For the last couple of weeks I’ve been diving into the idea of rest ethic- the yin to work ethic’s yang.
My assertion has been that excellent work is the result of balancing rest and relaxation as much as time spent actively engaged in the work. The type of creative work that stretches us and provides growth is only achieved through the tension and interplay between time on and time off.
Most people are really good at being on, at grinding their work ethic down to the bone. Time off, however, requires a different sort of skills. While these skills can be learned, many of us have avoided honing them as a result of the short-term rewards that come from being in a culture that glorifies hustle and always being on or available. But, like any skill, rest and recovery can be learned. And like a muscle, the more you engage it, the stronger it gets.
To be clear, effective, deliberate rest is different from zoning out and watching TV or scrolling through social media.
Rest and recovery is intentional. It is a commitment to making more time for rest, which also has direct benefits to your work. This type of self-imposed time constraint forces you to focus on what’s essential. You realize the true value of your time beyond it being a currency to exchange for money. Instead, it becomes something more valuable to you, something to invest intentionally into what you deem most meaningful.
The Four Factors of Recovery
As described in the book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, recovery is made up of four key factors.
The first factor of recovery requires you engage in such a way that it allows your mind and body to wind down.
The second factor of recovery involves deciding how we spend our time and attention.
Many factors in our life are beyond our control and can be stressful and distracting further draining your energy and creativity. In order to balance this, it’s worth having a practice that allows you to have an element of control in your rest. The pursuit of types of rest activities are within your control – you could cook, or paint, or make music. Choose something that allows you to decide how to spend your time, energy and attention.
The third factor of recovery requires you to be challenged enough to get into a flow state.
Even activities within our control don’t necessarily mean they’ll be easy. Learning to play an instrument or writing are examples of this. This is what makes them good rest activities because active rest requires experiences that allow us to pursue mastery – they are both challenging and mentally engaging enough that they allow us to enter flow states. Mastery experiences become so engaging and demanding that they force everything out of our mind, leaving no space for us to obsess over work.
The fourth factor explains why it’s important to be so absorbed in our rest that we forget about work.
Our ability to put work completely out of our mind and focus on other things is necessary for mental and physical recovery
Sabine Sonnentag, a professor of Work and Organizational Psychology, in a study on the importance of detachment wrote:
Empirical research has shown that employees who experience more detachment from work during off-hours are more satisfied with their lives and experience fewer symptoms of psychological strains, without being less engages while at work.
The most creative and productive workers are those who can unplug entirely from work
Our first step to building our rest ethic is to take rest seriously.
We must recognize its importance and our right to rest. We must carve time out for rest and protect it as judiciously as we do work time. One way to achieve this is deciding ahead of time when you’ll stop working. Ernest Hemingway was known for leaving his work unfinished mid-sentence at the end of each day so he could get a hot start the next day. Stopping at the right time requires a level of self-awareness.
The easiest first step is to develop a ritual to transition between work and home (especially in our prevalent remote work culture). It doesn’t matter what you choose but rather that you start and do it consistently. For example, I have a set time I stop every day, refuse to respond to emails after-hours, and transition from work to rest by taking a 20 minute walk outdoors. However, you could transition your day by writing out your to-do’s for the next day, journaling and reflecting on your day and lessons learned, or spend 30 minutes engaged in a creative pursuit.
My challenge to you is that you start by taking rest as seriously as work. Like many of the best things in life, rest and recovery require intentionality, discipline and commitment.
How will you give yourself the space and permission to hone your rest ethic this week?
Enjoy the ride,