Deep Work - Cal Newport

The concept of "Deep Work" is basically all about creating an environment for yourself where you can really focus on whatever it is that you need to get done, without distraction.
The basic principles are:

  • Social media is the enemy of productivity (so avoid it if you can).

  • Book time in your calendar where you're not going to let anything distract you.

  • If you really want to get more done, schedule more of your day (down to 10-15 minute periods, depending on what you need to do).

  • If you keep jumping between tasks, this will leave you with what is referred to here as 'attention residue' where part of your brain is still on the previous thing you were doing.

  • Use your commuting/travelling time for thinking through problems, if you can.

If you need help "getting sh*t done", then this and Essentialism (below) will be useful for you.

I've also been reading "So good they can't ignore you", which is by the same author and the book he wrote before this one. Similar ideas explored but from a different perspective.

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Essentialism - Greg McKeown

"Less. But Better"
We all have times in our lives when we're overwhelmed by things to do. This book helps you strip out what isn't important, the things that are keeping you just 'busy'. Leaving more time for the things you really need to do so your time is more productively used.

There are a number of themes that cross over with 'Getting Things Done', 'The Lean Startup' and also 'The One Thing' (that I had forgotten I'd read until I found my pencil notes in the margins when I started it again). So I'd definitely put 'Essentialism' on the essential list!

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This is essentially an introduction to Stoicism - the works of Marcus Aurelius and others.
Along the way, you'll learn about figuring out how to turn any obstacle (like a global pandemic where you're not allowed to leave the house) into a learning experience. Or how to make that obstacle a benefit to you. It's more useful than you might think!

Buy "The Obstacle is the Way" at

I have to say that this was quite a difficult book for me to read and I did give up on it about halfway through. Then I read "The obstacle is the way" and came back to it, vowing to learn what I could from it.
The problem for me was that the author is obviously very religious, with mentions of God or Jesus almost every other paragraph in the first half of the book. Whereas I'm more of the mind to "trust the person you see in the mirror" so I found their way of speaking quite annoying.
If you can get through all of that, there are some useful ideas in the book. Primarily that you should be positive about the things you can affect around you (as if you were in charge) but without being arrogant about them or wanting to run before you can walk (in any particular situation where you may want to gain influence). Thereby gradually gaining influence and responsibility.

Buy "How to lead when you're not in charge" at

Radical Candor - Kim Scott

Be a better manager of people, be managed better, or just understand when you need to leave your current employment because they don't really care about their staff. Kim Scott has led 100,000 people at Google and Apple, among other places, so she definitely knows what she's talking about.

Along with The Lean Startup, this book is one that has resonated most with me over the last year. Two of the main themes in the first section of the book are 'care personally' and 'bring your whole self to work' (instead of the more common quoted 'be professional'), both of which I realised are things I've made important in my working relationships, even in the face of managers who really couldn't care less about the people who report to them. Then again, if you find yourself within an organisation who has no interest in applying these techniques, you know it's time to leave

Everything in this book makes perfect sense, plus has practical examples of how to help drag your organisation into the 21st century and actually care about its staff. If you've ever felt that your team or company culture could do with some improvement or may not be communicating effectively, then you need to read this book.

Then visit for everything else you'll need to make that happen.

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This book starts withe a comparison between Tiger Woods and Roger Federer - explaining how they both got to the top of their respective sports by different means. Tiger being committed to golf at an early age, and Roger having 'range' by developing skills in a range of sports before deciding on Tennis.

It also makes a compelling case for scientific studies to be made up of teams that cross disciplines. If, for example, the team is made up of specialists in e-coli, then you're going to get a specific type of result. Whereas if the team is made up of people who have a wider 'range' of perspectives, you're likely to get a more innovative result.

As someone who is what would be considered a generalist, having a range of skillsets from being involved in different sectors, this resonated a lot with me, and made a whole lot of sense.

So if you've ever thought that specialising too early in life might actually be a bad thing, when what you really need (especially in our modern societies that change a lot more quickly) is a more broad perspective to draw upon for solving lifes problems , this is the book for you.

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The Lean Startup - Eric Ries

By the title, you might think this book doesn’t apply to you, because not everyone lives in the constantly-changing world that is startup culture.

However, if you were to think of this more like a handbook on “How to make better informed business decisions using the scientific method”, then it makes a whole lot more sense.

Especially if you happen to be (for example...) a dynamic and innovative digital division of what might be a larger legacy organisation that still believes in top-down management (which hasn’t been a relevant concept since about 1985).

