Taking Breaks is the Secret to Enhanced Productivity

Start Today With These 3 Practices to Prioritise Rest in Your Life (+ a Sneaky Notion Template to Help You)

Hi Friend!

This week I want to talk about the importance of rest and relaxation, if you want to be productive and craft better work-life balance.

💡 Today at a glance

  • Rest and relaxation is vital to the human condition, so why don’t we do it as much as we would like to?

  • 3 takeaways from Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang about the importance of rest to our productivity and lives.

  • 3 practices I’ve included in my life to help me prioritise rest (Plus a free Travel Planning template that bI use in Notion to make travel planning less stressful).

Rest and relaxation is vital to the human condition

We’re not machines that can keep going without rest and relaxation.

In order to be productive with our time, maintain healthy relationships with people around us (and ourselves!) and ultimately lead a life that you feel is impactful yet enjoyable. You need to intentionally build in rest and relaxation time into your life.

As the saying goes, if you don’t set the intention and then plan it ahead of time… It’s not going to happen.

So why don’t we rest and relax as much as we would like to?

Unfortunately, many high achievers, ambitious professionals and solopreneurs don’t prioritise rest.

Here are a few common reasons why:

  • Hustle Culture: The productivity and hustle culture we live in sells us the narrative that in order to achieve our goals in life we have to hustle, hustle, hustle.

  • No Boundaries: You don’t set hard boundaries between when work ends, and when life outside of work begins. (Are you missing a simple shut down ritual in your day?)

  • Don’t Prioritise Planning: You feel like you don’t have time to slow down, take a big picture look at your life and spend time planning for rest. Rest unfortunately ends up being an afterthought, rather than a priority. (That fun dance class isn’t going to happen miraculously)

  • Work Overload: When you feel overloaded with tasks and projects, the automatic response might be to throw more resources at it. In this case, throw more time at it and work longer hours. So you can get that to-do list down (hint: you & I will likely leave this earth with an uncompleted to-do list…)

I’ve been guilty of all of the above at different points in my 13+ years of working life.

So you’re not alone if you resonated with any of these reasons above.

I’m going to share 3 practices that I’ve integrated into my life that has helped me be more intentional about getting in some R&R, that might help you too.

Slow productivity: Doing fewer but important things, at a natural human pace.

Practicing slow productivity helps you create the physical and mental space in your day, week and life to prioritise rest and relaxation.

It forces you to be intentional with your time and make trade-offs on how you spend your time that you’ll never get back.

Don’t believe me? Believe Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Rest

If you know me, I love a good book that dives into interesting topics (that’s probably the scientist in me).

Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang was one of my favourite books I read in 2022.

Work in between Rest

Here are 3 big takeaways I got from reading Rest:

1. Neuroscience research says rest is critical

The brain switches to highly active Default Mode Network (DMN) during rest. DMN activity has been found to be highly correlated with intelligence, empathy and emotional judgement.

This shows to scientists that rest is critical to our health, development and productivity.

2. Get more work done when you work less

4 hours of intense focus is more productive than 8 hours of working distractedly.

And research has also shown that it’s difficult to really focus for more than 4 hours anyway. Spending more time “mind wandering” (e.g. walking, doing a hobby, talking to friends) after you’ve done 4 hours of focused work is actually more productive.

Because it boosts your creativity and helps your work on problems in a loose way.

3. Hobbies and physical activities can become “Deep Play”

It’s totally ok for hobbies to simply be fun and enjoyable. But hobbies and physical activities can become "deep play" if:

  1. It's mentally absorbing or

  2. It allows you to use work skills but in a different context or

  3. It gives you a similar feeling of satisfaction to work but it's not work or

  4. It has a connection to your past (e.g. your childhood, your parents etc.)

For example, writing can help you develop your powers of observation and reflection and allows you to experiment with language. If you enjoy it as a hobby it's potentially a deep play hobby that is actually productive.

So don't think of hobbies as a waste of time.

3 practices I’ve included in my life to help me prioritise rest

1. Pick a hobby (revisit an old passion)

I’ve been enamoured with photography since I was a child (My dad had a SLR camera that came out for special occasions as a kid).

Before I bought my first “serious” camera (A DSLR back in my university days when I started earning an income), I loved using the little family point-and-shoot camera.

Photography is my way of exploring the world and my local neighbourhood, As well as capturing memories with friends and family.

Don’t know what hobby to pick up for your R&R? Ask yourself, “what did you love doing for fun as a child?”

