Tag Archives: book review

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.

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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.

 

Book Review: The War of Art

I had heard much talk of Pressfield’s The War of Art, but it always remained tucked on the back of my to read list. Then, as serrendipitous conversation with a colleague led to her lending me the book. Suddenly, all those reviews about it being a game changer made complete sense.

 Most of use have two lives. The life we live and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.

The concept is simple: resistance. We all feel it, we all succumb to it. This book is for anyone who has dreams – hopefully big dreams – that never seem to get closer to being tangible. I’m not talking pie in the sky, wishy washy vague aspirations. I’m talking about those people who know there is something more important they should be doing, perhaps something they were put on this earth to do, yet never actually moving forwards. Because resistance gets to us all.

The Book is itself divided into three ‘books’ and the first one ‘Resistance – defining the enemy’ is perhaps one of the easiest things I’ve ever read. I positively devoured each page, recognising myself staring back in among the words. Pressfield has mastered the art of the bite size chunk. It is both brutal and inspiring at the same time.

Book Two ‘Combating Resistance’ was a bit slower, less immediate, with more to digest in each section. I found myself naturally pausing more and thinking about what was being said, rather than having an instantaneous response.

Book Three ‘Beyond Resistance’ is more spiritual in some ways, but also more empowering. Whilst it explores the concept that we might have a reason for being, a talent for want of a better word, breaking past our own fear and being that true self is not automatic. It is still up to us to do the work. To take those first steps, to follow through and finally to complete. It doesn’t sugar-coat anything; just completing once is unlikely to be enough, it is in persistence and continued moving past resistance that the the higher ground can be found.

This book is an easy read in the grand scheme of things. More importantly, for those teetering on the edge, it has a knack for providing a mind shift towards getting off your backside and achieving the best you can be.

war of art

I can’t wait to read Turning Pro.

Book review – Gone Girl

Gone Girl

Warning: mild spoilers ahead if you’ve got no idea at all about the book

There has been so much hype around Gone Girl that I was a bit hesitant about reading it. I’d managed to successfully avoid being spoilered, even though there was some pretty heavy marketing for the film. General rule of thumb for me though is that the more people like it, the less I do. Call me a rebel.

However, I actually really enjoyed the book. Without giving too much away, the only part that I didn’t massively like was the ending, but I think that is often the case with many books for plenty of readers. A completely satisfying ending is something which is exceptionally hard to pull off. For the last 50 pages or so, I could not see how the characters would be able to reach a resolution that maintained the tension that had been so expertly crafted through the rest of the book.

On saying that – I’m not sure I could imagine an alternative ending given what had happened up until that point, so I’m hardly in a position to criticise.

The most interesting bit about this book for me was the fact there wasn’t a single likeable character. Deliberately so. No good guy to root for. It takes some skill to keep the tension high when all of the characters are lacking in redeemable features and you don’t know which one you want to come out on top. This was compensated for by the use of a tightly plotted narrative instead, with plenty of twists and turns. There were a few parts where I didn’t want to read what happened next, because it made me feel anxious about how nasty things could get. Reading is about experiencing the whole range of human emotions, not just the good ones, and effectively creating this sensation is the mark of great writing in my opinion.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I would, as long as you don’t mind unlikeable characters and edgy tension. If you like your books to be happily ever after with some redeeming romance, then it’s probably not going to be for you. It’s also quite long in comparison to a lot of thrillers, so you might want to make sure you’re prepared to be in it for the long haul.

I give it 4 out of 5 stars on my imaginary ratings system.

 

My Top 5 Books of 2014

These are my top 5 books that I have read in 2014, not necessarily that were published in 2014. Sometimes I’m late to the game, but just because something isn’t brand new, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth mentioning. Every year I intend to read more than I actually do, but this is the first time since I was at University that I have taken advantage of the library on a regular basis. It’s the perfect way to try something you’re not sure about, which has led me to some complete gems over the past twelve months.

So, without further ado…

General Fiction

The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

The Girl

This book was immensely enjoyable, but hard to describe. Larger than life characters and even bigger plot, this book was so carefully crafted that the suspension of disbelief – even in the face of insurmountable odds – never wavered. I dare anyone not to root for the main character from beginning to end. From Soweto to Sweden, the comedy is punctured by some dark moments, but a reminder to never, ever underestimate someone because of who you believe they are.

Fantasy

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

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My sister is a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson and she’s been trying to get me to read his books for years. I finally got round to doing so earlier in the year, and I’m glad I did. I think Mistborn is a perfect entry point into his writing, and you can read my original review here. For any would-be writers of fantasy, it is also a great tool for understanding the importance of world-building and how to get the balance right between background and plot.

Self Help / Personal Development

The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

 

I found this book by way of his Ted Talk, via the Productivity Book Group podcast. As a person not naturally given to positivity (I tend to think of myself as a hardened realist), I’ve been trying very seriously over this past year to work on my mindset as much as anything else. Insightful without being patronising, this book has delightful anecdotes, interesting research and some basic, simple tips to help people take the steps towards the benefits of being more mindful.

Biography

My Spiritual Journey by Dalai Lama

Spiritual Journey

This falls into the category of random library find. I gave a brief review of it earlier this year. It was humorous, insightful and gave a picture of the man I had heard of (who hasn’t?), but didn’t really understand. Spiritual without being preachy, there was no attempt to hard convert to Buddhism here, as there so often is with books containing religious figures. It was simply a fascinating window into the life of a man who has travelled a very different road to most of us.

Business

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

7 habits

In the interests of honesty, this was not the first time I had read this book. It was probably one of the first books I had read on business/personal development, probably a decade or so ago. Back then, I just didn’t get it. I found it too dense, too remote, too hard to plough through. The only thing I remember taking away was the concept of mission statements. I opened it again this year and it was a completely different experience. I was finally ready for it, I think. I’m a big fan of organisation and productivity – both personal and business – and I try to follow the principles of Getting Things Done by David Allen. Now that is engrained in my life (six years and counting), I think the maturity of my own process allowed me to understand the bigger picture approach that Covey prescribes. Proof that sometimes, you have to go back to something twice to get a true understanding of the content.

Now I’m starting to plan my reading for 2015 – if anyone has any contenders then feel free to pop them in the comments below. I’m always up for a challenge!