How Resting More Can Boost Your Productivity (2022)

Rest has a bad rap in our culture. Most of us think about rest as merely the absence of work—not something valuable in its own right. Sometimes, it’s even equated with laziness.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Rest is an essential component of working well and working smart. In my new book, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, I outline some of the fascinating research that shows how rest helps us to think, innovate, and increase our productivity, and what we can do to rest more effectively.

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How Resting More Can Boost Your Productivity (1)

Even in our brain’s resting state—when we are not directly focused on a task—it’s still active, engaging its “default network” to plug away at problems, examine and toss out possible answers, and look for new information. We may not be able to control these processes completely; but by learning to rest better, we can support them, let them work, and take notice when they uncover something that deserves our attention.

Think of rest as akin to sex or singing or running. Everyone basically knows how to do it, but with a little work and understanding, you can learn to do it a lot better. You can enjoy rest more profoundly and be more refreshed and restored if you simply work at it a bit more.

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Here are some of the ways I recommend using rest to benefit your thinking and creativity.

1. Starting an early morning routine

How Resting More Can Boost Your Productivity (2)

While some writers and artists burn the midnight oil, depend on a looming deadline to help them focus, or wait for inspiration to strike before getting down to business, many of history’s most creative and prolific figures take a different approach. They start work earlier, sometimes before dawn, and concentrate on their most challenging work first when their creative energy is bound to be at its peak. They also tend to set up routines, so that they don’t waste brainpower recreating the wheel every day and taking up valuable creative energy.

We may think of routine as the opposite of creativity; but in reality, research suggests that routines can enhance it. In one study, researchers surveyed hundreds of workers at a high-tech company about how much routine they had in their everyday work, how much opportunity they had to be creative on the job, and how much initiative they could exercise in trying out new ideas. Then, they looked at how many creative ideas these workers submitted to managers. They found that employees whose work had a large measure of routine were more likely to submit ideas; those who had more control over their work did even better.

2. Walking

How Resting More Can Boost Your Productivity (3)

Walking can be a simple way to facilitate creative thinking. Not only is it a form of exercise (which brings blood to the brain), it can also help our brains engage in a light kind of focus, which encourages more mind-wandering and aids later creativity.

Researchers at Stanford did a series of experiments looking at the effects of walking on creativity, as measured by a test of divergent thinking—which asks people to come up with novel ways of using an everyday item, like a brick or a doorstop. The researchers compared participants’ performance under four conditions: while walking on a treadmill, while seated inside, while walking outside, or while being wheeled outside in a wheelchair.

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Their results showed that walking and being outside each separately led to better performance on the test. Moreover, in one experiment, the researchers showed that the benefits of walking on creativity did not fade immediately, but carried over into performance on future tests.

Walking may not be as beneficial for focused, analytical thinking; but there’s good reason to believe that it stimulates creativity and may aid you in solving problems encountered on the job, particularly if you walk when problems are still fresh in your mind. For naturalist Charles Darwin, for example, walking was so valuable a creative stimulus that he built a “thinking path” near his house, and would retreat to it while working on difficult problems.

3. Napping

How Resting More Can Boost Your Productivity (4)

If you do imaginative, creative work over long hours or in a demanding environment, afternoon naps can have restorative power for you. Sleep scientists have found that even a short nap can be effective in recharging your mental batteries.

The most obvious benefit of napping is that it increases alertness and decreases fatigue. Even a short nap of around 20 minutes boosts your ability to concentrate by giving your brain a chance to restore depleted energy.

In one study, Sara Mednick and colleagues tested participants on perception tasks—similar to what you do to get your peripheral vision checked—then divided them into three groups: one that didn’t nap at all, and two that napped either for an hour or ninety minutes. Everyone was then re-tested in the evening. Those who hadn’t napped performed worse in the evening, while those who’d napped either performed the same or dramatically better. Testing all of the groups the next day—after a night’s sleep—still resulted in “nappers” doing better than “non-nappers,” suggesting that naps augment the positive effects of sleep.

