4/5 Stars

I wrote awhile ago about the context of reviews and how online reviews are sometimes not aligned with the context of the businesses being reviewed.

Recently I’ve been thinking about other types of reviews. Reviews for books/movies etc. Let’s stick to books to keep it simple.

When we review a book we are unconsciously biased to how people will perceive us. It has a lot to do with social-desirability bias and our need to look good by others.

For example, if I read a book that everyone else in my social group likes I’m much more likely to give it a higher rating than I would have just based on the fact that I want to conform with the group.

Of course this isn’t universally true, there are people who will actively fight this bias. Perhaps going to the other extreme and rating the book extremely poorly if it didn’t live up to the expectations set by the group.

But it isn’t always that simple. Another example:

Let’s say I read a classic novel. I really like it. 5/5 it was great.

After that I decide to read a mainstream, page turning, thriller. Also I really enjoyed. 5/5.

Or wait, can it be? What will my peers think? I just rated a classic novel 5/5, I can’t possibly rate this mainstream thriller that I picked up at Costco a 5/5 as well. Better knock it down to a healthy 4 or even 3 out of 5.

Not caring what other people think of us is hard.

Trusting online reviews also hard.

Boy by Roald Dahl

Bryan, why are you reading children’s books? 

Well to my surprise this wasn’t technically a children’s book (although I have been working through the Roald Dahl collection with my oldest daughter). This is, in fact, Part 1 of Roald Dahl’s autobiography. Which, in my opinion, was really good. And it’s why I’m sharing it here. 

Picture of the book 'Boy' by Roald Dahl

Growing up I was always a fan of Dahl. Especially ‘James and the Giant Peach’ which I read at least a few times. So it was nice to pick up his autobiography and learn more about his life. 

To start, as a kid he gets into a ton of shenanigans. 

Dahl and his friends prank the owner of a local candy shop by putting a dead mouse (as seen on the cover) into a jar of candy. An interesting section to read because while it was funny, I had to remember that my daughter was reading along with me. I made a point to ask her what she thought about this part of the story (she thought it was funny) and wether or not she would do the same in real life (she wouldn’t), and why it wouldn’t be nice to do this to someone. 

In general, I’ve found it difficult to manage these types of inputs with my kids. It’s surprisingly a reoccurring theme in children’s books. Humour at the expense of others that shouldn’t be replicated in real life. 

The book also provided a good view of what public schools in England looked like in the 1920s/30s. Let’s just say that corporal punishment was a recurring theme and my daughter is happy that they don’t do this in her school. 

Alas I don’t want to focus on every story that is shared in the book. If you want that I suggest you pick up a copy and read it. What I did enjoy the most was this quote near to end: 

The life of a writer is absolute hell compared with the life of a businessman. The writer has to force himself to work. He has to make his own hours and if he doesn’t go to his desk at all there is nobody to scold him. If he is a writer of fiction he lives in a world of fear. Each new days demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not.

Roald Dahl in Boy

You might know that I’m a fan of Steven Pressfield’s book ‘The War of Art’. This quote above really resonates with the same idea presented by Pressfield. As writer, or anyone in a creative profession (artist, entrepreneur, etc) the hardest thing to do is to sit down, consistently, and work. And yes, you live in this constant world of fear and pressure. You have to get used of showing up, doing your work and having nothing to show for it.

Somedays you can give it your all and feel like you’ve done nothing. Other days the work will just flow out of you without any effort. It’s showing up every day that counts. 

Getting Things Done by David Allen

If I saw this book sitting in the book store or library and I hadn’t heard of it before I would have never have picked it up.

Picture of the book "Getting Things Done" by David Allen

But when I did see it late last year and had recently heard of it via Tim Ferris, I thought why not. Besides, I have been experiencing higher levels of stress in my life and thought maybe this could help.

Honestly, it was really good. There are some very practical, and actionable pieces of advice that I’m going to use moving forward.

The two minute rule

Most have heard of this (or some variant) before but never actively tried to implement it. When sorting through your ‘inbox’ (meaning any input coming into your life not just your email inbox) and you find something that has an action associated to it you ask yourself: Will this take less than two minutes? If yes, do it and do it now! If not, defer it for later or delegate it.

In my opinion two minutes is better than five minutes. Most things takes 2-3 times longer to do than we think, so if it ends up taking four or even six minutes, no big deal. With a ‘five minute task’ you could see yourself in 10-15, even 20 minute territory pretty quickly. Before you know it you might even be shaving a yak.

Separating Projects from Next Actions

David Allen defines a project as anything that will take multiple steps and can be completed within a year. This can include a large variety of typically smaller items that we wouldn’t normally consider a ‘project.’

Rather than writing down some generic item on a todo list, you should first define what the actual outcome is (project), and then decide on the specific next action that needs to be taken (as per above, if it takes less than two minutes, do it!).

