Rest Works

You don’t always know where your next good book is going to come from. You may search for one, but sometimes it will just appear in your life with surprise and delight.

That happened to me on Valentine’s Day this year. An email sales ad graced my inbox that morning. Among the many books, there was one that caught my attention. Moments later, I knew I’d found my next good read!

Written by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, the book is titled, “Rest.” Just one simple and short word. Of course, the subtitle is more informative, “Why you get more done when you work less.” After reading the synopsis on the back of the book, I was sold–especially at the low sale price of just four bucks!

Normally, I would download the free sample of a book and check out the author before committing time and money to a new chunk of reading, but this time I didn’t. I knew I wanted, maybe even needed, to read whatever was in between the digital covers. And I’m glad I got it.

Resisting A Rest

Rest” is appealing because we are so busy that we’re too busy to notice how busy we are! We know we need rest, yet we resist it.

In our culture, workaholism is like a badge of honor. Even if you’re not productive, as long as you’re busy, you must be doing something right. The idea is that if you’re not busy then you must be lazy. But there is a good difference between leisure and laziness.

I’m no workaholic, but I do get overworked and stressed. After I ‘clock-out’ from my full-time day job, I ‘clock-in’ at home. Anyone who has kids knows that parenting is a full-time job in itself; you’re ‘on-call’ 24/7. And since my family lives in an old country house on a few acres with farm animals, there’s always a project to work on.

Although life doesn’t take a break and wait for us, we need to take breaks to live. Being human, we could often use some rest. Even God rested after working on His project of creating the universe!

Rest Is For Work

Work is a necessary part of life, so it’s important to say that the book, “Rest,” is not necessarily against work; on the contrary, it’s for it. Since our society prizes being productive, note the subtitle again, “Why you get more done…” This book isn’t just about getting things done, it’s about getting more things done! And it specifically promotes both productivity and creativity. Just work less and you’ll achieve it.

A key idea within is that work and rest are two sides of the same coin. They go together like chocolate and peanut-butter. Both are good, and when put together they’re great!

It’s counter-intuitive and intriguing. We tend to reason that if we work hard, we’ll be accomplished, so if we work longer, then we will be more successful. Yet as many know from first-hand experience, there is a threshold where, once you cross it, your work output diminishes despite more hours worked. Been there, done that.

To the contrary, proper rest (demonstrated in the book) can help you work better so you can turn out more work in less time or turn out higher quality stuff. The mind and body need regular and intentional rest in order to work at their peak potential.

It’s not rocket-science, but there is a lot of neuroscience to it. Early in the book, the author talks about several specific areas of study in the field of neuroscience that shed informing light on how the brain functions with rest. And throughout the book, when citing how rest worked in the inspirational lives of very successful people (both creative and productive), specific facts from the brain-science are cited which serve as supporting evidence. What people have known for years anecdotally is now being understood scientifically. This makes the book both inspiring and encouraging.

Not Resting Doesn’t Work

What makes “Rest” stand out is that it demonstrates with clarity the counter-intuitiveness of the work-rest combo. We don’t so much need a book called “Work” in order to learn how to work better. To work well, you must rest well. And to rest well, you must work at resting. Proper rest is a lot of work because it takes practice. Despite the irony, I find it to be true in my own experience.

There have been times at my job where I worked on a problem and got to the point of beating my head against the wall trying to solve it. And seeing that I was gaining nothing, I would stop and walk away. And that’s when I would start to make progress. It’s like I was trying too hard. But when I stepped back from the problem, giving my brain a little break, my thinking was clearer and better focused.

Work To Live, Don’t Live To Work

Rest” has been a breath of fresh air for me because it brings some relief from the tendency to over-work. Yet it’s hard to find the balance between work and rest. And if you do find it, then it can be even harder to maintain. Rather than going too far in the other direction, “Rest” is work’s counter-weight to attain that elusive balance and stop the trend of diminishing productivity.

Despite the Industrial Revolution, we are not robots on an assembly line; we need breaks and rest. We don’t work like machines, but we can break down like them. We don’t multi-task like computers; we just have too many things going at once, and instead of concentrating on doing one job well to completion, we break our focus and jump between tasks. This is like putting the cart before the horse by emphasizing quantity over quality of work done. That doesn’t work!

So, “Rest.” We need it. We need to do it. We need to do it properly. And we need to do it regularly.

Update 3/17/18: I found a great review of “Rest” in the New York Times only after I’d written my post about it. Arianna Huffington wrote well; take a look!

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