Mednick’s research also implies that napping may improve performance on certain tasks more than caffeine. You can even vary the timing of your nap to get different benefits: An earlier nap will give you more REM sleep and boost creativity, while a later nap will be richer in slow-wave sleep and more physically restorative. All this is to say that taking a nap may be a good way to boost your performance and creativity.

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4. Stopping at the right time

How Resting More Can Boost Your Productivity (5)

While many of us may feel that pushing ourselves to work long, unbroken hours is the best way to be productive, science suggests otherwise. In fact, working longer may lead to stress, burnout, disengagement from work, and poorer performance on the job. It can also kill creativity and innovation.

A counterintuitive but effective form of deliberate rest is to stop working at just the right point: when you see your next move, but decide to leave it until tomorrow. Ernest Hemingway was a famous advocate of the practice, and many notable writers have followed his advice to “always stop when you know what is going to happen next.”

Stopping when you have a little energy left makes it easier to get started the next day. It also seems to prompt your subconscious mind to tackle work problems in the meantime, suggesting that Hemingway’s intuition was correct.

In one study, participants were tested on their divergent thinking skills during a two-minute task, then spent five minutes on math problems, then were tested again on their divergent thinking. Half the participants were told that they’d be tested twice, while the other half were not informed.

While both groups had higher scores after the math break—which allowed their brains to rest from the main task—those who had been told they’d be tested again benefitted more from the break than those who hadn’t. Researchers also found that participants who had scored better initially—suggesting a more creative mindset—benefitted even more from the break.

All of this suggests that consciously leaving tasks undone—leaving the last sentence of a paragraph unwritten, for example—will nudge your mind to continue cogitating without your conscious awareness. Such a strategy also evens out the highs and lows in creative work, provides a boost to creativity, and buffers against stress.

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5. Sleeping

How Resting More Can Boost Your Productivity (6)Adapted excerpt from Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Copyright ©2016. Available from Basic Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, a division of PBG Publishing, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Sleeping is, of course, the ultimate form of rest and an important part of a creative and productive life.

During the day, our bodies are mainly occupied with the business of living, spending energy on motor activity and cognitive functions. When we fall asleep, our bodies shift into maintenance mode and devote themselves to storing energy, fixing or replacing damaged cells, and growing, while our brains clean out toxins, process the day’s experiences, and sometimes work on problems that have been occupying our waking minds.

Many researchers have found that REM sleep is particularly important for performance. For example, in a study looking at anesthesiology interns and anesthetists, researchers found that after a couple of weeks of having night shifts or on-call duties, their work performance declined significantly. Not only that, but a sleep deficit of less than an hour per night led to declines greater than those seen in comparable groups tested in a sleep lab, suggesting that scientists may be underestimating the consequences of sleep loss in the real world.

All of the research points to the importance of rest in our fast-paced lives. While our culture may be pushing us toward working overtime, 24/7, this is clearly not helping us to be more productive or to come up with creative solutions to our problems.

When we treat rest as work’s equal partner, recognize it as a playground for the creative mind and a springboard for new ideas, and learn ways to take rest more effectively, we elevate it into something valuable that can help calm our days, organize our lives, give us more time, and help us achieve more while working less.

Rest is not idleness. It is the key to a better life.

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FAQs

How resting more can boost your productivity? ›

When we rest, our brain is busy consolidating memories and quietly searching for solutions to problems we encounter.” Spending more time resting and less time actively engaged in work not only boosts creativity and the ability to problem-solve, but it also makes the time actually spent on work more efficient.

How important is rest for productivity? ›

But rest is actually an essential part of working well. Breaks, including breaks to walk or exercise, make us more alert, help us focus, and help our motivation. They can help prevent decision fatigue and procrastination. They increase our productivity and even our creativity.

