The secret to better productivity and success is doing less. It’s true. Creating the space to do nothing in particular more often than not provides an opening for new ideas, inspiration and clarity, says therapist and life coach Lisa Wood. Here she explains how doing less can make you more successful and more productive in your career and all areas of your life.

As a society, we all appear driven to do more and it’s reached a point where many of us forgo sleep in order to complete everything on our daily to-do lists. I get it. It even briefly occurred to me to try it. But a recent survey of employees at Willis Towers Watson revealed that lack of sleep reduces self-reported productivity, which may explain why UK productivity is falling on the whole. And it’s no surprise. Our timetables are so full there’s just no space left to rest. And, perhaps it’s no coincidence that anxiety is also widely reported to be on the increase – even for the most resilient among us, our brains need rest.

Rest is good for productivity

In his book Rest: Why you get more done when you work less, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang cites the examples of remarkable individuals, such as Darwin and Dickens, who worked only 4 hours a day on average, often in the mornings. Afternoons were spent walking, napping and socialising – and they were pretty successful people! He also reveals that research on deliberate practice, (the study that says that if you practice for 10,000 hours you’ll become expert) contains a less quoted result that those who are most successful at deliberate practice are those who also deliberately rest. In fact, for every 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, there is an optimum 15,000 hours of deliberate rest and 30,000 hours of sleep.

The balance between doing and being

Doing less clearly has advantages. In The Game of Life and Living, psychologist, George Pransky describes achievement as purely an aspect of the ‘game’ of life – it’s how we test and stretch ourselves. But, games are won or lost and then forgotten, which is why regardless of what we achieve, the sense of victory that follows rarely lasts. What Pransky points to as being more important than playing the game of life, is something deeper, quieter and more lasting – our mindfulness and sense of being alive. This is where we go when we rest.

how to rest for success
Contrary to popular belief, rest is the secret to success

How to rest

Sadly, many of us are out of practice when it comes to resting. As technology has evolved, something important seems to have gone astray and opportunities for incidental relaxation have become rare. It’s not often we sit around an open fire and gaze into the flames or take the scenic route through nature to get from A to B. Something has been lost: a context of peace and connectivity that we can fall into whenever there is a spare moment. Even spare moments are in short supply. This means that if we want to rest our minds today, we have to create our own opportunities – we have to timetable rest.

Take inaction!

So consider this article your call to inaction! Give yourself scheduled downtime, try working four hours a day (if your work format allows), take a risk and play with your schedule and experiment with different forms of rest to discover which works best for you. In her iconic book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggests scheduling in a weekly date with ourselves to do whatever we feel drawn to: whether that’s a solo trip to the beach, a museum or a film. Just do what you need to do to nourish your whole being through play.

Rest is a right brain activity

But here’s a little warning: to really benefit from this you’ll have to embrace the uneasy feeling of resting when you could be busy ‘doing’. And remember that it’s hard to do nothing in particular with intent. Rest is a fluid activity that is most effective when left to unfold, so let go and dive in. I promise you that a whole world of experience awaits, and you might find you start achieving more in life too.

About the author

Lisa Wood

Lisa Wood

Lisa Wood is a Harley Street therapist and transformative coach. Specialising in the field of stress and anxiety she also runs regular meditations and events for the Soho House group. Other clients include ALRA and Mulberry.

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