Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less – Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

My end-of-year reading was quite heavy on non-fiction. This is yet another example. The title of the book is a pretty good indication of what it is about.

IT explores the connection between rest and work, rejecting the dichotomy and advocating instead a deep dependency between the two. The book’s thesis is that deliberate rest is crucial for productive work. The book combines the research results in the field of neuroscience and psychology with analysis of habits of writers, scientists, philosophers, Nobel laureates etc. to drive the point home. If we want to get the most out of our brain we have to rest.

IT dismantles the myth of 10,000 hours required to achieve mastery. Just putting in the hours will get us nowhere. It has to be deliberate practice and to get the brain to the level of focus required for deliberate practice for 10,000 hours we also need 12,500 hours of rest and 30,000 hours of sleep. One cannot occur without the other.

Soojung-Kim Pang writes about the importance of walking, napping, sleeping and stopping work at the right moment to stimulate creativity and focus. Analyzing the routines of productive people he shows us that they usually work 4-5 hours a day, and typically do it in a few bursts of 1.5 hours throughout the day, starting early in the morning. It does not mean that the rest of the day is spent doing nothing, it is devoted to more repetitive activities and deliberate rest, including napping, going for a walk and relaxing.

Napping, in other words, turns out to be a skill. 

It is a book that tries to restore common sense, to help us resist the crazy pace of modern life, something I read another book about almost two years ago. This book challenges the belief that working longer hours automatically means doing more work. Apart from the importance of things we typically associate with rest, like sleeping, walking, vacation, the book also focuses on exercise and deep play as crucial factors for our brain’s wellbeing.

It is a well researched and thought through book. It may not offer any revelations, but makes a convincing argument for common sense that we so often abandoned in our pursuit of career and misunderstood success. It is a mirror in which we can see our habits, often the ones we developed because of social pressure and expectations, rather than for our own good.

There were two aspects though that I was missing, I think those may be taken for granted, but they often get deprioritized in the rush of our lives: healthy eating and relationships with other people. Both of them feed our brain and help it work better. So go read the book, eat a healthy snack, have a nap and then talk to someone about it.

Quotes from Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska 

3 thoughts on “Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less – Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

  1. I love the sound of this, great review!! I work freelance and find myself struggling between allowing myself to be greatly overworked because I worry about times when work is slower, and then being in those times and nervous. Finding a balance is so tricky. I love the idea of structuring in 1.5 hour bursts. I think it’s not always possible but I’m going to keep it in mind. This sounds like a good argument for common sense practices, even if it’s less thorough than it could be. Thanks for writing about it!


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