We live in a world where it’s possible to work ourselves 24/7. Even when you’re away from the office, work still follows you on your smartphone. Being constantly connected can make us feel like we’re getting a lot done, but my guest today makes the case that we’d all be better off if we practiced the ancient tradition of the Sabbath. His name Aaron Edelheit and he’s the author of the book The Hard Break: The Case for a 24/6 Lifestyle.
We begin our show discussing the burnout Aaron experienced as an entrepreneur working non-stop, how he rediscovered the Jewish tradition of the Sabbath, and how it changed his life and even helped him sell his business for over 200 million dollars. Along the way, we explore America’s workaholism and how it’s making us miserable and less productive, and costing businesses money. Aaron then digs into how you can start implementing a Sabbath practice regardless of your beliefs, and the benefits that accrue to your life, your health, your creativity, and even your bottom line when you take a weekly reset.
- How Aaron realized he was working too much
- Why Americans feel like they’re working more than ever
- The physical consequences of being constantly connected
- The myth of “rise and grind”; why success isn’t worth martyrdom
- Why the Sabbath is more important today than it’s ever been
- What the Jewish Sabbath looks like
- Case studies of how big-time entrepreneurs and companies have used tech breaks to improve their businesses
- The signaling of busyness
- What really matters in life
- How to set-up a weekly sabbath for yourself
- Tips for getting the most out of your Sabbath
- Why so many Silicon Valley titans are surfers
- How a vacation sparked the idea for the Hamilton Broadway play
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- How and Why to Take a Tech Sabbath
- 4 Lessons From a 4-Week Social Media Fast
- In Praise of Wasting Time
- The Complete Guide to Breaking Your Smartphone Habit
- 5 Concrete Ways to Develop a Healthier Relationship With Your Phone
- Elevate Your Game and Avoid Burnout
- The Joy of Missing Out
- The Meaning, Manifestations, and Treatments for Anxiety
- Are Modern People the Most Exhausted in History?
- Dustin Moskovitz
- Default mode network
- Brad Feld and his article “The Power of a Digital Sabbath”
- How to Make Time for What Really Matters Every Day
- The Dangers of Distracted Parenting
- Love Is All You Need
- Becoming a Digital Minimalist
Connect With Aaron
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Recorded on ClearCast.io
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. We live in a world where it’s possible to work ourselves 24/7. Even when you’re away from the office, work still follows you on your smartphone. Being constantly connected can make us feel like we’re getting a lot done. My guest today makes the case that we’d all be better off if we practice the ancient tradition of the Sabbath.
His name is Aaron Edelheit, and he’s the author of the book The Hard Break: The Case for a 24/6 Lifestyle. We begin our show discussing the burnout Aaron experienced as an entrepreneur working nonstop, how he rediscovered the Jewish tradition of the Sabbath, how it changed his life, even helped him sell his business for over $200 million. Along the way, we explore America’s workaholism and how it’s making us miserable and less productive and costing businesses money. Aaron then digs into how you could start implementing a Sabbath practice regardless of your beliefs and the benefits that it accrues to your life, your healthy, your creativity, and even your bottom line when you take a weekly rest.
After the show’s over, check out the show notes at aom.is/hardbreak. Aaron joins me now via clearcast.io.
Aaron Edelheit, welcome to the show.
Aaron Edelheit: Thank you so much for having me.
Brett McKay: You just put out a book called The Hard Break: The Case for the 24/6 Lifestyle, not the 24/7. Before we get to the impetus behind… well, actually, this is the impetus behind the book. You start off the book talking about a moment in your life. You’re a finance guy. You’ve been running investment properties, a company that manages investment properties. Super motivated type A. There’s this moment you found yourself, you were sobbing in the shower, and you just thought your whole world was falling apart. Tell us about that moment.
Aaron Edelheit: It was actually a pivotal moment in my life. Normally, people aren’t too keen to talk about when they have a emotional breakdown, but this is actually before I started owning rental properties and managing them. But I had started managing money for people and investing it in the stock market at an early age of 23 and started seeing really tremendous success, started in 1998. For four years, even through the dot-com crisis, I was a golden god. I averaged like 25% a year positive returns. The whole market was going down, and I formed my own very small hedge fund. Things looked to be taking off.
Then suddenly, a bunch of things started happening, really, just life things where I had a relationship, personal relationship, and we broke up. I had taken on a business partner. We started fighting, and then that broke up. Then I got sick, and doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me. Eventually, it was misdiagnosed appendicitis, and out of this, and then suddenly, not surprisingly, my business returns started falling. Suddenly, I wasn’t outperforming.
