Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less

THINK Review

“So my interest in rest doesn’t arise from a distaste for work. It starts with a sense that we should embrace challenges, not avoid them; that work isn’t a bad thing but an absolutely necessity for a meaningful, fulfilling life. But I’ve also come to see our respect for overwork as, perhaps a bit paradoxically, intellectually lazy. Measuring time is literally the easiest way to assess someone’s dedication and productivity, but it’s also very unreliable.”

Feeling rested after the holiday break? Ready to take on the year and all the challenges you will face? It might be all the sweets you ate during your break, the movies you watched or the long conversations you had with your family and friends. If you asked Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, he would tell you that it was all the rest you had over the last several days. His central thesis is that rest not only makes us more productive and more creative, but also makes our lives “richer and more fulfilling.” And, against all preconceived notions, Pang declares that rest is a skill we must learn. He knows what you’re thinking: “The only thing more natural than resting is breathing, so why would we have to work on it?”

Here’s his response:

“Yes, breathing is natural. That’s why learning to control one’s breathing is something that virtually everyone doing physically strenuous or mentally challenging work must master. Disciplined breathing is one of the most powerful tools we have to counter stress, fear and distraction. Learning to breathe more deeply helps athletes compete harder. It helps soldiers and sailors remain calm in battle. It helps musicians sing with greater control. It enables actors and politicians to project their voices.”

Pang illustrates the secret behind many of history’s most creative thinkers, authors, scientists and politicians was their extreme discipline when it came to rest. They understood that work provided the means to live, while rest gave meaning to life. Due to many circumstances (technology, globalization, automation and the growth of a winner-take-all economy, just to name a few) we have been harder pressed to find time to let our minds rest at work, to let those insights and connections bubble up into our consciousness from a more introspective space. Our busyness is getting in the way of having the time to step away and reflect, even let our minds wander.

History, anecdotal evidence and history are good indicators that we should give our lives a rest. More importantly, modern science is at the heart of Pang’s book. Any studies show just how literally activated our brains are with activity. When we rest and sleep, filing memories, making sense of the information we’ve ingested and untangling those gnarly challenges, we give ourselves the space to stumble onto those Aha moments.

This is the perfect book to start the year with and even squeeze in a resolution after the year started. This is an important reminder that rest needs to be deliberate, or our work will become debilitating.

“Creativity doesn’t drive the work; the work drives creativity. A routine creates a landing place for the muse.”

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