Rest is not idleness.
—John Lubbock, The Use of Life
When we think about being productive, we usually think of someone who is actively working. In most cultures, people think “being busy = being productive,” and so most of the time, rest is seen as idleness or even laziness, but rest is actually an essential part of productivity.
In the book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, author Alex Soojung-Kim Pang points out that we cannot work well without resting well. Studies have shown that a person who lacks sleep is unable to focus, and therefore cannot learn or work effectively. So how do we make the most out of resting to be truly productive? Here are some tips:
1. Include breaks in your daily routine/schedule.
A great way to foster productivity is by being organized and creating a routine that makes you work efficiently while being beneficial to your well-being. Add scheduled breaks to that routine, and you will find yourself looking forward to rest, no matter how brief. This also helps you get used to the idea that resting is a productive activity too: after all, breaks keep us alert, motivated, and help us avoid making mistakes and poor decisions.
2. Break large tasks into smaller ones. Some tasks seem overwhelming, making it harder for us to actually get started on them, so try to break this big task into many smaller, more manageable tasks. Working on one small aspect after another helps us move things along a little faster. Plus, every time we finish a handful of these small tasks, we can take a short break to prepare us to work on the rest of the things on our to-do list.
3. Work in blocks of time.
While time blocking—or assigning a specific period (“block”) of time to certain tasks and activities—is mainly a time management strategy, you can also use it to create room for rest. By scheduling when and how long to do your tasks, you can focus on the work in that given block, then you can take some (also scheduled) time off after. You can actually combine the previous tip (“break large tasks into smaller ones”) with time blocking to maximize your time and efficiency.
4. Stop at the right time. Working long hours, contrary to what most people might think, does not make us productive. In fact, it does quite the opposite. Studies have shown that working for an extended period of time without breaks can cause stress, poor performance, and burnout! When you’re low on energy, rest. While working through the night may seem tempting (“I’m almost done with this, so I might as well just finish it!”) remember that it is okay to leave some non-urgent tasks unfinished—you can always get back to them tomorrow. Hit pause when you need to, so you can continue giving your best.
5. Get enough sleep.
Some people say that “sleep is for the weak,” but that is terribly untrue—sleep is for everyone! It is essential to our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Sleep allows our bodies to store energy and memories, as well as literally heal and grow. Basically, sleeping helps us get ready for the tasks and challenges that we have to face every day, so it makes perfect sense that we have to sleep well in order to work and live well.
Being productive does not simply mean being able to do a lot of work. It actually has something to do with the quality of the work done, and if you want to do well, you also have to know how to rest well. We all have to unlearn the belief that resting is being unproductive; we need to start reminding ourselves that working with proper rest equals actual and meaningful productivity.
1. Alex Soojung Kim-Pang, “How Resting More Can Boost Your Productivity,” Greater Good Magazine, May 11, 2017, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_resting_more_can_boost_your_productivity.
2. “Effective Breaks,” MIT Office of the First Year, via The Internet Archive Wayback Machine, https://web.archive.org/web/20210409212929/https://firstyear.mit.edu/tutoring-support/study-tips/tooling-and-studying/tooling-and-studying-effective-breaks.
3. “Rest is Essential for Learning & Productivity,” Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Teaching, October 2, 2020, https://teaching.fsu.edu/tips/2020/10/02/rest-is-essential-for-learning-productivity/.
4. “Sleep, Learning, and Memory,” Healthy Sleep, http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory.