Book Review: Rest

As you might remember from the last book reviews, I am on the quest for a better life in a digital age. I have tried reducing exposure to screens, but in Make Time, I came across more than just the allure of ‘infinity pools’ like the Internet. I was introduced to the concept of the ‘busy bandwagon’. The fact that your success is measured in how ‘busy’ you are or appear to be. The more I think about it, the more disgusted I am by it. I am sick of all the people around me being proud of their business – because obviously, how busy you are shows how successful you are, right? – and I could throw up at myself for answering ‘busy’ to every innocent ‘How are you?’. Since when has the standard answer to ‘How are you?’ changed from ‘good’ to ‘busy’?

 

Jumping off the busy bandwagon

Anyways, in my quest for a better life, I now try to find a way of jumping off the ‘busy bandwagon’. In Make Time, a few simple steps are already mentioned. Things like not answering email straightaway but rather in batches, not being constantly available, making time for family and so on. But there is more to it than just ‘changing how we work’. Because, after all, working constantly is what I am trying to avoid. So thinking about how to work more efficiently is not the right way to do it.

This is why today, I wanted to give a review of another book I recently came across. Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, NY 2016. Also check out the website: http://www.deliberate.rest/

Overwork is the new normal. Rest is something to do when the important things are done – but they are never done. 

 

Introducing ‘deliberate rest’

Rest isn’t primarily a book about productivity, that would be contradictory. It is a book which argues that (deliberate) rest is not just a by-product of being human, a necessary obligation to be reduced to a minimum. No, it is an enabler of creativity which is, after all, what we really want to achieve. Being ‘productive’ doing ‘superficial’ work does not create value. (Yes, I remember I still owe you the Deep Work review). What we really mean when we say we strive for productivity is: unique creative and valubable output.

I began to wonder if our productivity had as much to do with the pace of our lives as the place we lived. I started to think that maybe our familiar ways of working and living, and our unquestioned assumptions about our need to stay always connected […] to treat weekends as a time to catch up on work […] don’t work as well as we think. […] Today’s leaders treat stress and overwork as a badge of honour, brag about how little they sleep and how few vacation days they take and have their reputations as workaholics carefully tended by [PR. …] They remind us that the working lives of even the most powerful people unfold in an environment saturated with unquestioned assumptions about the virtue and inescapable necessity of constant work. Whether we embrace the idea that overwork is essential for productivity and creativity or reject it, we all are defined by it.

In the last few years, there has been a growing interest in the habits of successful people. They have mostly been analyzed to see how those people work, how they are productive. Rest does the same. This particular book, however, notes how it is striking that all those creative geniuses mostly didn’t do more than 4 hours per day of what we would consider their most important work. Often, this had previously been judged as ‘Oh, they are so capable that they succeeded despite all their off-time’. Rest asks whether this might not have been the other way around: They weren’t successful despite the copious amounts of rest, but because of it.

I have come to see our respect for overwork as […] intellectually lazy. Measuring time is litterally the easiest way to assess someone’s dedication and productivity. It’s also very unreliable.

Rest is more than just the mere absence of work. It is not an inconvenience. Leisure nowadays is seen as a luxury to be consumed and shared publicly on Instagram, at best, and at worst, the negation of all our values surrounding success (willingness ‘to go the extra mile’, etc.) With workaholics, it can easily happen that we don’t even really exist outside of work. I think many people who are considererd ‘successful’ in Academia do not have a life or even a self outside of work.

 

8 ways to work better using ‘deliberate rest’

As we become ‘more productive’, we work longer hours. […] You cannot work well without resting well.

  1. You are capable of no more than (max.) 4 hours of ‘real’ creative work per day. This is also the generally accepted amount from the 10.000h rule study and the ‘deliberate practice’ and ‘deep work’ movements. Of course, you’ll need to do some low value work which takes up a lot of the time every once in a while. But think about this the next time you’re about to work overtime. Do you really think this is going to yield quality output or could you do that night’s work in half an hour when well rested in the morning?
  2. Add walks or naps to recharge. A short walk will heighten your ability for creative work for multiple hours afterwards. So it’s not necessary to walk while thinking. But walking and creative thought are related.
  3. Have a morning routine where you get the most important task done for 1-2h. Regularity generates creative output. Routine is also a necessary step to protect rest from the invading work demands.
  4. Sleep enough.
  5. Take regular breaks.
  6. Stop work in a good moment when you still have energy left. Many know this rule as ‘leave one in the bar’. Stop before you’re tired. And, if possible, in a good place to continue for the next day.
  7. Exercise, deep play, sabbaticals. Hobbies, like playing music, allow you to detach emotionally from work. The way we spend our off-time determines how effective we are when at work. Rest even cites a long-term study on which academic careers succeed and which ones don’t. Most of the exceptionally successful scientists intensively engaged in sports and active rest, some even did climbing 😉 While according to a study, low achievers tried to get better at work by doing more work, the ones who really ended up successful were busy with “deep play”.
  8. Not taking time off creates exhaustion (emotional and physical) and has long term health risks. Take vacations. I actually don’t get how anyone can get along with 5 weeks of holiday per year. If I’m honest and wanted optimal productivty for myself, I would need at least two weeks off at least every three months. Not that it’s possible. But when I secluded myself in the south of France last Christmas for two weeks, that was one of the most productive and mind-clearing experiences I’ve had in a long time. People in Academia should be allowed to go on “writing escapes” to get their writing done. Maybe (hopefully) my upcoming fellowship this summer will have the same effect.

Vacations are like sleep. They need to be taken regularly to be effective.

The book isn’t super long. The audiobook lasts only 7 hours. Many of the tips don’t go deeper than what’s included in the summary here, except for lots of examples. But it mentions climbing as an activity for active rest. So yay for that. And examples might be helpful to you. If you feel that overwork and not resting enough is an issue for you, the book will definitely be interesting to you.

Best,

Sarah

The archaeologist and the languages

Just make a guess: How many languages have I learned in the name of research and archaeology?
I am not talking about Latin and Ancient Greek, or any other dead language or script, like Linear B (okay, yes, actually this is just a funny syllabary of a somehow early Greek dialect) or cuneiform scripts …

Next to English it is Italian, a very poor amount of French, a not that poor but still minimal form of Spanish, slowly increasing amounts of Dutch, and very few nearly forgotten phrases of Turkish.

English is the language I am using regularly and often enough to keep it fluent. My Italian is good, but since my Italian speaking grandfather died, I have no-one left to regularly talk with. And you know how things are with languages you never speak… It’s like a plant without water. So, I try to keep my Italian plant watered with books and films and sometimes I speak to myself.

My Dutch is still in a phase of beginning (actually, I am just preparing my first presentation for my final exam – okay, I should prepare it, I will do it, just after finishing this blogpost!). And now… Why am I learning Dutch?

At least, English is one of the big main world languages, so, there is a reason. Italian – very clear for me, since there was family involved with. But Dutch? In Austria? You might have guessed it: It was for the sake of archaeological research. I had to cope with some Dutch articles and books on our project concerning Celtic divine names on Roman inscriptions in the provine Germania Inferior. There are some deities – it’s very often just their names found on inscriptions, so we have not always an idea what kind of deity. But there are some Inscriptions from the Netherlands and back in the 1970s no-one thought of publishing in English all the way. So, that is the reason why I am learning Dutch. And yes: It is a very funny language, too. 🙂

I have to admit, I am desperatly lost with French – but thank to God, Sarah is not only Latinist by training, she is also a trained French teacher and she can help me with my great task of learning French for academic purpose, meaning reading publications on my material and maybe someday arguing with French colleagues about my views on the material.

I have talked about my language endboss with another colleguae and she is also struggling with French – that is why we will try another way learning it, the two us together this summer.  And Sarah will help us out. 😉

Actually, French is a very important language, if you are working as an archaeologist in the Roman provinces. That means I really should learn some French. At least enough to speak with colleagues and read some papers or listen to talks. I tried it with some courses on University, but that was not a good idea – for the teachers sucked and the courses were incredibly boring.

And that leaves me with my next slightly doomed language experiment for the sake of research: Turkish. I had great ambitions and wanted to go to an excavation to Turkey and I prepared some language skills – this time the courses at University were quite cool and interesting and we had a really good teacher. But you cannot always have your will and I did not get the opportunity to go to Turkey. So, I have done two years of language courses in Turkish, but now, about 6 years later, nothing is left of my skills. You remember the plant at the beginning. My Turkish plant is nearly gone.

My last language: Spanish. Another family matter, because my sister-in-law-to-be-someday married a Mexican, so… yes. Spanish. I took the Langenscheidt version of getting along with Spanish in 30 days. I got to Day 25, but then I was overwhelmed, not because of grammar or just impressions – because of the vocabularies… I just had not the time to learn them in the right way. So, I will just begin again, I think in July. 😉 Never give up on language plants you have to water because of family concerns. 🙂

It is true, you cannot be fluent in every language and if you wish to be fluent in two or three, you have to work hard for it, because you have always to practice a language – you have to keep watering your plant.

Languages are a MUST for the Humanities.
I am very sure that none of my language lessons was in vain – sooner or later I will need them and then will find my vocabularies in a very hidden place of my brain by practicing them again. I love languages and this is one huge advantage when studying any subject of the Humanities. At least, I think so. You need English for sure, because you have to and should present on international conferences. As Sarah said once, another foreign language you are able to present in cannoth be that wrong, so … This is my plan. I want to do it in Italian, if there will be the possibility. Well, I am not sure, if I can talk on any acaemic subject in Italian without anything written down like I can in English, but hey, you can write your presentation down and read it, right? I mean, you are not a native but you have the guts to stand onstage and just do it anyway. I think that a lot of people will be very impressed by that.

Languages open up the ways to travelling new countries and experiencing new cultures.
Never ever underestimate that fact. It won’t hurt you to say some phrases in the mother tongue of business partners, colleguaes from your field, waiters in a restaurant on holidays (my mum always says that the most important things in a foreign language are to know how to order food and drinks, and she is damn right about that), taxi drivers on your way from the airport, … just try it.

So, how many languages have you learned? Are you fluent in more than one language? How do you learn languages the best way?

I hope you enjoyed this little field trip through my language brain – 🙂

Astrid

The Digital Minimalism Experiment: Conclusion

We’re all distracted by our digital devices. I wanted to see if I could adopt some ideas from Digital Minimalism and Make Time and I kept you up to date, too. Now, I wanted to sum it all up because the experiment is over. In a good way: I stuck with my new reduced digital life and am better off for it. It’s time for me to move on to another project. This post sums up the biggest takeaways.

Auto-unplug the internet in the evenings using a timer plug

If you want to get unstuck fast: Get a timer plug for your router. Make it switch off the internet early in the morning, so you don’t check it as the first thing you do after waking up and all evening.

Reduce TV / streaming to a minimum to free up time lost

The internet plug trick made it easy for me to stick with my new rule of max. 2 episodes of a series / 1 film per week. Since there is no internet after 19:00, I spent my evenings doing something else. This transition was super easy, I don’t miss anything and I wouldn’t go back. I have had a lot more time for reading, exercise, (cooking and) eating well, and getting a good night’s sleep. As a nice side effect, not being able to access digital devices in the evenings made me lose the habit of constantly checking something and I subsequently found it easier to reduce my phone checking in the daytime.

Get a dumb phone 

If you’re ready to give it your all: get a dumb phone. But switching off mobile data by default and only switching it back on when you really need it already helped me reduce compulsive phone checking.

Reduce social media and don’t scroll

Check social media as little as possible (as little as once per day or per week). Don’t use social media on the mobile device you carry around but rather on a computer which is less instantly-accessible. Don’t scroll so you don’t fall victim to the “infinity pools” of constantly refreshing distraction.

You don’t have to completely give up on anything if you don’t want to

To sum it all up: I had to give up on none of my digital habits. I just changed the default to “not using XY” compared to “constantly using XY” from before.

Have replacement activities

But in order for this to work, you need to have things to do instead at the ready. Like for me, I mostly go climbing now, read a book or go to bed early. This works surprisingly well.

Plan for analogue quality social interaction

Make sure to set up an analogue social life so you don’t suffer from some sort of social media withdrawal symptoms. Focus on planning quality time with people who are really worth your time.

Conclusion

As a conclusion, I thought of something last week: This experiment was great and I prefer my ‘new life’. But at the same time, better digital habits are not a cure-all. On their own, they will not make you happy nor will they take care of your overcommitment-induced stress. This is another issue you need to tackle and it might well be the next focus for me.

I’ll keep you posted.

Best,

Sarah

The “D”- and the “H”-part

It was a post of my dear LaTeX ninja, talking about the pros and cons (okay, basically the pros) of one getting started doing Digital Humanities (you can find the original post here). I just flipped through it, until the following sentences:

Because the whole point of DH is that you’re not either a programmer XOR a Humanities scholar. It’s the combination of both. Most people see that combination as some sort of 30/70 or 40/60 kind of thing. I think it has to be 100/100. And yes, that means you’ll have to be a freak with a 200% workload. I’m pretty alone with this opinion, however, so don’t panic. Most people don’t see it like that at all.  I’m generally a bit of an eccentric and maybe some might perceive my opinion to be extreme. Well, sorry, but I like extreme. I think that “real DH” should mean 200%, or even better: 300%. 150% programmer and 150% Humanities. Be hardcore at both. At least that’s my personal goal.

So, I learnt that she is somehow extreme and liking it, what I actually always thought about her, and I learnt that 100/100 is a quite ambitious goal. And then I started thinking about myself and my abilities in DH. I splitted it up, there is an “D”-part and an “H”-part. So, I would like to start with my “H”-part, meaning the humanities, basically Archaeology and Classics. I am archaeologist by training, as well as ancient historian. I sometimes like my description of myself as an archaeologist with “special features”. You know, coming from a field dealing with images, but also able to read ancient sources (well, of course, all my colleagues are able to read, but I discovered that many historians and philologists keep thinking that an archaeologist just does not use written sources –  or at least, in the wrong way).

But my special features are not just my “reading skills” all alone. I did some courses in linguistics and in geomatic engineering as well, some workshops on digital methods in the humanities, …

So, if the “H”-part, meaning my archaeology-me by training, is 100%, because I have a degree and doing my PhD, then how does my “D”-part look like?

My first tries with SFM – I worked with freeware and was amazed by the quality. Here you can see a relief side of a sarkophagus with some holes, because my photos were not that good.

I told Sarah that my “D” part is about 24.6%. The workshop on Digital and Practical Epigraphy in London (click here to read the whole post) increased my knowledge about 4.2% (don’t get me wrong, it was a 100% success, but a 100% in my “D”-part are standing for a degree, so I had to convert it). So, we are located at 28.8% by now. The moment I can run my first Python scripts in a way the are meant to run and work out, I think, my rating will increase up to 36.9%. 🙂 Cheers to that, I think.  I am convinced that this is a great number, for the sum of 3 and 6 is 9… Isn’t that beautiful? Okay, enough with the maths.

Then I thought about which part is more important to me. Basically, this is like the question, if I like bones or late antique Church Fathers the most. I cannot decide, so it is quite unfair. I need both parts, never mind how much percent they have. I am convinced that my archaeology-part is sometimes at 120%, 20% are just crazy happiness, e.g. because I am allowed to take photos in a museum on monday (so, when all museums are normally closed and it is just me and the artefacts). Sometimes ist about 84,7%, because I am that exhausted after a very concentrated climbing session or my fitness workout. My “D”-part is like a static shadow behind my the “H”-part, smiling on the archaeology-me playing with bones or being fascinated by stones. The “D”-part does perfectly know that its whole existence is mainly about my archaeology-me letting it be. So maybe the “H”-part is first place in a hierachical structure. The “D”-part comes second and is caused by the “H”-part. Does sound like some kind of splitted personality, am I right? (Just a reminder: Yes, we are all crazy here, trust the Hatter, I tell you that).

My photos are better, my knowledge of the software has increased. But still, there are a lot of “mysteries” for a happy noob like me. And I like mysteries. 🙂

So, if I had never ever found the idea of being able to do SFM and 3D-stuff fascinating, if I had never ever the interest in photography, I would never ever have ended up this way. I am a trained archaeologist, capable of mastering the “H”, and a proud and happy noob, dealing with and experiencing the “D”, while learning on the job. I think, this is a very good mixture.

What about you? What is your “D” to “H” ratio? How are you working on yourself and your skills?

All the best,

Astrid (currently 28.8%/105% – because I could post some of my screenshots of my SFM-journey…) 🙂