I was still very young at this point. I was 27, 28. I didn’t realize it’s actually normal to under-perform for some periods of time. I mean, I wasn’t mature enough. Warren Buffett has had periods where he hasn’t done so well, and it’s actually normal, but the combination of all those events really put me in a tailspin, and I found myself crying in the shower and not knowing what to do. I got myself out of it. My first thought, really, was, “Well, I gotta double down on work. My returns, my results are not what I expect, so I’ve gotta do more. I’ve gotta work even harder.”
What I found is that wasn’t helping anything. It really wasn’t… It took me a little bit, but it wasn’t until, really, out of desperation that I said to myself, “Well, maybe the problem isn’t that I’m not working enough, but maybe the problem is that I’m working too much and I’m too invested in it.” Really out of desperation, I decided in 2005, “What I’m going to do is I’m going to turn off,” and at this point, it was a Blackberry, “I’m going to turn off my Blackberry on Friday night right before I go to bed, and I’m going to try to make it until noon on Saturday.”
This is how addicted, I’m still addicted to my phone, but this is how addicted I was at the time. It seemed like a heroic task. How can I possibly have my phone off for four or five hours? I did it. Then after a couple of weeks, I said, “Maybe I can make it to 2:00 or 3:00,” and I did. Then after a couple of months, I said, “Why can’t I do it a whole day?” Really, out of that experiment, it just transformed my whole life. Now I’ve been doing it for over 13 years. It’s the best thing in my life, and it enabled me to have all of the success that I had after.
What caused me to start crying in the shower? My portfolio was down 5%. That’s ridiculous, right?
Brett McKay: Right.
Aaron Edelheit: There’s just absolutely no perspective there. Now fast forward to 2008 when you have real problems, the financial crisis, markets are down 30 or 40%, but now, instead, I have a stronger foundation, which we can talk about later, and now, I’m a stronger person, so I was able to say, “Wait a minute. There’s opportunity here,” and so, in the heart of the financial crisis, started buying foreclosed homes, fixing them up and renting them out in 2009 and grew that from 16 rental homes to 2,500. I was able to then, as I say in the book, up and down through the book, the whole time, shutting completely off from work and technology from Friday to Saturday night, and then selling the company for $263 million to a public real estate investment trust.
I can tell you is that if it wasn’t for me taking off a day every week, I would not have been able to find that opportunity, have the stamina to see it through to go through the ups and downs. It would not have been possible. After I sold the company, I started working on this book. Took me 3.5 years, and I wanted to definitively make the case because the other thing that I saw from my company is that I saw all these work practices inside and outside the company from having about a hundred employees to over 126 investors, a board of directors, investment bankers, contractors, et cetera.
Brett McKay: You basically implemented a Sabbath in your life.
Aaron Edelheit: That’s right.
Brett McKay: Before you get there, before you talk about what a Sabbath is and what it can look like, let’s talk about the problem that you were facing because you’re not the only one that this is happening to where you work all the time, you’re not getting the results you think you should get, so you think the solution is, “Well, I should just double down on work.” You highlight all this research that says that Americans, particularly middle class, upper class Americans, people who are doing knowledge type, like lawyers, doctors, creative types, they feel like they’re working more than ever. How many hours are Americans working on average these days?
Aaron Edelheit: It’s not so much that we’re working more hours, per se, but it’s that we’re constantly connected. That’s one of the biggest problems. We’re constantly connected, and we’re on-call. If you think about it, when you have your phone on and you’re connected to your phone and your computer and your email, you’re basically on-call to every business contact and every social contact that you’ve almost ever met through Facebook, through Twitter, through email, through Slack. Everyone can reach you at anytime. Our brains are addicted to the point to check it. We may not immediately respond, but everyone has access to us. The research is very clear. We are not made to be on-call every waking moment of the day, and it’s an absurd comment. It’s an absurdity. How are we… Why would we allow that? How could that possibly because good?
One of the reasons I spent so much time working on the book is there’s 200 foot notes in this book. I had to remove dozens because my editor told me, “You’re not writing a scientific paper.” The evidence is overwhelming that what we’re doing to ourselves from a health, a mental health, happiness, creativity, productivity, it’s not working. We know this. We intuitively know that something’s wrong. We see it in society as well. People are more anxious. There’s an anxiety epidemic going on. People are angrier. We’re arguably living in the best time ever to be alive in terms of health, in terms of lifespan, in terms of violence, in terms of opportunity. There is inequality. That doesn’t mean it’s all wonderful, but if you look in the vast industry, we should be dancing in the streets by how good the world is, but we’re not acting like it.
