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What I'm Reading (No. 39): a slew of self-improvement/productivity books
In the last few weeks I've read a slew of books that fall into the wide-ranging self-improvement, productivity, and general business genre.
This isn't really my style. I went through a phase for a couple years of really digging it — I've read all of Charles Duhigg, Tim Ferriss, Malcolm Gladwell (he doesn't quite fit in the genre perfectly, but close enough), etc. But after you've read a couple handfuls, they all start to sound the same, often even referencing many of the same studies and examples.
For whatever reason, though, these 6 books landed on my desk at roughly the same time and I plowed through 'em, really enjoying some and not finishing others.
I've organized today's newsletter into three categories: Hard Pass (don't bother), Middle of the Road (not bad, not great; good for the right person), and Totes Worth It (everyone should read these).
The Pomodoro Technique by Francesco Cirillo. The Pomodoro Technique is where you work for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. The idea is to stay intensely focused for short bursts of time, then allow yourself some time for a break and inevitable distractions. It's a simple idea. And even though this is a short book written by the creator of the technique himself, it makes that idea more complex than is needed. Google "Pomodoro" rather than reading the book.
Sidetracked by Francesca Gino. This is a book that reminds me a lot of Rethinking Positive Thinking, which I read earlier this year and didn't enjoy much. Both are excellent ideas for books, but written with research- and study-heavy chapters. That's fine for some people, but not the average reader. I want better storytelling and more actionable takeaways.
Middle of the Road
Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey. Bailey is a self-described productivity expert. His first book, The Productivity Project, was basically an experiment in various productivity systems and tactics. I quite enjoyed it, so I was really looking forward to this new one. It was fine, but not a game-changer like that first book was. Hyperfocus is really just about how to focus better, and why managing your attention is probably more important than you think. If you're someone who feels like they have a hard time focusing (especially when it comes to your most important and valuable work), it'll certainly be a worthwhile read. For most readers, though, I think Cal Newport's Deep Work is a better option.
The Hard Break: The Case for the 24/6 Lifestyle by Aaron Edelheit. Pretty self-explanatory title. Edelheit makes the case for a weekly hard break from technology — specifically, of course, your smartphone. His advice comes from his own burnout experience, and it's a very well-written, thought-out book. There are plenty of titles dealing with this topic, and I enjoyed Edelheit's approach. If you're someone who's a little too attached to their phone, or feels like you're on the edge of burnout because your work is bleeding into your nights and weekends, this will be a good book to pick up. Closer to the Totes Worth It category than the Hard Pass category.
Totes Worth It
Off the Clock by Laura Vanderkam. A couple years ago I wrote an article about the benefits of time tracking, using Vanderkam's 168 Hours as a primary resource. Vanderkam is a time management expert, which of course sounds super stuffy, but she writes in a way that is so relatable. She has 4 kids, and knows exactly what it's like to be consumed by dishes and diapers (usually of the dirty variety). Off the Clock focuses on how to feel less busy — which anyone can achieve — and make more of your off hours. It's about how to actually find and make guilt-free time for the things that bring you the most joy and happiness. This is a book that everyone should read.
Farsighted by Steven Johnson. Johnson's books don't fall into a neat category. They're part history, part culture, part current events, part self-improvement. His newest book is all about how we make decisions, and perhaps more importantly, how to make better ones. Using a number of interesting case studies — from Obama's decision making in pursuing Osama bin Laden, to Charles Darwin's decision to get married, to city planners deciding New York City's future — Johnson lays out a pretty straightforward process for being a better decision maker (especially for the long-term). Now, that doesn't mean the process is easy, but the social sciences have actually made a lot of headway into figuring out how to be happier with our decisions. A fascinating read that reminded me of Gladwell, but with more actionable takeaways.
It's getting cold and snowy here in Colorado, so I'll be up in the mountains this weekend continuing to plow through Andrew Robert's massive new Churchill biography as well as a rather enjoyable novel call The Hazards of Good Fortune — a story about basketball, race, and privilege, but not told in an overly serious way (at least as of yet).
That's it for me — what have you been reading?