How to Rest and Be More Productive


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Rest is only for losers, they say. For years, I took this as truth! I criticized my colleagues as being lazy as they would get away from their computers almost every hour. 

But what if I am wrong? What if rest, done right, could help us innovate and increase our productivity

What if all the research about rest is valid?

I am still learning how to rest. I know it sounds crazy, but after reading all the books on the topic, and the experience I get from practicing meditation, mindfulness, digital minimalism, and essentialism, I’m convinced that most people (myself included) did it wrong. 

We need to do it a lot better to be able to enjoy rest more profoundly and feel more restored. It’s essential to learn to rest well. 

Again, I’m still learning but will share with you all that I know to help you understand rest better, why you should take it seriously, and how you can rest and get things done better. 

Let’s dive in.

The Paradox of Rest: What It Is NOT

paradox of rest

When we think of rest, sleeping, relaxing and doing nothing are the first that come to mind. But, the truth is this. “Even sleeping isn’t restful for the person who can’t rest when they’re awake,” according to Psychcentral.

To understand what rest is not, let’s begin by finding out what it is:

Lexico defines rest as “ceasing work or movement to relax, sleep, or recover strength.” According to Merriam-Webster, rest means “freedom from activity or labor or a state of motionlessness or inactivity.” Cambridge Dictionary refers to rest as “a period in which you relax, do not do anything active, or sleep.”

So, rest means stopping work or activity to relax and restore your energy. 

playing with phone is not rest

It is NOT:

  • scrolling endlessly through social media feeds, 
  • chatting nonstop on your favorite communication apps,
  • reading your favorite blogs, nor 
  • any other favorite digital distractions.

These stop you from doing work or activity, but they do not provide the relaxation and recovery that you need from a rest. 

Why Should You Take Rest Seriously? 

rest listening to music

I grew up believing that rest is for lazy people, so for almost four decades of my life, I would feel guilty or even anxious when I rested. But, the more I learn about rest, the more compelled I feel to learn to rest better.

5 Reasons for Making Rest Part of Your Work and Life

Overwork is overrated. According to Dr. Alex Pang, the author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, research showed that working long hours drove productivity down, not up. Overwork affects your ability to make sound decisions and absorb and make sense of information. In the long run, it causes burnout, chronic diseases, and dementia later in life. 

It even kills. Japan describes this phenomenon as Karoshi, meaning “overwork death.” According to Japan’s Labour Ministry, there are two types of karoshi. One is death due to cardiovascular illness linked to overwork. The other is if the person commits suicide due to work-related mental stress.

Rest lets you recharge and re-energize. When did you last have a good night’s sleep? Remember how you felt the next morning you rose? Or, if you want, just try breathing mindfully for only a minute by inhaling deeply and exhaling slowly. Stop and do it now. Notice the difference? Imagine how you can feel refreshed and restored if you can rest profoundly. 

It helps you work more efficiently. Notice what it feels like after working nonstop on a task for four or five hours? You can’t think straight anymore. Ideas seem to go hiding. Your brain seems to feel like an old windows computer having a hundred programs running. After taking a stroll or maybe 10 minutes of meditation, all this could change. You could even gain clarity and ideas during the rest. Research shows that when our brain is resting, it engages its “default network” to continue problem-solving, examine possibilities, and look for relevant information.

You make better decisions. When we rest, neurons fire to replay recent experiences and improve our ability to make decisions. When you get exhausted, having to make too many decisions within a short period, you experience decision fatigue. It is generally advisable to make crucial decisions early in the day because after resting, you will more likely make better decisions. 

These are only a few benefits of rest. But I hope it is enough to convince you to revisit the way you think about rest. 

How Do You Rest and Get Re-energized?

Everyone basically knows how to rest, but just like running and singing, you can learn to do it better with a little understanding and effort. 

There are many ways to rest and improve your thinking and creativity, and this is what this chapter is all about. 

Let’s get started. 

The Two Forms of Rest

Dr. Alex Pang introduced the concept of passive and active rest in his book called: Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less 

Here’s what they mean.

Passive Rest


Sleeping is a distinct form of passive rest. While specific ways of passive rest are restorative like sleeping, listening to music, and doing nothing, others could be harmful. Usually, those are our favorite distractions like playing our favorite computer games, binge-watching on Netflix, scrolling through Facebook feeds, and Instagram and Twitter, chatting on WhatsApp, Telegram, and Messenger. 

Active Rest

active rest

Examples of active rest include exercising, dancing, mountain climbing, cycling, and taking a walk outside. Others are meditation and breathing exercises; in short, physical and sensory activities that allow us to detach from work fall under the active rest category.  

Another way to understand rest is to learn these types of rest. 

