As summer approaches, here's some good news – rest more, work less and get more done

Brook Mitchell /Getty ImagesPhoto by Brook Mitchell /Getty Images

The football season is finished for AFL fans and following the NRL grand final this weekend winter sport will officially be behind us and the focus turns to spring racing, cricket, and the beach.

It’s these lazy days of summer that I often hear about from overseas workers who move to Australia and marvel at how little actual work gets done for months as Australians enjoy the relaxation that is the summer sun.

But it seems this period of relaxation and rest, which is such a right of passage in Australia, might actually be the restorative factor that allows us to work hard and has helped the economy keeping rolling on without a recession for the best part of three decades.

In the introduction to his book “Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less,” Alex Pang, a researcher at the Silicon Valley think tank Institute for the Future, said “many of us are interested in how to work better, but we don’t think very much about how to rest better”.

Pang said, “we think of rest as simply the absence of work, not something that stands on its own or has its own qualities”. That’s problematic he said because it seems many of us view rest as “merely a negative space in life defined by toil ambition and accomplishment”.

That’s going to be particularly poignant for many Australians who live in the big cities, commute hours to work to a job that helps pay for the essentials in life and an extraordinarily large mortgage.

No work means no mortgage, no house, no way to build family wealth. Building wealth is the Australian dream in the 21st century, not the house as it used to be a generation or two ago.

So perhaps many Australians don’t – as Pang suggested – define ourselves by our work. But we certainly define ourselves by our house, or unit, or inability to get a foot on even the lowest rung of the property ladder.

Indeed, Pang said, “if your work is your self, when you cease to work, you cease to exist”. This is not healthy and not something many Australians would identify with. But if you switch out work for house, you can see the corollary for Australians.

And this means we need our rest because otherwise we are going to burn out, either physically, emotionally, or both.

Pang said that some of the world’s most creative people worked this out and used the restorative properties of rest to “restore their energy while allowing their muse, the mysterious part of their minds that helps drive the creative process, to keep going”.

I myself – one holiday in Yamba in the early days of the global financial crisis (GFC) – had the time to sit on the beach and on the couch to read David Hackett Fischer’s “Great Wave – Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History”. Sure, it was a history of inflation, but it was also coincidentally a history of the economy and banking crises for 800 years.

It set me up perfectly as treasurer of a small bank to manage the balance sheet and navigate my part in the P&L through the GFC in such a way as we made money.

All simply because I took the time to rest, relax, restore, and read.

Likewise, Pang gives the example of how US Generals including Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton used the relative calm of peace time between the wars to “pause, to dive deep into subjects they couldn’t investigate during busier times, to question how to organise a modern military, and lay the foundations for a more professional army”.

We all know the results of that in the subsequent victories battles and campaigns of World War II.

So as the Australian economy gets more difficult to navigate, as our lives get busier, the message is embrace the lazy days of summer, use them to de-stress and recharge, because without them you’ll be less productive, less creative, and ultimately less happy.

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