Tag Archives: book review

Books for entrepreneurs: Tools of Titans review

Tim Ferriss does not know how to write short books. Don’t let the fact his paperback versions could be used to bludgeon someone to death put you off. He’s a master of the soundbite.

He’s just collected more of them than anyone else.

Tools of Titans is a fantastic book for anyone who wants to try life-hacking. It works because it doesn’t expound a single point of view. Instead, Tim has interviewed hundreds of top performers and asked them what they do. As he says, it’s all in asking the right questions:

“What do these people do in the first sixty minutes of each morning? What do their workout routines look like, and why? What books have they gifted most to other people? What are the biggest wastes of time for novices in their field? What supplements do they take on a daily basis?”

Of course, this results in some contradictory approaches. But it never seems like he is doing this to cover all bases and therefore always be right. Instead, it’s clear how certain techniques suit different personality types, or specific sets of circumstances. This allows you to cherry pick the ones that work for you. And if they don’t work, a quick flick through the book and you’re sure to come up with a Plan B.

The book itself is divided into three broad sections: healthy, wealthy and wise. There is fluidity between them all, as certain tips and tricks can be applied effectively in all three life areas. It gives the book a sense of structure though that allows you to start where you need the most help. Tim’s writing voice is quite distinctive, so if you don’t gel with his podcast style, you might struggle with reading. I find him to be a highly engaging speaker, so I went through all 674 pages in a week. Most sections contain direct quotes from his interviewees, so there is plenty of variety to keep your brain engaged.

This is one of those books I would recommend without hesitation to anyone who wanted to level up their life. If you’re looking for productivity tips, diet and exercise hacks, habits and routines, meditation and yes, even raw and candid advice for those who are depressed to the point of suicidal, then this is the book for you.

You might even find the thing you didn’t know you really needed along the way.

You can buy Tools of Titans on Amazon and all other good retailers. For more information about Tim and his work, check out toolsoftitans.com

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How to create a successful morning routine

Why set up a morning routine?

These are a few benefits I’ve found from my own routine over the years.

For many years, a corporate job took most of my time and energy. I would come home from work and have nothing left to give for things that were important to me. I wanted to be a writer, but I never actually wrote anything. This all changed when I dedicated just an hour every morning to my writing. Having a morning routine allows you to dedicate time to the things that matter to you most.

Precious alone time. In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with interruptions, whether in real life, social media or any other online input. A successful morning routine, one that was clearly defined, gave me a definite course of action, so I always knew what to do next. That removed ‘check twitter’ from my list of options. That space gave me time to think about what was important and also sheltered me from negative bombardment from the moment I woke up.

There are many other benefits, but those two give the biggest returns for a happier and more fulfilling life.

So how do you set up a morning routine?

It’s easier than you think.

Firstly, ask yourself what you hope to achieve from doing this. Everyone will have different objectives. Is it to make time for your creative projects? Is it to make sure you get in a good workout each day? Or perhaps it is to read or work on personal development. What matters most to you will make up the core of the routine.

Secondly, decide how much time you want to devote to this activity. Be realistic. If you want to do a thirty minute workout but have to go to the gym, then include the travel time and showering afterwards. No one will thank you if you run out of time for that. The amount of time required will impact on how early you need to get up in order to complete the routine before beginning your existing obligations.

Thirdly, don’t start too big. Habits take time to become routines and the more you add in, the more likely you are to become overwhelmed and give up. My morning routine started out with a simple, single task: write 1000 words before breakfast. Over time, that has developed into a multi-step routine, but I needed to get used to doing that single but significant task first.

Be in it for the long haul

So what does my routine look like now? It combines several elements that I have seen successful authors, businesspeople and entrepreneurs confirm as being instrumental for them.

1) Begin with a pint of water. I used to go straight to coffee, but never underestimate the power of rehydrating after 7 hours of sleeping.

2) Write 1000 words. That’s still my big goal after 6 years of doing this.

