In light of shelter-in-place measures to curb COVID-19, this post reads differently to me now. Perhaps it will help you manage the extra hours you didn’t have before. Maybe it will encourage you to find a new rhythm as you take on tasks you didn’t have pre-quarantine and release some that you did. This recent article is full of similar insight — even down to Hemingway’s approach mentioned below. Overall, I hope you are able to do good work and find good rest in the midst of this fraught time.
Like DEEP WORK, REST drives home the idea that short, distraction-free work sessions (what author Alex Soojung-Kim Pang calls deliberate work) are far more productive than a full day of less focused work. (Pang’s research points to 4-5 hours of deliberate work a day, broken up into several sessions). As Pang says:
When you examine the lives of history’s most creative figures, you are immediately confronted with a paradox: they organize their lives around their work, but not their days. Figures as different as Charles Dickens, Henri Poincare, and Ingmar Bergman, working in disparate fields in different times, all shared a passion for their work, a terrific ambition to succeed, and an almost superhuman capacity to focus. Yet when you look closely at their daily lives, they only spent a few hours a day doing what we could recognize at their most important work. The rest of the time, they were hiking mountains, taking naps, going on walks with friends, or just sitting and thinking. Their creativity and productivity, in other words, were not the result of endless hours of toil. Their towering creative achievements result from modest “working” hours.
Pang pairs this idea of deliberate work with time of deliberate rest — exercise, sleep, recovery (such as weekends or vacation), and deep play.
Like RITUALS, readers get glimpses of real-life people who have used the routine of deliberate work or deliberate rest to their creative benefit.
“Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote lyrics to Hamilton during long Sunday morning walks in the park with his dog, freestyling on top of beats or melodies he composed at home.”
Salvador Dali napped for brief moments, holding a key in his hand that when he dozed he would release, sending it clanging to the floor as a sort of alarm clock. Then Dali got back to work. He felt he harnessed this almost-asleep state to awaken aspects of his art he held in his subconscious.
Ernest Hemingway advised to “always stop [your work] while 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.”
I love a book that examines others’ creative lives. It’s a reminder there’s no one way to create. But I also appreciate the patterns I can emulate or already see working in my own life. My walks with the dog, those occasional afternoon naps — both are actually contributing to my creative endeavors.
Soojung-Kim Pang closes by saying:
When we treat rest as work’s equal partner, recognize it as a playground for the creative mind and springboard for new ideas, and see it as an activity that we can practice and improve, we elevate rest into something that can help calm our days, organize our lives, give us more time, and help us achieve more by working less.
My take away? I want my rest to be as deliberate as my work, to the benefit of the things I create and my overall wellbeing.