Rest

I recently finished reading Rest and enjoyed it.

It talks about how to get more done by choosing what you do outside of work (walks, retreats, side projects, exercise, etc). This can lead to new ideas or increased energy that improve your work. It sounds like such a simple and obvious idea, but somehow hearing it in this form helped me.

The author looks at famous people in history and how they rested (Alan Turing’s long walks when working on the enigma computer, Eisenhower and Churchill’s retreats and naps respectively during World War II, and Bill Gates’ isolated “think weeks” in a remote cabin while he was CEO at Microsoft).

It also dives into some academic papers, so it’s not just anecdotal evidence. For example, I enjoyed hearing about the study comparing people’s ability to solve creative problems while seated, walking, or in nature. (Spoiler: walking produces the best results, and when researchers want test subjects to experience nature without walking they take you outside in a wheelchair!).

A few key points from the book:

  • Rest is active
    Rest is very different from idleness. You may be running marathons, climbing mountains, reading/painting/traveling/welding/coding for 12 hours a day. But if it is different from your normal work, it is rest, giving your subconscious mind time to think.
  • Rest is a skill
    Top performers think consciously about periods of rest, and constantly seek to improve in this area. It’s not uncommon to see Silicon Valley employees and entrepreneurs burn out. This skillset isn’t talked about much, yet it is essential to success. Being busy isn’t a good excuse to avoid rest — most successful people are busy, and that is when the rest skillset becomes most important (how Winston Churchill rested during WWII was more important than in peacetime).
  • Four Hours Per Day
    The research suggests that you have about four hours (broken into two chunks) in any given day to do the intense, focused, creative, “real” work of your job. You can fill the rest of your day by reading email, chatting with co-workers, or other sorts of lightweight tasks, but most people can only sustainably produce creative work for those four hours, and the quality declines after that. To me, this underscored the importance of guarding these four hours preciously (avoiding interruptions, checking Slack/email every 10 minutes, push notifications, shoulder taps, etc).

Some ways to build rest into your regular life:

  • Walking 1:1 meetings
  • Take a walk by yourself for an hour with no agenda other than to think on particular problem
  • Build regular exercise into your week
  • Have hobbies or creative endeavors outside of work
  • Block off your golden “four hours” at a certain time every day without interruptions
  • Take regular shorter breaks to recharge (once a quarter)
  • 1-4 week sabbaticals at milestones where burnout can happen (2–4 years into a project)

Pay attention to whether it’s better for you to be around certain people, or by yourself, during rest, and how disconnecting technology (push notifications, etc) impacts the quality of your rest.

I’ve see so much material out there about work, it feels like the other side of the coin, rest, has often been overlooked. Thank you to the author, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, for exploring this subject, and to Ooshma Garg for recommending the book.

Most projects that change the world take at least 10 years, so practicing the rest skillset feels important for anyone who wants to have an impact. At Coinbase, our mission is to create an open financial system for the world. I knew before tackling this project it would be at least 10 years before we started to see the sort of impact I wanted (we’re about 5 years in now, and seeing major signs of progress — so roughly on track). Please read more about our culture, mission, and open roles here.