Why Busy Isn't Always Better
“How are you?”
“Busy, very busy.”
Sound familiar? So often the lure of busyness and staying connected makes rest seem like a luxury most of us can't afford, especially in today’s culture of busyness serving as metric of success and worthiness. With technology making work and distractions so easily accessible and feeling a strong desire to constantly be productive and more efficient it can feel impossible to disconnect. (Oh hello, dreaded FOMO.) For those of us who have big dreams and goals for ourselves and our work it poses the dilemma of choosing when to hustle and get shit done and when to give ourselves permission to take a break.
I'm currently reading Alex Soojung-Kim Pang's book "Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less" and love the sentiment behind the it. The author provides a different perspective on rest, including the importance of deliberate rest and its power to enhance your productivity and creativity. He makes the case for how incorporating regular rest into your daily routine can allow you to get more done in less time, which is the opposite of what our culture expects in the working world today.
"...not only are work and rest not in opposition, they’re inextricably bound, each enhancing the other."
Deliberate rest is the practice of thoughtfully setting aside time to fully rest by distancing yourself from work and enjoying leisurely activities. The greatest success and most productivity occurs when you alternate between periods of work and periods of purposeful rest, like taking a walk or enjoying a glorious afternoon nap between bursts of immersing yourself in your work. Even if you spend 8 hours at your job, are you really able to produce a solid 8 hours worth of productivity and focus? Probably not, because your brain gets tired and needs a break!
I've found it fascinating that most of the greatest thinkers of all time, including Charles Darwin, only worked 4 hours a day - FOUR HOURS! - and spent the rest of the day enjoying activities for pleasure. In addition, many of the great minds discussed in the book accomplished more in those four hours a day over the span of their lifetimes than many of us accomplish in our 40+ hour work weeks today. They were more productive in less time because they incorporated time for rest as a non-negotiable into each and every day, which in turn gave their minds what they needed to focus on work during work times and take a break during those times of rest to recharge.
When we give our brains a break they are able to take connections we've made in our subconscious and make them known to our conscious minds so that we can share them with the world. This is why we often achieve our "a-ha" moments while doing something completely unrelated and more mundane (like driving or showering) than when we're focusing on our area of concentration. It's actually healthy and even beneficial to allow our minds to wander. And who doesn't want more genius ideas making their way to the forefront of their mind?
"Rest" drives home how taking time to rest regularly will leave you feeling happier and more fulfilled instead of drained, overwhelmed, and overworked. Think about it - how do you feel after coming home from a long day of work only to have to make dinner for your family, do the dishes, fold laundry, and maybe fit in a yoga class before you crawl into bed a little too late only to wake up and start over on that hamster wheel the next day?
Now, think about how you feel after spending 7 days on vacation, sipping on your favorite tropical drink while reading a good book and soaking in the sun, sleeping in as late as you want, and maybe even sneaking in a daily afternoon nap. Much different, right? So how can we blend these worlds of work and rest when it can seem so unattainable?
The key is to start simple and small and to reframe your mindset around rest; it doesn’t have to be “go big or go home”. Instead of seeing rest as something to do only after all the things get done, you can retrain your brain to see rest as equal a necessity as work. We know how important sleep is for a healthy body and mind, and deliberate rest during our waking hours is no different. You don’t have to meditate for hours a day to reap the benefits of incorporating more rest into your daily routine. Here are just a few ideas to get you started.
- Set a reminder on your phone or computer for a specific interval (every hour, two hours, four hours, whatever feels good to you) to walk away from your computer. If you can, get outside and take short walk to soak in the sights and sounds of nature. Most importantly give your eyes a break from your computer screen.
- Take a bubble bath. Go all out and light some candles, play some relaxing tunes, and sip on a glass of your favorite wine. Maybe even catch up on the lastest episode of Scandal.
- Garden! This is the perfect time of year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) to get our hands dirty and plant something beautiful. This can even be seen as a form of meditation if you fully immerse yourself in the experience. I took time to plant my window boxes and hanging baskets last weekend and it makes me happy seeing the colorful flowers every time I step outside. Instead of seeing watering my plants as just another thing to do, I’ve made the intention to look over each plant and take time to enjoy watching them grow while tending to their needs.
- Watch a movie or show that you love, WITHOUT DISTRACTION. Put your phone on silent and stop scrolling through your newsfeed. Immerse yourself in the experience and allow yourself to enjoy giving your brain a break by watching something that makes you laugh, cry, and feel all the feelings.
- Move your body. Do some yoga at home or sneak away to a class at a local studio. For us yogis, this might be getting to a restorative class instead of our regular vinyasa sweat session. If running is your jam, get outside or hit the treadmill. I’ve always found swimming laps very meditative, too, because you have to concentrate on your form and your breath (which is so powerful in and of itself). Do whatever activity fulfills you and gets you back in tune with your body, just make sure it’s an activity you enjoy.
Be mindful as you move through your day and when you start to feel yourself take on those feelings of stress and overwhelm. Give yourself permission to take a little break so that you can quiet your mind and get focused again. And remember that it’s in those moments of rest that our brains are doing hard work to keep us at our most productive and creative selves - it’s not a waste of time.
If you’re interested in reading more, Arianna Huffington wrote a great article in the NY Times that you can read here.
I’m headed up to Vermont for the weekend to unplug, spend time in the woods, and get some quality time in my with family and good friends. I challenge you to find time this weekend to incorporate more rest into your day, whatever that looks like for you.
Do you make time to rest on purpose by scheduling it in as priority instead of as an afterthought? If so, what's your ideal way to unplug and recharge on the regular? Comment below to let me know of any insights or triggers that came up for you while reading this.