Best Laid Plans Book Reviews

BLP Episode #19: REST

November 30, 2020

Very fitting that this episode is on rest.

I just finished the book Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee, which is referenced in this episode.

In full disclosure, I have mixed feelings about the book. I really enjoyed the historical context of how we came to our current concept of work and the 40 (or 60) hour work week. I would love to learn more about the European orthopedic unit she mentions that moved to a 6 hour work day with no loss in productivity (this one, I’m assuming). Let’s try THAT experiment in the US healthcare system!

I did not really agree with the author’s take on goal setting. She probably would not approve of my habit tracking, and made several comments that implied that getting up at 5 am is overrated.

(I greatly enjoy my early mornings and highly doubt I’d spend the time ‘better’ in the evenings!)

I also found that she acknowledged that her advice may not be for people without abundant cash, but did not really mention the fact that for those of us in the throes of the young-child years (ie: relative time poverty), some of her suggestions seemed to fall flat.

I felt her advice about screens and email etc were all things I’ve heard in about 3834 other times and I wish she’d dedicated the pages to something else, like how to cultivate high quality leisure time, or figuring out how to Do Nothing on a weekend when you have 3 kids home during a pandemic (hint: you can’t, unless you and your partner switch off! Luckily Josh granted me a lot of rest time yesterday and for that I am grateful. But not everyone has a willing partner, or a partner at all.)

Finally, I have to admit that I seethed a bit when she share her own daily ideal schedule which included 3 long walks and ~4 hours of work. Sounds . . . lovely. But for many of us employed by others . . . not realistic.

BUT, all that said, I was motivated by her book to think more about the role of and leisure rest in my life. So that was good!

In the episode, I discuss both planned and unplanned rest, and the importance of being flexible with habits sometimes. I definitely practice this myself — I love my routines, structure, and checking off boxes but sometimes just crave a break, and I’ve found through experience that it’s just best to let myself have one when I find I need it. Without guilt.

I would like to be better about ‘scheduled rest/leisure’ in 2021. In fact, this may make it onto my goals list. Kind of backwards but not really!

PS: I think my favorite kind of high quality leisure is reading, particularly novels. I tore through a lot of This Tender Land this weekend – omg, highly recommend.


  • Reply Chelsea November 30, 2020 at 8:22 am

    Having not read the book, I’d say I don’t have any strong desire to do “nothing”. I feel most rested when I get more sleep (I choose to get up extremely early 3 mornings a week and “sleep in” the other days – I know this is definitely not what sleep experts recommend, but I’ve decided the social element of meeting my running group on those days is worth it), and when I do something different than my normal daily activities that isn’t too mentally challenging. Bonus points if it has a tactile element to it like crochet or gardening (when the weather is nice). Though – seemingly unlike a lot of people – I hate cooking and do not find it relaxing.

    After years of feeling like a lazy bum if I didn’t work for an hour or so after dinner, just on impulse I’ve started to use that time to crochet Christmas ornaments while I listen to music, an audiobook or a podcast, and it’s been really nice. We clean up after dinner, and DH plays our new Nintendo Switch with the older boys while and the little one sits next to me and watches his daily Blippi. It really doesn’t take that much time doing that to make me feel ready to tackle bedtime. I’ve also instituted football Saturday where I get to watch (at least part of) the Gator game. They can watch it with me or not, but that’s what the TV is used for.

    For single parenting time, my experience has been that you have to embrace any moment of calm that you get. If the kid is happy on his or her own, *sit down* for a minute and listen to or read something you enjoy. Might as well load the dishwasher while the kids are already screaming about something else. The other thing I found helpful when my kids were littler and more needy was to give myself permission to listen to *my* music either out loud or on headphones. Many a tedious game of Candy Land has been made better with an adult soundtrack.

  • Reply Sam November 30, 2020 at 8:37 am

    I read some of Do Nothing, but when the library hold ended, I didn’t feel compelled to check it out again. Agreed that I loved the bigger picture labor/societal picture, but found the personal part resonated less with me.

  • Reply Jara C. November 30, 2020 at 10:56 am

    I’m looking forward to listening to this episode! I always struggle to think of leisure/rest activities I want to do. I’m soooo type A that whenever I think of ways I want to fill my time, I always think of “productive” things to do and struggle to come up with leisure activities that my type A brain doesn’t scream are a waste of time, even though I know on an intellectual level that time spent resting is not time wasted!

  • Reply RBS November 30, 2020 at 12:09 pm

    Highly recommend “How to Do Nothing” by Jenny Odell. It’s a compelling argument for how doing “nothing” allows space to think about what you really want to do, and to devote time and energy to engage meaningfully in our communities and work towards the change we want to see in our lives as well as in our politics. It was on President Obama’s books of the year list a few years ago, and after reading it, I see why. .

  • Reply omgd November 30, 2020 at 3:25 pm

    Overscheduling and overwork stifle creativity. This doesn’t really matter in clinical medicine because creativity isn’t really required for the job, but it definitely matters for research and writing. However, SO many doctors think that blocked open time for thinking and writing is at best a waste and at worst laziness that I am honestly quite over it.