2. Establish better boundaries at work and have a shut down ritual

As a people-pleaser and a goal-orientated person, I found it really hard to say no to meetings or staying back at work because there were still “things to do”.

I just wanted to get it all done!

When I hit rock bottom and experienced burnout, it became clear that I needed to create a shut down ritual for work and set myself a “hard” finish time to clock off work. A time that can only be changed if the sky was falling (figuratively speaking).

The problems and unfinished tasks will still be there the next day.

This forced me to:

  • Be clearer on my priorities (so that I focus on important tasks and feel comfortable leaving work on time)

  • Become better at planning and scheduling less to do for the day (we’re often optimistic and over-estimate how much we can actually do in a day!)

  • Set more realistic timelines for tasks and projects

If you don’t have a planned finish time for work in your own head, start there.

I’m not saying you’ll never stay back at work.

What I am saying is you need to start with a goal of what time you’d like to finish.

3. Make time to plan for relaxation or leisure

If you don’t make time to plan when you will rest, do that drawing class or travel to Japan. Chances are it’s not going to happen. Travelling and exploring new places is definitely one of my favourite leisure activities (and something I feel fortunate that can prioritise in my life).

"Failing to plan is planning to fail."

Alan Lakein

It combines my love for trying out new food and new experiences, and photographing interesting places and people.

I like Laura Vanderkam’s idea of having big and little adventures in her book, Tranquility by Tuesday. Adventures adds novelty and joy to our lives. It can be small outings to a new neighbourhood cafe. Or a 4 day roadtrip to visit a National Park.

Adventures doesn’t have to be far or expensive for your to experience the benefits.

The bigger the adventure, the more you’ll likely need to plan ahead, so that you can book leave from work, flights, accommodation etc. I’m an organisation and planner nerd, so I love to research and plan a good adventure!

Now before you say that’s too overwhelming to consider, I’ve shared my own Travel Planner in Notion for free that you can use if you use Notion.

It literary takes you through the steps of planning your next Big Adventure.

Listed on Notion’s own Template Gallery!

700+ people have downloaded it, so perhaps you’ll find it useful too. It’s a free download on my Gumroad page.

🛠️ Building in Public

The mini-course: Writer’s Hub OS in Notion was finally launched this week.

Thank you to all friends who shared and supported the launch! And to all the early supporters who jumped on early and given testimonials and feedback. It has been amazingly helpful 🙏

Here’s one that I wanted to share:

The reason I love this one, it’s because it hits two big takeaways that I really wanted Notion beginners know are:

  • Notion databases is where the superpower of Notion lie. Use them where possible.

  • Prioritise workflow design over using Notion templates. Template can’t do the thinking for you.

That’s it!

Thanks for reading.

Just one question, I’m still experimenting with my newsletter’s length and format to make it worth your while.

Are these newsletters too long or just right?

Hit reply and let me know—I’d love to hear from you!

See you next week,


Here are some relevant resources for this edition of the newsletter that I think you’ll find value in to, to help you get more rest.

  1. Tranquility by Tuesday by Laura Vanderkam

    Laura has tried and tested these 9 simple “rules” that you can apply in your life today to help you achieve your version of tranquility in your life.

    Check out the book

  2. Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

    Alex dives in the research about rest. In my newsletter above, I only covered a few of my highlights of the book. I highly recommend you read the book in full!

    Check out the book

  3. If you’re busy, you’re doing something wrong by Cal Newport

    This is counter-cultural to what we commonly believe. Rest and deliberate practice are actually the key characteristic behaviours of highly successful elite Violinist from Universität der Künste in Berlin.

    Read the article

Whenever you're ready, here are 3 ways I can help you:

  1. Ultimate Guide: How to create your digital writing system in Notion under 1 hour (Free!): Ready to learn how to use Notion to create your own writing system so you can write consistently?

    Join 110+ people who have downloaded this guide to build their own Writer’s Hub OS in Notion with built-in slow productivity principles.

  2. Mini-Course: Writer’s Hub OS in Notion: Learn the fundamentals of Notion, Workflow Design and how to build a effective “Idea to Published” writing system in Notion (or just plug and play a done-for-you Notion template).

    Perfect for digital writers, solopreneurs and content creators to help you achieve long term sustainable and stress-free daily writing & content creation habit.

  3. Travel Hub Notion Template (Free!): All-in-one Travel Planner that helps you ideate, plan, research and organise your trip stress free using Notion.

    Join 700+ people who have already downloaded this system and upped their travel planning game.

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