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Posts from the ‘Books’ Category

Patterns of Procrastination

For years I have beaten myself up over the occasional tendency to procrastinate on certain tasks. So when I heard about the book The Now Habit, I was eager to read and learn not only why I exhibited that tendency, but gain a framework for dealing with it. Fortunately, this book lived up to both of those traits – but it takes a lot of work on the part of the reader to reach these outcomes. Tonight, I realized that I had reached a turning point in my own thinking when I saw witnessed a fellow human procrastinating over homework. She was looking at her assignment and saying “Then I have to do this, this, and four more things. I’ll never be done!” I know the feeling.

The book quickly points out that we are not born when the instinct to avoid, or put off doing work. Procrastination is a technique we use to avoid the feelings of being overwhelmed or imperfect. I personally find myself with those feelings routinely. Sometimes there is a task or project so daunting, that I lose sight of what I can do TODAY to move it forward because I’m overwhelmed by ALL of the work that has to be done. I’m also very critical of my work – not to mention that I work with a bunch of critics, too! When you are afraid that your work isn’t going to be good enough, to be perfect, a typical pattern is to put off doing it. In my example above, Madison wasn’t worried about perfectionism (although her mom told her to take her time, don’t feel rushed, and do it right) – but was definitely overwhelmed by the amount of work to be done. I told her to focus on the one task she was working on and not worry about the next one until this was finished. It seemed to work in terms of getting her focused. I guess that book learnin’ is paying off!

So if you find yourself procrastinating, or think you are a chronic procrastinator, take a step back and look at your situation. Maybe even check out this book. There is no magic pill, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction!

Book Review: Brain Rules – 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Home, Work and School

I recently read Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. I originally picked this up as a result of it showing up as a recommended item in my Amazon Recommendations. I initially looked at the first chapter – one that talks about all the benefits of exercise and the brain. This struck a chord with me and I decided I wanted to read more. Notice that the hyperlink to ‘exercise’ above goes to brainrules.net – the book’s companion site with additional content and videos to help reinforce topics from the book.

The book goes on in detail to discuss the differences between how short term and long term memories work (and tricks to help improve them), differences between male and female brains, and a host of other interesting topics. At times the material is dry – Medina uses the medical terms for the different areas of the brain. If you’re not into that or wanting to go to that depth, it can become difficult to follow. If you hold on through a few pages of this at a time, you will be rewarded with a rather informative read.

There are numerous takeaways I had from this book that helped me understand more about myself. Here are a few:

  1. The brain can only focus on something for about 10 minutes at a time. It then needs a diversion.
  2. Exercise increases brain function / power and significantly decreases the risk of dementia. That brings new meaning to the saying “Running is cheaper than therapy.”
  3. Sleep is vital to committing what has been learned to memory. The brain is very active while you are sleeping.
  4. Multitasking is a fallacy. You are only able to focus on 1 thing at a time. If you are familiar with single core computing, you will recognize what we refer to as multitasking (conference call and email at the same time) is actually pre-emptive multitasking.

Chapters:

  1. Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power
  2. Rule #2: The human brain evolved, too
  3. Rule #3: Every brain is wired differently
  4. Rule #4: We don’t pay attention to boring things
  5. Rule #5: Repeat to remember
  6. Rule #6: Remember to repeat
  7. Rule #7: Sleep well, think well
  8. Rule #8: Stressed brains don’t learn the same way
  9. Rule #9: Stimulate more of the senses
  10. Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses
  11. Rule #11: Male and female brains are different
  12. Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers

 

Born To Run


Girl Trail Running
Originally uploaded by RyanSaul

I recently read Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall, an inspiring tale of an epic adventure pitting the greatest ultra marathoners you’ve never heard of against runners that might as well have been from Mars. There are dozens of stories within this story, all weaved together to make one heck of a tale. You’ll meet a mystery man, a couple of wild college kids, and a tribe of Indians wiho live nowhere near a regular highway, much less the information superhighway. Inside. McDougall asserts through stories that:

  1. Humans have tremendous natural endurance
  2. Everything we have learned about running is likely wrong
  3. If you’re not having fun, you’re working too hard

Obviously I’ve oversimplified this synopsis but you get the point. The book is as much about the individual spirit as it is anything else. I found myself looking forward to reading this book after work and thinking about its message on my long runs and even in my last Ironman event. “Run like a Tarahumara” I’d tell myself. I’ll tell you that too. If you’re a runner looking for inspiration this winter, look no further than Born to Run.

I am Born To Run.

The Tipping Point

One of the challenges we face in software development is driving adoption. Anyone who is involved in IT has likely been involved in building a 'ghost town' or two. The project that had executive buy-in, a great business case, and resulted in a system that no one used. In some cases the project was fundamentally flawed (requirements, vision, timing), in others it's a matter of not getting the message out (or not getting the right or a compelling message out).

I read Malcom Gladwell's The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference with the goal of learning some characteristics that separate the hits from the misses. I was not disappointed. Gladwell likens social adoption to be like viruses, and maps characteristics of people (connectors, messengers, mavens, etc) into the delivery system to make his point. Anyone interested in viral marketing should read the first few chapters of this book to gain his perspective on how social messages spread.

One of the very interesting concepts Gladwell explores is his Rule of 150. He quotes various academic research on the matter and constructs a very interesting view of the number of social interactions an average person can maintain. He then shows examples of the rule of 150 in the real world and talks about Gore factories in New England. Evidently, they have found an ideal factory size employs no more than 150 people, at which point performance indicators begin to show a decline. I am not sure whether it was an anecdote or actually true, but he says that they only put 150 parking spots at each factory and when people start parking on the grass they know it is time to add a facility. This is only one of the"tipping points" explored in the book, but is certainly interesting to see in practice.

My main take away from the book in terms of software delivery mapped more into the change management aspects of project delivery and less to the actual development of the software. It is simply not practical or necessarily appropraite within every application to put word-of-mouth actions (e.g. Invite a Friend). When rolling out any new system, it is important to get the buy-in of your Mavens (so they don't poo-poo you) and construct a message that your connectors can buy into and repeat. Getting these folks on board early in the process can help avoid building another ghost town.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

The Audacity of Hope

One of the first books that I read on my awesome Kindle
was The Audacity of Hope
by Barack Obama. First, a little about my Kindle. You see – I wasn't going to buy one. I could not justify spending $350 on a device to put books. It's kind of like when the iPod first came out. I was content with whatever I had. Once they came down in price, I finally got one. But then my awesome sister decided to upgrade her Kindle when the Kindle 2 came out. And voila – she GAVE it to me. Free. As in beer. How awesome is that?

So I had the audacity to read Obama's book. It was an interesting read and gave me some insights into the man who is our 44th President whether you voted for him or not. While I can't say I recommend rushing out to read it, it did provide some good insight to him and his way of thinking. My take away is this – He listens. His mind is already made up, but he listens. He's kind of like Bill Clinton in that regard, only I think I trusted Clinton a little more.  Oh well, only time will tell. In all, this book was basicly an outline of his liberal way of thinking – you can see it in action now, so there's not really much reason to read it. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

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