Book Review of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less

This month, I read a great book on rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Thoroughly researched while still easy to read, it challenges the notion that working more leads to better results. Rather, “deliberate rest” is a necessary part of a productive, creative life.

First off, this is ultimately a productivity book. It argues that rest is important because it makes us better workers. I understand the reason that he frames it this way, and I agree with his conclusions.

However, for us perfectionist, over-workers, it is dangerous to think this way. It can lead us to treat rest like just another life hack, obsessively planning it out and getting upset if we do not do it perfectly. How can we truly relax if we see it as a productivity technique?

Still, I think there are a lot of valuable insights in this book. I found it particularly relevant to the goal that I set for the month of January—setting boundaries around my time.

The book starts with an introduction on the history and science of rest, and then dives into six strategies for stimulating creativity— spending four hours on deep work, working in the morning, walking, napping, stopping work at a strategic point, and sleeping. The second part transitions to focus on four ways to sustain creativity— recovery, exercise, deep play, and sabbaticals.

One thing I noticed is that this book has a lot of similarities to Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. Interestingly, both books were published in 2016. I am also a HUGE fan of Cal’s work, though I would recommend Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, which focuses on lifestyle rather than only work.

Both books discuss how you should only spend four hours a day in deep or creative work. Both talk about the importance of either working fully or resting all out. Do not mix the two! As Soojung-Kim Pang writes, even for people who are passionate about their work, “having clear boundaries between periods of work and rest allows them to get more from each.”

He suggests starting your day early so that you can enjoy your rest later in the day, guilt free. I completely agree with this approach.

I start early and jump into my most challenging tasks first thing while I have the most energy. I save administrative tasks for later in the day, and try to end completely at 3:30 p.m.

This month, I set the goal of completely logging off and transitioning from work to rest at this time. I hit some stumbling blocks with this, but it is becoming a little bit easier each day. Stay tuned to the blog for a full update at the end of the month.

In Rest, I found the chapter on recovery especially helpful. In it, he discusses the cost of skipping vacation. He also challenges the common notion that long vacations translate to greater happiness. In fact, research has shown that happiness typically peaks on the eighth day. And when people return to the office, the benefits of their vacation only last a few weeks.

Therefore, he argues, we need to reassess the roles of breaks and the rhythm of vacations in our lives.  He advocates for “regularly and decisively breaking from our jobs, disconnecting from the office in the evenings and on weekends, and choosing to do things that are relaxing, mentally absorbing, and physically challenging.”

Detachment, or putting work completely out of our minds, is critical for mental and physical recovery.

Overall, this book effectively challenges the notion that working more means you are more productive. In America, we respect people who overwork even though it is counterproductive. We are urged to be so passionate about our work that we remove the boundary between work and life.

We are sold the idea that working more will get us more out of life, more meaning and fulfillment. As anyone who has fallen prey to this myth has discovered, it is simply not true.  

What this book leaves out, however, is how to deal with the pressure from your boss, your coworkers, even your family and friends on how to implement these lessons. Even when we know how important rest is, how can we do it more in a society that values overwork?

This is something that I hope to provide insight on through this blog. It is also why I have picked my next book: Adventures in Opting Out: A Field Guide to Leading an Intentional Life by Cait Flanders.

Look for a book review in the next few weeks! And let me know if you have any other good book recommendations.

-M

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