Brett McKay: No, yeah, for sure, and I mean, okay, there’s emotional psychological consequence. You talk about the physical health consequence of us constantly being connected and constantly work, like you might not work more hours, but it’s just you’re always constantly checking in. It’s sucking up your bandwidth. There’s also physical health consequence, like you experienced-
Aaron Edelheit: Yes.
Brett McKay: … something like that.
Aaron Edelheit: Oh, yeah, no, would you want an 80% increase in coronary risk?
Brett McKay: Right. No, yeah.
Aaron Edelheit: All you have to do is work more than 10 hours a day. That’s according to 50 years of research. It’s really bad for women. Women who work an average of 60 hours a week are three times as likely to develop heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and diabetes. There’s a link between long work hours and depression, heart disease, type 2 diabetes. You’re more likely to become an alcoholic. Then just think about injuries.
There’s a German study that show that after the eighth or a ninth hour of work, you have a substantially higher risk of injury on the job. You’re more likely, if you work more than 12 hours a day or more than 40 hours a week to have neck, shoulder, and back disorders. WHO, the World Health Organization, estimates that health, mental illness, and substance abuse cost employers something like $100 billion a year. This is all translating into… Then if you… The problem seems to get worse. The average stress level is, for millennials on a scale of 1-10 is 5.4, and for boomers, it’s 4.7, and for the older generation, it’s 3.7.
Then you look in college, college health clinics are being overrun with mental health cases. It’s growing by double digit percentages every year. The number one way that middle school kids die is from suicide. It used to be car accidents. A lot of this stuff is just like, whoa. There’s not only physical, but there is this really mental consequence of overworking, of being connected all the time, and it’s that we’re not built and set up for this.
It’s like anything. This doesn’t mean that you just go back to using a rotary phone. It’s just that anything taken in its extreme is not going to be good.
Brett McKay: Also, there’s a lack of perspective. You also highlight some startup culture that exist where it’s either you succeed or you’re a complete failure if your startup doesn’t succeed. All these guys, there’s been a couple of high-profile cases of startup founders whose startup didn’t do so well, and they ended up committing suicide.
Aaron Edelheit: That’s right. This is probably the number one reason that I wrote the book is there is this pernicious myth that you need to grind and burn yourself out and go to a level that is almost like martyrdom to succeed. It’s not true. Then not only is it not true, but there are tremendous negative consequences to doing this: family life, mental health, physical, and I profile a series of people, including one of the co-founders of Facebook, he has severe regret, Dustin Moskovitz, severe regret that the way he worked and said, “I could’ve done a better job. I could’ve done a better boss.”
It’s like he took those lessons, and when he co-founded his next company, Asana, which is, I believe, the number one company to work for in America, and I think they have three or four billion dollar valuation. Ironically, it’s a productivity software tool. They have… You work like 9:00-5:00. There is strong encouragement on mental wellbeing and on setting boundaries at work at his new company. He started it from scratch, and now it’s been very successful.
There are a number of people in companies throughout the book as you know from reading it that profile that they either burn themselves out, which they hadn’t, or what they’ve done is they’re super successful because they take a Sabbath.
Brett McKay: Well, I mean, that’s the other thing. There’s not only health, both physical and psychological consequences of overworking, but the research, actually working more makes you less productive. It does the exact opposite of what you think it would do.
Aaron Edelheit: That’s exactly right. What happens is that there’s… This isn’t surprising if you think about it. Look, if I needed to work on a project, and I’m on a deadline, can I, for a week or two, grind it out and really put in the superman-type hours and get it done? Yes, absolutely, but if research has shown that you keep that up for more than a month or two, then your productivity starts to decline.
Then, eventually, it starts declining further than if you just worked 40 hours a day. One of the more interesting things that I profile in the book was this Stanford researcher who found extensive details in World War I. Why this is so interesting is, so World War I breaks out, and Britain needs to compete with the German War Machine and produce more munitions. They suspend… They had started implementing all these positive labor rules to protect the workforce after the Industrial Revolution, but war breaks out, and they said, “Hey, sorry. This is life or death.” They took away all the labor rules. They started producing munitions, but it’s not enough, so they form a commission, they say, “Commission, I want to you to look into the data, and we want you to do a survey and let us know how do we produce more munitions.”
