The gist: The book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less talks about how rest is key to sustainable, consistent productivity and creativity. It changed my life, and these are the parts you really need to know from it.
Hustle Culture brainwashes us starting when we're so young, and fills us with so many lies about work and rest.
It tells us that working more leads to more success.
That rest is for the weak.
That we can sleep when we're dead.
And I internalized it all deeply...until The Big Flare Up and Burn Out of 2017.
That was the flare-up of my chronic illness that made me realize that working 60+ hours a week as a spoonie wasn't just unsustainable and unproductive, it was downright dangerous.
A few months later, I left my full-time job and put two of my side hustles on hiatus. I was ready to break-up with Hustle Culture, take a self-care sabbatical to get healthy, and reset my relationship with work.
Great expectations for a 2-month break, huh?
Luckily, early on into the sabbatical, I read Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. And it changed the way I saw EVERYTHING.
Great expectations fulfilled!
I've mentioned before that this is now one of my favorite self-care books ever, but today let's talk about why I love it so much. Let's talk about what it teaches you.
Here's why you should rest more and work less.
Note: Some of these links are affiliate links. So if you decide to buy anything, I'll receive a commission. Most creators say something like "100% of this goes back into the business," but I'm not most creators. Some months it goes into the business, others it will be used to buy inappropriate amounts of chocolate. Remember, working brighter is about balance!
Why Rest Matters
The introduction is all about why rest matters and all the myths be believe about it.
Society sees work and rest as binaries, with work as good and rest is bad, but they're not so different. They're more partners than opposites, because you can't do one without the other. "You cannot work well without resting well."
Western societies in late-stage capitalism might not recognize that, but lots of others throughout history did. They valued, respected, and prioritized things like rest and leisure in ways that don't even seem fathomable to us now!
Modern society sees stress, overwork, and busyness as badges of honor, whereas it sees resting, leisure, and recovery as signs of weakness and moral failings.
It's not sustainable, which is why there's a burnout epidemic.
And the way out isn't trying harder or working smarter. This needs to be solved by totally rethinking our relationships between work and rest (which is what Work Brighter is dedicated to 😀).
Both for our health, and our work performance.
Because rest is actually critical for doing good work.
We tend to think high performers become that way through deliberate practice, but this book shows that it's just as much about deliberate rest and deep play.
The "Problem" of Rest
In modern society, with the prevalence of knowledge work, working time is harder to quantify and measure. Usually, knowledge and creative work are forced into systems and environments first developed for manufacturing.
This is why I'm always reminding you to ignore the productivity "best practices."
Because those systems that modern work culture was built on are now killing its workers. In 2017 I was scared I would be one of them.
It assumes that the amount of work someone does is positively correlated with no point of diminishing return, and that the creative mechanisms of the brain can be institutionalized and mechanized the way manual labor can.
But it can't, and treating ourselves like machines comes at a real cost.
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The Science of Rest
We usually think of our brain slowing down during rest and breaks.
But in reality, the default mode (the brain process going on when we're "not doing anything") is almost as active as the "working brain." It's just engaged in different activities and processes.
So like we talked about with Bored & Brilliant, while society devalues mind wandering and day dreaming, our brain is still busy during those activities. And they're crucial to cognitive processes like creativity and forming lasting memories.
We like to think of those things like creativity and breakthrough moments like magic that we can't control. But science shows that it follows a fairly reliable four-step process, the most important of which requires a lot of mental rest.
Ways Rest Stimulates Creativity
Part 1 (after the introduction part) was about how rest stimulates creativity and different rest habits, routines, and practices famous creatives have:
Four Hour Workdays
History's most creative figures didn't have their days revolve around work. We assume they work a lot, because we assume that's the only way to do great things.
But really, they only worked a few hours a day.
So instead of focusing so much on how they worked, we should spend more time looking at how they rest.
These people weren't successful and creative despite their immense leisure, but because of it.
A lot of them did deep, focused work for around 4 hours a day: for two hours in the morning and two in the early evening. When that practice is intense and deliberate, and paired with deliberate rest in between, that's more effective than longer and less strategic practice.
And when your practice is that deliberate, in reality you CAN'T work in that deep work mode for more than 4 hours a day. We don't have the energy for that to be sustainable.
This is why all the misinterpretation and stuff around "the 10,000 hour rule" annoys me so much. So I loved that the book addressed this in depth.
The Myth of the 10,000 Hour Rule
The "rule" that mastery takes nothing but 10,000 hours of practice is a total misinterpretation of the research it came from.
This leads people to overwork to try and get to that milestone as quickly as possible. But when you're really doing deliberate practice, you can only sustain it for 4 hours per day. In that case, it takes about a decade to reach the 10,000-hour milestone.
The 10,000 hour rule also overlooks that world class performers don't just practice more, they also rest and sleep more than others.
In general, they are more organized with their time, even their downtime, to allow for deep work and deliberate practice. The actual study found that world-class performance comes after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, 12,500 hours of deliberate rest, and 30,000 hours of sleep.
