“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” – John Lubbock
Summer is for dreaming. Summer is for stargazing. Summer is for emptying your head. Summer is for doing nothing. Summer is for switching off. Above all, summer is for taking part in the subtle art of how to rest.
I know, I know. As a startupper, digital nomad or entrepreneur (or any working professional for that matter) it can still be all about productivity. You may even often find yourself fantasizing about how productive you can be during lean periods such as summer holidays. You tell friends and acquaintances that your multi-tasking efforts are off the charts, when really you should be focusing on how to rest.
The truth is we constantly strive to hustle. We strive to be productive. We strive to push on through. We love labels like “resourceful”, “tough under pressure” and being a “swiss army knife”, twenty-four-seven, 365 days a year. I mean we even use some of those phrases with pride on our resumes.
Recharging, rather than unplugging
Well let me break this to you gently. No. You’re doing it wrong. Multi-tasking is dead. In fact, science has proved that it’s not actually what you think it is. The multi-tasking you are doing, as Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT, states is: “actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time you do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so. We’re not wired to multitask well. “ And, shock horror, it makes for less productivity long term.
Until quite recently this was also my opinion. i.e. that you don’t need to switch off or unplug to get adequate rest and recover, and that all time – including summer holidays – can be useful in a working sense. Even as recently as last summer, I wrote a blog post about recharging rather than unplugging. But you know what I say to that now? No thanks. It’s actually a sick and twisted kind of workaholism.
Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in being resilient, and getting as much done as you can in the name of progressing your professional growth and success. And sometimes you will need to “work”. Even if that means just catching up with people over a few calls, discussing an opportunity or scribbling some ideas down. But, not if it comes at a heavy price, i.e. on your health or personal relationships.
So, what’s the answer? Well, as you may or may now know, it can be hard to try and do nothing. Some of us think scrolling social media is doing nothing but you actually feel more exhausted after it than refreshed afterwards. So, start with single-tasking. Yes, that’s right, single-tasking. A summer holiday is the ideal time to practice.
How to rest? First, master single-tasking
Single-tasking. And that single task is recovery. In whatever form that comes. Be it sleep, or just rest, or doing a favorite hobby or anything else unconnected with your startup, business or professional life in general.
But wait, how do you actually single-task when you simply have so much to do – even while you’re away on holiday? For a start, you can try these common-sense methods to help you:
Make a note
Get out a notebook and write down all those “open items” you need to take action on. You can also use your laptop if it’s easier, or even your phone. If you’re old school like me then paper will be your choice.
Review your list and go for the biggest item first. This way, you tackle the elephant in the room which is in your head right away. And the feeling of accomplishment when its done will be worth it.
While you are working on taming that elephant, switch off notifications on your phone, laptop, or whatever you have open, and decline any calls that you would usually multi-task through.
When you’re done with the elephant, do the next item, then the next item. If your brain starts to tell you to multi-task, briefly note down the thing you felt compelled to do but, and this is important, don’t do it. Stay on the task at hand. When that’s been crossed off, then you can switch to the other item.
Your single-tasking list on holiday may look a bit different to this, but you get the idea.
Now, about how to rest
Let’s face it. Rest is vital. We are told from a young age, and rediscover this when we become parents, that it’s when our brains and bodies repair themselves and grow – physically, creatively and emotionally. So then, rest is actually part of work, and not separate. The phrase you only get out what you put in, is very apt here.
Discovering how to rest properly can actually be incredibly liberating. Why? Well put simply, many of us have forgotten what it feels like – when done properly. But wait, if we have to put so much effort into rest and recover, isn’t that contradictory? Short answer: no.
Some of us just need to relearn, or rediscover, how to rest. In the same way in this crazy tech-driven world that we need to rediscover boredom.
Firstly, let’s clear up what rest actually is. Because as we know it can actually be quite subjective. For example, a morning of triathlon training may be relaxing for one person, while for others this would seem like their idea of hell.
So, time for some science. Generally, it’s agreed among researchers and psychologists that rest is, as Brad Stulberg puts it is a physiological state during which your innate fight-or-flight stress response, or sympathetic nervous system, subsides in favor of a more relaxed condition. Your heart rate and blood pressure come down, and your shoulders usually follow.
According to Stuberg, there are three the key aspects needed to achieve this state.
1. You’re not exerting any self-control
I know, in the beginning it can seem like you need incredible willpower to resist worrying about work or other pressing issues. Here the key is experimenting with efforts to let yourself go completely and enjoy bouts of rest. Such as not responding to those emails or chats until a specific time later in the day.