They did a detailed, they grabbed piece of data they could, and they came back with a pretty shocking recommendation. That was that workers needed to work less and not more. They found that the best workers were those that didn’t, not the ones who worked seven days a week, but those that worked six days a week and had a Sunday Sabbath were the most productive. What they found is, is that the longer that people worked the seven days, the more likely they were to get injured, the more likely they were to make a mistake, the more likely they were to get sick, to get tired.
This type of study has been repeated a number of times, and it’s not surprising. Now, what I argue is the Sabbath, an institution that has been around for thousands of years, is arguably more important today than it’s ever been because, if you think about it, our brain is a muscle just like anything else, and we’re constantly plugged in and we’re constantly connected and we’re constantly using it. What’s happening is we’re not giving our brain a break. We’re having a lot of negative mental health aspects that we’ve already talked about, but on the other side, why are we doing it? We’re doing it because we want to achieve more, we want to be more successful, we want to provide for our families.
Well, an interesting thing. This is what’s so fascinating after doing a deep dive in this, is that you have a tradition that’s thousands of years old. The latest in neuroscience shows that when you’re relaxing, when you’re not actively engaging your brain, there’s a part of your brain that goes into overdrive, and that’s called the default mode network.
Now, what does the default mode network do? The default mode network takes in the information and the experiences that you have, processes them, and tries to form patterns. What does that mean? You ever have the proverbial idea in the shower? Are you ever going for a walk, and all of a sudden, a solution to a problem hits you? That’s the default mode network.
What does that mean for today? How do you be successful today? Well, you’ve gotta be more creative. You’ve gotta be more innovative. You gotta be a better problem solver. It’s not about taking in more information. It’s about what do you do with information. If you’re not giving yourself a break, you’re not giving your brain a break, you’re actually hurting your chances to succeed in today’s world.
Brett McKay: Obviously, we’re overworking. Not good for you. Taking breaks are actually beneficial. Let’s talk about this idea of Sabbath. As you said, it’s been around for thousands of years. You are Jewish, but at the time, you weren’t practicing, you weren’t very observant, but then you had that moment in the shower, and then you doubled down. That didn’t work, so you started implementing, because you started on Friday night, that’s typically when Jewish people start their Sabbath, not using your phone.
For our listeners who aren’t familiar, can you walk us through what the Jewish Sabbath observant is like. What does that look like?
Aaron Edelheit: It’s different for different Jews. Mine is, the Jewish Sabbath is from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Christian Sabbath is on Sunday. What I use my Sabbath to do is, Friday night, I turn off my phone, I turn off my computer, I turn off my laptop. What I try to do is not talk about work or do any work on that Saturday, on that Friday night to Saturday.
Now, personally, I will drive somewhere, I will watch TV, but because I have three small children, it’s more likely to be Frozen or some other Pixar-type movie or Bubble Guppies or something, but I won’t watch anything on business or politics. If I drive, it’ll go to meet friends. That is my Sabbath. What I’ll try to do is go for a hike. One of my favorite things is taking a nap. It literally makes me feel like a king. I love it. What I try to do is just really connect with my family and friends during the Sabbath. There’s other Jews who, it’s a much more religious day. Some of the more religious Jews will turn off all electricity or they’ll leave certain lights on and stuff like that. For me, it’s more of a, I’m taking the more personal side for me to just connect with myself and my family.
Brett McKay: Besides Judaism and Christianity, are there other religions that have a practice of taking a break from work?
Aaron Edelheit: Well, I know that just inside Christianity, Mormons also do it. I believe, I didn’t do so much research in this, but there is a Buddhist day, like a inner calm rest day that happens a couple times a month, but my focus has just been what works on me.
The reason I called the book The Hard Break is it’s taking the concept of the Sabbath and showing a bunch of different ways that people do it. I don’t believe it’s necessarily a Jewish or Christian thing. The idea is born out of this, but I profile, like there’s some people in the book that what they do is, there’s a lot of peer pressure at work to stay at work and work long hours, and some people say, “Hey, at 5:00 p.m., I’m done and I’m not reachable.” They go pick up their kids. They may play sports with them, help them with their homework, have a meal together, put them in their room, put them to bed, et cetera, and then they turn back on 8:00, 8:30. Their hard break every week is that 3.5 hours. I don’t think it’s ideal. I think it is good to have a whole day.
