Celeste Headlee is an award-winning journalist, bestselling author, and speaker. Her TEDx talk has over 26 million views. Her books include Do Nothing: How to Break Away From Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving and Speaking of Race: Why Everyone Needs to Talk About Race–And How To Do It.

Celeste is a 25-year veteran of public broadcasting. She was a host on NPR and she has also been on PBS and PRI. And during this time in her career she really started researching and figuring out how to have better conversations and how to interview well, that’s when she realized most people are not good at informal conversations–especially difficult ones on topics such as race and politics.

She gave a TED Talk on that topic and it went viral so she wrote a book on the same theme titled, We Need To Talk: How To Have Conversations That Matter. The TED Talk really changed her life and led her down the career path she is on today.

Why we struggle to truly rest

There is a quote from Bertand Russell that Celeste included in her book, Do Nothing and it is such a great quote.

“It will be said that while a little leisure is pleasant, men would not know how to fill their days if they had only four hours of work out of twenty four. In so far as this is true in the modern world it is a condemnation of our civilization; it would not have been true at any earlier period. There was formerly a capacity for lightheartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake.”

So many of us, myself included, have a hard time taking time away from work, resting, and not thinking about what else we have to get done. Celeste says for the longest time she felt the same way too. The to-do list in her head was never complete and she would justify working until 10 o’clock at night so that she could “get ahead”. But the problem was she never got ahead, the list kept getting longer and never emptied. So what was the point of working so late?

We tend to think that people going back through history have always worked hard, and they did, but they also knew how to have balance. Something that we struggle with. Celeste says this all changed with the Industrial Revolution. Before the Industrial Revolution people worked half the year, or maybe less. Even the lowest ranking people had time off. They spent a week celebrating a wedding. After the harvest was done, they took a week or more to reward themselves for the hard work they accomplished with a festival. People, even serfs, had some land, they made their own tools, they were capable of taking care of themselves.

During the Industrial Revolution people moved to the cities to work in the factories and for the first time in history time equaled money. That is when the obsession with efficiency and productivity started. And this is something we still focus on today—it’s all about the hustle culture–the more you work supposedly the more successful you are.

But the truth is people who work around 50 hours a week only make between 6-9% more than someone working 40 hours or less. So there really isn’t a huge financial gain to working excessively.

Celeste shares that actually people who take all of their vacation time every year are more likely to get promoted and have a higher salary than those who don’t take their vacation time. So, as she states, long hours are literally counterproductive.

When you work more hours you are more apt to make mistakes, you’re much more likely to be irritable and tired, and it often leads to an unhealthy lifestyle that leads to heart attacks, strokes, etc…


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How to stop overworking

For those of you reading this and thinking that you would like to work less and take care of yourself more, Celeste has a few tips on how to start.

The first thing you have to do is track your time. Most of the time your perception of the time you are using to do a certain task or job is not reality. When you track your time you will see how much time you are actually losing on certain things.

Once you figure out where you are losing time, work on fixing it. Maybe you don’t realize you spend 3 hours a day checking social media. Or maybe you spend a lot of free time shopping online for things you don’t end up buying.

Celeste came to the realization that her grandmother was far more productive, engaged, and active than she is without all of the modern tools we have to cut down the time it takes to do things. We have vacuums that can run on their own, we have dishwashers, clothing washers & dryers, we have microwaves, etc…And yet without those things Celeste’s grandmother was a member of social clubs, she worked in her garden, she wrote books, she hosted backyard bbq’s with neighbors—she had a ton of hobbies on top of the work she did everyday. We really have no excuse.

Once you have tracked your time and find out where the lost time is going you have to figure out what it is you want to do in an average week and on an average weekend. And understand that no one in the world is able to focus for eight hours straight. We have maybe three or four hours to focus on something in a day. So focus on what is really important and keep going until you get really distracted. And make note of when throughout the day you are most focused–are you better in the morning or the evening–when is your brain at it’s best. And work around that.

How to have tough conversations at work

These days there are so many hot topics that people shy away from in the workplace to avoid confrontation. But Celeste says we should talk about things like politics and race–but we have to find a way to do so in a respectful, level-headed way.

Celeste’s advice for how to talk about these tough topics at work are:

  1. Stop going into conversations with the intention of changing someone’s mind.
  2. Don’t worry about what you’re going to say, think about what you want to hear from the other person to understand their side more
  3. Connect with the other person emotionally and show them empathy instead of trying to logically win a fight with statistics and facts
  4. Make sure you are in the right frame of mind to have this type of conversation

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