2. You’re not thinking consciously about work
This is a tough one too. Because although you may have begun to focus on your restful activity, your subconscious mind can still be trying to solve those work-related issues in the background. Slowly but surely though your focus on your conscious activity will fade that into oblivion.
3. You’re not disrupting your sleep
Sleep. You function with it, and you certainly won’t rest without it. There are many people out there who think that lying down for eight (or less) hours will give them their energy back later. News flash: no it doesn’t. While meditating is very good for you, sleep is better. You must ensure that you get at least 8 hours of sleep, with no interruptions.
Think that a lack of a little sleep doesn’t effect productivity? Think again. As Arianna Huffington writes in her renowned book, The Sleep Revolution, “We sacrifice sleep in the name of productivity, but ironically our loss of sleep, despite the extra hours we spend at work, adds up to 11 days of lost productivity per year per worker, or about $2,280.” Yikes.
With the above in mind, how then, can you make sure you get some proper rest? As I mentioned above, it’s a case of different strokes for different folks, but in general terms, these kinds of activities are what you’re looking for.
Even the most introverted and home-loving among you, have no excuse for this one. It’s summer and wherever you are it’s highly likely that the weather is sunny. Get yourself healthy doses of vitamin D. You’ll thank yourself for it. Go for a walk, a swim, a hike or even try out a new activity you have always wanted to, but have never got round to. Getting out and about is one of the best forms of unplugging.
Sleep on it
Central to the theme of how to rest. You know the expression “sleeping like a baby”? Well, this is the kind of sleep you need. No other form of rest is as effective. As we discussed earlier, when you’re sleeping your body repairs itself, and your brain gets vital space to grow. This allows your mind to retain and consolidate whatever information you took in during the day. Power naps – short little sleeps of between 15 to 30 minutes – can give you a boost in both energy and creativity, but nothing can replace the real thing. A good eight hours of shuteye. Every night.
I mentioned walking above as one of those activities to get yourself outside. The power of walking can be liberating for many. First off, it gets you out of that sitting or lying down mode. Blood pumps through your veins and flows into your brain. And as you wander, which takes minimum physical effort, your mind also follows suit – boosting creative thought and insight. Science eh? This means that you can come often up with creative solutions to some issues that are maybe troubling you. Or better still, have a “Eureka” moment.
There’s a very good reason why expensive spas and hotels have relaxation areas where there’s non-stop nature sounds playing. Because it’s very relaxing and helps you feel restful. It’s a scientific fact that experiencing nature is good for your body, mind and soul. As a recent study by Harvard University found, research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. I guess that’s why they call Her Mother Nature.
Are you one of these people who always complains that they don’t get enough time to hang out with their friends? Well now is your chance. Arrange to meet the people who you feel more relaxed with, and spend as much time as possible with them. This can include arranging some kind of activity together, but it could also mean simply “hanging loose”, as they say stateside. There’s nothing better than just being around someone who you feel knows you best and you can totally be yourself around. Even if it’s just cracking the same jokes you all laugh at, since you were 16 or whatever age. After all, laughter is the best medicine.
Social media detox
It’s very much a trend these days but unplugging from social media is a great thing to try. Yes, everyone will be sharing their amazing summer photos. There will be sunsets, incredible beaches, beautiful Greek islands. But try getting away from it during summer holidays and letting your minds eye drink it all in. Apps like cold turkey can help you detox and instead of scrolling through Instagram, catch up with your reading list.
Oh yes, since we’re on the topic of rest during vacation time. Make sure you use all of your allocated vacation time. Every year. Why, I hear the Japanese among you ask. Isn’t that letting down my team members? Firstly, no it isn’t. Vacation days are there for a reason. To enjoy them. And secondly, according to research done by Harvard Business Review, those who do this actually have more chances of getting promoted. So, book a vacation. And when you go, do not under any circumstances do any work.
Summer sign off
You see, the conundrum of how to rest then is, essentially, very simple. And more than anything, I hope that you too can rest easy after reading this. The kind of guilt-free, sand-between-your-toes rest that everyone should enjoy in summer. Or at any other vacation period of the year for that matter.
Why? Because if even bankers like John Lubbock know how to rest, then there’s hope for the rest of us. So, as I sign this off getting ready to board a ferry to the Greek island of Patmos and switch myself off, let me simply say this: switch off, and enjoy your rest.