Suddenly, two months turns into eight. I don’t know how it happened but it did. I promise I’ve been reading though. Here are the previous reading lists:
Onto the current books…
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
Cal writes a blog over called Study Hacks over at calnewport.com and I’ve been following his work for a few years. Over the past year or so, he’s become really interested in learning how we can focus more by employing what he calls “deep work”. He defines it as:
Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capacities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill and are hard to replicate.
The alternative, shallow work, is the opposite. Non-demanding tasks which are often performed while distracted and easy to replicate. The plight of every student around – writing an essay with Facebook in the background.
Originally, I thought that there cannot be much to say about concentrating really hard on really tough work for a really long time. After all, the crux of the book might be seen as ‘get rid of distractions and get to work’ but there’s much more to it. He goes through multiple tactics to increasing the amount of “deep work” you can get out of the day (it’s very limited since it’s quite tough. So don’t expect eight hours straight away) and why “deep work” is valuable both in a professional and personal sense.
After spending some time with the book and trying to increase my deep work (so I have to work less during the day), I found that it became much easier to do and resulted in a decent dissertation effort towards the end of my degree. More importantly, I found that this sort of stuff can be improved through training (and lost through the lack of it). Much like meditation.
I hope to share some of the things I’ve learned about working more efficiently but here’s one huge take away he loves to talk about – email is not important. Stop checking it so often.
If you do any kind of academic or creative work, you’ll benefit greatly from Deep Work.
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
Chris Hadfield is my Canadian dad.
I’m not sure how that’s possible but I want it to be, so it is.
An astronaut with decades of life experience writes about how to live on earth. One hugely desirable virtue of Chris’s writing style is that he gives advice without sounding patronising and without the slightest hint of superiority over the reader. What you see is a character who is confident in his skills and abilities because of his experience in space.
Each chapter goes through a lesson he’s learned from his hours in space and showing us a moment in time where it applies. The great thing about these ‘lessons’ is how applicable they are to a multitude of problems we have in every day scenarios. He might say “prepare for the worst” in the context of crying in space (without gravity, tears don’t fall to the ground – they just ball up at the front of your eyes) or falling down a flight of stairs in front of loads of people where everyone is too far away to help but close enough to see (my tears fell to the ground perfectly. Thanks for asking).
Despite being an astronaut and being closer to the stars than most of us ever will, he seems to be very well grounded. The advice he offers is enclosed in funny and interesting stories that can entertain even the most apathetic about space.
He’s achieved a lot in his life but despite the magnitude of what he’s done, it isn’t discouraging. He inspires others to do the same.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
When I moved home, I started using the library more and came across a book called Jimmy Coates: Killer by Joe Craig. I fell in love with that book and the whole series. I’d stay up reading it and be too tired for school. When I’d write a story in class, I’d steal half my themes from the books and brand myself a literary genius.
I even emailed Joe saying that he’s awesome and can’t wait for his next book to come out. (I’m so glad I’ve stopped ending emails with “please reply, bye (a great fan)”.)
Ready Player One is probably the closest I’ve come to feeling that way again. The content isn’t similar but the pace and overall feel is just fantastic. I always wanted to know what happened next but also caught myself wanting to slow down and appreciate feeling so excited about a story again.
“Oh this chapter isn’t too short, you can read until the end. It’ll be the last one.”
The last time I lied to myself that much, I said I’d start my dissertation “today”.
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh – This book feels so nice. Seriously, go touch this book, you’ll understand what I mean. It feels brilliant. The stuff inside is also hilarious.
Empathy by Roman Krznaric
Better by Atul Gawande
Do you have any book recommendations? Share them below!
I’ve remembered I have a ill-used twitter account (@improvingslowly go follow it because it’s probably great).
As always, thanks for reading.