Can Rest Make Us More Productive?
An hour of rest a week can increase your productivity.
Posted Aug 14, 2017
Can a little bit of rest actually make us far more productive? That’s what Marilyn Paul explores in her latest book, An Oasis In Time: How a Day of Rest Can Save Your Life. Discover why even an hour of rest a week can increase your productivity, Marilyn’s principles for establishing a rest routine that works, and how real rest is different (and more enjoyable) than sitting on the couch.
Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership podcast. I'm Peter Bregman, your host and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you get massive traction on the things that matter most.
With me today is a delightful guest. A friend of mine, Marilyn Paul. Her latest book is "An Oasis in Time. How a Day of Rest Can Save Your Life." She has previously written a great book. I love the name of this. "It's Hard to Make a Difference When You Can't Find Your Keys." Her focus has been very much on how we can bring ourselves to our greatest effectiveness. It's often what we do around the effectiveness that gets us there. I'm delighted to have Marilyn on with us. Marilyn, thank you for being on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Marilyn: It's wonderful to be here Peter. Thank you.
Peter: This feels like an important book. First off, tell me what it is, right? An Oasis in Time, what you mean by that, and why is it an important book?
Marilyn: I wrote “An Oasis in Time” because of the treasure of Sabbath. Even if I say the word Sabbath, I know that people are cringing.
Peter: Right, because we're not speaking to a religious audience. We're speaking to a leadership audience.
Marilyn: No. Just the words "Ehhh ..." I don't want that. But since I've learned more, and more about keeping Shabbat, I'm Jewish, that's my background. So, let me say a little more. I'm a workaholic, I have a PHD from Yale, I've done years of management and organizational change consulting. I burned myself out. I'm a meditator, I tried meditation. I do all of that. I exercise, taking good care of myself. Shabbat has been key to what I now see as phenomenal effectiveness.
So, that's why I wrote the book because I think that there's more here than people know, and I showed them how. I can show you how to get there.
Peter: Great. So, two things. One is define Shabbat because for a lot of people, they don't know what that is.
Marilyn: All right. So, first of all, Shabbat means to stop. That's all it means. Stop. Stop your everyday, everything, and do something else. In the Jewish tradition, it's 24 hours, or 25 hours. For Christians, it can be a day. For anyone, it actually could be ceasing for an hour a half a day, a day.
Peter: The second question, which I think you've just answered is, you're not writing this to Jews, to try to convince them to observe the holiday of Shabbat, or the rest of Shabbat. What you're saying is, there's wisdom in this Jewish practice of taking a day completely away from work. Away from electronics, away from having conversations about work, away from doing work.
The way I've heard it described that I like the best is, we spend six days a week trying to change the world in some way. Trying to fix things, trying to shift things, trying to make things happen, trying to change the world in some way. We spend one day just recognizing, being grateful, enjoying, appreciating the world as it is, with no intent, or attempt to change it.
Marilyn: Absolutely. Beautifully put.
Peter: Thank you. So, what you're advocating in the book, and not just advocating, but really kind of helping people to actualize, to make happen is the importance. The words you use, "The Day of Rest Can Save Your Life." The importance in our society right now at this particular time of taking a time out.
Marilyn: Exactly. So, it sounds impossible, but when I tell people, "This is what we do in my family." They say, "Oh, I can never do that. I need eight days a week to get things done. Not six." So, here is the critical feature that I have learned, and know from talking with so many people. When you take a day off, your brain calms down. Your body rests. You reconnect with those you love, and through that, you regain perspective and creativity.
It's like supercharging who you are through this brilliant idea of a day of rest each week.
Peter: It makes total sense to me conceptually, right? It feels right. I want to bring you to a moment of challenge, which is I was with my daughter this morning, and she was eating, and reading on her phone. I said, "Isabelle, please just turn your phone around and just eat." When you eat, you eat. When you look at your phone, you look at your phone.
Peter: She said, "Dad, you always read when you're eating. In fact, I don't think I've seen you brush your teeth, and not do something else at the same time." Children are really fantastic for calling us to task, and cutting through the BS, and being real. She's actually right, and I was thinking I start brushing my teeth. It's just two minutes, I literally have a beeper that goes off in two minutes after brushing my teeth, and I find myself distracted, and bored, and wanting to at least turn on the radio, and listen to NPR, or something while I'm brushing my teeth. That's just for two minutes.
