Posts Tagged ‘productivity’

This one should interest writers out there. I’ve made my way through a number of writing books and courses in my time, but this is something special. Best of all it’s based on a blog post the writer put up. So if you want to get a taste of the kind of thing in this book and see if you like it, go to:

The blog post is about 2.5 pages, while the book is around 70 pages, so there’s a lot of extra material in the book. It covers the same kind of things: ways in which you can write faster and better. It’s well written with a fun, engaging style. It’s one of those books you’ll zoom through the first time, then go back and get more out of it.

The best thing about this book is the tactics are simple. You can read, then minutes later be putting them into action. I can’t say for sure that my word-count has changed, but I’ve used her tactics in every writing session since reading the book.

If you’re a new writer, then you could do worse than reading this book. You’ll still need more material to help work on your craft and editing, but really, you’d need to no matter how long you’d been writing. You never stop working on craft. This is a very streamlined book, and I think a newbie reading this could get a great structure on which to build with various other craft books.

If you’ve been writing as long, or longer than I have, you’ll find yourself recognizing tactics in this book as ones you already use. I still think you’ll get a lot out of this. Aaron has this great way of stating things that should be obvious that you’ve never thought to do. Like measuring your words per hour to see what times and places you work best. Or being excited about what you’re writing. After all if you don’t enjoy writing it, why would anyone enjoy reading it?

Neat book. One that I’m going to read many times over. I give it four stars.

For more reviews on this book go to:


This is another of the ‘how to become successful at a skill’ books. If you liked Outliers,  Mindset, or Bounce, you’ll love this one. In Outliers (life changing book) Gladwell talks about how it takes around 10,000 hours of practice to become a world-class expert at a skill.

It’s worth noting here that I say world-class expert, and practice. Like chinese whispers, that original sentence has changed a lot. I’ve heard people say they don’t think it’s worth learning a skill because they don’t have 10,000 hours (or ten years) to become good at something. Others not only think you have to put in ALL that time to show any aptitude at a skill, every minute of that practice needs to be bone breaking, high concentration work.

I’m taking this time to remind readers that success is not a binary. You don’t either have it, or not. Success at a skill is a long line from ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’ to ‘world class expert.’ Every minute of practice takes you further along that line. And ‘good’ doesn’t take the full 10,000 hours. It takes a lot less. The exact amount of hours depends on how good you want to be.

As for every minute of practice being back-breaking work, that’s not true either. 10,000 hours is the estimated time of total practice it takes to be world-class expert. Some of that is going to be back-breaking, but not all of it. If all of it was high intensity focused practice you’d reach world-class expert in less hours. You’d also be more likely to burn out faster, so there’s a balance.

A quick and easy check to see if your practice is worth it is to ask whether you’re challenging yourself. If you’re a writer, are you improving your craft, reading books and thinking about them critically, trying new things? If you’re a singer are you singing the same songs you’ve sang a dozen times, or are you trying new ones, new ranges, following your teacher’s feedback, listening critically to other singers? And so on.

Now that’s cleared up, let’s go onto this book.

This book spends a lot of time talking about deep practice, and deliberate practice. It’s approached from all areas from music to sports. This is the kind of practice you want to aim for. It helps you get a lot more done in a shorter amount of time. Everyone wants that.

It also looks in-depth at myelin and the scientific mechanisms behind learning. I’m a very visual person, so I loved being able to ‘see’ what was happening when I attempt to learn a skill, and why struggling is so important.

A five-star book with valuable information to add to skill building. This is one of those books that should be read by all teachers and parents, and anyone who wants to become good at something (which is everyone).

For more reviews on this book go to:

This is another of my ‘how do we learn and become mega successful’ books.

I’ve read a few of them since Malcom Gladwell’s epic ‘outliers.’ I love that book so much. This book is very much along the same lines, but focuses more on sports. I’ve read a few books around the 10,000 hour rule (which for those who haven’t heard, is the researched idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a world class expert at something). But this book still had some interesting material related to sports that I hadn’t heard about.

The book starts off talking about the 10,000 hour rule and various people from all fields who became a world class expert, and how they line up with the idea. He debunks the natural talent myth well, and entertains us with tales of ‘innate talent’ that turn out to be products of hard work and more than a little luck.

Syed was a table tennis champion, so he understands well what it takes to succeed in sport. He weaves together his story with those of other champions, and those of the places that made them champions. It often took extraordinary luck to give them the circumstances they needed to succeed. A mentor, or several were needed. And more than anything else, an effort based mindset was needed, along with the resulting dedication to improve and practice.

An effort based mindset, for those not in the know, is the opposite of a fixed mindset. A person with a fixed mindset believes they are what they are and can’t change that. People are born good at maths, or music, or sports. People are naturally clever. Those who aren’t will never become so, no matter how much practice they put in, so they might as well not try.

A person with a fixed mindset is right that they’ll never become good at anything. Not because that’s their lot in life. But because they won’t try. Those who succeed in a skill at high levels tend to have a effort based mindset.

A person with a effort based mindset believes that with every hour of practice they put into a skill, they improve. They put in a lot of practice, they improve, and they become the successful people those with a fixed mindset wish they were born as.

All that stuff is wonderful, and I never get tired of reading about it, but the real special aspect of this book is the parts where he details how all of it relates to sport. Most of it is pretty similar, though he goes into more detail about what makes a good mentor than other books. Pretty obviously a good mentor uses language that promotes a effort based mindset. They praise efforts instead of results. They don’t punish failures, and do give constructive feedback. If the person is bothered by a failure they remind them to practice, and they’ll improve.

There’s an interesting study about one of the most successful sports coaches. They found that very little of his language was praise or negative talk. Most of what he said was feedback. Simple short sentences that only addressed how they could improve what they were doing. It worked very well. There are a lot of examples in this book of world class coaches and how they work.

It also covered things I haven’t read about before. Such as the science behind why world class athletes sometimes choke (seem to lose all their skill in a stressful moment). You see, we carry out complex tasks intrinsically or extrinsically. When we start learning a skill, we have to think about where to put every part of our body, what to move when. This is carried out through the extrinsic pathway.

When we learn a skill, the movements become second nature. We don’t have to think. We just do them, freeing up brain space to watch our opponent, or keep an eye on where a ball is coming from. This is carried out through the intrinsic pathway.

When a person chokes, their brain switches to extrinsic, and they’re back to monitoring their every body movement. All their skill goes, and they’re back to where they started. I hadn’t ever read about that before, and it made so much sense. You know how when you’re really nervous about something, and suddenly you turn into the most clumsy person on the planet? That links really well to that.

Anyway. This was a four star book for me. Sure, a lot of it is recycled from outliers, mindset, and other books like them, but there is some new material here that’s worth a look at. Worth a read if you’re interested in these types of books, or if you or your kid wants to be a champion at some kind of sport.

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Dweck is awesome, and here she’s written an awesome book.

If you’re a parent, an educator, or just someone who wants to be a success at something one day, you need to read this book. How’s that for a recommendation?

This book goes hand in hand with one of my favorite productivity / success books ever: Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.  In that book he talks about the idea that it takes about ten thousand hours of practice before we become a world class expert at a skill. Say for example you want to become a world class expert at playing the piano, you need to log ten thousand hours of practice. That’s about three hours a day for ten years.

Now, it’s not like every minute of practice up until then is going to be useless. Far from it. Somewhere between twenty to a hundred hours in you’ve gone from ‘I haven’t a clue’ to ‘I know the bare basics.’ Reach four thousand and to most people you’re an expert. You know about enough to teach about the skill. Eight thousand hours and you’re better than everyone except those few coveted world class experts.

What this tells us is that everyone can learn how to be good at something if they put enough work into it. So why are there so few world class experts around? Why are there people who reach adulthood and don’t seem to be skilled at much?

This is where Dweck’s book comes in. You see, to be motivated enough to put that work in, you need to have the right mindset.

There are two mindsets. The fixed mindset believes that everything comes from nature. That math genius is born a math genius. That athlete was just born that good. If I join a karate class and suck at it, I will always suck at it and might as well drop out now. Kids are either smart at something, or not smart. You can’t do anything to turn a dumb kid into a smart kid, and vice versa.

Children are told to go away and do their own thing. They’re not signed up for sports or music classes, and if they are they’re allowed to drop out the moment they start to struggle or get bored. It’s obviously not their thing. One day they’ll find that magical skill they have hidden inside them and they’ll become good at something. Until then, let them do as they want.

The second mindset is the growth mindset. This focuses on effort instead of innate skill. This one goes hand in hand with Gladwell’s findings. Every minute practicing something improves your skill in that area. Children are signed up for classes. Parents tend to take more of an interest in their progress at school and whatever other skills they’re working on.

The second group performs better, tends to be happier, and spends longer trying at hard tasks before giving up. They also tend to choose harder tasks to get more of challenge, and enjoy these tasks more than those with a fixed mindset. The difference is so extreme that in one experiment, the situations the two groups were put in differed by only one sentence. For one group the sentence was from a fixed mindset ‘you’re so smart’ the other from a growth mindset ‘you must’ve worked really hard.’

Needless to say, the growth mindset improved a lot more on further tests than the fixed mindset. They chose to take on a further more challenging test more often than the fixed mindset who opted for an easier test. And most surprising of all, when later given a test of the same level as the first one, the growth mindset performed better than they had before, while the fixed mindset children performed worse than their previous score.

