Alex Soojung-Kim Pang:
How to be more productive
Celebrated as one of Silicon Valley’s leading lateral thinkers, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang teaches overstretched managers how to work more efficiently. In this interview, the bestselling US author reveals how you can apply his do less and achieve more approach to your own working life.
THE RED BULLETIN: In your new book, Rest, you claim we achieve more by working less. How come?
ALEX SOOJUNG-KIM PANG: The key is how you organise your leisure time.
What do you mean?
Look at Charles Darwin. He wrote more than 20 books in his lifetime. Yet he routinely worked no more than four hours a day. If he was working in an office today he’d be fired, because it would seem like he wasn’t showing up. That’s because we believe there’s a direct correlation between work time and productivity.
But that would appear to be logical, wouldn’t it?
I’ve given talks about rest in many different cities all over the world. And do you know what almost all the attendees have in common?
When I ask them how they are, they answer, “I’m so busy.” We think there’s something wrong with us if we’re not overworked. It’s crazy!
But how was it different for Darwin?
If Charles Darwin wasn’t at his desk, he would go on walks for hours at a time. The same was true of Charles Dickens. He would write four hours in the morning and then go for a 10-mile walk in the afternoon. Friedrich Nietzsche said that all great philosophical ideas come in walking. Because they all discovered a relationship between their working lives and their resting lives. The two things are not competitors, but rather they’re two sides of the same coin.
How do you mean?
Neuroscience research has shown that our brain is still active even when we appear to be doing nothing. And on top of that, apparently the unconscious is even better at solving problems than the conscious! That’s why your best ideas often come to you at exactly those times you aren’t at your desk.
OK, but what if we’re not a genius? How do we have a brainwave while resting?
Obviously you’re not going to have a physics eureka moment if you’re not a physicist. You have to be intensively engaged with your area of work to stimulate your unconscious.
But working less doesn’t automatically make you more productive, does it?
Just as athletes give their muscles a work-out, resting is something you can train. But you have to make a conscious decision to rest properly.
How do you rest properly?
Start small. Set aside 10 minutes a day where you make a conscious effort not to do anything. Let your mind wander. Don’t interfere. Do it outdoors. Make a habit of it. Go for a walk every day. Take a notebook with you – so you can jot down your new ideas.
How can we organise our work-time better?
Set yourself a certain amount of work to do and then concentrate on it. Don’t let yourself get distracted.
That’s not always easy in an open-plan office…
There’s no perfect solution to that problem. It’s helpful if you have noise-reduction headphones, use empty meeting rooms or work from home some days if you can.
But how do we explain to our boss that it’s better for him if he sees less of us?
Even Silicon Valley is currently having a rethink, the Samsung scandal is a great cautionary lesson. Basically the engineers were told, “No one is going home for the next six months until Galaxy S7 is ready!” And you ended up with a complex hi-tech phone that had one tiny flaw: it might explode when you charge it.
What lesson should we take away from that?
That it’s no use showing off what an overtime martyr you are or getting your co-workers to be. My advice is turn off your phone and step away from your desk – and go outside and get some fresh air.