In fact, research has shown that cortisol, which is a marker of stress in your body, that it takes about 24 hours if you have elevated levels of cortisol for it to return to normal. It’s really interesting to find all this research that it ties back into the idea of taking a whole day, but there are different ways to practice it, and it doesn’t have to be religious. Brad Feld, for example, one of the most prominent venture capitalists, one of the most successful, his is strictly a secular digital Sabbath, so there’s no religious connotation to his day of rest.
Brett McKay: Let’s talk about some of these people you highlight because a lot of people are afraid of taking that break from work, whether it’s just coming off the phone or just not being reachable because they’ll think it’ll put them behind the competition, but yet you highlighted several successful business people who have made taking complete time off once a week part of the routine. You mention the gentleman just now. You also talk about Clay Christensen, the guy who wrote The Innovator’s Dilemma, a practicing Mormon. For his entire career, even when he was working at a consulting company, he didn’t work on Sundays or Saturdays.
Aaron Edelheit: Yeah, no, so this what’s really interesting is that, it’s very important, the Sabbath isn’t broccoli. It’s not like a vegetable you have to take. This is, to me, it’s ice cream. I get a vacation day every week, and not only do I get a vacation day, but this vacation day, it has been the key to my success. What I wanted to do is not only share all the research, the overwhelming amount of research that shows how it doesn’t work, how we’re working doesn’t work and how bad it is for you, but I wanted that profile people that are not only doing it but say that it is the key to their success.
Brad Feld, prominent venture capitalist, said he’s doing the best work he’s ever done since he implemented this. You mentioned about Clayton Christensen and all of the success that he has done, has seen. Think of… The best example is Chick-fil-A.
Brett McKay: Oh, yeah. I love Chick-fil-A.
Aaron Edelheit: Yeah, they’re closed every Sunday. How many times do you drive by a Chick-fil-A on Sunday and go, “I wish they were open,” but they’re closed every Sunday. The average Chick-fil-A does four times the revenue of the average KFC, even though KFC is open every day. They’re about to be the third largest fast food company in the country, and they do $9 billion in sales. If you talk to the executives of Chick-fil-A, they say the key to their success is the Sabbath. I profile in the book why and how all of their practices in their company flow down from this idea that everyone gets a day off. They are more successful because of it.
You mentioned Clayton Christensen. When he first started in his career, he was at Boston Consulting Group who frowned in taking a day off. You think about consultants, they’re working all the time. It’s a very tough job. You have to travel as well. It’s interesting to profile Clayton’s story where in the ’60s or ’70s he was struggling at Boston Consulting Group, and he stuck to his Sabbath practice to the Boston Consulting Group of today because the Boston Consulting Group reached a level where the senior partners were, “We’re having a problem retaining employees. They’re burning out. They’re using our company as a stepping stone. How do we retain our employees? How do we have them see that this is a place to stay?”
A Harvard professor came in and said, “Hey, I’d like to start an experiment. We’d like to try and see what happens if some of your consultants take a day off.” The senior partners was like, “Yes. You’ll find a team, and we’ll monitor them and see how they do.” The Harvard professor tries to go in and can’t find anyone who wants a day off, which is kind of totally absurd if you and I were to take a time machine of anytime, 20, 30 years ago, 50 years ago, a hundred years ago, and you were to come in and say to a person, “Hey, I want you to take a paid time off and not work.” You have a person, and in the past would be, “Yes. That sounds amazing.” But only today, when it’s like, “No, no. I can’t do that. It’s going to hurt my career.”
Brett McKay: Or just looks bad, right? Like-
Aaron Edelheit: Yeah-
Brett McKay: …it’s like you’re-
Aaron Edelheit: … it’ll look bad. It’s just like-
Brett McKay: … you’re a immoral person, like a less virtuous person if you take time off.
Aaron Edelheit: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Eventually, the senior partners have to intervene. They find one team, and what happens? Well, this team starts saying, “My god. I feel so refreshed. This is really wonderful. I’m having these new ideas,” and then they start talking amongst each other and say, “Hey, why are we having that three-hour meeting? Can’t it be 30 minutes?” Then people start backing each other up, and they start saying, “Oh, now I understand why this person does the job this way.” They start working better together. What happens? They’re more refreshed. They have better ideas. They’re more efficient, and they’re working better together. What is the quality of their output? Substantially better. All of a sudden, other people in their office said, “Wait a minute. They look happier. How do I get in on this?”