3) Morning Pages – adapted from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. You’re really supposed to do them before anything else, but for me they have actually always been more effective after my half-asleep writing session. The last page always contains three things I am grateful for that morning.

4) 20 Pushups. Really not many, but it makes me feel like I’ve at least done something physical and makes me more likely to do other activity throughout the day.

5) Affirmations and visualisations. Yes, I still feel like an idiot sometimes saying these things out loud, but they do work. I’m shy and introverted by nature, so this gives me the confidence to step outside my comfort zone when I need to.

6) Goals review. Don’t work hard to climb that ladder just to discover it’s up against the wrong tree. Work out what you want and remind yourself every day to stay focused on what matters, rather than what simply feels urgent.

7) Calendar review. It doesn’t matter what grand goals you have for that day if your calendar says you have back-to-back meetings. Again, be realistic.

8) Task list review. By the time I’ve reviewed what matters (goals) and what’s immovable (calendar), it makes it much easier to delete, delegate or defer tasks on my list. What remains still needs to get done, but this way I don’t waste my energy on unnecessary tasks before I get to them.

The power of a morning routine means that these tasks take less time as you repeat them. The whole process above now takes somewhere between 90 minutes and 2 hours. That’s from 6-8am at the latest. That gives me a whole hour to have breakfast, get showered and be at my desk by 9am.

I’ve already achieved things that matter to me and mentally prepared for my day by the point most people are just thinking about booting up the laptop.

None of this will work unless…

A meticulously planned morning routine with all the best intentions and activities will still fail unless you actively set yourself up for success the night before. Unless you have the luxury of being beholden to no-one, you’re going to have to sacrifice some morning sleep to get this done.

A successful morning routine means ensuring you go to bed early enough to get the quality sleep you need. If there are any objects/spaces that are essential to your routine, then these should be found or made clear the night before to remove as much friction as possible and ensure you can make every minute of your morning routine count.

Hopefully this has given you some ideas about how to set up a morning routine and how to grow it into something that makes a huge difference in the level of success and satisfaction you get from your day. If you have any questions or thoughts then drop them in the comments section below, or you can get in touch with me by email at realist@sherrinicholds.com.

Books for Entrepreneurs: Essentialism

Greg McKeown’s infamous book, Essentialism, has been on my reading list for a long time. I can’t even remember when or where I first heard about it, but those who mentioned it always spoke of its life changing effect.

When you read a lot of business and personal improvement books like I do, you get used to people waxing lyrical about how things will never be the same after adopting strategy x. This may turn out to be one of those rare occurrences where it happens to be true. The constant doing more, but achieving less. Never feeling satisfied or that the day was meaningful.

As I began reading, I was relieved to discover I already had quite a few essentialist habits. I discovered the underlying cause of friction I felt on many projects: my broadly essentialist approach versus the non-essentialist approach being taken.

This meant that in addition to completing the task itself, I had to work out the true intent and purpose of the project. Where some people are happy to just complete any task (usually just taking the easiest route to something approximating done), I have never accepted mediocre as the target to aim for. Instead, I would rather take longer to work out how to provide a valuable outcome.

But although I was embracing essentialism in many areas, in others I was getting woefully distracted. My personal life, especially, was in free-fall at the time of reading this book. In no small part this was due to the mental exhaustion that came with battling work tasks handed to me that were governed by non-essentialist principles.

So how has this book helped me? Largely by giving me the confidence not to accept a task without getting those in charge of the project to clarify their thinking about it first. Sometimes, the person handing out that task is me. As a freelancer or entrepreneur, understanding essentialism is vital for avoiding burnout.

It’s hard to ask difficult questions sometimes, but it gives me the boundaries to not only do good work, but also valuable work.

The best part of this is that I ultimately freed up valuable creative energy to expend into my personal life and projects. I developed a new infrastructure for 2017 that allowed me to be location independent and travel.It also gives me the framework to consider carefully my side projects and see which ones are ready to move from hobby to business and which ones simply need to be cut from my life, no matter how enjoyable they seem on the surface.