How do you get enough rest and stay productive? ›

6 Sleep Tips to Make You More Productive During the Day
  1. Avoid Caffeine. Caffeine can be great in the morning, but not so helpful at night. ...
  2. Limit Screen Time. ...
  3. Avoid Late Naps. ...
  4. Plan Out Your Day to Clear Your Mind. ...
  5. Sleep in Increments. ...
  6. Activate Your Evening Routine.
Nov 28, 2018

Why rest is essential to high performance? ›

Downtime gives your body the chance to repair and grow stronger so you can perform at your best. It allows your mind to focus, boosts motivation, and it reduces your chance of injury from overuse, too.

How can rest help us to be efficient essay? ›

Simply because your brain will think faster. If you allow your body to rest, it will be in full force and 100% focused on what needs to be done, instead of dragging around trying to get something done.

Why rest days are important for higher efficiency at work? ›

Your brain gets tired and fatigued when over used and rest is needed for it to recover. Down time is essential for boosting motivation, reflecting, making memories, problem solving and the list goes on. Without the brain being able to process core information, our productivity will be in-efficient.

Why is resting important for students? ›

Students should get the proper amount of sleep at night to help stay focused, improve concentration, and improve academic performance. Children and adolescents who do not get enough sleep have a higher risk for many health problems, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, poor mental health, and injuries.

Why Relaxing is important? ›

Research shows that relaxation keeps your heart healthier, cuts stress, reduces muscle tension, improves brain function and memory, and helps you avoid depression, anxiety, and obesity. It boosts your immune system and helps alleviate the symptoms of many medical and psychological disorders. Relaxing is important!

How does sleep improve concentration and productivity? ›

Slow wave sleep restores brain function and leads to increased energy and alertness [3]. As we navigate the new normal and aim to maintain productivity, sleep is crucial and gives the brain the necessary tools to perform at its highest level the next day.

What is the importance of rest? ›

Rest is vital for better mental health, increased concentration and memory, a healthier immune system, reduced stress, improved mood and even a better metabolism.

Is rest important for learning? ›

The non-REM stages of sleep seem to prime the brain for good learning the next day. If you haven't slept, your ability to learn new things could drop by up to 40%. “You can't pull an all-nighter and still learn effectively,” Walker says.

What is the importance of rest and sleep? ›

Sleep is an essential function1 that allows your body and mind to recharge, leaving you refreshed and alert when you wake up. Healthy sleep also helps the body remain healthy and stave off diseases. Without enough sleep, the brain cannot function properly.

How much rest do you need after work? ›

Most experts say that you need at least 48 hours for your muscles to recover.

Is it good to rest before work? ›

Rest is an essential component of working well and working smart. In my new book, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, I outline some of the fascinating research that shows how rest helps us to think, innovate, and increase our productivity, and what we can do to rest more effectively.

Why is it important to take days off from work? ›

Studies have shown that taking time away from the job can have physical and mental health benefits. People who take vacations have lower stress, less risk of heart disease, a better outlook on life, and more motivation to achieve goals.

Should you rest one day a week from work? ›

Short answer: yes. “Rest days are important to prevent overuse injuries, and to allow for muscles and body to recover from the exercise,” Debra explained. “You are creating small tears in the muscles as you work them, so it is important to give them rest.

How often should you rest a day? ›

It's safe enough to do every day, unless your doctor says otherwise. But if you're doing moderate or vigorous aerobic activity, rest days are essential. It's recommended to take a rest day every three to five days. If you do vigorous cardio, you'll want to take more frequent rest days.

How can I be active on a rest day? ›

On rest days following strenuous activity

Try going for a walk or an easy bike ride. You can also try stretching, swimming, or yoga. Active recovery on your rest days will help your muscles recover. This is especially important if you're sore.

How much rest does your body need? ›

You can train your body to need less sleep

Sadly, this is a myth. According to experts, it is rare for anyone to need fewer than 6 hours' sleep to function.

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