Updated: Apr 30

Busier is better. Right?

Success comes from hard work, so the more you work, the more successful you will be. Right?

Not quite.

Being busy has become a symbol of success, so much so that in daily conversations with others, we sometimes get into comparing levels of busyness, as if that will somehow prove our value. Productivity has become synonymous with worth, and rest is considered an indulgence, a sign of being unmotivated or lazy, or something we have learned to feel ashamed of. (I recently decided I would no longer eat my meals on the go; however, I feel deeply guilty and the need to hide when, on occasion, I take a break in the middle of the day to eat a meal in front of the telly). We’ve all bought into the busyness hustle.

According to Jabr Ferris (2013), a 2012 end of year survey revealed Americans had an average of 9 unused vacation days. Other surveys have shown even when Americas are on vacation, they obsessively check and respond to emails, and tend to feel obliged to get some work done. As opposed to the European Union which mandates 20 paid vacation days, the U.S. has no laws guaranteeing paid time off. Rest is certainly not a virtue in the U.S.


But what if we got this all wrong? What if rest, taking breaks, procrastinating, or working more slowly in certain situations actually leads to greater productivity and better results?

What if rather than success, busyness really means your life is a bit out of control, out of balance, and that you don’t really have the time to do the things that truly lead to an emotionally and physically healthy, satisfying, productive and truly successful life?

Author Ryan Holiday (The Daily Stoic, The Obstacle is the Way) says, “Success is how empty my calendar is, because that means I am doing shit I want to do.” I don’t know about you, but this hit a cord with me; maybe our life frame should not be about filling up our time, but freeing up our time, by becoming more deliberate in our life choices and decisions.

What if there is a deeper emotional and spiritual cost to being constantly busy?

What if true success is a balance between getting things done by slowing things down? Doing less better and more mindfully?



In reality, our brain rarely ever stops working, even when we are “resting”. Studies in the last couple of decades have discovered a circuit involving disparate regions of the brain that turn “on” when people are “resting” or daydreaming. This circuit has been named the default mode network (DMN). We’ve almost all experienced the epiphanies that sometimes seem to come out of nowhere when we decide to “sleep on a problem” or return after a break to a complex task with sudden clarity on how to solve it. This is in large part because of the activity of the DMN during our periods of rest.

Many studies have now tied rest to improvements in attention, memory, productivity, and creativity. For example, Amber Brooks & Leon Lack (2006) looked at the impact of naps of different durations (5, 10, 10, and 30 minutes) on attention in college students. After a night of only 5 hours of sleep, naps of 10, 20 and 30 minutes all improved the students’ attention scores. More specifically:

“volunteers who napped for 20 or 30 minutes had to wait half an hour or more for their sleep inertia to wear off before regaining full alertness, [but] 10-minute naps immediately enhanced performance just as much as the longer naps without any grogginess.”

The link between sleep and memory formation has long been established, however, according to Linda Wasmer Andrews (2016) more recent studies have demonstrated that, “waking rest” also helps consolidate memories and improve learning. During rest, “it appears that the brain reviews and ingrains what it previously learned.”

Meditation has also been found to have numerous cognitive benefits. According to Jabr, studies comparing long-time expert meditators with novices or people who do not meditate, find meditators outperform non-meditators on tests of mental acuity. In addition, studies show:

“[meditators] may also develop a more intricately wrinkled cortex —the brain’s outer layer, which is necessary for many of our most sophisticated mental abilities, like abstract thought and introspection. Meditation appears to increase the volume and density of the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped area of the brain that is absolutely crucial for memory; it thickens regions of the frontal cortex that we rely on to rein in our emotions; and it stymies the typical wilting of brain areas responsible for sustaining attention as we g