Want to work better? Take Time To Rest more.

This last week I’ve been reading the book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang.

As you might imagine, the book delves deeply into the modern epidemic of “workaholism” that infects much of the industrialized world. How to live correctly is a question that goes back through the ages. The Ancient Greeks were concerned with getting the proper balance of activity, effort, and relaxation that could lead to a properly experienced life. The Stoics worked for self-mastery, while the philosophers of the Enlightenment sought balance in all things.

Things changed, though, when society entered the Industrial Revolution and accelerated as we entered the Information Economy. As a culture, we began to make a distinction between work and leisure, often rewarding those spending more time in the office or factory, often at the expense of our overall health. Leisure time (which invariably included sleep) became synonymous with “not-work”, rather than something of value in itself.


However, far from the idle time between work shifts, says Pang, our leisure is a necessary partner to being meaningfully productive. Contrary to popular opinion, the vast majority of workaholics are usually far less efficient than those that take ample breaks. In the realms of creativity, those artists and writers that performed the best in their careers usually had systematic and meaningful methods to unplug and decompress from work so that they could stay continually refreshed.

There seems to be a lot of precedence for this. Our 24/7 culture appears to be wearing out even the hardiest overachievers. Arriana Huffington collapsed in 2007 from overwork, eventually shifting gears and creating a new venture called Thrive Global which promotes healthy living.

More recently, YouTubers Bobby Burns, Rubén Gunderson, Grace Helbig, and (just this week) Lilly Singh have all announced breaks from creating to get away from the constant grind. The constant need to stay connected to fans and present more visual content has created an epidemic of burnout, which more and more are realizing is unhealthy.

So, how are the best ways to “rest.” Pang has a handful of suggestions, which he refers to as “deliberate rest”. Some of the major ones are:

  • Get Enough Sleep - there is no disagreeing with this one. Recent studies show that the vast majority of people need to get 7 - 8 hours of sleep a night, both to feel rested but also to stay healthy.

  • Be a Morning Person -  individuals that get to work earlier are usually much more efficient with their tasks and can then take time to relax and enjoy their afternoons. Those that start work later often find themselves struggling to catch up emails and meetings throughout the workday.

  • Go for a Walk - Prolific writers Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin made long walks an essential part of their daily activity. Albert Einstein would cogitate mathematical problems while Steve Jobs famously used walks to host discussions with partners and employees. See other famous walkers here.

  • Take a Nap - Well, duh. This one is kind of obvious. There is much research to show that taking a strategic nap during the day can have a tremendous benefit to your overall productivity. Both Winston Churchill and President Lyndon Johnson were famous nappers.

  • Get Lost in Deep Play - certain activities are great for being fully encompassing and can pull us out of work mode. Pursuits like puzzles, playing games, performing with an instrument can bring us transcendent moments and experiences. Additionally, strenuous physical activity like hiking, geocaching or playing group sports can activate both the mind and the body.

  • Take a Vacation - In the United States, there is an epidemic of missed vacations. While many people think that skipping their vacation will more likely protect their jobs. Unfortunately, not taking time away from work can lead to decreased productivity and more absenteeism. Alternately, those that take vacations are often more likely to get raises.

Our modern, smart-phone culture has brought many benefits. However, our working world has never felt so close to us all the time. Many work environments have a tendency to lionize those that sacrifice their well-being to rack ridiculous hours for their employers. However, more an more achievers are beginning to rediscover that leisure time is not the antithesis of work, but its necessary partner in excellence.