You're suggesting an entire day, and my question is, it's kind of a rubber meets the road questions, which is how do we actually bring ourselves to do this? To get the benefit without driving ourselves crazy in the first three minutes?
Marilyn: All right. So number one, it's true. We start to rest. Often what happens for people is they feel even more tired. Partly why we're going non-stop is when we stop, we feel that overwhelmed, that feeling of fatigue, the lack in our lives. Yes. So, why not multitask?
Peter: Two things. One is we may feel that tired, and at the same time, all of the thoughts of everything we haven't done has time, and space, and room to come up. Suddenly we feel overwhelmed. A moment of rest gives us this simultaneous feeling of tired and overwhelmed. The tension that requires a solution, or suggests a solution is to do more stuff.
Marilyn: Yes. Absolutely true. So, part of what this, what I am saying is this requires trust, that you actually can get through those first minutes, the first hour of tearing your hair out. "I can't wait to do one more thing." I talk about overcoming the "one more thing" syndrome. I'll rest when I just send this email, then I'll close my computer.
Or I'll rest. I see I’ve got laundry to put away, then I’ll see my computer, the laundry room door. Whatever it is, there's always something to do. So, the premise of this, and I think the wisdom of our ancient teachers even back then, thousands of years ago, they could see that we need to stop, to recognize who we are, what we're doing here, we need perspective, and we need to turn our attention away from the every day.
It takes practice, it takes fierceness, and I can talk more. How do you actually ... Hey, how do you actually do this? One, step by step, little by little, and keep rewarding yourself for doing it. I talked to scores of people now. "How the heck do you do this?" And I have a number of principles, which I can tell you right now.
Marilyn: Principle number one: Figure out why. What is it costing you to go non-stop like this? Being ruthless about why you want this. You're tired, you're sick, you don't have enough time with your family, or friends. You feel yourself burning out, things don't feel like they have meaning for you, you're not getting to some of the things you most are about.
One woman said to me, she's an executive, she's on the go. All she wants is an hour a week to work on her beading. She's a craftswoman and she knows how much that would give her. For someone else, it was kayaking. For someone else, it was time with friends, not friends across the country. They had not seen friends who live in the town, the next town over. This way of life costs us, and we need to look at that.
Peter: Let me ask you a question around that because I think the way that a lot of people think, and maybe I'm just revealing my own gaps, and failures.
Peter: Is they come up to a time, and they ask, "What is the most productive use of this time?" If I have this paper to write, if I have these bills to pay, should I really just sit there, and stare into space, and do nothing? Or should I get that stuff done because that stuff is not going away, I’ve got to get that stuff done, and I’ll be able to relax afterwards.
So, we're making a choice to spend unproductive time, when there's a lot of productivity that needs to happen. Help me out here.
Marilyn: Yeah, sure. So, that's the theory. We say, "When we're resting, it's not productive." But let's think about something. Let's think about productivity slightly differently. It happens in rhythm. Tony Schwartz actually wrote a fabulous book called "The Power of Full Engagement." He and Jim wrote. And one thing they could see from highly effective tennis players, is that productivity, and in this case, effectiveness comes in a rhythm. It's a rhythm of action and rest.
Okay, we know that. So, maybe we meditate 15 minutes, maybe we think about meditating. But what research shows is that downtime is not unproductive time. It's essential for the level of productivity that we ant. What we want is to be firing on six cylinders all the time.
Peter: In effect, we're running sprints, not a marathon?
Marilyn: We're running sprints, not a marathon. We are not machines.
Peter: We need recovery time in between?
Marilyn: We need recovery time. So, one thing we need to say to ourselves is when I am resting, I am recovering my capacity to be hugely productive. It only looks unproductive. We have to talk to ourselves differently. The key is when you go back to work after your hour, or your day, things look different. All of a sudden you say, "I don't need to address that. I don't need to do that. I can do in five minutes what I was going to do in an hour." When we're tied, we're not effective.
Peter: You're valuing yourself more, or equally than you're valuing what you produce?
Marilyn: Also, though, it's a little more than that. You actually understand fully, and deeply that much of our time, we are not producing what we want. We're going, going, going. We're doing the next thing on the list, but at the end of the day, many people I've worked with say, "What did I do today?" And they're not doing the right thing.
Look, everybody says, "Work smarter, not harder. Be more effective. Focus on the strategic." But you need brain power, and physical strength, and courage, fierceness to do that.
