying to reverse our assumptions. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang has marshalled the evidence that long hours are destructive and counterproductive, for employees and employers alike. He’s making the case for complementing work with deliberate, restorative, active rest.

Pang’s argument, in his 2017 book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, is not the familiar claim that we need a work-life balance. It is that deep, targeted rest, and more of it, improves the quality of our thinking, our work and our lives. It is not the wimps’ choice. It is what the most productive deep thinkers, scientists, mathematicians, musicians and writers have always done.

Ironically, it appears the same day as a BBC report about skepticism of the 4-day workweek that includes this argument against shorter working hours:

Matthew Lesh, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, said: “Labour’s bizarre idea to force people to work less will mean lower wages and fewer opportunities for millions….

We should celebrate people who work hard to provide for their families, not take away this freedom. Low income Brits in particular want to work more, not less.”

I hadn’t thought that I would ever read the verbal equivalent of Jacob Rees-Mogg sprawling across the green benches of the House of Commons, but I clearly underestimate the inventiveness of some people.

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