Hurry up and Rest!

After a long hiatus that has included many activities besides writing blog posts (including bringing a new book When Heaven and Nature Sing to publication), I’m back and happy to be posting again.  Enjoy!

There’s an old parable I use from time to time to remind friends or colleagues (or myself) of how easy it is to try too hard or schedule too much and thereby to fall further behind.  The story goes like this:

 Two woodcutters were working near each other cutting firewood.  They decided to make a competition out of it, to see who could cut the most wood by the end of the day.  One guy appeared to be working a lot hard than the other – hardly stopped to rest, and by the end of the day was sure he had won.  The other took frequent breaks – it seemed like every hour he stopped for five or ten minutes.  But when they measured the amount of wood each had cut and stacked, the second man had cut twice as much wood.  How so?  The first worker was mystified, until the second explained himself:  “I was sharpening my axe.”

The New York Times hits the same theme this week with an Opinion piece by Tony Schwartz:  Relax!  You’ll be More Productive!”   Though we live in a world where those who work “harder” with longer hours, skipped lunches, and short vacations seem to be rewarded with raises and promotions, it appears from research that those who go slow actually get more done.  Setting aside the minor point that it would appear that our market economy is once again failing to do what it claims to do best – rewarding those who actually do more work – this would seem to reinforce a basic principle:  We work best when we work in harmony with God’s creation.

In this case, the part of God’s creation we’re talking about is our own bodies, though the principle applies on larger scales as well (as in the Farming God’s Way project).  Some highlights from the Schwartz article:

Spending more hours at work often leads to less time for sleep and insufficient sleep takes a substantial toll on performance. In a study of nearly 400 employees, published last year, researchers found that sleeping too little — defined as less than six hours each night — was one of the best predictors of on-the-job burn-out. A recent Harvard study estimated that sleep deprivation costs American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity.

The Stanford researcher Cheri D. Mah found that when she got male basketball players to sleep 10 hours a night, their performances in practice dramatically improved: free-throw and three-point shooting each increased by an average of 9 percent.

Daytime naps have a similar effect on performance. When night shift air traffic controllers were given 40 minutes to nap — and slept an average of 19 minutes — they performed much better on tests that measured vigilance and reaction time.


Working in 90-minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity. Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues at Florida State University have studied elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors and chess players. In each of these fields, Dr. Ericsson found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes. They begin in the morning, take a break between sessions, and rarely work for more than four and a half hours in any given day

For more on this from a Christian creation care perspective, I highly recommend the new book by Matthew Sleeth, 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life, where he argues that returning to God’s original idea of a six-day week should be a central theme for creation care.  Couldn’t agree more!

And in terms of application on the macro perspective, check out Call #8 in the Jamaica Call to Action:

8. An economy that works in harmony with God’s creation.   We call for an approach to economic well-being and development, energy production, natural resource management (including mining and forestry), water management and use, transportation, health care, rural and urban design and living, and personal and corporate consumption patterns that maintain the ecological integrity of creation.

[By the way, have you signed the Call to Action yet?]

So, your assignment this week (and mine):  Hurry up and rest!  And get more done.

[Of course, hurry up and rest isn’t always easy… Add your thoughts or suggestions below or in the FB comments.]

[Photo courtesy Flickr user rwhg – CC License]