The senior partners say, “Whoa, there’s something really here,” and so they did something very enlightened, which is to say they went in, and they said, “You know what? We’re going to roll this out to the entire company,” but, of course, and you gotta love this, only consultants, they come up with a name about this. They say, “We’re going to call this predicable time off.” I call it the Sabbath. They’re like, “We invented,” and Boston Consulting Group is like the number three or number four best company to work for. Retention in the company has surged, the employee satisfaction, and they’re absolutely benefiting from this, from the qualitative output to inside the company, the quality of work and life and the happiness of their employees.
Brett McKay: Well, speaking of that, you mentioned if you went back in a time machine 20 years ago and someone came to you and said, “Do you want time off?” people would be like, “Yes,” but now, it’s like, “No. I’m going to work. I’m going to rise and grind. I’m going to hustle.” That’s the ethos today, but I mean, like, I was talking about my wife about this. 20 years ago, Office Space came out, that movie. That’s how people felt about work. It’s like, “Well, if I had a million dollars, I would do nothing. I don’t want to work all the time.”
Now, it’s like I don’t think that would resonate with a lot of young people as it would. “Of course, you should always work. Work is amazing. You should hustle and rise and grind.”
Aaron Edelheit: Well, I think that what you have to look is as to what’s driving this. What I think what’s driving this is signaling. It’s wearing it on a sleeve, or it’s this, you look at other people that are doing it, and they enforce it. It’s all about looks, and it’s not about output. All we should care about are what are the results that we want. How do we want not only the results from our business life, but our personal life as well?
It’s like, I have three young kids, and my wife has taken the phone from my hand and thrown it in the front bushes of our house. That’s how upset she’s been, and still with how I use my phone, she complains that she only sees the top of my head. It has helped save my marriage and my relationship with my wife that she knows at least one day a week she gets all of me. Not a distracted me.
There was a wonderful article in The Atlantic talking about how parents are now spending more time than they’ve ever spent with their children, but the quality of that time is garbage. It sucks. Why? Because they’re distracted. They’re not really there, and our kids know it. When I sit on the floor with my daughter, my five-year-old daughter, and we’re playing, and then she does something cute, and I want to take a picture or I want to turn on her favorite song, so I go to my phone because everything’s on my phone. I go to do it, and then I look, “Oh, I got an email. Got a text. I wonder what’s going on.”
Five, 10 seconds, and my daughter will turn to me and say, “Papa, will you play with me?” My first reaction is like, “I am playing with you. I’m right here,” but she knows she doesn’t have my full attention. On that Sabbath day, there is no distraction. There is no… I am there. I can’t tell you is that it just, everything in life comes from relationships, all of our satisfaction. Look, now, obviously, past a certain dollar amount, you want to make sure that you have roof over your head and you have a job and you’re paying the bills and stuff, but once you get past that, all of the satisfaction in life comes from relationships.
Don’t you want to have one day where you just get to focus on those relationships the most important? Don’t you want to just have a lunch or a dinner with friends or family and not be distracted or feel like you have to go run to something else and something else and something else?
Brett McKay: No, yeah, I think a lot of people would like to feel that. Let’s get to some brass tacks of how we can start implementing this in our lives. How do you go about setting up a Sabbath for somebody because I imagine it takes some prep work to get it-
Aaron Edelheit: Yes.
Brett McKay: … make sure in place. What does that look like?
Aaron Edelheit: The number one thing I recommend is baby steps is don’t jump in with both feet. I don’t think it works with diets. I don’t think it works with many things that you start going to the gym, and you’re going to be like, “I’m working out every day.” You’re not going to keep it up. It’s not sustainable. How do you make this sustainable in your life?
To me, it’s you take baby steps. How did it work for me? I started with four hours on a Saturday morning to having my phone and computer off. What I recommend is people start doing it, and prep beforehand. Let people know where you’re going to be, that you’re going to be off. You set the expectation in advance. Anything that you need to get done, you get done in advance.
Then there’s just tips and tricks that you can do. A lot of people don’t realize this, but let’s say you didn’t want to have your phone completely off. You can put “do not disturb” on your phone, turn off all notifications. If you put up “do not disturb,” at least on the iPhone, if someone calls you twice within five minutes, it’ll ring through, so if you really need to have that phone on, you can keep it on.
The other things, just tricks that I have… As I said, I have three small kids, two of them have some ongoing health issues. They’re doing well, but there’s been times when my wife and I have to separate on a Sabbath for a variety of reasons. What we’ll do, we’ll switch phones. There’s nothing on my wife’s phone that… there’s no work email, there’s no Twitter, none of the social media is mine. It’s just a phone.
