Category: Books

All about books, the ones I read as well as the ones I want to read

The Philosophies of Deep Work 1

In his book “Deep Work“, Cal Newport formulates a few different ways we can engage in deep work.

Book cover of Deep Work by Cal Newport

But first, what is “Deep Work”?

Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

Our creative work also falls under this “Deep Work”

So how do you develop a deep work habit?

The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration

Among other things, they’ll ask you to commit to a particular pattern for scheduling this work and develop rituals to sharpen your concentration before starting each session

You must be careful to choose a philosophy that fits your specific circumstances, as a mismatch here can derail your deep work habit before it has a chance to solidify

What are these philosophies of deep work then?

  1. Monastic Philosophy

    This philosophy attempts to maximize deep efforts by eliminating or radically minimizing shallow obligations. Practitioners of the monastic philosophy tend to have a well-defined and highly valued professional goal that they’re pursuing, and the bulk of their professional success comes from doing this one thing exceptionally well. It’s this clarity that helps them eliminate the thicket of shallow concerns that tend to trip up those whose value proposition in the working world is more varied.

  2. Bimodal PhilosophyIn this philosophy, you have some clearly defined stretches of time dedicated to deep work. The rest is open to everything else.

    During the deep time, the bimodal worker will act monastically—seeking intense and uninterrupted concentration. During the shallow time, such focus is not prioritized.

    During the deep time, the bimodal worker will act monastically—seeking intense and uninterrupted concentration. During the shallow time, such focus is not prioritized.

    So the minimum unti of time for deep work for the bimodal philosophy is one work day.

    Those who deploy the bimodal philosophy of deep work admire the productivity of the monastics but also respect the value they receive from the shallow behaviors in their working lives.

  3. Rhythmic Philosophy

    This philosophy argues that the easiest way to consistently start deep work sessions is to transform them into a simple regular habit. The goal, in other words, is to generate a rhythm for this work

    … that removes the need for you to invest energy in deciding if and when you’re going to go deep.

    Another common way to implement the rhythmic philosophy is to replace the visual aid of the chain method with a set starting time that you use every day for deep work.

  4. Journalist Philosopy

    …you fit deep work wherever you can into your schedule

    Isaacson was methodic: Any time he could find some free time, he would switch into a deep work mode and hammer away at his book.

    – about Walter Isaacson.

    This approach is not for the deep work novice.

So, what is your preferred approach?

I would love to be monastic – but at this stage in life, that is not an option available to me. I have tried the rhythmic approach – but I work best, naturally, in the bimodal approach – once I start working on something, I tend to work on that the whole day.

Recording Moral Letters, Vol II for Librivox 2


I am back to an old obsession – recording audiobooks for librivox.

Of late, in the past 6 months or so, wherever I turn, there are references to Stoic philosophy. It is a background hum which has now reached a crescendo.

I have read “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius, and “On the Shortness of Life” by Seneca the Younger. But everywhere, there have been so many recommendations to read the “Moral Letters to Lucilius – Letters from a Stoic“, three volumes of letters by Seneca to his friend Lucilius.

They are supposed to be an easy read, for us modern people – but still, it is a relatively heavy read , and after about 20mins of reading, the words all meld together and create wings and fly away from my head. I have found, in the past, that such books are way better listened to. That way, you can listen when driving, and pause and think and ingest while driving. Something about driving alone is very conducive to thinking in depth.. but that is a topic for another day.

Moral Letters Vol I by Seneca, narrated by Felipe Vogel

And so, there I was looking for audiobooks on Seneca’s letters. I found The Tao of Seneca narrated by John Robinson (which I got to know via The Tim Ferriss podcast). This, costs money. Intriguingly, I found another audiobook on Librivox – a solo album of the first volume of letters – Moral Letters, Volume I narrated by Felipe Vogel. Which is of course free. So I started listening to it.

And then the thought struck me – I want to listen to a woman narrating this. Some of the writings, as a reflection of that age (and unfortunately our current age as well), talk about how virtue and such is manly ,and the effeminate are cowardly and without virtue. Aaargh… So that would be very interesting to listen to, right?

Anyway, I think there is a lot to learn from Seneca. And I did want to listen to the second volume as well. And there was no Volume II audiobook on Librivox. So I decided to narrate it.