The 7 Types of Rest (with Examples)

Dr. Sundra Dalton-Smith, board-certified internal medicine physician and author of Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity, reveals these seven types of rest. 

Understanding them can help us take the right rest that we need and rip the benefits. 

Let’s get started.

7 types of rest by Dr. Sundra Dalton-Smith

Physical Rest

Sleep and a nap is the most common way of physical rest. Sitting down after exercising is another. You know that you need a physical rest when you feel physically exhausted. It is easy to be aware of your need for physical rest. Your muscles get sore. You can hardly open your eyes when reading your favorite book. 

A few examples of physical rest include sleeping, napping, lying down, and getting a massage.

Mental Rest

After a long day of focused work, especially immediately after I finish my final interval, I usually find it very difficult to think straight. It feels like a brain freeze or something. I would not want to read or do anything else that requires thinking.  

Mental rest can take the following forms reading, listening to music, breathing, and having a conversation.

Sensory Rest

Eye strain, neck tension, back pain, and jaw clenching are good examples of sensory exhaustion. Staying in a room with a strong odor could also cause neural fatigue, and so could eating unbearable food and watching the screen. 

Here are a few forms of sensory rest you can take: putting aside your electronic devices, taking a walk outside, meditating, practicing mindfulness, getting a massage, eating healthy food you like, and smelling something beautiful like an aroma burner or flower.

Creative Rest

You know that you need a creative rest after long hours of deep work. It could be writing, drawing, programming. 

These are some of the things you can do to take creative rest: watching your favorite movie, reading your favorite book, meditating, taking a walk in nature, and learning to drawing or play a musical instrument.

Social Rest

Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, there are times you feel like socializing with others. Solitude is essential for deep work like writing, programming, or crafting an art. As an extrovert or a professional that requires networking, you also get tired from socializing too much. Exhaustion that comes from too much or too little socializing would be your signal for your need of social rest. 

A few ways to take a social rest could be: Hanging out with your friends and family, calling them up to say hello, joining a social club, going on a ride alone or with your bikers club, go cycling, and enjoying a night out from once in a while.

Spiritual Rest

Are you feeling lost in life? In your career? Or do you just feel tired of life altogether? Maybe you just feel ungrounded. These are signs that you need spiritual rest. 

Examples of spiritual rest include saying prayers, meditating, practicing mindfulness, visiting a church, mosque, or pagoda, listening to spiritual teachings, or just breathing.

Emotional Rest

You know that you need an emotional rest when your emotions get in the way, and you can’t seem to move forward with your day (or even life). The loss of a loved one, failure in your business or career, or a divorce, etc. put you in need of emotional rest. 

Examples of emotional rest include meditating, seeking therapies, taking a holiday, talking to someone, doing yoga, or just getting moving.

The 10 Rules of Deliberate Rest 

But what do you do to rest and be more productive? Dr. Alex Pang proposed these ten rules of deliberate rest:

10 rules of rest
  1. Take rest seriously. You don’t just rest when you finish everything else. Work won’t get done. There’s always more to do all the time. So you have to take rest seriously and do whatever you can to defend it.  
  2. Focus. Structure time for focused work. Try concentrating your morning for essential tasks and then call it a day. 
  3. Layer work and rest. Rest immediately after focused work. You can thus give your subconscious mind to discover solutions to problems that are straining your conscious efforts.
  4. Get an early start. But get rest back later in the day.
  5. Detach from work. E.g., no work email at the dinner table or during the holiday. To do your essential job well, you need time away from it.
  6. Detach from devices. Don’t let work follow you home. Put down your phone periodically. 
  7. Take a week off every three months. Dr. Pang quoted research saying that recovery hits a peak around day 8, then stays stable or declines. A vacation that lasts for two weeks does not make you happier than one that lasts just a week. The effect of vacation lasts around two months. However, if you can’t do this, just go whatever is possible for you. The only lousy holiday is the one you don’t take, he said. 
  8. Engage in productive/deep play. It’s a compelling alternative to working. 
  9. Exercise. Lots of accomplished and creative people are active, according to Dr. Pang. Sitting in a chair and looking at your screen costs you energy. The more movement you have, the better your brain can perform. There are many more benefits of exercise.
  10. Get enough restful sleep. It does not just provide physical rest but also a time of incredible mental activity. It lets your brain consolidate memories and skills and clear toxins associated with dementia later in life.   

But how about something more practical for a good rest? 

37 Practical Ways to Rest

ways to rest

Without much explanation, here are 37 I have rounded up to help you put deliberate rest to work for you. 

Just pick the one that works for you and your situation. 

