When I was in college I would spend Sunday mornings with my friends in the dorm, having bagels with cream cheese and splitting up the New York Times. So I’m enough of a traditionalist to find actually being reviewed in the Times really exciting.
These last two weeks have been full of radio shows, interviews, finishing articles and writing guest blog posts. This is a lovely cap to all that– or perhaps the start of another, even more intensive round!
It’s actually one of the better summaries of the book. I’m impressed, and of course flattered.
Arianna Huffington on a Book About Working Less, Resting More
We hear a lot about the many things that are disrupting the American workplace: the decline of manufacturing, demographics, globalization, automation and, especially, technology. And it’s true — all of those are roiling the world of work, not just in America but worldwide.
But there’s another force transforming the way we work, and that is: nonwork. Or, more specifically, what we’re doing in those few hours when we’re not working. With “Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less,” Alex Soojung-Kim Pang superbly illuminates this phenomenon and helps push it along.
What’s being disrupted is our collective delusion that burnout is simply the price we must pay for success. It’s a myth that, as Pang notes, goes back to the Industrial Revolution. That’s when the Cartesian notion of home and work as separate — and opposing — spheres took hold. Home, Pang writes, was “the place where a man could relax and recover from work.” When there was time, that is. Because soon leisure time and nighttime became commodities to monetize. Over the next decades, starting with demands from labor reformers, work hours were pushed back, mostly for safety reasons. But even today, the conversation focuses on “work-life balance,” which implicitly accepts the notion of work and life as Manichaean opposites — perpetually in conflict.
That’s why “Rest” is such a valuable book. If work is our national religion, Pang is the philosopher reintegrating our bifurcated selves. As he adeptly shows, not only are work and rest not in opposition, they’re inextricably bound, each enhancing the other. “Work and rest aren’t opposites like black and white or good and evil,” Pang writes. “They’re more like different points on life’s wave.”
His central thesis is that rest not only makes us more productive and more creative, but also makes our lives “richer and more fulfilling.” But not all rest is created equal — it’s not just about not-working. The most productive kind of rest, according to Pang, is also active and deliberate. And as such, that means rest is a skill. “Rest turns out to be like sex or singing or running,” Pang writes. “Everyone basically knows how to do it, but with a little work and understanding, you can learn to do it a lot better.” Though he’s obviously never heard me sing, I take his point.
And he illustrates it well, showing how the secret behind many of history’s most creative authors, scientists, thinkers and politicians was that they were very serious and disciplined about rest. “Creativity doesn’t drive the work; the work drives creativity,” Pang writes. “A routine creates a landing place for the muse.”
And as Pang notes, modern science has now validated what the ancients knew: Work “provided the means to live,” while rest “gave meaning to life.” Thousands of years later, we have the science to prove it. “In the last couple decades,” he writes, “discoveries in sleep research, psychology, neuroscience, organizational behavior, sports medicine, sociology and other fields have given us a wealth of insight into the unsung but critical role that rest plays in strengthening the brain, enhancing learning, enabling inspiration, and making innovation sustainable.”
We can’t declare victory quite yet. To experience the kind of rest that fuels creativity and productivity, we need to detach from work. But in our technology-obsessed reality, we carry our entire work world with us wherever we go, right in our pockets. It’s not enough to leave the office, when the office goes to dinner or to a game or home with you. And it’s not enough just to put our devices on vibrate or refrain from checking them. As Sherry Turkle noted in her book “Reclaiming Conversation,” the mere presence of a smartphone or device, even when not being used, alters our inner world. So achieving the kind of detachment we need for productive rest can’t really be done without detaching physically from our devices.
And even though the science has come in, still standing in the way is our ingrained workplace culture that valorizes burnout. “With a few notable exceptions,” Pang writes, “today’s leaders treat stress and overwork as a badge of honor, brag about how little they sleep and how few vacation days they take, and have their reputations as workaholics carefully tended by publicists and corporate P.R. firms.”
Turning that around will require a lot of work. And rest. The path of least resistance — accepting the habits of our current busyness culture and the technology that envelops us and keeps us perpetually connected — won’t make us more productive or more fulfilled. Instead of searching life hacks to make us more efficient and creative, we can avail ourselves of the life hack that’s been around as long as we have: rest. But we have to be as deliberate about it as we are about work. “Rest is not something that the world gives us,” Pang writes. “It’s never been a gift. It’s never been something you do when you’ve finished everything else. If you want rest, you have to take it. You have to resist the lure of busyness, make time for rest, take it seriously, and protect it from a world that is intent on stealing it.”
And you can start by putting down your phone — better yet, put it in another room — and picking up this much-needed book.