You can also get, you think of the movie, you get an old flip phone to use just for the Sabbath. There’s a bunch of little things to think about, like how are you going… because what keeps people connected is fear, the fear of what happens if X happens or someone needs to reach me or… One, I can tell you very little happens on Saturday, and from a business perspective, there’s very little. If you’re so critical that you need to be on seven days a week, something’s wrong either with your job or the business that you’re running because that is not sustainable. What happens if you get sick or get hit by a truck or your business is going away, you’re describing there’s no redundancy in your business. Going back to is that this is what a lot of very smart entrepreneurs are starting to realize. Building redundancy into your business is actually really good, so giving people days off is ways to find where there are problems in your system that if someone can’t take a day off, then that’s a problem.
Those are some the ways. The other ways is make it enjoyable. Remember, this is not meant to be this painful medicine you have to take. This is supposed to be a vacation. This is supposed to be a day of rest. What are you going to do on these days? Some of the days I do is I just read for pleasure. I’m not reading to improve my… Constantly, I’m reading blogs, like The Art of Manliness, or I’m reading books and productivity stuff and trying to, how am I going to make myself better and better?
You know what I don’t do on the Sabbath? I don’t do any of that. I read like science fiction and stuff purely for fun. I take a nap. I go for a hike. If I’m going to do an activity, there’s just one activity because, remember, the Sabbath is meant to be different than every other day, so the last thing you want to do is turn off your phone, and then say, “I’m going to pack in seven or eight activities. I’m going to run from one thing to another.” That’s not a Sabbath.
Brett McKay: Right, you don’t want to make it chore-
Aaron Edelheit: Yeah, that’s exactly-
Brett McKay: … that you’re trying to get through.
Aaron Edelheit: … right. It’s meant to be this… You’re getting time back. You’re getting time back. You’re getting this gift of time, which we all know is just flying by so fast. Enjoy it.
Brett McKay: No, for sure, yeah. Sabbath was made for man, not man for the… Make it free. Make it a refreshing day for yourself. Yeah, I mean, it sounds like a lot of things you can do, reconnect with family, and that could be one of the things you talk about is call your parents because you probably don’t see your parents. Use that day where you call them, or FaceTime, whatever it is you want to do with that.
I didn’t know that, you talk about in Jewish tradition, like Sabbath is a day to have sex, which I had no clue-
Aaron Edelheit: That’s exactly right.
Brett McKay: … that was a thing.
Aaron Edelheit: I profile Senator Joseph Lieberman, who was almost vice president, and he talks about it in his book. Again, it comes from this idea that it’s supposed to be enjoyable, but it’s actually a commandment. You’re actually supposed to have sex on the Sabbath.
When you talk about, for me, at least, connecting with your family, connecting with your spouse, connecting with friends, it’s meant to be enjoyable. The other thing is make it your own. What do you not get to do during the week that you would like to do? There’s some people who are like, “You know what I love to do? I love to go out and garden,” or they’ve asked me, “Hey, is it okay if I mow the lawn?” It’s like, “I really enjoy it, and I zone out.”
Yes. I always wondered why do so many Silicon Valley founders and venture capitalists are surfers. Then it hit me after talking to them of why they’re constantly rushing out to do it. That’s their little Sabbath. What can’t you do when you’re surfing? You’re not on your phone. You’re not working. You’re in this zone. You’re into nature. That’s another thing, go out in the nature. Go for a hike. Go do something that is out there that will fulfill your soul.
Brett McKay: Taking weekly breaks is something we can do easily, or, I mean, maybe not easily at the beginning, but it can be done, but you also talk about within the Jewish tradition, there’s this idea of Sabbaticals where you take an extended break. That sounds like a vacation, but unfortunately, more and more Americans are taking less and less vacation.
Aaron Edelheit: Yeah, that’s right. Americans gave up something like 700 million paid vacation days. Then you’re reading in the Wall Street Journal articles about workcations where you bring your work on vacation. Now, we know from the research this is not good. It’s not good for you. It’s not good for the business. It’s not good for productivity. We know this. It’s not good for your health. We know all of this, and yet, people are doing. It’s like… and they’re giving up paid… What I do is I highlight in the book one entrepreneur, one successful CEO who’s instituted something called paid paid vacations. He pays people to turn off on their vacation. It’s kind of an absurd thing.
It brings me back to the, one thing we didn’t touch on was sports. We can learn a lot from sports because sports is actually moving in the opposite direction that business is moving in because sports is studying the athlete’s performance and realizing that breaks, hard breaks are actually critical to peak athletic performance.