For the first time since reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done, I have experienced a fundamental shift in what I believe is achievable and what my life needs to look like to get there. The confidence comes through in the decision making process. Whilst success is never guaranteed, I am giving myself the best possible shot at living a meaningful life, rather than a purely busy and productive one.

With challenging economic and political times ahead, Essentialism is one of the books I would recommend for anyone who wants to make the most of future opportunities in the changing workforce.

Essential books for entrepreneurs: The 12 Week Year

As someone who implemented David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology back in 2009, I’m no stranger to the review process. The weekly review is the element that keeps the system running. Over the years, I moved from just a weekly review to also implementing monthly and quarterly reviews. To top it off, an end of year review and goal setting day seemed to be a significant amount of personal time given to strategic thinking and planning.

Yet somehow, I still didn’t always achieve my most important goals.

The 12 Week Year by Brian P. Moran is an interesting take on how to achieve greater success and results, rather than being purely a productivity system.

Near the beginning of the book, Moran offers up this truth: there are always more ideas than you can effectively implement. Any entrepreneur or freelancer trying to build a business will have experienced this. It is more often than not the source of that subtle source of procrastination – with so much you could do, where do you start?

“The number one problem is a lack of execution”

Moran’s answer is to begin by getting rid of the annual goal setting process. His underlying reasons for this actually make a lot of sense. With a whole year ahead, it is easy to overestimate what you will do and fill your plan with projects that will never come to fruition. Twelve months feels like a long time, whereas twelve weeks is in the foreseeable future. You can complete a major project in twelve weeks, but you are less likely to attempt three or four that then linger with the faint whiff of failure associated to them.

Instead, the twelve week year is designed to give you a tactical framework to shift your mindset. It is a system that creates accountability, deadlines and focus on key opportunities.

By working only on activities that focus you on the main goals for that twelve week sprint, rather than a longer term vision, he argues that you will achieve as much – if not more – than you would with a set of yearly goals that continually get deferred until the final quarter.

The 12 Week Year does not dismiss vision and longer term strategy entirely. It is essential to have some higher level overview to determine which projects are the vital ones for the next twelve weeks.  The subtle shift is changing the emphasis so that a failure in the current twelve week cycle can’t be ‘made up’ later on in the end of the year. Instead, daily habits and actions build momentum to achieve the ‘end of year’ success in a quarter of the time. To make sure the days are planned with tasks that are actionable and measurable, rather than drifting through towards some vague goal, is essential to staying on track. It becomes about clarity and adding value, rather than simply completing a task list.

My one major criticism of the book is that it doesn’t give enough emphasis to the potential dangers of burnout. Renewal is hugely important, especially when you are working for yourself and there is no forced cut off time at 5pm where you forget about the day. As an entrepreneur it is more likely that your projects feel more like passions, which in turn means you are more likely to push on to the point of exhaustion.

This book encourages the reader towards working frequent cycles of high intensity activity, but doesn’t address the dangers of this in a balanced way. Working consistently on a project at a high level requires more than giving yourself  ‘a weekend off’ at the end of the twelve weeks to recover.

However, I’ve used The 12 Week Year to complete a significant number of projects that have been hanging around on my yearly goals list for a while now. The techniques have been proven to produce results. For anyone starting out who needs to take charge of their own career, or for those who want to finally achieve things they’ve been dreaming of for years, I would thoroughly recommend this book.

How I Did It: The Realist’s Guide to Sugar Free

After almost a year of being sugar-free, I’ve finally written a book about it. You see, despite being stubborn and competitive (mostly with myself), living a life without sugar was hard. Really hard. Despite understanding all the associated health risks, I still struggled to give it up and then remain virtuous in the face of temptation.

Let me tell you something about myself: I don’t like failing.