As of this post, I have finished the first three chapters of volume II, and I can tell you this: It was a great decision. Reading, rereading, narrating, editing, re-listening and re-listening, for each letter, I am getting to know what Seneca says, agreeing with him, vehemently opposing what he says, contemplating my reactions and his words. Reading, in fact, the exact way, such a book should be digested. And as a side-effect, if there is an audio book which others can listen to as well, why not!

Deep Work – Best book in April (2016)

Book cover of Deep Work by Cal Newport

‘The best book I read last month’ entry for April 2016 is Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport.

This is one book I have been looking forward to reading. And I read it at a right time for me (well, to be honest, whenever you read this book, will be the right time for you to read this book).

This book has the potential to be one the most important books shaping these years of my life. Potentially, because, it remains to be seen to what extent I can implement and then sustain at least some of its recommendations.

To be honest, the recommendations, those that resonated with me are simple. But we all know, simple doesn’t equate easy – especially when it comes to changing our ingrained behaviors …

So, why should you read this book?

This book will benefit you, it has the potential to change your life too, if

  1. You already have / are trying to develop / have bought into the growth mindset (read Mindset by Carol Dweck to understand what this is all about.)
  2. You know that what you need to do (in work / in real life / in afterlife) requires a whole lot of “something” (time, energy, money, magic etc) which you suspect you might not have enough of.
  3. You run into roadblocks trying to achieve some of your goals / side projects. The roadblocks can be the “I don’t have enough time” roadblock or “I’m trying so much, working so hard, but not seeing results equivalent to the effort expended” roadblock or something other such.
  4. Or you are just curious on how you can improve your way of life and presence and productivity.

Cal starts off with defining what deep work is: “Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

He explains why deep work is important, and how it is similar to deliberate work. Reading this part of the book was preaching to the choir. I already know, and am struggling with the debilitating disease of distraction, and suffering the consequences of not working deep.

The next part was very interesting – something I had not come across before. Cal explains about the 4 philosophies of deep work: Monastic, Bimodal, Rhythmic and Journalistic. This was an eye-opener. I always thought the Monastic way was the only way to work deeply and definitely out of my reach to implement. And the Journalistic way needs much more discipline than I possess currently. I decided that Rythmic makes most sense currently, but Bimodal seems to be just right – experimentation will tell.

Cal gives us a bunch of tricks and tips – which are very easy to understand, whose implementation can be planned easily, but whose implementation brings you in contact with piggy mind rolling around in the muck of busy work and distraction. And you see this, your own dirty restless piddy mind, with sorrow and horror and helplessness.

Anyway, Cal mentions a bunch of techniques, exercises to develop deep work. Some of these resonated with me, and I am trying to implement them:

  1. Apply the 4DX framework for my personal use
    1. Identify the most important achivements to work on.
    2. Measure these achievements using leading indicators (this concept of keeping score using lead measures vs lag measures is game changing.)
    3. Keep a visual, easy to read scoreboard.
    4. Keep accountability using a weekly review.
  2. Schedule deep work (in a calendar) through the week, every week.
  3. Schedule each session of deep work in 90 minute increments.
  4. Each day log how I do during the planned deep work times, for calibration.
  5. Schedule your day – every minute of it – not to hold yourself accountable and beat yourself up when you don’t meet your schedule, but in an exploratory, self-calibration kind of way (this one I find hard to do…)
  6. Identify every activity planned in your day and call out if its shallow or deep
  7. Schedule breaks from focus (internet blocks) through the day, all days. Any internet stuff gets done only during these blocks. (And feel free to beat yourself up if you don’t adhere to these schedules)
  8. Design a startup ritual.
  9. Design a shutdown ritual.
  10. Learn how to be ok with being bored (noticing the smartphone / email / IM / feedly / clash twitch, just observing and not giving in.)
  11. The idea of productive meditation practice twice a week (I just don’t like the term….maybe active deep thinking?)
  12. The idea of practicing “Rooseveltian Intensity” – peak focus in highly constrained time, once a week.
  13. Indulge in social tools with care
  14. Fixed-schedule productivity since constrains can help us reach our peak (as if moms – ok, parents – with young kids can even dream of any other kind of productivity?)

And the mind-rest part. Of course we need to rest our brain muscle after this kind of discpline and effort right?

