Forty hour workweeks are a relic of the Industrial Age. Knowledge workers function like athletes – train and sprint, then rest and reassess.
— Naval Ravikant (@naval) June 10, 2017
For many traders and investors the markets can be all consuming. Given the world we live in and the easy, almost forced, access to information it is altogether too easy to ‘be on’ all the time. We in the investment business are knowledge workers engaged in a performance activity. So as Naval Ravikant notes we need to focus on rest and recovery as well. Without this fallow time this ‘always on’ mentality is likely degrading your performance (and happiness).
While everyone needs to time to work through their to-do list and get sh*t done. Cal Newport in his great book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World calls this ‘shallow work.’ Our best ideas and greatest breakthroughs come when we are able to engage in ‘deep work.’ Only by ’embracing boredom’ can we give our brains the time and energy to work on the really big problems.
Emma Seppälä author of The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success notes the American obsession with high intensity work and the stress that comes along with it. From a recent conversation at Heleo she said:
When we’re in an idle situation, our brain is actually in active problem-solving mode, so you’ll probably notice that you’ll find the solution to something you’ve been pondering on forever in a moment you least expect it. The idea is that you need to take time off. You need to take time to be idle, and if you think about it, you could go all day long, never, ever accessing that creative mindset, because people roll over in bed and check their email, and then if you wait in line, people are checking their emails. We know from research that when you take time off of work in the evenings, on the weekends, you come back much more engaged and energized.
Being engaged and energized should be our goal. Not only does that help open us up to new experiences it also helps us combat old ways of thinking. J.C. Parets at All Star Charts about how taking a break and literally starting from scratch can help us think about things more clearly. He writes:
The harder we work the easier it is to get stuck in a specific mindset. The deeper we get involved emotionally, in this case over (too much?) time, the harder it is to visualize the environment from the outside looking in. One of the ways that I try and avoid this common mistake is buy cleaning out all of my charts and starting from scratch to rebuild my entire chartbook.
Not everyone can literally start from scratch but it is a useful way of framing how and what we can get out of a period of genuine rest. Vacations are great but can we do doing the actual work day? Corporate America seems to be taking note of this need for rest. Rebecca Greenfield at Bloomberg notes the increasing popularity of Summer Fridays. A cynic may say this is a ‘low cost, small token’ but most everyone would choose a two and half day weekend over a traditional two day weekend.
What about during the work day? Steve Magness co-author of Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive With the New Science of Success suggests we think about the work day as we would doing interval training. In a discussion at Heleo he said:
One example is instead of taking just one break for lunch, work for 30 minutes really hard, and then step away for two to three minutes. Just repeat that pattern, and your performance goes up. Your enjoyment of it goes up too.
It’s like doing intervals on the track. You have this stress, and then you step away. It rejuvenates you, and then you can come back at it, instead of doing the grind so that by 3 o’clock, we’re sitting on Facebook and looking at cat videos. It’s preventing ourselves from going into that trap.
Life isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. But in the modern age we have to think about it as a series of sprints, followed by periods of rest and recovery. Or as we in the finance game like to say the long run is made up of a series of short runs. Maximizing your potential depends on being able to rejuvenate your mind and body.
- Schedule a ‘nothing day.’ Noah Kagan of AppSumo in his discussion with Brett McKay at the Art of Manliness talks about the power of having time when you can simply think (and do) as you see fit. An overstuffed calendar, filled with digital interruptions, is a recipe for exhaustion and non-creativity.
- Take a digital Sabbath. One of the reasons why we get distracted and anxious is the omnipresent nature of digital notifications, pings and e-mails. Eliminating these distractions for an uninterrupted period of time can help calm your nervous system and allow you to meaningfully rest.
- When you are rested, engaged and energized make sure you put yourself in a situation where you can engage in ‘deep work.’ As Cal Newport this is different for everyone but finding out the how/where/when of deep work where you can ‘push your cognitive limits’ is the flip side of getting enough rest.
- Go to a movie. In the golden age of digital video we have an unlimited amount of options available to us in our homes. The problem is those homes and the the devices we use to stream those great shows are filled with distractions. In a movie theater, your phone is (presumably) off, and you are better able to let the story line wash over you. Even after a mediocre movie, you walk out of the theater asking, ‘Why don’t I do this more often?’
Take a real vacation. See below. Mark Manson writes: “(T)his ability to distract one’s brain away from problem-solving and work, actually makes your brain far more effective upon returning to work.I know, I know—it’s crazy, but weekends and vacation really do exist for a reason.”