In Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s book ‘Rest: Why you get more done when you work less’ the author explores the concept of deliberate rest and how taking time out in our day, week and year rejects the modern notion that celebrates overwork, one that measures our value on the number of hours worked and sees burnout as inevitable in the pursuit of success.
Many great creators and leaders of our time –Nobel prize-winning scientists such as Marie Curie, physicians, novelists and artists– have benefitted from active rest. We can learn the secret to high achievers’ creativity understanding not simply how they worked, but also how they rested – appreciating that the two are in fact interlinked. Elite athletes who make rest and recovery part of their training programme are another fine example even if we don’t aspire to such levels of success.
The author explores the idea of how separating work and life – making home and work opposites – arose during the Industrial Revolution. These ideas even in the post-industrial era still influence our daily lives, schedules, behaviours and overall way of being. Modern life seemingly at odds with the very concept of rest as its now near impossible for many to properly disconnect due to the influence of technology – allowing work to follow us everywhere and at all hours.
“Work and rest aren’t opposites.” […] Pang writes. “They’re inextricably bound, each enhancing the other.”
We now have discoveries in sleep, psychology, neuroscience and behaviour all highlighting the positive impact of rest. Of its effects on our physical and mental health, on improving cognitive function, enhancing learning and on sparking innovation –understanding the true benefits and that it’s not a frivolous notion, the pursuit of the unambitious or a waste of time.
Included throughout the book are examples of high achievers who not only took rest very seriously, but also discovered a common set of principles to practice what Pang describes as active and deliberate rest. Purposeful activities not only limited to sleep but that also included exercise, hobbies, walking and reading – activities that sustained the subject’s energy, boosted their creativity and maximised their productivity.
Among the strategies was learning how to focus well –highlighted as being imperative to being more productive and in turn creating more time for rest in our day. Learning how to properly switch off and detach completely from our work was also a common theme as it’s been shown to have a positive impact on people – they’re often happier and more resilient. Both strategies may require learning how to set certain boundaries around our time, turning off notifications to avoid distraction, knowing when to stop working and not checking our phones after hours.
Pang also included a multitude of examples where exercise paired with work resulted in individuals achieving huge success. Bestselling Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami explained that training to run marathons helped him write. Often, we think of exercise as something we’ll do when we have the time – for many when life gets busy it’s the first thing to disappear from their routine. But as Pang says, “We shouldn’t be surprised that people manage to be physically active and do world-class work. We should recognise that they do world-class work because they are physically active.”
Active rest helps to restore our mental and physical health. It improves our energy, our concentration and ability to focus, helps with decision making and boosts our creativity. It’s time we shifted our mindsets about how we view work and rest, that they are not in fact opposites, but instead as Pang highlights so brilliantly in his book, they are partners not only for work and life but also for living well.
‘Rest: Why you get more done when you work less’ written by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Published by Penguin Life. RRP £9.99. To learn more, visit penguin.com
Image by Ketut Subiyanto – Pexels
As featured in OnOffice 160, Autumn 2022. Read a digital version of the issue for free here