Book Review: Rest

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If you do creative work and control your own schedule, you’ll find lots of things to try Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. If that’s not you, there are still good ideas here, but you won’t be able to put many of them into practice. Without the ability to control your schedule, this will be an interesting read, but not a particularly helpful one.

The author thinks that rest (which he calls “deliberate rest”) is a skill. That means you can get better at it. And he’s convinced that we should spend time thinking about how well we rest just like we do about how well we work. Here’s the money quote.

“Rest is not work’s adversary. Rest is work’s partner. They complement and complete each other.

Further, you cannot work well without resting well. Some of history’s most creative people, people whose achievements in art and science and literature are legendary, took rest very seriously. They found that in order to realize their ambitions, to do the kind of work they wanted to, they needed rest. The right kinds of rest would restore their energy while allowing their muse, that mysterious part of their minds that helps drive the creative process, to keep going.”

He opens the book with a chapter on the problem of rest and one on the science of rest. The science part deals mostly with what we’ve learned about the Default Mode Network in the last couple of decades.

After that, the book is divided into two parts. Part 1 is about stimulating creativity. Part 2 is about sustaining creativity.

Are you picking up a pattern here? The author concentrates on creativity and not any of the other things that make up work and life. If that’s why you bought the book, great. It’s not so great if you didn’t.

Most chapters are structured the same way. First, the author gives you examples, lots of examples of people acting in ways that you might want to try. Most of them are “history’s most creative people.” Almost all of them controlled their own schedule.

There’s some science, too. Most of the science consists of studies where college sophomores are lab rats or neat new technology scanned some brains. There is excellent discussion of recent brain science involving the Default Mode Network.

The through-line for the book is Graham Wallas’s creativity cycle. Wallas described it in his 1926 book, The Art of Thought. The Wallas cycle is an excellent way to understand how creativity works for most people, most of the time.

There are four parts to the cycle. The first part is Preparation, the conscious intensive work you do on a problem or a project. The second stage is Incubation. There, you step back from the problem and do something else for a while. While you’re doing that, you may get to the third stage, Illumination. Illumination is the sudden flash of insight when an answer or inspiration comes to you. The fourth part of the cycle is Verification. This is where you do the work of converting an insight into something usable. You won’t find much about Verification in this book, but the other three phases of the cycle get lots of coverage.

Biggest Plus

You’ll get lots of ideas here that you may want to try. Most of those ideas are about stimulating or sustaining creativity. If that’s your goal, consider also purchasing Mason Currey’s excellent book, Daily Rituals.

Biggest Negatives

This is a book for people who do creative work and control their schedules. If that’s not you, you’ll get some good ideas, but you might find another book more helpful.

The author doesn’t make it easy for you to draw lessons out of this book. Consider it more as a collection of things you may want to try rather than a guidebook to being more creative or doing better work.

In a Nutshell

If you do creative work and control your schedule, you’ll get a lot from Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less.

You can check out some of my highlights and notes from this book on GoodReads.


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