Book Review Hyperfocus

I recently listened to the audiobook Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey it was an interesting read. One I’d recommend if you’re interested in minimising distractions and focusing entirely on single tasks.

Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction:  Amazon.co.uk: Bailey, Prof Chris: 9780525522232: Books

The book talks a lot about minimising distractions. Muting mobile phone notifications, only checking email periodically and all the other stuff you’d expect in a book about productivity.

What I liked though was the discussion around intention for attention. By sitting down and defining what we intend then we can single task on that and ensure it’s delivered. Giving 100% of our attention to whatever we’re intending to focus on. If that’s watching a television programme with a loved one then do that, if it’s reading a book then do that. It’s only be defining the intention of our attention that we’ll ensure we’re effective in what we’re doing. Obviously this isn’t as easy as it sounds and Chris Bailey gives lots of suggestions of how to achieve this.

The other thing he focuses on is scattered attention. Hyperfocus is ideal for when we are mono-tasking on a particular task, but he discusses the benefits of letting out mind wander to capture random thoughts (he calls these unclosed loops, a phrase coined from Getting Things Done I believe) and to find to solutions to problems. Bailey argues that it’s only by creating space for our mind to wander and capturning those wanderings we can unlock the power of scatter focus.

Overall the book was a really interesting lesson, probably not up there in my top 3 productivity books of all time but a few interesting ideas and worth a read if you’re into that kind of thing.

Have you read Hyperfocus? What did you think of it?

The Chimp Paradox Book Review

I’ve done a LOT of scrum and agile posts recently. Time for something a little different.

I recently read The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters.

The Chimp Paradox

It’s an interesting book, especially if like me you like a little simplified physcology. Simply put Dr Peters has a model for explaining human brain functions which breaks us down to three constituent parts, the human, the chimp, and the computer.

The human represents the rational part of our mind. The computer our pre-programmed responses and habits. The chimp our fight or flight mechanism. He explains that when we feel threatened our chimp often wrestles control from our human. Much like you hear described in 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Crucial Conversations, and other similar books which discuss safety. What I quite like about the chimp analogy is the recognition that our chimp has moods and a personality of its own. Personally I know I have a sulky and grumpy chimp!

It’s worth mentioning that Dr Peters had also written a related book called The Silent Guides which extends this model to children.

Definitely an interesting amateur physcology and personal development book. Nice and accessible if you’re trying to make your first steps into understanding the weirdness of other people’s (and your own) minds.

Have you read The Chimp Paradox? What did you think of it?

Waltzing With Bears Book Review

I recently read Waltzing With Bears by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister, these are the same guys who wrote Peopleware so I was curious to give it a read as I found Peopleware useful, if a little dry.

Buy Waltzing with Bears by Tom DeMarco With Free Delivery | wordery.com

Waltzing with Bears is all about managing software risk. Specifically the risk that something will not be delivered on time. The example the pair give early in the book is an airport which couldn’t open because the software to operate the baggage carousel wasn’t working. A late software delivery had huge financial impact.

In the book the authors talk about different ways to identify, represent, and manage risk. Like their other book Peopleware Waltzing with Bears is very comprehensive walk through of software risk covering a lot of the basics as well as some really interesting topics such as how to show delivery dates in a graph format to show the earliest possible, most likely, and worst case delivery dates. Thereby giving far more context than a best guess (which as we all know has a bad habit of being communicated to clients and becoming a deadline).

The authors made a very nice point about the bold being the ones who start projects early, not the ones who set ambitious deadlines and expect people to hit them.

However, I couldn’t help feeling like the authors were missing a big piece. The entire book (which I admit isn’t a long one) is based around delivery date risk. There’s no mention of many of the other risks which software teams face including usability, tech debt, and the ever present security risks. I would have liked to have seen more (well, any) pages dedicated to risks which aren’t about the due date. I felt like we were given a comprehensive introduction, but at the expnense of a breadth of knowledge of how to manage other risks.

Overall a good book which is well worth a read to anyone getting started in project planning and wants to understand how to manage the risk deliveries will run late. However, only a 4* read for me.

What do you think? Have you read Waltzing with Bears? Post your comments below!

Measure What Matters Book Review

I’ve had this book for a while and it finally reached the top of my Audible list. Measure What Matters has intrigued me for a while, especially as I am focusing on setting and meeting goals at the moment.

Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the  World with Okrs: Amazon.co.uk: 9780525536222: Books

I have to confess to being a little disappointed. At it’s core the book discusses OKRs, a kind of public goal which does a very nice job of splitting out the goal and the actionable tasks required to complete it. Visibility creates transparency to make sure no teams are duplicating effort or conflicting priorities, they also allow people to assist each other in meeting their goals.

