Rest Isn’t the Opposite of Work

Marissa Goldberg
6 min readAug 2, 2022

Rest is not the opposite of work. It’s an integral piece of great work. Our best ideas don’t come from working non-stop. Our best ideas show up when you take a shower, go for a walk, sleep, etc.

Yet, when we need to get something done, our default instinct is to hustle harder, which leaves us feeling burned out and uninspired. It’s time we stop utilizing rest as a last resort and instead recognize what a critical part rest plays in great work.

When I talk about integrating rest into work, most people immediately think of sleep. But sleep is just 1 out of the 7 types of rest. I was introduced to this concept through a TED talk by Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, and I have since integrated them into my remote workday. This knowledge has helped me eliminate burnout, standardize a calm, measured approach to my workday, inspire more creative thinking, and feel healthier overall.

Let’s dive into what the seven types of rest are and how you can take advantage of them when working remotely, so you can get more done while working less:

1. Physical Rest

This is the one you instantly thought of. Passive physical rest includes sleeping and napping, while active physical rest includes yoga, stretching, and massages to improve your body’s circulation.

You can integrate physical rest into your remote workday by:

  • Taking a midday nap — Naps are proven to help you stay mentally alert and have been used for centuries by distinguished creators and leaders. Try out a post-lunch nap and see how it makes you feel.
  • Breaking up your day by switching between workspaces — Office work ingrained many unhealthy work habits into us, one of which is the belief that we need to sit at one desk all day. Consider how you might instead utilize multiple zones to optimize for different types of work.

2. Mental Rest

If you have trouble turning your brain off, you’re probably in need of mental rest. You need more than just a once-in-a-while vacation. It’s important to schedule regular short breaks between work (where you aren’t doing anything mentally stimulating) to give your mind a recess.

You can integrate mental rest into your remote workday by:

  • Taking a midday shower — There’s no rule that showers can only be taken at the beginning or end of the day. You’re already at home. Why not take advantage of that? I’ll typically take a midday shower after an intensive deep work block to decompress and more easily transition to what’s next.
  • Adding in a cleaning block — Some activities (like cleaning) can be done with minimal mental activity. This allows you to zone out and give yourself a mental reprieve. I do a 30-minute cleaning block right before lunch, which helps with my mental transition out of work mode (plus, it has the bonus of keeping my space tidy).

3. Sensory Rest

Knowledge workers severely underutilize this one. Bright lights, multiple screens, and endless notification sounds constantly overwhelm your senses. Sensory rest involves actions like stepping away from screens and going to a quiet place.

You can integrate sensory rest into your remote workday by:

  • Taking note of work you can do without screens — A big part of your job as a knowledge worker is problem-solving and brainstorming. You can do these things without screens. The first draft of this newsletter is written in a quiet, cozy place with just a pen and paper. Try scheduling screen-free hours for certain activities or certain times of the day.
  • Going on walking meetings — If the primary goal of a meeting isn’t relationship-building, you can probably go without video. Instead, experiment with doing meetings as phone calls so you can step away from the monitors and go for a walk.

4. Creative Rest

If you’re feeling uninspired or tapped out of ideas, you’re probably in need of creative rest. This could be anything from appreciating nature (like watching a sunrise) to enjoying the arts. The point is to reawaken your wonder to find inspiration.

You can integrate creative rest into your remote workday by:

  • Getting out of your house in the middle of the day — A big perk of remote work is that you’re not tied to an office all day and instead have a flexible schedule. When you need creative rest, it’s time to take advantage of that. See a movie at the theater in the middle of the day. Visit a museum. Take a hike. Break your routine, and inspiration will find you.
  • Creating a folder of inspiration — If going out isn’t an option, it’s time to create an inspirational virtual environment. Create a folder where you save all your favorite ideas, images, articles, past accomplishments, and anything else that might inspire you. Take a break from creating and dive in whenever you need a boost.

5. Emotional Rest

If you’re answering, “How are you?” with “Fine”, you’re probably in need of emotional rest. This is when you have time and space to freely express your feelings instead of resorting to people pleasing. Work usually requires us to perform and hide parts of ourselves, which can be exhausting.

You can integrate emotional rest into your remote workday by:

  • Breaking up your day with a scheduled lunch with a friend — Don’t just work through lunch. Go have lunch with a close friend who also works remotely. Talk, vent, and be yourself.
  • Scheduling a regular appointment with a therapist — Again, take advantage of the flexibility and schedule appointments that were way more difficult to make while working an office job. Therapy is a great way to have a private emotional outlet where you don’t have to put on a façade.

6. Social Rest

If you have events on your calendar that you’re not excited about or people you dread seeing, you probably need social rest. Spend more time with supportive people you choose instead of just ones that HR or genetics chose for you.

You can integrate social rest into your remote workday by:

  • Switching certain events to async — If you’re dreading meetings on your calendar, it probably means they’re ineffective in some way: too long, too many participants, unfocused, etc. It’s time to reevaluate your calendar and consider switching to async. Use this article to determine which events are better synchronous vs. asynchronous.
  • Scheduling your daily Me Time — You should always have a part of the day just for you. For me, I lock in 15-minutes every day for reading. How you spend it completely depends on what you like to do.

7. Spiritual rest

If you’re feeling lost or without purpose, you’re probably in need of spiritual rest. Get involved with something greater than yourself on a regular basis to achieve this, like meditation, volunteering, religion, or community involvement.

You can integrate spiritual rest into your remote workday by:

  • Joining a group — If you got used to only making friends with who you work with in the office, remote work can be startling. But you now have the option to build connections with people who have similar interests instead of just daily proximity. Board game groups, book clubs, hiking meetups… the opportunities are endless.
  • Becoming a remote work settler and volunteering within your community — If nomad life isn’t for you, the remote work settler life might be what you’re searching for. Use remote work to never have to move for the job again. Instead, plant roots, contribute to making your community better, and build deeper connections.

Burnout happens when you try to continually force yourself despite your intentions and reality being misaligned. It’s like attempting to force an incorrect puzzle piece into the wrong place. Eventually, with enough force, it might fit, but it comes at the cost of breaking it. Brute force is not the only option. There’s an easier way.

Instead of using rest as a last resort, it’s time we assess which types of rest we’re lacking and proactively integrate them into our workday. This allows us to optimize our work with less forced effort. Remember, rest is not the opposite of work but an integral piece of great work. Just imagine what you’re capable of when you’re no longer working against yourself.

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