Less (Work) is More.

When George C. Marshall served on the cabinet he was known—unlike some of his predecessors—to keep modest working hours. Part of this may have been his age (Marshall had already retired from the military, and was 66 when he ascended to Secretary of State, and nearly 70 when he became Secretary of Defense), but I like to think he may have figured that working less may, in fact, be like working more. Ed Smith, writing at the New Statesman, argues as much:

The lesser [cricket] players spread their work throughout the day, never escaping a sense of stress and anxiety. The elite players, in contrast, consolidated their work into two well-defined periods, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Either side of these peaks of concentration, the best players enjoyed life: they slept more during the daytime and spent more time having fun away from music. Their lives were simultaneously more relaxed and more productive. What some people call idleness is often the best investment.

Smith cites, with admitted sheepishness, Bertrand Russell’s famous arguments for leisure. (Russell, he notes, contended we should work four-hour days; In Praise of Idleness is a book I’ve been meaning to read for some time. Of the Russell I’ve read, I’ve only tackled The History of Western Philosophy.) While Smith isn’t aiming for the same target that Russell was—Russell wanted leisure for leisure’s sake, while Smith wants leisure for work’s sake—he still has hit the bullseye.

Coincidentally, I came across a great piece at Study Hacks (via Shawn Blanc) about “shutdowns” and how they could be the key to a peaceful working mind. A rather obvious connection can be made between these two links: working less, taking breaks, be they “shutdowns” or not, is essential to any kind of concentration and focus. Only with the kind of eased, relaxed concentration can we truly do our best work. How we achieve that may vary, but finding that appropriate method and balance of concentration and relaxation is the end goal.