Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less – Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Thoughts: A decent book - nothing earth-shattering, but containing a bunch of reminders that rest is important and a bunch of guidelines for how to make the most of one’s time spent resting.
(The notes below are not a summary of the book, but rather raw notes - whatever I thought, at the time, might be worth remembering. I read this as an e-book, so page numbers are as they appeared in the app I used, Libby.)
Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. 2016. Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less. Basic Books.
- 14: of John Kay, in book Obliquity: Kay notes that “companies that flourished when they focused on great work and customer service often stumble when new executive teams institute strategies focused on improving financial performance. Companies that put profits first… are more likely to lose money than those that treat profit as a by-product of doing great work.”
The Problem of Rest
The Science of Rest
- 44: “According to one model of creative thinking, new ideas are created in a two-step process: first, the brain generates lots of ideas, and second, it evaluates them.”
- 45: studies have shown that when brain regions associated with evaluation function are damaged, people’s artistic abilities improve. In one case study, a man whose left temporoparietal region was filled with blood following a stroke saw his newfound artistic abilities decrease as the blood drained and the region recovered
- 47-48: Graham Wallas’s model (1926) of creative breakthroughs: four stages: preparation, incubation, illumination, verification (cf. Henri Poincaré's model of the creative process, which must certainly have inspired Wallas)
- 47: Preparation: conscious, engaging with a problem
- Incubation - letting the unconscious continue to work on the problem without consciously thinking about it
- Illumination - the breakthrough moment
- 48: Verification - conscious, making sure the insight from stage 3 actually checks out
Part I: Stimulating Creativity
- 58: Study comparing how many hours scientists spent working weekly vs. how many articles they published: there was a peak between 10 and 20 hours; then a drop-off: “scientists who spent twenty-five hours in the workplace were no more productive than those who spent five.”
- “From there, the curve rose again, but more modestly. Researchers who buckled down and spent fifty hours per week in the lab were able to pull themselves out of the thirty-five-hour valley: they became as productive as colleagues who spent five hours a week in the lab.”
- 67: “We’ve come to believe that world-class performance comes after 10,000 hours of practice. But that’s wrong. It comes after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, 12,500 hours of deliberate rest, and 30,000 hours of sleep.”
- 89: Study where participants were asked to do tasks requiring divergent or convergent thinking, first sitting, and then while walking on a treadmill. The experiment found that “81 percent of students did better on the [convergent thinking task] when walking on a treadmill than when sitting, but only 23 percent did better on the [convergent thinking task]. In fact, average scores on the [convergent thinking task] dropped slightly when students moved from sitting to walking. Indeed, many studies show that walking has a detrimental effect on tasks that require focused thinking and attention to detail.”
- 91: it turns out that people who walked on a treadmill indoors saw the same creativity boosts (i.e. divergent thinking) as people who walked outside
- 91: “In other words, it isn’t being outside that stimulates creativity, it is actually the walking itself that is most responsible for helping people be more creative.”
- 109: Chapter epigraph: “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day… you will never be stuck. Always stop when you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” - Ernest Hemingway
- 117: “Dolphins and whales, who live in the open ocean and must regularly surface to breathe, are unihemispheric sleepers: half of the brain sleeps while the other half remains awake, keeping the animal moving and able to respond to threats. (Fur seals are unihemispheric sleepers when they’re in the water and bihemispheric sleepers on land.)” (!)
Part II: Sustaining Creativity
- 136: “[Sabine] Sonnentag and her colleagues argue that there are four major factors that contribute to recovery: relaxation, control, mastery experiences, and mental detachment from work. Think of them as a bit like vitamins. Breaks that are high in all four are the equivalent of nutritious and nourishing meals; those that don’t are like empty calories.”
- 141: “Rather than treating vacations as big, annual events that are completely separate from our working lives, taking shorter but more frequent vacations every few months provides greater levels of recovery.”
- 163: “In creative lives, activities become deep play when they have at least one of four features”:
- “First, deep play is mentally absorbing.”
- “Second, deep play offers players a new context in which to use some of the same skills that they use in their work.”
- 164: “Third, deep play offers some of the same satisfaction as work, but it also offers different, clearer rewards thanks to differences in media or scale or pace.”
- e.g. when work involves thinking on very long time scales, deep play can be especially rewarding when it has finite and relatively small time horizons.
- “Finally, deep play provide a living connection to the player’s past.”
- 189: Pang suggests that just visiting a foreign country isn’t likely to make one more creative, but spending an extended period of time in a different place or culture will tend to increase creativity.
- 190-191: Among breadth, cultural distance and length of time, length of time living abroad has the greatest effect on one’s creativity.
Conclusion: The Restful Life
- 199: Pang highlights the distinction between leisure and idleness by citing a book by John Lubbock. “Rest, [Lubbock] argues, is often mistaken for idleness, but it is not.”
Posted: Oct 13, 2022. Last updated: Aug 31, 2023.