Work Hard, Rest Harder


“[World-class performance] comes after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, 12,500 hours or deliberate rest, and 30,000 hours of sleep.” If you haven’t read the book, check out this excerpt from Alex Soojung-Kim Pong’s excellent REST: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, which addresses deep work, deliberate practice, and—as the title suggests—the importance of taking deliberate rest breaks, all topics I’ve touched on previously in the morning shakeout (here and here if you missed ’em the first time around). What’s great about this book is that it doesn’t discount putting in the time necessary to achieve success in a given field; rather, it acknowledges the importance of working hard while emphasizing that hard work is focused work that needs to be supported by an appropriate amount of rest to truly be effective. This applies to creative folks such as writers and musicians but also scientists, business leaders, politicians and—although not addressed in the book—athletes (especially runners)! In a world where those who do more are celebrated for the mere fact that they’re doing more than everyone else, this read is a good and necessary reminder that it’s not about how many hours you work or the number of miles you run in a week—it’s what you do with those hours (or miles) and how you rest your mind and body when you’re not working (or training) so you can absorb and take advantage of the work you’re putting in. “Deliberate practice is an effortful activity that can only be sustained for a limited time each day,” wrote Karl Anders Ericsson in a study of violin students Soojung-Kim Pong references in the excerpt (the same study Malcolm Gladwell based his 10,000 “rule” on in the book, Outliers).

Given that, knowing when to rest—whether it’s as an employee or as an athlete—is a key to optimizing performance. A rest day isn’t a punishment from your coach, just as stepping away from your work doesn’t show a lack of commitment to the task at hand. If you’re working hard enough, rest is going to be necessary in order to recharge, reboot and stay on track—especially when frustration sets in and progress has stalled. “Deliberate practice isn’t a lot of fun, and it’s not immediately profitable,” Soojung-Kim Pong writes. “There’s little that’s inherently or immediately pleasurable in deliberate practice, so you need a strong sense that these long hours will pay off, and that you’re not just improving your career prospects but also crafting a professional and personal identity.” Or in the words of Ed Whitlock, who I wrote about in Issue 70, “training is kind of a drudge.”


This post first appeared in the morning shakeout, my weekly email newsletter covering running, media and other topics that interest me. If you’d like for it to land in your inbox first thing on Tuesday mornings, subscribe here.

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