An example from my own life is fixing the blinds. Normally I would just write down “fix blinds” somewhere in my notebook. Then it would get forgotten about.

With this method I realized that ‘fix blinds’ is actually a project and should live with my projects. The specific next action I needed to take was “Call previous neighbour re: blinds” (he used to fix blinds). Much more specific and easy to action.

Categorizing Next Actions Contextually

What really blew my mind 🤯 was separating your project list from your next action lists. Your next action lists should be organized contextually. For example, At Computer, At Home, Phone Calls, Errands, etc. Or maybe you’re applying this methodology only in a work environment so they might look like this: Creative Time, Research, New Business, etc.

To continue my example from above, when I outlined ‘Call previous neighbour re: blinds’ I obviously added this to my call list. When I was working through some other calls I had to make, I also made this call. Easy.

It’s funny when you think about, most people procrastinate not on the project, but actually taking the time to think about exactly needs to be done next and then executing on it.

Taking the time to actually process the projects you have on the go and decide on the exact next action you need to take is pretty empowering itself. You feel under control and when you feel under control it’s way easier to take action.

As a final thought,I see plenty of reviews on Goodreads or Amazon saying “this book should have been a 3,000 word essay, I couldn’t finish.”

Well, this is a book on productivity and you probably shouldn’t read it cover-to-cover. Get in, get what you need, and get out! Revisit when needed, if it’s useful.

Detach from the outcome

Another tip I’ve learned from this blog experiment that was further eliminated to me when reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

Writing for your audience isn’t always particularly smart. Basically what Pressfield says in his book is that you should write (or create any form of art) for yourself and not worry about what the audience might think. As soon as you’re worried about what the audience might think (outcome) you become frozen. It’s hard to write. You think they might not like this are they might not like that.

I also compare this to SEO writing (since last year I went down that rabbit hole at my previous company). Most people and companies shouldn’t be writing directly for SEO. Rather they should be writing about what they want to say.

Happiness is a duty

I love this quote from Richard Koch in the third edition of The 80/20 Principle.

Happiness is a duty. We should choose to be happy. We should work at happiness. And in doing so, we should help those closest to us, and even those who just stumble across us, to share our happiness.

Richard Koch

Initially I was sceptical to pick up the book since I felt like I already had a good understanding of the principle. But I’m glad I did because I discovered above.

If you pick up a copy remember to apply the 80/20 principle while reading. The book is laid out in a way that you can read a heading, decide if it’s relevant or not, and if it’s not then you can skip it. In fact Koch mentions multiple times throughout the book that if this section/chapter isn’t relevant for you than you should move on!

Sleep is a weapon

If you’re a true Jason Bourne fan then you’ve read (and liked) the original books by Robert Ludlum (Books 1-3 in the series).

In the books Bourne (or Ludlum? I’m not sure if I should reference character our author) refers to ‘sleep as a weapon.’

He references, multiple times, that despite being in some terrible situation that taking the time to rest when he can will serve as a massive advantage. It will allow him to make better decisions under stress. It will allow him to survive.

Remember – Sleep is a weapon.

The Law of Perspective

In The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing I find law 11 the most interesting.

“The Law of Perspective”

It states that most of the time in marketing (and life) the long term effect of something is usually the opposite of the short term effect.

In the book Al Ries and Jack Trout use a ‘sale’ as an example. The short term effect of having a sale for your business is increased revenue. People see the lower prices and buy more. BUT in the long run your revenue actually decreases because your customers will wait for you to have a sale (and thus lower prices).

Do you know anyone that has been into a traditional clothing retailer that has purchased something that wasn’t on sale?

Eating poorly is another good example. In the short term you feel good, satisfied with your choice of junk food. Unfortunately in the long term the effects are the opposite!

Political convictions

… political convictions are a clumsy set of experiential blinders, compelling you to seek evidence for conclusions you’ve already drawn.

Rolf Potts in Vagabonding

Relevant today more than ever. It’s time to take the political blinders off and see each issue for what it is.

The cut

I’ve had Michael Jordan: The Life sitting on my shelf for some time now. With the recent release of The Last Dance on Netflix I thought it was an opportune time to crack it open.

Apparently (I didn’t know this) Jordan was cut from the varsity basketball team as sophomore.

In other words, arguably one of the greatest basketball icons of all time was cut from his high school team.

Two important lessons to ponder here:

First, on perseverance. Michael could have easily decided to give up on basketball. If he made that decision the world would sure be a different place.

Second, using failure as motivation. It might be the best fuel out there. Not that we should seek failure, but when it comes (because it will) we should use it.

Famine, pestilence, and war

The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant has been on my shelf for sometime now. This quote sticks out as it’s very relevant to today’s global situation.

If the human brood is too numerous for the food supply, Nature has three agents for restoring balance: famine, pestilence, and war.

Will & Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History

Perhaps I’m not being overly optimistic but I think that the current pandemic will be the first of many over the next 25 years.