  1. 50 min walks in nature everyday.
  2. No work allowed after shutdown till tomorrow’s startup.
  3. Saying ‘no’ before saying ‘yes’.

Well, these are my highlights. I am sure, once you read the book, your set of highlights might be quite different.

So, who is this book really for? It is for those of us in the quest of understanding ourselves better, and making ourselves better so we can be and do better at what we really love without expending extra time, and at the same time, having more time to enjoy with our families and for our hobbies. Yes, for those of us on the quest of the holy grail of productivity and presence.

Highly, highly recommended.

On Amazon (Kindle EBook / Hardcover / Paperback) Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
Public Library – Check here to see if Deep Work is available in your public library.

February 2016 Reading Log

Here is my reading log from February 2016. I read so many good books this month that I was brimming with creativity, good intentions, resolve, commitment and all the good things that happen when you read wholesome interesting books.

This is the month where I cannot recommend one book – but I will recommend a set of them.

  1. The first book is Mindset by Carol Dweck
    Why this book? Because it will change the way you understand yourself. Here is what Bill Gates has to say about this book. Here is what Maria Popova has to say about this book. Here is what Trent Hamm has to say about this book. ’nuff said.
  2. The second book – an audio book – is The Art of Possibility by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander.
    I found out about this book in Seth Godin’s talk with Tim Ferriss. This book features in the list of the audio books Seth Godin listens to repeatedly, some once per month. It is an excellent book, down to earth and uplifting at the same time. The narration is excellent, soothing, melodious. I will be buying this CD soon.
  3. The third book is also an audio book. This is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield .
    I have read this book many times. I read it once in 3 months as a source of inspiration, to fill up for my fight against Resistance and to remind myself of what it is I need to do. But this is the first time I listened to the book, the version I bought is narrated by the author himself. And I liked it as much as reading the book. The audio book recommendation came from Seth Godin’s audiobook list on repeat.



February 2016 Reading Log

You can find all my previous Reading logs here

The search for the best ereader app for my Boyue – The e-ink reader saga Part 6 2

Cartoon by Tim Kreider

Cartoon by Tim Kreider

Last time, I talked about how I want to replicate the Amazon-Kindle-Whispersync ecosystem – for my e-books which I buy from stores other than Amazon, for other formats.

What should my e-reader app do? The following:

  1. The app should work on my Boyue Gonyx which runs Android 4.2.2 (Kitkat) and my smartphone which runs Android 6 (Marshmallow)
  2. I should be able to read my own books – upload / sideload books to my app. I don’t want to be tied to the stores the app provides
  3. The books should automatically sync from one device to another (as long as there is wifi, of course) once I upload the book on any one device
  4. The most recently read position should automatically sync between devices.
  5. It should allow me to make highlights (one color is fine) and take notes
  6. I should be able to download all the highlights and notes off the book/cloud/app
  7. The highlights and notes should have the relevant page number when downloaded

The first thing I did, after trying to use the default reader was trawl the internet forums, and try and buy the Moon+ Reader. But then, I couldn’t test it out properly until I loaded my Boyue with Gonyx.

Essentially, the system I have been using, about 2 months now, 5 or so books in – is the Boyue Gonyx + Moon+ Reader (pro paid version) + Google Drive.

So what do I think about it?

In paper, it’s awesome. It does all of the above except 7. The highlights and notes have no page number, no metadata associated with them. In reality, I am quite underwhelmed by how it works – it feels very clunky in use.

  1. The Moon+ reader has a whole lot of features. But I found the user interface hard to use. The menus are all over the place and quite un-intuitive.
  2. You can potentially sync your reading position and highlights using Google Drive – but this doesn’t work 100% of the time. It works better with Dropbox, but still not 100% of the time (or even 90%).
  3. I like to keep my books in my google drive account and read from there directly. However, Moon + reader needs me to download all the books locally, or to go to the google drive (which needs internet) every time I need to get a new book. If I open a second book when I am reading the first book, then if I need to go back to the first book, I need internet access and need to go back to the drive and find that book again. Very clunky and annoying.
  4. It allows me to download my notes and highlights. It is in a custom .mrexpt format which can be opened in any text editor.
  5. It has no metadata associated with it. This is the killer.

I love how easy it is to highlight. I love the theme customizations. I love how it is integrated with TTS. But these are nice to haves. The cons are just too frustrating.

So the search continues.