While this book is clear that there's no perfect morning routine, it does make it clear it's important to have one. Just not the one your favorite writer or thought leader has.
The benefit of routines, like morning and evening routines, is that they help you create clearer boundaries between work and rest. And when you do that, you get more out of each "mode."
While people mostly think routines are the opposite of creativity, the RIGHT routines amplify it by freeing up mental energy that would otherwise be spent on things like willpower, resilience, and motivation.
They provide just enough pressure and guidance to get you into flow.
So it doesn't matter how aspirational or Instagrammable your morning routine is, what matters is that you have one.
A lot of admired creatives like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kierkegaard, and Charles Dickens all walked as a way of working out thoughts.
It's a good way to spend the incubation phase of creativity, the part where you need to let yourself get bored.
Yes, there was a whole chapter on napping, because naps are magic!
I'm hilariously known in my circles now as being extremely pro-napping, but it was this book that really gave me permission to nap as much as I needed to.
Before reading it, I still napped, but I felt too guilty about it to tell other people.
But people with creative and demanding jobs require the energy to fuel their imagination and react to changing circumstances.
To keep their energy up throughout their long work hours, the smart ones nap.
Notorious nappers include Churchill, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Ray Bradbury, Tolkien, Jonathan Franzen, Stephen King, Thomas Edison, and more.
Now, I don't agree with all of their ethics and ideologies, but I have to admit all of these people got stuff done. ¯\(ツ)/¯
So obviously, napping has energetic benefits, but there are others too, especially when you look at habitual nappers. It can help improve memory, as that processing happens during sleep. It can also help you avoid mistakes and increase patience.
We can also tailor our napping habit to our specific goals like creativity or physical recovery.
Know When to Stop Working
The book also touches on the best ways to stop working so that you can rest easy and remember where you were when you start back up.
Pang recommends to try and stop when you "see your next move, but leave it until tomorrow." That way you can dive right in when you restart working next.
It's also a way to pace yourself and practice self-discipline around rest.
Like most habits in the book, "stopping before you're spent" might seem less productive at first, but it's more sustainable in the long-term.
Naps are great, but not a reason to sleep less at night.
Our brains are busy when our bodies are asleep. It's when "maintenance mode" happens, processing the day's experiences, fixing or replacing damaged cells, and working on problems on our mind.
Want to prevent burnout before it starts?
That means learning to take a proactive approach to self-care with daily and weekly rest and self-care routines. Create your own plan with our free self-care planning worksheet.
Ways Rest Sustains Creativity
In addition to refueling creativity when it's drained, resting more helps you sustain your creativity for longer. Here's why, according to Rest.
Allowing for Recovery
Totally detaching from work is an important part of both physical and mental recovery.
It's even more important if you're in a high stress job or are a perfectionist or workaholic.
"Whatever short-term benefits come from overwork and delayed vacations, they're more than offset by the long-term costs of errors, lost productivity, higher turnover, and abbreviated careers."
The four main ways to recover, according to Pang, are through relaxation, control, mastery experiences, and mental detachment from work.
- Relaxation is defined by "a state of low activation and increased positive effect."
- Control is in reference to how you spend your time, energy, and attention.
- Mastery experiences are engaging and rewarding things that you're good at.
- Detachment means mentally leaving work in addition to physically.
And longer breaks don't translate to more recovery, so it's more sustainable for creativity and productivity to take frequent, short breaks than fewer longer ones.
"Vacations are like sleep: you need to take them regularly to benefit."
Exercise Your Body
Exercise can help with brain power, intelligence, stamina, and resilience involved in creative work, provided you're fit enough that it won't overly drain you. We underestimate how physically demanding mental work can be, so exercise and fitness matters in ways we don't immediately realize.
Plus, exercise helps deal with the regular stress of work.
Productivity gurus talk a lot about deep work, but not so much deep play.
Deep play is mentally absorbing, offers a new context to use deep work skills, and offers some of the same satisfaction as work, but with different rewards.
It also provides a connection to the person's past. For me, that's dancing because it's my longest passion.
And while there's no requirement for it to, deep play can sometimes turn into a second career.
JRR Tolkien's writing started as a way to keep his mother's memory alive and his interests in language and mythology.
And The Electric Giraffe's Lindsay Lawlor is an engineer whose job requires a lot of time driving where his mind wanders to more fun ways to use his engineering skills. That's when the giraffe came to him.
Before reading this book, I thought of sabbaticals as:
- Super long breaks
- Super rare to get
But neither of those need to be true.
Even short sabbaticals can play a huge part in work-life balance, health, and intellectual development. In fact, given that longer breaks don't translate to better or more recovery, shorter, more frequent ones might be better.
Ready to Rest More and Work Less?
The Work Brighter community was founded to help people take permission to work less, even if it wasn't in a "work smarter," "work less to make more" way.
Resting is valuable all on its own, even if it doesn't make you more productive or creative.
But this book proves that rest does those things, too.
It's just EVEN more proof that we need to give ourselves and each other permission to rest more.