I found this book really interesting.  There’s a lot in here I think everyone should know about. And it’s all very well written and easily accessible to a wide range of readers. The examples were equal amounts of entertaining and fascinating. This is a must read for anyone with any interest in the subject.

It would’ve got a five star rating from me, but by the end it got a little repetitive. Good. Definitely interesting and entertaining. But once the idea is explained and you’ve read a few examples, it’s a simple concept to grasp. And then there’s the rest of the book to get through, which is still entertaining, but you can pretty much guess what’s going to be said. So four stars. 

For more reviews on this book go to:

Another self help book. This one claims to help you overcome procrastination and become more productive. I don’t know about you, but I can always use a productivity boost. There are just so many things to do and never enough time to do them in.

Writing, crafting stories, various writing courses, editing, publishing, learning spanish, a full time job, chores, exercise, eating, sleep. And that doesn’t include all the extra commitments that seem to pop up out of nowhere. Not to mention all those times your brain crashes and refuses to do anything that so much as smells of effort.

This book is a little short of four stars on goodreads. A good rating but not overwhelmingly brilliant. I however loved it, so I gave it five stars.

It gives some simple techniques to help increase productivity, some which I hadn’t heard of before. Now I just need to remember to use them. I won’t give them all away but one of the really useful things I picked up was not to be so hard on myself.

Instead of saying ‘I must do this’ or ‘I have to do this’ (which I still find myself doing even now) say ‘I want to do this.’ The book goes further into explaining why this helps motivate you more, but what I took from this was to view the fun in tasks. Don’t build it up in your brain as this big scary thing that is nothing but work, work, work. Concentrate on the good parts and chances are you’ll enjoy it more and find it easier to start whatever task it is.

And for tasks that you really can’t see anything good in: break them down into little parts. Doing something horrible for an hour seems impossible. Doing something for a few minutes feels a lot more possible.

If you’re an increasing productivity obsessive like me, then I definitely recommend this book. It’s not the most life changing productivity book I’ve ever read (that title still belongs to ‘how to be an A star student’ which despite its title has useful tactics for all, not just students) but it has some interesting ideas that I hope will give my productivity that extra boost.

For more reviews on this book go to:

Not the most useful self-help book I’ve ever read (I’ve read a lot of them), but there’s some practical stuff here. It’s an easy read, and has a lot of neat exercises that can help you figure out what you want to get out of life,  and what steps you need to do to get there.

I think my major problem with it was there were a lot of little things they recommended you do every day. By the time I reached the end of the seven days I’d lost track of most of them. Maybe a checklist at the end might’ve helped?

Anyways, I found the assessment questions at the start the most helpful. They helped me assess my priorities. One of the things I find most difficult to grasp is we only have one life. I want to do everything. I want to write a million books, master several genres, master drawing, learn dozens of languages, travel the world (and while we’re at it, space looks a neat place to go), be brilliant at parkour, martial arts, and a bazillion other things.

I’ll be able to do some of those things, but until longevity research does its thing and makes us immortal, I’m left with only so much time. So that first section was an eye-opener when I listed all the things I wanted to achieve in an ideal life.  (I want superpowers by the way. Telekinesis and invulnerability are at the top of my list.) Seeing all those things helped me pare things down (I left cryogenics as my lottery ticket to immortality and hopefully cool superpowers).

The vision boards idea was interesting. I think it has to be done in moderation. You can spend so long on making a pretty vision board that you take away from time on your project.

I’m not quite syncing with meditation, but I’ve heard from other sources this is a good thing to do, so I keep trying.

The book talks about positive thinking quite a bit. For those not in the know this is where you act like you have something, then it comes to you. That might be a bad definition, but that’s how I understand it. The author talks about how he modified one of his bank statements to have a huge amount of money, then a short time later through a series of circumstances did manage to receive that amount of money.

I’m not sure how I feel about positive thinking. It seems a little new agey. Then again, there are factors like confidence that suggest there may be something to it. There are enough examples of people who win the lottery, then through self sabotaging acts lose all that money. You could argue that they didn’t change their mindset to their new amount, and so unconsciously sabotaged themselves to get back to where they were.

Still it seems a little odd to imagine yourself a millionaire then have that opportunity to become one land on your doorstep. Maybe it’s just that if you’re thinking about it, you’re more confident and able to recognize and take on those opportunities when they come?

Ok, getting back to the point. If you’re a bit of a self-help book junkie like me, then this book is worth a read. If however you’re looking for one self-help book to turn your life around and make you one million times more productive I don’t recommend this one. It’s a hard choice, but I think the most useful and practical self-help book I’ve ever come across is ‘how to become a straight A student’ by Cal Newport. Don’t be put off by the title, that one has so many productivity hacks for work, school, hobbies, whatever. And the suggestions are so easy to put into practice. Love, love, love that book.

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