That’s why you saw where the Chicago Cubs almost lost the World Series because their reliever had almost thrown too many pitches, and you find that rock climbers argue about not whether you should take a break but how many days is the right amount. You have NFL players who are saying, “Oh, well… ” J. J. Watt for the Houston Texans during the season, he says that he tries to sleep 9-10 hours a day. You have LeBron James that once playoffs come, he institutes something called Zero Dark Thirty who turns off all devices, turns off his social media, everything. Why? So he can focus and he can be present.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I think, and you talked about it earlier, the reason why Americans aren’t taking paid vacations is because they’re afraid that if they do, their boss will find out that they don’t really do anything. I mean, the company won’t grind to a halt without me, but as you said earlier, that’s also a problem. If your company does grind to a halt without you, well, that’s a problem too.
Aaron Edelheit: Yeah, but it’s not only that. I think they’re trying to signal, “Hey, I’m a real company person. I’m committed to this organization. Look, I’m even responding on my vacation,” and I don’t think that that’s how… I think it’s just signaling, but, again, if you want to be more successful in your work and you want to rise in your organization or you want your company to rise, it’s all about having the best ideas. It’s solving problems. It’s being creative. If you’re constantly connected, you’re not giving your brain the chance to be that person.
One of the best examples I cite in the book is probably the most innovative musical to come around in decades, Hamilton. How was it created? Well, Lin-Manuel Miranda had a successful Broadway show decides he’s going to go on vacation. He’s at the airport bookstore and picks up the biography of Hamilton by Ron Chernow and brings it with him on vacation. Now, who in their right mind would come up with a musical about a treasury secretary of the United States rapping with a multiracial cast and that that would take the world by storm? Well, you can only come up with something like that if you’re giving your brain the chance and you’re on vacation, so take vacation. It’s good for you. It’s good for business. It’s good for your career.
Brett McKay: I love it. But how do you talk to your employer about this because maybe you have a boss, or you work for a company where they have policies where they want you to take off, they want you to take vacation, and that’s there, but what if you work at a place that doesn’t have that where the ethos is you work all the time. When you’re on vacation, you gotta be reachable. How do you have that conversation with your employer and say, “Maybe that’s not the best thing for the company by having that policy.”
Aaron Edelheit: Well, you could give them my book. That’s one.
Brett McKay: There you go.
Aaron Edelheit: But two is you have to ask yourself, do you want to work for that company? Is this the right company? Is this a right culture I want to be around? Is this going to bring out the best in me, and is this going to be best for my family and my personal life? I mean, you can try and talk to your boss, say, “Hey, look. I’m committed. I’m working. You know I’m a hard worker, but I just need to, come this time, I’m going to be off.” You can say that, and if you get negative reaction, then you have to decide do you want to be at that company. But I work on Sunday. Sunday’s a work day for me. Just think about it. If I can’t get my work done in six days a week, something’s wrong.
Brett McKay: No. For sure. It’s a gut-check. You can do the conversation. If it doesn’t go the way you want, you might have to decide, “Well, this isn’t a great place for me,” and you go find something else.
Aaron Edelheit: I mean, I think that’s your alternatives, and luckily, now, we’re in the type of economy and shortage of workers, shortage of skilled workers where this is a time to, if ever there was a time for you to think about where you want to be and how you want to live your life, now’s the time to do it. I think employers are starting to realize this, but I think beyond just the employment situation, I think that more and more employers are realizing that something has to change. They’re realizing that burnout is a problem, that sickness, that mistakes at work, that it’s just not helpful because more and more of our jobs is about processing information, problem-solving, and being creative.
Brett McKay: Well, Aaron, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?
Aaron Edelheit: They can go to thehardbreak.com is my website. They can also find my book on Amazon, The Hard Break: The Case for a 24/6 Lifestyle. They can also find me on Twitter @aaronvalue, A-A-R-O-N, and then value.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Aaron Edelheit, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Aaron Edelheit: Thank you so much for having me.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Aaron Edelheit. He’s the author of the book The Hard Break: The Case for a 24/6 Lifestyle. It’s available on amazon.com. Also, check out our show notes at aom.is/hardbreak where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of The AOM Podcast. Check out our website artofmanliness.com where you can see all of our podcast archives. There are over 500 episodes there as well as thousands of articles we’ve written over the years about relationships. We even have articles about the Sabbath on there, a spiritual discipline, fitness. You name it, we’ve got it.
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