Category: The best book I read last month

I read quite a bit. Once a month, I write this post where I talk about the best book I read in that past month and what I liked about it. Hope you read it too!
All “The best book I read last month” posts in this blog


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.

Format:
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.


Better Than Before – Best book in May (2015)

Here is my May 2015 entry for ‘The best book I read last month’.

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Better Than before

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin is my pick for the best book I read in May.

I have previously read and loved Gretchen Rubin’s previous books – The Happiness Project and Happier at Home. I also follow her blog, and I was waiting with anticipation (and a little bit of trepidation) for her newest book – this book on habits. The trepidation because I was prepared to not like it and expected the contents to be the same as some of the previous books on habits I have read and loved – Superhuman by Habit by Tynan, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and blogs like Nir and Far. I did not believe that there could be a book on habits which would not be a rehash of the same arguments, and which would be entertaining. Well, I was on the library queue for this book and got hold of the Kindle version from the library in May. And I loved it.

What’s it about:
It’s about habits, and how you can form them and what are the pitfalls and traps on the way to developing a sustaining habit. It is also about trying to know yourself and trying to figure out which way of habit formation works for you.

What’s it about:
Well, it is definitely not a complete rehash of the existing literature on habits. Oh, some of these arguments are common – for example the concept of plan to fail and plan contingency measures when you fall off the habit wagon. But what I really liked about Gretchen’s book was that she provides frameworks and quizzes (who doesn’t like quizzes?) about self knowledge, about understanding yourself. She acknowledges that all types of habit formation methods do not work equally well for all kinds of people and says that its pretty much up to each one of use to figure out what strategies work and what don’t. Her “four fateful tendencies” framework for understanding oneself and from that understanding, trying to figure out (by reading and/or by trying) each strategy of habit formation – this was pretty useful

For example, I realized that I am a person not motivated by external accountability – if I announce to the world, the pressure that I have done so causes me to give up – and this is not what most habit books tell me.

Who should read this book: Everyone. Well, it is a fun read. With all the quizzes, it makes it quite entertaining. Persons interested in understanding themselves a shade better, interested in habit formation should read this book.

Who should read this:
Everyone. It is a fun read. All the quizzes, make the book quite entertaining. Persons interested in understanding themselves a shade better, interested in habit formation should definitely read this book. I guarantee you will walk away with knowing yourself and maybe some of the people in your lives better.

Highly recommended

Format:
Kindle EBookBetter Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives
HardcoverBetter Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives
PaperbackBetter Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives
AudiobookBetter Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives
Public Library – Check here to see if it’s available in your public library.


The Year without pants – Best book in April (2015)

Here is my April 2015 entry for ‘The best book I read last month’.

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The Year Without Pants

The Year Without Pants


The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work by Scott Berkun is my pick for the best book I read in April.

I first heard about this book when listening to the Tim Ferriss interview with Matt Mullenweg of WordPress fame. A couple of days after I finished listening to that podcast, I saw the book in the library “NEW” book shelves and I got it. I quite liked the book.

What’s it about: It’s a peek into how the company Auttomatic works, and about the people there. Or those who work in big corporations, this might be a refreshing peek on how someone can earn a living. You get to know a little more about Matt Mullenweg and his beliefs. But you also learn some management concepts and ideas,

What I like:
Easy to read. Interesting. It is like a huge book-sized advertisement for working at Auttomattic and I like it. I also liked how Scott explained some management concepts, and the open-source ethos.

But the most valuable thing in this book, for me, was Scott’s explanation of how they run projects at Auttomatic. The ideas of smaller, faster projects: faster to implement, faster to fail, faster to improve, the internal processes which they follow at Auttomatic – like writing the support page and announcement first, the challenges of project endings – these are what I can use on my personal one-person projects as well.

The techniques and tricks used in Auttomatic, as this book mentions it, can be extended to you the individual contributor (or a small team) to make yourself prolific, productive and increase the quality work of you work as you define it.

Who should read this:
If you are interested in business, how businesses are run, if you are entrepreneurial minded, if you think you like working from home, then you might find this book interesting. If you are a tinkerer, a creator, someone who has “side projects”, this book might very well be useful for you.

The value of the book lies in the fact that it is almost like a Project management, Employee management course for people like me who do things on the side by themselves for the fun of it. Since doing things for fun is definitely not easy, and definitely requires some management and processes.

AT the least, the book is still a fascinating peek into how a very different company than most of us work for works.

Highly recommended

Format:
Kindle EBookThe Year Without Pants
HardcoverThe Year Without Pants
AudiobookThe Year Without Pants
Public Library – Check here to see if it’s available in your public library.


The Art of Asking – Best book in March (2015)

Here is my March 2015 entry for ‘The best book I read last month’.

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The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer book cover image

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer


The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer is my pick for the best book I read in March.

I first found out about Amanda Palmer like a lot of other people on TED Talks. Actually that’s not true. Sometime last year, I read Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” and fell in love with that book. And when I looked him up, I found that he was married to a singer, an artist – Amanda Palmer. I downloaded their An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer and enjoyed it. At about the same time, her Ted talk came out and I was hooked. Of course, I had to read the book when it came out. And the decision was emphasized when href=”http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/11/11/amanda-palmer-the-art-of-asking-book/”>BrainPickings featured the book and recommended it as well. As soon as the library bought the book, I put in a hold request and got hold of it last month.

So, with such recommendations and hype, how was the book? Very enjoyable. I really enjoyed reading it. I know I marked out a great many lines for future reference.

It is about the Art of Asking, as the title suggests, and about Amanda’s life. But it also has some of her lovely poems. It has interesting insights on what it means to be an artist, on what it means to be an engineer-artist who work full-time in the workforce. About what we expect of people and how our upbringing shapes our expectation. About social media, about controversy, about philosophy and her life experiences.

The book is written in an interesting format. It has no chapters, just short essays. Actually more like a series of interconnected blog posts, which adds to its charm.

It makes reading this book easy. You can read it all in one sitting or you can read it in short bursts. It does make it hard to reference quotes – since for that I generally use chapter headings for it.

What I like:
Written in a blog-post format. Very different. Can be read in small bursts. This means Amanda can get away with writing about anything and everything which interests her – without having to subject herself to the tyranny of chapter titles, and without boring the reader. Her life stories, her thoughts, her experiences and her philosophies are all interconnected but almost self-contained – as we move from one section to another. Her style of writing comes across as open, honest.

Who should read this:
If you are interested in auto-biographies, memoirs, if you like to read about the lives of the rich and famous. If you are an artist and are wondering how to make a living. If you are an artists and wondering how to get people interested in your work. If you are curious about relationships. If you want to read some nice poetry. And of course, if you want to learn what exactly is Amanda asking and how to ask in your life as well. If any of this catches your interest, you should read this book.

Other Interesting Links:

BrainPickings talks about this book – Amanda Palmer on the Art of Asking and What Thoreau Teaches Us about Accepting Love
Amanda’s Interview with Tim Ferriss (podcast) – Amanda Palmer on How to Fight, Meditate, and Make Good Art
Amanda’s Ted talk (video) – The art of asking

Overall this book is highly recommended.

Format:
Kindle EBookThe Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help
HardcoverThe Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help
AudiobookThe Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help
Public Library – Check here to see if it’s available in your public library.


January 2015 Reading Log

Here is my reading log from January 2015. My favorites among these:

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
– Book of the month for January was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.

Here’s my reading log.

January 2015 Reading Log

January 2015 Reading Log