    I also am totally on board with never getting up at 5AM again. I only do it because I have to for my job and I have to agree that it is completely overrated. Would SO prefer to sleep 10:30 – 7 every day. Or even later. I love to exercise at about 7PM and have been doing some writing in the late evenings lately. It has been really nice.

    With three kids… you could hire more childcare. Otherwise, you’re right. You’re going to have to wait until the littlest is 8 or so and doesn’t need you every moment. That time isn’t that far off. You’ll get there.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger November 30, 2020 at 7:39 pm

      True! I think you work a lot more than she implies one should in the book – your blocks of open time are . . . work! Open time to think / solve problems / research. It may not be structured but it’s definitely still work.

      I honestly am a morning person. I always have been. I remember in college enjoying my 8 am classes (and they were . . . not popular). I recognize that is not true for everyone (and I agree sometimes it is pushed to hard as some sort of magical answer that is what one “SHOULD” do) but it’s not inherently lame or bad to enjoy getting up early, either.

  • Reply Sarah J Leonard November 30, 2020 at 3:46 pm

    Check out The Kids are In Bed by Rachel Bertsche for suggestions on how to plan leisure time. As a bonus, she cites Laura in her book:)

  • Reply Coco November 30, 2020 at 4:06 pm

    I appreciate your honest review, I think i’d agree with you and can skip the book 🙂

  • Reply Alyce December 2, 2020 at 1:54 am

    I’m surprised that you had such a negative reaction to Do Nothing. Sure, a lot of the examples from Celeste’s own life reflect the fact that she works for herself, she has complete control over her schedule, she is financially comfortable now, her son is grown and not living with her, and she’s probably at a stage in her life and career where the types of goals she sets are very different from the ones she may have set back when she was a single mom, underearning and trying to establish/grow her career and income. So basically, a total 180 from your life right now. But at the same time, I see so many examples in your life – even with the constraints you do have – where you’re actually doing many of the things she recommends. You obviously can’t work only four hours a day because the reality of being a doctor means you kinda have a production based job and you have little control over your schedule (at least on clinical days), but you are working less by doing a .9 FTE, and you are trading that work time for leisure activities that are meaningful to you. Maybe you don’t see them as leisure activities because they feel like work (perhaps because you’ve pursued monetization, perhaps because the upholder in you won’t let you drop the ball on them so they can be just one more stressful obligation on your plate even if you generally enjoy them on an abstract level) but your blog, podcasts, exercising, reading, etc, – these are the leisure activities you pursue. These aren’t insignificant (I know because I legit fritter away so much of my leisure time on shit like online window shopping and giving unsolicited advice to strangers on the internet.)

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger December 2, 2020 at 5:46 am

      Definitely get wha you’re saying and perhaps that’s why I enjoyed the first half of the book. I just felt sort of abandoned once she started in with her personal examples. It might have been better without them, or to include what Do Nothing might look like in various stages of life. I guess I also grated at the repeated theme that getting up at 5 am is somehow bad and I’ve been lured into some trap by the pro-productivity zeitgeist. That’s WHEN I do the leisure activities you mention above, much of the time!

  • Reply Lisa December 2, 2020 at 8:12 am

    Thanks for the honest review – sounds like a book to skip for me. In general, I have a hard time relating to self-employed writers who have complete control over their schedule. I feel the same way about many of the suggestions that Laura makes, too… Like her recommendations about working split shifts or just deciding to work less and see if anyone complains/notices… I would lose my job if I tried to work an alternative schedule (being “on” during market hours is essential). And I would lose my job if I tried to work for 4 or 6 hours a day, or only put in that amount of solid work… But their advice is likely very applicable to people who have total autonomy over their days!

    One thing I’ve done since becoming a mom, but have not been good about during 2020, is planning “shouldless days.” I heard about this concept on the podcast “Death, Sex and Money.” It’s basically a day where you don’t do anything you feel you ‘should’ do – instead you focus on what you want to do and what brings you job. Pre-2020, I would take a day off each quarter for a shouldless day. Those days were so refreshing. It’s not like I laid around in bed all day – I would meet a friend for coffee or lunch, read, go for a walk, work on something I enjoyed, etc. But it was refreshing to not do any pesky tasks like cleaning, laundry, scheduling doctor appts, going through my sons clothes, etc. It’s been harder to do in 2020 as I have taken less time off this year so I can take 4 extra weeks of maternity leave and WFH has sort of discouraged me – and many colleagues – from taking time off.

    I do think it is really important to set aside time to do things you enjoy and to not always be chasing goals/thinking about productivity. This is especially hard but important for upholders. And I think it models good behavior for our kiddos, too!

  • Reply Erika December 3, 2020 at 1:13 pm

    I loved this episode! I know you also listen to the Lazy Genius but this reminded me of some of her episodes that are short but brilliant and make you feel ready to try something new. Heading into 4 days of solo parenting and I am definitely going to try the tip of scheduling some rest once per day. My older two children do very well with advance planning so I think informing them “this is when we will all have alone time/rest time/independent reading/play” just might work!

  • Reply Leah Burman December 5, 2020 at 1:17 pm

    I loved the episode, because I’ve found rest is so important. I recommend any of the writing of Richard Swenson; I read one page from his “A Minute of Margin” each morning two years ago and it made a positive difference in my life. I also enjoyed his book “Margin”

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