  1. Exercise. Any exercise will do. It will force your body to rest after a couple of minutes. Just get moving. 
  2. Get restful sleep. Schedule your bedtime—cut the screen an hour or two before your bedtime. Wind down, reading a novel, or meditating to clear your head. Count your breaths. 
  3. Take a power nap. Treat sleep deprivation with napping. According to Sara Mednick, sleep expert and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life. 15 to 20 minutes of napping during the day will give you incredible benefits. "You reset the system and get a burst of alertness and increased motor performance," she told WebMD.
  4. Take ten deep breaths. Whenever you feel overwhelmed during your day, just pause and take ten deep breaths. It takes only a minute to do this, so please don’t tell me you don’t have time!
  5. Meditate—my favorite way to rest. I do 10 minutes. Two or three times a day. But it can take as little as a minute. Just sit straight, breathe deeply, close your eyes, and concentrate your attention on your breath.
  6. Practice mindfulness. Just be aware of your body sensations. They are signals for a need for rest or everything else that you need to get the best out of your day and life. 
  7. Engage in productive/deep play. It could be playing games like chess or crosswords, drawing, and any other types of games that require deep thinking.  
  8. Hang out with a pal. When you feel lonely, go hang out with your pal. But don’t drink! 
  9. Say prayers. They make you feel inspired. Prayers also foster calm in chaotic times. You will feel less angry and aggressive.   
  10. Take leisures. Swimming, reading, sunbathing, roller skating, sewing, knitting, drawing, singing, dancing, sightseeing, cycling, taking a stroll, etc. are just a few examples. 
  11. Read—my favorite leisure. I usually read one book in a week or two. Reading gives me wisdom, ideas, and inspiration to grow personally and professionally.
  12. Take a stroll. Don’t have space? Or there are too many dogs in your neighborhood for that? Doing it in your house can be useful also. 
  13. Take regular breaks between work intervals.  
  14. Go cycling. You can do it alone when you want personal space to rest or join a cycling club in your area if you need a social rest. 
  15. Play chess—this is a form of deep play that Dr. Alex Pang described in his book
  16. Draw—another form of deep play. 
  17. Learn something new. Make origami. Learn to say hello in all the major languages in the world—Master the tools you need for your work or business. Learn to play a musical instrument. 
  18. Sing your heart out. You don’t need a karaoke to sing. 
  19. Play music. Well, learn to play it if you don’t know how to play it.
  20. Listen to music, especially the soothing one. 
  21. Do yoga. You can do the headstand if you can. Or put your head below your heart. 
  22. Journal. Write these in the morning: 3 things you’re grateful for, three things that will make today great, one daily affirmation. In the evening, write three amazing things that happened, and what could you have done to make today even greater. 
  23. Drink warm tea, water, or milk. Coffee should work, too.
  24. Take a shower. It doesn’t have to be a warm shower! A cold shower also has incredible benefits too. 
  25. Soak in a warm bath. Or an ice bath. 
  26. Spend time alone. Not even with the phone, ok.  
  27. Stare away from the screen. Great to have green leaves. But even if you don’t have it, it is still good to just look away from your screen from time to time. 
  28. Dance. Have small kids? They will join you. 
  29. Join a club. A book club, a bike club, a cycling club, a productivity club, or even a night club will do the trick (but don’t drink too much). 
  30. Play a game like chess, crosswords, and puzzle. 
  31. Smell something nice. A flower or an aroma burner is enough to bring your mind home to your senses.  
  32. Laugh. My second boy would ask me to tickle him a couple of times a day. Why? He probably knows how to rest. 
  33. Smile. Now, this is my area for continuous improvement here. I’ve been making myself smile in front of the mirror without any reason for quite some time now. 
  34. Take a holiday. Best to be able to follow Dr. Pang’s advice and take a one-week vacation every three months. But if you can’t, any time should do. 
  35. Cut screen by 9:30 p.m. Or any other time as long as it leaves you an hour or so without a screen before you hit the hay.
  36. Turn off your devices once a week. This is something I’d like to try and will start by just disconnecting from the internet for a week or two.
  37. Detach from work. How? Are you checking your work email after work or business hours? This is something I am working on myself. At the moment, I no longer reply to emails after 9 p.m. For emails that come in after 5 p.m., I will generally turn them into tasks that I will do the next day. Learn more about how to manage email effectively.

This is in no way an ultimate list. There are endless ways to put deliberate rest to work for you if you are willing to put in a little work and learn to rest better. 

That’s it. 

Over to You

Over to you

I hope you get lots of values out of this guide to deliberate rest.

Now I’d like to turn it over to you:

What was your favorite tip from this guide? Which one will you apply to rest better?

Or maybe you have an excellent tip that you think I should add.

Let me know in the comment. 

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About the author, Y Samphy

Samphy is a facilitator, blogger, consultant, personal productivity coach, and lifelong learner. His writing and ideas here focus around productivity and self-improvement.

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