Every self help book will tell you failure is necessary. Trying and failing is how you learn what works and what does’t. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. So despite several epic failures that resulted in a large tub of ice and a spoon, I have been determined to find a way to remove sugar from my diet, yet still live in the real world. Along the way I’ve been keeping track and it is the results of my journey that I’ve put into this book.

therealistsguidetosugarfree-2

This is not a cook book. It is not a detox plan. It is a step by step programme of strategies to help you eliminate sugar in the face of the temptations life will throw at you. Knowing how to cook a delicious four course sugar-free meal won’t help you at all if you don’t actually find the motivation to do it on a daily basis. Most people I know are too busy working or chasing after small children to be able to put that kind of time into planning and prepping a meal. It’s a nice idea, but it just doesn’t work for most of us.

So if you want a humorous and honest guide to eliminating sugar from your life, then this is the book for you. Even if you’re not sure you want to quit sugar completely, the easy to understand information will still help you make better choices when faced with the temptation and sweet food marketing you’ll encounter every day.

Blurb:

A humorous and honest guide to eliminating sugar from your diet. For good.

Quitting sugar in the real world is hard. Sugar is everywhere and your friends think you’re mad for not eating cake. You’ve done the 8 week detox plan and part of you still craves chocolate so much that you develop a mild twitch when you see a brightly coloured wrapper on the shelves in front of you.

Deeply addictive, sugar is everywhere. Even added to the most unlikely foods, the majority of us exceed the recommended daily intake without even realising it. Instead of teaching you how to cook fake cake, or pretending that quinoa really is an exciting grain that will revolutionise your view on salads, this book guides you through the myths about sugar in our food and through the realities of addiction. The 9 step action plan then helps you make the change and really stick to it.
Even if you’re not quite ready to eliminate all sugar from your life, this book contains practical tips to help you shop wisely, create good habits and sustain better lifestyle choices.

Available at amazon.com and amazon.co.uk

Leuchtturm 1917 Notebook Review

I mentioned in my last post that I had grown to love the Leuchtturm 1917 notebook for journaling. It’s also true for any kind of creative writing. I should apologise now, this post is probably going to have a lot of link love for those of you who are interested.

I don’t use the pocket size. For that, my love of Field Notes and the new NockCo Black DotDash notebook wins out every time. That’s my ‘shove in my pocket’ daily carry.

But using the A5 size Leuchturrm for plotting and planning has been an absolute joy. Anyone who like to write longhand or do their creative outlining by pen and paper should seriously check this brand out.

I’ve written before how I’m a fan of bullet journaling to keep track of things. The biggest pain in the backside about this method is having to number your pages in order to be able to create a table of contents for yourself. Voila! No longer a problem with the Leuchtturm, which is one of the reasons Ryder made it his notebook of choice for his kickstarter.

FullSizeRender-15 FullSizeRender-16

The second winning feature for me is simply the page quality. The slightly off-white, creamy colouring is really easy on the eyes. When using a gel ink pen it is like writing on glass it is that smooth. When writing with fountain pen, there is very little feedback, feathering or bleedthrough, even with a 1.1 stub nib:IMG_9258And despite the off-white colour, it still allows the colour to come out, like here with the gold flecking that comes with the J Herbin Stormy Grey ink. A lot of people love this ink concept, but were disappointed by how little it actually stood out on a lot of paper types. The Leuchturrm handled it beautifully, even if my photography is crappy and you can only see it here on the ‘I’. Forgive me, I’m only using an iPhone and the summer weather is once again verging on apocalyptic end of days when it comes to natural light.j herbin stormy grey

I should note that this isn’t a cheap notebook by any stretch of the imagination. It’s also quite hard to find in the UK in any retail stores, but you can always Amazon it. Or go to the airport. That’s where I found mine. If you’re prepared to pay for a Moleskine though, I would suggest trying this as an experiment. You also get a lot of pages for your money (248 in the A5), so it’s going to last you quite a while. They also do a range of sizes to suit your preferences, even if the huge master planner dimensions sound a little bit intimidating!

Writing should be a joy and good tools make this much more fun to do.

7 books that changed my life

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I just haven’t been reading enough. It is one of my goals for the year, but in amongst everything else it just seems to keep slipping. I find myself really struggling to get into anything new.