So far so good, I didn’t have a problem with any of that.

However, the majority of the book was a list of testamonials from the author’s long list of supporters. It was genuinely interesting to see how the technique has been applied to everything from IBM to U2. But I’m really not sure wheeling out the famous and successful was really needed (in the audiobook many of them actually contributed their parts). It felt more like a sales pitch of OKRs rather than a practical guide of implementing them.

I kept finding myself expecting the next chapter to be a “How to get started with OKRs in your business.” but alas, it never came.

Enlightening by adding a new way to think about goals, however disappointing because although I’m intrigued I feel far from equipped to take advantage of the concept.

Do you agree? Have you read Measure What Matters? What did you think?

Algorithms To Live By Book Review

I recently finished Algorithms To Live By, a book by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths. I’ve been putting off this book for a while (I’m not sure why) but after reading a few positive reviews I fired up Audible and listened to it.

The book opened extremely well. I wasn’t entirely sure what optimised stopping was. What the authors do incredibly well is take computer science concepts and apply them to real life problems. In that case when to offer a candidate a position or when to say no and hope for someone better (the secretary problem) or when to opt for the empty parking space and when to carry on and hope for one closer to your destination.

There were interesting chapters on sorting and searching (football games league and organising books), Game Theory (employees at companies with unlimited holidays), and scheduling.

While extremely interesting what it lacked was… how do I say this… a lot of of take away value. I felt there was so much interesting stuff in there, but I’d have loved to have some really clearly spelled out takeaways. I think there’s still a jump to be able to take what the authors talked about and apply it to day to day life in any more than the lightest way. A great read, but perhaps not as paradigm shifting as I’d hoped.

Eat That Frog Book Review

I recently read Eat That Frog, a personal productivity guide by Brian Tracy.

Eat That Frog is a personal productivity book full of tips.

It’s an interesting book. There are 21 easy simple tips which work together, I especially like the format because it’s easy to dip in and out of. Some of the suggestions are very very good. Putting technology aside, breaking big goals into smaller steps, and making sure highest priority tasks are identified.

Brian Tracy makes a huge point of picking up the most important task for the day at the very beginning. Personally I’m not a fan of this approach (as long as it’s identified and gets done). But I can see the wisdom in it.

Would I recommend Eat That Frog? If you’ve not ready many personal productivity books before and are looking for a few tips to help you organise things and deliver – sure, there’s probably quite a lot in there you’ll like. If you’re not new to the genre then you probably won’t get a huge amount of new advice from the book.

Have you read Eat That Frog? What did you think?

Atomic Habits Book Review

This morning I finished listening to Atomic Habits by James Clear. I picked it up after being thoroughly impressed by John Lamberton’s Routine Machine.

Atomic Habits is a different book, more granular and if you’re interested in personal productivity then it’s a good read.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones:  Amazon.co.uk: Clear, James: 9780735211292: Books

In the book James first sells the value of habits, discussing how small incremental changes each day are vital to achieving major results. Then he moves on to deconstruct the various parts of a habit including Cue, Crave, Response, Satisfaction. In other words something triggers our habit, then we develop a craving for something, we act in a pre-trained way to satisfy that craving, and gain satisfaction.

In a positive habit this may look like:

  • Every morning when I get up
  • I want to clear my head
  • So I meditate
  • And feel better afterwards

However, in a negative habit this could be:

  • When I’m bored
  • I crave entertainment
  • So I open social media
  • Which entertains me

James then talks about how to hack these habits by eliminating cues, changing rewards, and building commitments so the habits you do want to form stick and the ones you don’t are broken. It’s good, sensible stuff.

As I mentioned above there’s a LOT of crossover with Routine Machine, however Atomic Habits goes far more into the techniques for forming and breaking daily habits. In his book Mark Lamberton focuses on how to point these in the direction to achieve big things. I see the two books as a very valuable pairing because, if I was to raise a criticism with Atomic Habits there’s not enough pagespace dedicated to creating structure so habits point you towards your longer term goals (although the idea of reinforcing identity is a very good one – see “Habit 2” of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).

I listed my 2021 goals in an earlier post and I think there’s lots that can help me here. Specifically I want to work on the cues and immediate satisfaction of my reading, writing, and blogging. Perhaps putting together a calendar so it’s very obvious which days/weeks I’ve missed.

Have you read Atomic Habits? What did you think of it and have you encorporated any of it’s advice into your daily routines?

The Advantage Book Review

When I saw a copy of The Advantage on the shelf at the airport I picked it up straight away. I read Five Dysfunctions of a Team a few years ago and considered it leadership gold. Learning about organisational health from the same author, sign me up!

