In Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang argues that work and rest are not opposed but rather complementary to each other.
“When we define ourselves by our work, by our dedication and effectiveness and willingness to go the extra mile,” he writes, “then it’s easy to see rest as the negation of all those things.”
Thus our cultural view of rest influences our relationship to rest, creating an aversion—the mistaken belief that rest is for the weak. Because we mistake rest as the opposite of work, we avoid it. This view, however, is flawed.
“Work and rest are not polar opposites,” Pang writes. Rather they complete each other. Some of history’s most famous people from Charles Darwin and Bill Gates to Winston Churchill, took rest very seriously. Rather than prevent them from accomplishing things this was the very thing that enabled them.
Our aversion to rest is rather new. Almost every ancient society shared the view that work and rest were complements to one another. The Greeks saw rest as the pinnacle of civilized life.
Rest is not something given to you to fill in the cracks between work. “If you want rest, you have to take it” Pang writes. “You have to resist the lure of busyness, make time for rest, take is seriously, and protect it from a world that is intent on stealing it.”
What is rest?
We think of rest as binge watching Netflix and drinking wine but, while that’s a form of rest, it’s a flawed view that prevents us from resting more. “Physical activity is more restful than we expect, and mental rest is more active than we realize.”
In an interview with Scientific America Pang hits on what the brain is doing when we’re resting:
The critical thing to recognize is that when we are letting our minds wander, when our minds don’t have any particular thing they have to focus on, our brains are pretty darn active. When you do things like go for a long walk, your subconscious mind keeps working on problems. The experience of having the mind slightly relaxed allows it to explore different combinations of ideas, to test out different solutions. And then once it has arrived at one that looks promising—that is what pops into your head as an aha! moment. The people I looked at are able to construct daily schedules that allow them to draw on that process in little increments.
For creative people—or anyone who deals with complexity, long walks or even strenuous physical activity is an essential part of their routine. Just take a look at Thoreau, Nietzsche and Kant’s views on walking.
Pang argues that a four hour “creative work day” is optimal for producing.
While we work 8 or more hours a day, most of that is just busywork. Effectiveness and total hours worked are two different things. Learn what moves the needle and focus your work efforts on that, ignoring or getting rid of busywork.