Which led me to pondering the question of which books have really touched my life. Perhaps if I can understand the things I’ve loved in the past, it will help me better choose what I want to read now. Once I started thinking about, it was tougher than I thought it was going to be. After all, how do you define such an impact? In the end, everything I selected met the following criteria: I have read them multiple times; they led to me doing something new or different and when I think about them, I instinctively feel they are comforting and familiar.

Only one on the list is non-fiction, so I’ll start with that.

David Allen, Getting Things Done

Perhaps this is the book that has had a direct impact on my daily life more than any other. I read it at least twice a year. I fall off the waggon about as often. But since I first read it, I have been able to organise my life and achieve way more than I would have otherwise. It allows my brain to feel less frantic in the work world, which is a gift in itself. Mind like water is still the goal.

Aiden Chambers, Dance On My Grave

I remember getting this book from the library when I was about thirteen or fourteen, venturing into the teen section. I didn’t really spend much time in the teen section as I moved straight to adult fiction fairly quickly. Yet this book about crazy, unpredictable, teenage love and the lengths it will make you go to when you lose it, opened my eyes. It also gave me the defining moment of what I wanted to have done after my own death, because I thought how useful:

“popped into the burning fiery furnace and reduced to manageable proportions, to whit: five ozs of fine grey ash, suitable for the making of egg timers”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Perfect writing, and memories of eating mint matchmakers at Christmas while reading story after story. I still do it most years. I’ve always been a little bit in love with the Holmes of the books, rather than the caricature of TV and film (Jeremy Brett excluded, obviously).

C.S Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia

I am forever grateful to my parents for buying me the complete Chronicles of Narnia as a box set.

Still right here on my bookshelf

Still right here on my bookshelf

Mainly I’m grateful because I read The Magician’s Nephew first rather than The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, so the magical wardrobe made entire sense to me. I’ve been getting annoyed with people who haven’t ever since. It was probably this that gave me my first love of fantasy and the concept that reading could make you escape into another world. Probably still couldn’t read the scene where Aslan is killed without crying, either.

Anne Rice, Interview With A Vampire

A quick jump into much darker elements of fantasy. My Dad had a copy of this on the bookcase and it was probably the first of many things I read when I was too young. There were pretty strict controls over age appropriate TV in my house growing up, but books were (mostly) fair game. If anything, this book taught me the importance of voice; the narration throughout this book feels so authentic, you feel like you are there.

Barbara Vine, A Fatal Inversion

Interestingly, I think I watched the TV series of this before the book. Certainly whenever I read it, I picture the actors, even though they don’t really resemble the descriptions in the book. That being said, I have honestly lost count of the times I have read this. There is no doubt it influenced my dreams for impossibly long, hot summers and aspirations of freedom. Not murder though.

Mostly.

Michael Connelly, The Poet

Finally, this book was a gift for my 21st birthday. By then I was neck deep in an English degree and books had been sucked of all joy. I really didn’t enjoy reading at all. I couldn’t just read any more, I had to analyse. It was a bloody awful time. Then my Mom & Dad got me this book (have you got the sense yet of how big a thing reading was in my house growing up?) and it had nothing at all to do with anything that could be related to a course. It was a modern thriller and a way back into enjoying crime. I read it in more or less one sitting. It made me remember why I loved reading for reading’s sake, not just to pass an exam. It also got me back into enjoying crime fiction and mystery after a time away.

So, I’ve just taken that trip down memory lane and I’m not sure if it helps or not. It certainly doesn’t narrow things down to author or genre. I suppose I’m just looking for characters I can engage with, voices that are authentic and plots that I can’t predict. I’ve also realised I’m in much the same slump as I was back at university. I spend so much time editing these days (both work and personal) that I feel like I’m just seeing the words, never the story itself. It’s probably going to take a really good book to shock my brain out of that state again.

I just hope I find it soon.

Anyway, I can obviously recommend all of the books above if you haven’t read them already. If you have anything that you think can break through the ice in my brain, then leave a rec in the comments and I’ll gratefully take a look.