We’ve all heard stories about that person who radically simplified their life. The person who moved to a mountaintop cabin in the middle of nowhere. The one who only has three pieces of furniture. Some adopt a simple life for spiritual reasons, practical reasons, or no particular reason at all. And once upon a time, we thought such simplicity was a pipe dream at best.

Then COVID happened. Everyone alive at this moment now has at least some picture of this idea: staying home, slowing down, paying attention to the little things. While rest and simplicity were somewhat forced upon us during this time, what if we could carry the positive lessons into life after the pandemic? 

Rest isn’t a new idea. It’s just not an idea that many of us in the Western world – and specifically the United States – give much attention. The last several months have forced us to take a hard look at our pervasive “live to work” mentality. Whether or not you enjoy a work-from-home environment, it does allow you to surround yourself with the people and things you work to live. (It also makes you realize that some things – like squeaky dog toys and homework piles – are not conducive to office work.)

The choice now isn’t whether or not to rest. The best workers are the best resters. (Does that sound too good to be true? Check this out). The decision now lies in how we are going to live this out. We will go back to the office; school and kids’ activities will eventually start up again. When life picks up the pace, how do we keep a rhythm of rest?

Be picky. Some in-person meetings can be video meetings. Some video meetings can be emails. Some emails (*gasp*) don’t need to be answered. Refuse to accept the idea that it’s unacceptable to decline a meeting if you have an empty slot in your calendar. My mom calls this space “margin.” Protect the margins of your life, and you’ll find there’s more of you to go around. 

Practical step: Consider creating a list of four or five main priorities in your life. Some of these will be related to your “work,” others to your family, or your passions. If a new commitment does not fit into one of these priorities, strongly consider saying no.  

Cultivate your space. Clutter and distractions are incompatible with efficiency and focus. Whether you return to an office space or continue in a home environment, the area around you can dramatically affect your work for better or worse. Limit the number of items on your desk, and consider limiting the number of decorative items in your space to those that most motivate or inspire you. Placing a clear to-do list and motivational quote(s) in your area can help you stay on track as well. (This resource is a tool for creating project lists.)

Practical step: Pick several items for your desk – perhaps 4 or 5. This week, allow no more than that many items on your desk at one time. At the end of the week, evaluate and adjust as needed. 

Start small. Some people may find it relatively easy to rest…but for many of us, that isn’t the case. This incredibly important work of cultivating rest is just that: work. Your life may never be as peaceful and serene as the “Scandinavian Modern” living rooms on IKEA commercials, and that’s okay. Set small goals for integrating rest into your work today, tomorrow, this week, and so on. Little by little, you’ll learn to mix in much-needed rest to this wonderfully crazy thing called life. 

If this topic is one that interests you, below are some resources for further information on rest.

The Power of Less by Leo Babauta 

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Babauta’s website, zen habits and particularly this

Rest, Relaxation, and Exercise

A piece about the history of eight-hour workdays and how change could benefit us