How to rest more and get more done… (Yes, you read that right!!)

Our top tips to help you get out of your 'active brain' and into your 'default brain'.

We live in a society where chronic tiredness and stress are often worn as badges of honour, so it’s no wonder we can feel as though our success and productivity should be measured on how busy we are.

But here’s the thing.

When we slow down, take time out, and rest, it gives our brains and bodies a chance to renew and repair themselves. It gives us an opportunity to see things in a new light, increasing our energy, attention and motivation. In short, it makes us a hell of a lot more productive. 

For anyone feeling panicky even at the thought of resting(!), we get it – with juggling priorities and looming deadlines, rest is easy to say, and harder to do. Which is why we are here to break down some of the latest evidence on rest and recovery – and some of our favourite hacks to help you move your ‘pause button’ closer to the top of your priority list.

1. Work out what is restful for YOU!  

According to researchers Emily & Amelia Nagoski, rest is anything that allows your active brain to shut down, and your default neural network to come online and for your brain to start to wander (also called your default brain). And that’s going to look differently for different people. The most assumed rest is physical, such as sleep, meditation or massage, and whilst they are all AMAZING forms of recovery, your downtime can include so much more, like; brain-dumping your thoughts into a journal at the end of the day; connecting with your bestie for a chat, giving your senses a rest by turning off your screens, going for a bushwalk and admiring nature in all it’s glory, or speaking up and asking for help with those seven loads of washing.

Your default brain is highly unique so be careful to honour your needs, rather than buying into the requirements of others. For example, my default brain just LOVES unwinding with a foreign crime drama on SBS, but for my partner, the constant subtitle-reading makes it impossible for him to shut down his active brain – which, by the way, usually means he leaves the room and I end up stretching out on the couch to myself – a rest and recovery double-win!

2. Create a rest schedule 

To be your most effective and productive self, rest is something that you need in small amounts, and often. Although it’s common practice for us to smash out a huge work project over months, with a two-week annual leave request sitting up our sleeve upon completion, research states that we need to incorporate rest into our daily, weekly and monthly schedules in order to reap the long-term benefits. In fact, the recommended amount of restful activities (including sleep) is around ten hours a day!

But how do you do this? Why not create yourself some realistic rest goals? For example:

  • Every hour, I will get up from my desk and walk to the kitchen to refill my glass of water.
  • Every day, I will sit outside to each my lunch, away from any screens.
  • Every week, I would like to have one full day without meetings.
  • Every month, I will take one Friday afternoon off and book a massage.
  • Every six months, I will take five consecutive days off.
  • Every year, I will take my birthday off and schedule a full day of self-care.

3. Change up your language around rest 

We need to stop being ashamed to take a break. Who can relate to hearing a friend or colleague claiming they are “so busy” at which point you start comparing to-do-lists ….and feeling guilty if yours doesn’t have as many urgent priorities?! ….Me too!

Well-known researcher and writer Brene Brown suggests that if we want to become intentional about cultivating rest, we need to let go of exhaustion as a status symbol, and productivity as self-worth.  And I reckon we can start to do this really easily in our everyday conversations.

The next time someone tells you how busy they are, after listening empathetically, why not ask them what they like to do in their downtime, or encourage some restful activities, like:

  • Ask them to join you for a walk outside in nature 
  • Suggest they speak with their manager about booking some time off
  • Ask them if you can take something off their plate so they can take a break
  • Lead by example and create clear boundaries around your lunch break and start and finish times.

Insufficient rest and recovery is associated with a range of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, stress and depression. On the flip side, a well-rested mind and body increases our energy, mood, and productivity! Why wouldn’t we want that for ourselves and our community? It’s time we started normalising and prioritising rest. And remember – you gotta get it how you like it! – so work to find out what takes you into your default brain, create some realistic goals, and be the voice of change. Because, rest shouldn’t be a reward for a job well done – it is required to the get the job done well!

Awareness Co. is a Wollongong based HR consultancy, providing HR solutions that go beyond just work performance, and focus on developing individuals and teams to thrive in work and in life. Awareness Co. use the latest evidence-based tools to improve wellbeing, resilience and performance transforming the way you think, feel and behave at work. To learn more about our wellbeing services, and to download your free copy of The Wellbeing Lab 2021 Workplace Report, visit

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