It’s quite involved and isn’t quite light reading, although it is written in an approachable manner and does make a lot of sense.

Essentially, it teaches you how to base your decisions on actionable metrics and measurable data, then use the processes of build-measure-learn, to ensure you get the best out of that data. Also the concept of ‘pivot or persevere’, which is essentially to help you realise whether or not that thing you’re doing is really worth continuing with (persevere), or the best thing would be that you need to change your approach and ‘pivot’. For example, Slack, the messaging system originally started out as a gamers chat system, but only really took off when it made its ‘pivot’ into the market it leads now.

Having worked within the online/digital sector for over 25 years now, many of the concepts introduced in this book had me thinking “Oh my god, that’s my life!”. So for all the times over the years when I’ve been told that someone very far away who has no idea what I do, has made a decision about something they know nothing about, and I’ve thought “That’s a stupid idea because…”, means that I am in fact, usually right. :)

If you’re involved in any kind of decision-making process, you need to read this book.

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Everything you ever needed to know about the Cognitive Fallacies that we sometimes unknowingly fool ourselves with.

The thing about the Internet is, whilst it might well be the sum total of the worlds shared knowledge (or at least a lot of it), it's also the collective opinions of the human race. So if you've ever gone looking on the Internet for something that you believe to be true, you're more likely than not to find something that confirms your opinion. Which doesn't make it true, it just means you're subjecting yourself to what is known as "Confirmation Bias".

These and other myths are explored, deconstructed and explained in an easy to read and amusing manner, from an author who originally trained as a neuro-scientist.

It's likely that you've been subjected to or subjected other people to many of the topics touched on in this book, so if you've ever wondered why or even how people often convince themselves of things that may seem weird or nonsensical, then you need to read this book.

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The Four-Hour Work Week - Tim Ferris

This book, which I seem to remember reading around the same time as “Getting Things Done” was what got me first thinking that there was an alternative to “work”... As in being able to break free of the 9-5 workday and all that involves: commuting, getting up early and (sometimes) being on call.

At the time, the ideas could be considered quite novel, what with outsourcing tasks to “Our man in India” or suchlike, but nowadays, with the rise of social media and services like fiverr, taskrabbit, etc, they’re not so far fetched.

Whilst I certainly haven’t quite made it down to just “working” four hours a week quite yet, it’s still a good framework to have in mind (by which I mean read) if you ever want something more from life than a day job will give you.

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Getting Things Done - David Allen

Back when I was first wanting to get myself properly organised, probably around 2007/8, this was what I read to start myself on that journey…

The basic idea is that you get everything that you need to do out of your head (the “Brain Dump”), and into a system, either paper folders or something a bit more modern, starting with an “Inbox”. Then you sort these tasks into folders/lists equating: now (anything you can do in under 3 minutes or so), scheduled, deferred, delegated, sometime and maybe. Then to differentiate the what and when from the where, you give them different contexts such as home, office, supermarket or whatever is good for you.

The point being that if you try to remember everything and keep that inside your head, you’ll end up forgetting everything due to all the mental clutter (and the fact you can only hold about 7 things in your head at once - see “You are not so Smart”).

Over the years, I’ve gone through a succession of task management systems - starting with the now defunct java-based “Thinking Rock” (it was cross-platform and I used Dropbox to sync its data), and now recently migrating all my tasks from and a local Jira instance, and consolidating them into - which has spaces-folder-lists-tasks, with the tasks also having a dependency feature, so you can end up with a Gantt chart of what you need to do and when (like using Jira without the headaches, plugins and expense). They do actually have an authentic implementation of GTD as a template for anyone wishing to try it out.

To be honest, the idea of contexts always gave me a bit of a headache, so along with possibly being corrupted by exposure to the “Agile” methodology and concepts such as Kanban, the original idea of “when” is now for me a set of statuses - backlog, open, waiting (on other people), done, closed, with the “what” being a set of folders for categories and lists for anything that needs to be more specific (for example a folder for Computers, a list for each of those, which contains any tasks for those specific devices. Plus priorities and due dates where appropriate.

When scheduled, these end up in my google calendar, so I don’t have to think about what I’[m doing on a particular day, I can just get on with it!

Although this does all depend on taking the time to sort (and schedule!) all your ideas from your “Inbox” in the first place.

But basically, it made my life a whole lot less stressful and productive. Just like it says in the title :)

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