Kate Mulligan, Director and Co-founder of Rest Space, the business offering resting pods to workplaces tells us about the importance of rest during work time:
What if I told you busyness is a relatively new phenomenon that came to light with the invention of the clock in the 1950s? Before this, we lived our lives to the cadence of the sun. The invention of the atomic clock enabled us to measure our time down to the nanosecond. This shifted the way we viewed our work from days and seasons to hours and minutes.
What causes the feeling of busyness? As author Oliver Burkeman puts it:
‘the sense of overwhelm arises from a mismatch – between all the things you’d like to do, or feel you ought to do, and the far smaller quantity of things you’re actually capable of doing. And the gap is widening fast.’
This translates into the world of work where often our backlogs - the things we would like to do - far expand what our teams are capable of doing and this also often involves a mismatch with what the customer wants - the things we should be doing?
We are brought up in a world that still sees the value we produce as being tightly coupled to the time we spend working. Yet most of the work we do is knowledge work where the value lies in your team’s creativity, reasoning and decision-making. This view that time working equals productivity means that we are in danger of believing that we are constantly producing value. I mean “I must be - I just worked 12 hours today.“
This perceived busyness increases our stress response. As a knock-on effect, it’s not only impacting our health and wellbeing but it is also impacting our work. The question is how is busyness leading us to build the wrong thing?
Being busy and performing is not the same thing.
3 ways busyness can impact our ability to deliver value include:
Not being outcome-focused: Often we are preoccupied with the ever-growing to-do list. We don’t take the time to see if our actions are contributing to the desired outcome. We struggle to see to the bigger picture because we are in a frenzy to work. We are output-focused not outcome-focused.
Not finishing work: Busyness may also manifest in us starting lots of things at once. This distracts our focus and ability to finish work. The more work we start the longer it takes to finish anything. You know this is the case when you feel pressure and you are constantly working but your to-do list is not going down.
Lacking capacity for learning: Learning opportunities are lost in a number of ways when we are busy. From a physical aspect; the increased stress response impacts our ability to absorb information and hinders our quality of sleep. Sleep helps us process our experiences and daily learning from the day.
From a behaviour perspective, the need to constantly be working reduces the opportunities we take to reflect on our work. When we are busy the things that go out the window quickly are the time we spend resting and learning proactively. We miss the opportunity for creating connections and external inspiration.
There is a huge opportunity cost of having a busy workforce. There is the expense of building the wrong thing, plus the chances, advantages, or momentum you lose by not building the right thing earlier.
No one sets out to build the wrong thing - considering you have access to an arsenal of tops and methods to help the team build the right thing. But these will have a limited impact if your teams do not have the mental capacity to take them on.
Building the right thing requires continuous learning from customers, industry innovations and reflection. If your teams are too busy their brains will not have the capacity to take on, process and in turn, make effective decisions based on the learnings. They may be going through the learning process but are they able to take the right direction as an outcome?
When we are busy, extra information and learning overload us. Busyness leaves us little time to process, distil and reflect on the work that we are doing.
So, why is REST a game changer?
The 4-day workweek is a great case study showing the importance of prioritising rest. It goes against our gut, it doesn’t make sense - until it does. Reducing the time your organisation is working from 5 days a week to 4 days a week should surely reduce outcomes. Yet time and time again we are shown it increases company outcomes. What are your staff doing with this extra time - they are sleeping more. They have more downtime to rest. Making them produce better quality work more in line with the company’s goals. It enables them to stop being busy and instead focus on the most important things.
There are 7 types of rest, and most of them have a positive impact on creativity, relationships and decision-making as they give our minds space. This space is a powerful and needed tool to process the information we absorb and play out scenarios that inform our subconscious decision-making processes. I will focus on rest in the form of naps as it is the area most with the most opportunity to impact our teams.
Creativity and innovation
At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, creativity is dying. The conscious is what you’re currently giving your attention to, the unconscious is everything else in the background that doesn’t have your attention.
It’s estimated around 95 percent of your creativity, comes from this unconscious side and these two parts are in a constant state of interplay.
Now here’s the interesting bit. Short sessions of napping seem to train the mind to “walk” between the conscious and unconscious more often, therefore improving the interplay.
When we nap our brain makes connections to previous learnings and experiences our waking brains are not able to make. It can also able to play out scenarios in abstract ways with this information.
Napping is a powerful tool for creativity and innovation.
Dr Christopher M. Barnes has done some amazing work showing how being well-rested plays a part in your ability as a leader to build and maintain relationships and motivate people.
When we become tired, we are more likely to be irritable and tense which intern decreases our ability to read someone else’s emotions, which can result in unwanted tension within the workplace.
A study looking at the sleep of 40 managers and 120 of the direct reports found that sleep-deprived leaders were more impatient, irritable, and antagonistic, which resulted in worse relationships. It was expected that this effect would diminish over time as people got to know each other, but it did not. Sleep deprivation was just as damaging at the end of the three months as it was at the beginning. However, the leaders were completely unaware of the negative dynamic.
Rest can also improve your ability to inspire and motivate those around you. A 2016 study has shown that when leaders evince positive emotion, subordinates feel good and perceive the bosses as charismatic. If we don’t get enough sleep, we’re less likely to feel positive and less able to manage or fake our moods.
Decision-making and Quality
“Making a small number of key decisions well is more important than making a large number of decisions” - Jeff Bazos
If you shortchange your sleep, you might get a couple of extra ‘productive’ hours, but that productivity might be an illusion.” Even worse, you may be making the wrong decisions.
Tiredness leads to impulsiveness, which can result in poor decisions and increased frustration. Allowing your employees to take a nap throughout the day will ensure that they are better able to deal with the day-to-day issues of work.
So what does science say? Imagine self-control as a resource. A lack of sleep depletes your self-control so the less you sleep the worse you become at filtering the prejudices that you know are wrong.
One study showed that participants who were sleep-deprived were more likely to think they were right when they were, in fact, wrong. - I am sure we have all witnessed these scenarios
We can all think of scenarios where the right decisions have had a fundamental impact not only on the end results but the time it took to achieve them.
4 ideas on how to instil a culture of rest:
Practice it yourself - respect your rhythms, schedule in rest
Talk about it - leadership impacts employee sleep habits, stop talking about being busy. Stop sending emails out of hours and start positively talking about rest.
Measure the right things
Measure outcomes, not outputs. If you are measuring outputs it leads to a spiral of the more I produce the better I am at my job. A great example is measuring how many features a teaching team produces, this incentives them to produce more features instead of coming up with quality features that customers will actually use.
Make the mental time for rest - break work down
Visualise and break the work down. Having a small manageable work with a clear outcome will give your team’s natural points for taking breaks as they complete the work. It will also give them an opportunity to reflect on the work regularly and improve before they get stuck into the next chunk of work.
Provide the space, physical offices, virtual no meeting times
Giving your team physical space is another. Having a space to get a quick nap, meditate or sensory break is the second challenge. Many organisations do not have spaces that provide privacy, noise reduction, and light reduction for people to rest. If there is nowhere to rest your teams won’t be able to tap into this amazing performance enhancer.
Imagine a happy workforce that has the empathy connected to their customers and colleagues, has the capacity to absorb new learnings, has the time to dream up innovations and the confidence to fail and pivot.
Companies are a reflection of the people that work for them. They achieve what our people enable them to achieve. Rest is a fundamental ingredient to achieving outstanding results but it is the first thing that goes out the window in our pursuit to be busy. Shift your culture to prioritise rest - It’s a game changer!
Convinced that rest is the way forward? Find out more about Rest Space and its product here.