Peter: Got it, great. Okay, so the first step is to understand why you're doing it, and the reason why you're doing it is because really you need to. We're operating in rhythms, and this is the rhythm that will actually help us to be more productive ultimately. What's step two?
Marilyn: So, you need to so badly, that you're willing to walk through fire. So, the fire is, and I experienced that a lot. It's Friday afternoon, it's time to stop, and it's true. Everything I did not get to this week, comes up. "I've got to do this, and I've got to do that. I'm not shutting this computer until I get back to that person." And you learn a skill.
The skill is you write it all down, tell yourself "Things will look different on Sunday morning, or Monday morning, and stop." It's like ripped from me. I'm ripping myself away from my work.
Peter: The hardest piece of this is the transition. You're able to rest, and you're able to work. But going from work to rest is where the biggest pitfall is, it’s the most difficult thing.
Marilyn: And know that in advance. Don't expect this to be easy, and don't expect yourself to just say, "Oh, I'll get back to it on Sunday, or Monday." Know your tools. You take a pen, you write it down, or you make notes, then you talk to yourself like, "I am finally going to get to this." So, that transition, know that it will be hard to know that it might take a month or two just to take an hour a week. That much.
There was an article in the New York Times. David Leonard talking about the Schultz hour. That hour when you're not answering the phone, you're consciously stopping, you're slowing down, you're enjoying the moment, you're not trying to achieve anything, that hour could be the best in a sense, most productive hour of your week.
So, you get your big why, and you start knowing it's hard, and you start with an hour.
Peter: It's interesting because even when you say the hour, and you've talked about meditation, and I'm a big proponent of meditation, and I've talked about it on the podcast, I think that meditation is not the rest that you're talking about. There's an activeness, and almost a productivity to meditating when you're meditating, you're actively doing something. That's different from sitting on the couch, relaxing, and not doing anything.
When you're meditating, you're not, not doing anything. You're actually doing something. So, the not-doing-anything, and really giving your brain a rest, relaxing effort. For a lot of people, meditation is effort, and relaxing effort may require that you be sort of intentional about not doing something in that space other than relaxing.
Marilyn: Exactly. So, here's something else about that, which is, if you're really meditating, you're working at it. Secondly, your hour of not doing anything might be playing with your kid in a totally different way. You're just there with your child. You're not trying to get to something else, or playing with your cat, or your dog. Or you're taking a walk, a savoring walk. So, you're not doing nothing staring at the wall. You're doing something.
Peter: And let's use my definition earlier, which I think works to, as an assessment to saying "Is this what I should be doing?" Which is, "Are you doing something to change the world in some way? Or are you doing something to just appreciate, and enjoy, that we'll get joy from the world as it exists and as it is?"
Marilyn: Beautifully put. So, now you're in that moment, and you're catching your breath, and you're enjoying the moment. For many of us, even that much takes practice. We can read 1000 books on happiness. But when it comes to enjoying this moment, here we are. We're just in this moment. Sometimes we don't like it so much. But we have a tool to bring ourselves back, and to appreciate this gift of life that we're given.
Peter: Do you have other thoughts or advice around that transition? Because my experience is that it the most difficult part. It's the transition from work to rest. So, one of your thoughts is to write everything down that you have to do, and you'll get back to it. Other tips that you could share with us that would help us to move through the transition? To get to the place of rest?
Marilyn: Sure. So, one thing is to alert yourself to the fact that you're transitioning earlier. So, I give myself a couple of hours. I used to sort of work, work, work, right until, "Oh, time to light candles. No, that's not so effective. I have to back it up. I have to start transitioning earlier.
Peter: Just to explain to listeners, lighting candles is what you do to mark the beginning of the rest for you.
Marilyn: So we, according to Jewish tradition, bring in the rest with candles. That's part of what helps. So, part of what helps is having a ritual. In our case it's a traditional ritual. Another part is taking a shower. Another part is pouring yourself a glass of wine or a drink, and stating out loud, even yelling, "The week is over!" Whatever it is.
So, there's a number of things we can do to attune ourselves to the fact that we're in transition.
Peter: Great. It's so important because if you're moving from one space to another, there's a marker. If you go to a synagogue, or a church, you know when you're in it, and you know when you're out of it. But time just bleeds one minute into the next. So, creating some kind of a ritual that says, "this time is different" is really useful.
