Andrew Huth

June 14, 2021

Time Off

Time Off, by John Fitch, Max Frenzel, and Mariya Suzuki, is about using the right kinds of rest to improve creative or knowledge work. Busyness and working more hours isn't the best path to great work. Working sustainably and setting up your life to make new connections is.

The key insights for me were

  • You need a rest ethic along with your work ethic. Work ethic is coordinating, executing, managing, and getting things done. Rest ethic is inspiration, ideas, and recovery. They're two sides of the same coin, and you need both. Your rest ethic isn't just taking a day off - it's how you spend your time.

  • Leisure is active. Good rest, which the book calls "noble" leisure, isn't passivity or just relaxation. It's an integral part of your work process, where critical breakthroughs are reached while searching for meaning (not purpose). The 4 major parts of leisure are relaxation (allowing your mind to wind down), control (deciding how to spend your time), mastery (being challenged enough to get into a flow state), and detachment (being so absorbed you forget about work).

  • Use slow-motion multi-tasking. Rather than pursue projects or passions in isolation, let them freely interfere with each other. Let them overlap and focus on excellence in their commonalities. One way to do this is with slow-motion multi-tasking. Keep your attention undivided in the minutes, hours, and (maybe) days. But seek variety in the weeks, months, and years. Or if you're overwhelmed with all the tasks you have, slow down and give each one a dedicated day on your calendar. And if you're focusing on one thing but feel stuck, switch to another project, or elevate a hobby or side project into something bigger that deserves its own dedicated time.

  • Some famous dudes had interesting work habits. Apparently Charles Darwin worked 3 90-minute sessions per day. The rest of his time was spent going on long walks and napping. And Henri Poincaré worked 10am-12pm and 5pm-7pm. Four hours per day is all we need to do great work, if genuinely focused and spent on the right things.

  • Defend your rest time. Even if we recognize the importance of rest, it won't magically materialize. We must claim our right to it and defend space for it. One way to do that is by establishing habits and practices, such as deciding in advance when to stop (apparently Ernest Hemingway would stop mid-sentence at his stopping time). Stop-work rituals can also help, such as writing down to-dos, reflecting on your day, or watering your plants.

    Also, the next time someone tries to add busywork to your to-do list, ask yourself if there's a way to make the person do the work themselves. You'll benefit from building a reputation that stops people from distracting you with meaningless tasks.

Overall, I enjoyed Time Off. It's long, and covers much more than this summary. It's full of actionable ideas, and I highly recommend it 👍.