I’m disappointed to say that for me, The Advantage just didn’t hit the same high notes. Despite only being 216 pages the book took me around eighteen months to complete and that’s simply because I wasn’t engaged and I felt I had to force myself through the final few sections.

The early part of the book recovers a lot of the same ground as Dysfunctions, I have no problem with that. Creating a leadership team who feel safe and can operate together as a team is no doubt a key part. Then we moved onto organisational values, both desired and acididental. I found that part quite interesting but when we moved onto creating and reinforcing clarity I drifted and drifted.

It’s quite possible I missed the point, the book is highly rated on Goodreads so many people have clearly got a lot from it. Unfortunately, this won’t be one I pick up and re-read again in a hurry. I will however go away and try to define my teams’ values – I grant, that’s a very valuable exercise!

Have you read The Advantage? Do you disagree with me? Let me know either on Twitter or in the comments, I’m always happy for someone to point out something I’ve missed!

Routine Machine Book Review

This morning I finished listening to Routine Machine on audible. The book is by John Lamberton, who describes himself as The King of Routine and in it he discusses the power of a good routine and how it helps him (and many others) achieve financial suggess and good health.

I’d highly recommend it. There are some really good ideas in there and it really gets you thinking about long terms goals and the small steps we take each day (how agile is that) towards achieving them.

Routine Machine: How successful people improve their morning routine, daily  habits and guarantee themselves results: Amazon.co.uk: Lamerton, John:  9781910600276: Books

Of course the book isn’t perfect, there are a few ideas and comments I really don’t like. Especially around the Director or Investor of any company locking himself away for a week to write a book and ignoring all emails and messages of people who work for him who require help with emergencies. I take John’s point on board – that he shouldn’t be a bottleneck and that these emergencies often don’t actually need his help. But I can’t help thinking that he and Simon Sinek would have a very heated debate on that one!

However, there was so much I did find valuable that I’d recommend you read it to. Here are my highlights:

  1. Big goals aren’t achieved by a few big actions, we achieve them by doing lots of good little actions day after day, week after week, year after year.
  2. The biggest asset you have to achieving success is time, don’t expect success overnight – aim for it and embed the habits you need to make it happen into your daily routine.
  3. Track these habits in an excel spreadsheet (other spreadsheets are available) and give yourself gold stickers to ensure that they are sticking.
  4. Don’t bite off too much too soon.
  5. Don’t read books without taking the message way. Read the book, follow the instructions.
  6. Identify what’s important and make sure you schedule time for those things first. Put the big immovable objects in your calendar first, not the day to day 30 minute meetings we’re all a slave to.

Although John told me to write a review I don’t want to share all the advice (because second hand is never as good as the source). Instead, if I’ve peaked your interest then grab a copy and have a read.

Getting Things Done Book Review

I was recently talking with a colleague I respect greatly about personal organisation. He said he’s a great believer in the GTD method. I raised an eyebrow, it sounded like some kind of car maintenance routine. But, when someone who seems to always have his eye on any number of spinning plates throws three letters in your direction I find it’s a good idea to listen.

A little googling led me to a Todoist blog post and then onto David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. I felt my eyes had been opened.

As a developer I’ve grown up with scrum and kanban. When I moved into management I started creating ToDo lists but no matter how hard I try they always seem to fall out of date. David Allen’s book, although fairly exhaustive really opened my eyes to a better way of working.

I don’t want to go into too much detail on the GTD methodology, there are far better resources out there and the book itself is very comprehensive. However, there a few nuggets in there which are too good not to share.

The first revelation for me was that your inbox is not your ToDo list. It’s a capture tool, used for recording every commitment you make and idea you have. Allen’s approach is to frequently empty your inbox by actioning, scheduling, or delegating tasks. The same principle applies to an email inbox. Don’t let it build up, move items out into Archive or Action Required folder so you’re not digging through thousands of messages for the ones you need.

The other ideas I liked were the concept of Agenda projects to keep track of topics to cover in specific meetings and using a Waiting folder for work you are tracking but have been delegated to other people.

Hopefully this has given you a taster. If, like me you find actions slipping through the cracks or found time wasted while you were looking for the next task I’d highly recommend the book.

It’s quite iterative, the first couple of chapters contain most of the secrets. These are then expanded upon and developed in subsequent pages. It’s also very… almost technology phobic. I appreciate that the methodology should be tech agnostic, something you can do with a pen, paper, and a few folders. But in this digital first world I’d have started with a technological approach. However, the Todoist post I shared above gives a very practical guide of how to implement it using their (frankly outstanding) software.

I’m a few weeks in and so far I’m a big advocate!