Marilyn: You begin with intention, and another key is you've set an end in time. What helps with starting is knowing in advance when your oasis time is going to end, and you stop. Whether it's an hour, you say it's an hour. I'm done. Because you're alerting your psyche that if you're willing to begin, you're committing to ending, and you'll come back to it next time.
Peter: Great. Anything else that comes to mind around the transition before we go into the rest piece?
Marilyn: Yeah. So, other things around the transition are deliberately slowing your movements. Often we're thinking fast, we're moving fast, and it's beyond taking a deep breath. It's actually moving a little more slowly. Training yourself, even for a minute. Anyone on this podcast can try it. Just move your hand at half the pace you usually do. You'll see your whole starts to slow down.
Peter: It's true. I'm doing it now, and it works.
Peter: It's great.
Marilyn: So, that's part of the beginning. Another thing that helps with beginning, is at the beginning of the week, knowing. This again, you know this so well, and I use material, and I love it. It's at the beginning of the week. Know what your week is about, and don't let yourself get ... We all get sidetracked, captured by the immediate. But if you can say, "This is what I'm most wanted to do." And for the most part do it, it makes it much easier to let it go.
We have a habit of trying to do too much. So, that habit we have to let go of a little bit.
Peter: So, we've now moved our way, we've made the decision, we know it's important. We've moved our way through the transition. It's a little bit of torture, but we've gotten to the other side of it, and we've slowed ourselves down.
Marilyn: Right. Through the pain.
Peter: Is there anything important to know about the time that we've committed to rest other than what we've talked about?
Marilyn: So a few things I think. One is really practicing letting go of achieving, and knowing. So, we're all about achievement. Getting things done, being the best we can do, doing personal growth. Whatever it is, it's all about achieving. What is life when we're not achieving? What are we even doing here?
Peter: That's very scary. I don't know that I want to even know the answer to that, which is why then maybe I don't rest.
Marilyn: Yes. So, just a little hint about that. It's magnificent. Our value is huge, even if we get nothing done for the rest of our lives. It's a workaholic premise, and I am a workaholic. I believe, and was brought up to believe that my value comes from my productivity. There is a whole other way of being, which gives us even more of what we want, but it takes practice.
Connecting with love, with our neighbors, friends, and family. It's incredibly nourishing and satisfying to do that when we stop trying to get something else done when we're in the moment. There's so much on this. Mindfulness, sufficiency, enjoyment, and this is our chance to see how good it really is. It's not bad.
Peter: Let's spend one more minute on this because I think it's important, and I think it's actually hard to grapple with, to understand.We hear it all the time, we read it in the literature. Focus on who you are, and what you value for yourself.
Peter: But on the other hand, I think I fit into this category probably of workaholic, and someone who sort of values his productivity. I conceptually understand, but I don't know if I really believe that my value comes just from being myself, that people want to be around me, just for being myself.
Ultimately it might be because I'm interesting, I'm funny, or whatever. Or I make them feel good. How do you break through either the illusion, or the sense that our value comes from what we're able to contribute?
Marilyn: So, let's ... Right here, I want to remind you, and people, and myself, we're talking about one day a week. We're not talking about every day. We're talking about taking one day a week, for valuing slightly different values. We're not going to transform into totally different human beings. But we're going to stop consuming. We're going to stop using digital media. We're going to discover, and again it could just be an hour, or a half a day. All those things that we do know on some level are true. That pause is a pause that lets us live our lives more fully.
All we're talking about is introducing rhythm into our lives. Deeper rhythm. Like, "Yes, we're going all out, but then weekends, we're going all out on home stuff." And we're still available to work. It's really stopping all of that for a limited time period.
Peter: Marilyn's book is An Oasis in Time. How a Day of Rest Can Save Your Life. And Marilyn, it's just such a pleasure to have you on the podcast, and you have so much wisdom, both here and in the book. It's a reminder to us that rest is not the opposite of productive, right? That it's an enabler of productive, and you write about it beautifully, and you speak about it beautifully. Thank you so much for being on the Bregman Leadership Podcast.
Marilyn: Thank you Peter so much for having me.
Peter: I hope you enjoyed this episode of The Bregman Leadership Podcast. If you did, it would really help us if you subscribe on iTunes and leave a review. A common problem that I seen companies is a lot of business. A lot of hard work that fails to move the organization as a whole forward. That's the problem that we solve with our big arrow process. For more information about that, or to access all of my articles, videos and podcasts, visit peterbregman.com
Thank you Clare Marshall for producing this episode, and thank you for listening.