Books I Read in 2020

I keep a list of books I read each year. In 2020, I read 17 books and listened to 3 audiobooks. Some were great, some were mediocre, some I read because I was tired of hearing about them.

Recommended books are denoted with *.

This year, I decided to link each book to Bookshop.org when possible. This is an affiliate link that supports independent book sellers. I would be lying if I told you that I buy only from Bookshop.org. I don’t. I try to buy from them as much as possible, but Amazon’s lower prices are a temptation that I can’t always pass up.

Books

  1. Atomic Habits *
  2. Sidehustle Millionaire
  3. 12 Rules for Life
  4. The 80-20 Principle *
  5. This Book Will Make You Dangerous
  6. How to Take Smart Notes *
  7. How to Be An Antiracist
  8. Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts *
  9. Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life
  10. The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing
  11. Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To *
  12. Fix This Next: Make the Vital Change That Will Level Up Your Business
  13. Clockwork: Design your business to run itself
  14. Deep Work: Rules for Focus Success in a Distracted World *
  15. Schopenhauer as Educator
  16. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think *

Audiobooks

  1. How to Destory America in Three Easy Steps
  2. Rage *
  3. Black Rednecks and White Liberals: Hope, Mercy, Justice and Autonomy in the American Health Care System *

Tools don’t work, you do.

Task management tools are only as good as the person using them. If you don’t use the tool, it’s not going to work.

I used to chase down different tools looking for new features or innovative implementations that will help me get organized and get more done. I’ve used Omnifocus and Todoist. I’ve gone full manual mode with a bullet journal, and, now finally, I’ve been using Things for the past few years.

The reality is this: none of those tools work if I don’t work them. A tool is dumb and only the skilled craftsman can make something of value (or get value out of the tools.)

At my company, Basis 365 Accounting we use Karbon as our workflow tool. It’s a great tool (and an expensive one) that wasn’t working for me. I had hundreds of overdue tasks, notes, and emails.

It wasn’t the tool’s fault. It was my fault. If Karbon were a personal task management tool, I might have declared task management bankruptcy and deleted everything to start over or even moved to a different tool. Because it’s a tool my whole company uses, I couldn’t simply opt-out of the tool.

I had to do the hard work of doing the work over a couple of weeks. I cleaned up, cleared out, and organized all my work in Karbon. Now, I just maintain it on a daily basis.

When I was cleaning up, I kept it simple. For each task, note, or email, I applied David Allen‘s Four Ds, prioritized in this order:

1. Delete
2. Delegate
3. Do
4. Defer

I looked for opportunities to delete things, especially things that are not essential. If I couldn’t delete it, I tried to delegate it because I’m not always the best person to do a task. If I couldn’t delegate, I would do it right away if it takes a short amount of time. If something takes longer, I schedule (defer) to a time in the future where I can focus on it fully.

I did it every day until it was cleaned up, which leads to the fifth D: do it daily.

Get-up-and-go

I’m trying to read more fiction because a great writer can reveal insight on the human condition or a universal truth about being human. Maybe that’s why Neil Gaiman says, “Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over.”

Here’s a seemingly “true thing” that jumped out at me when I read “The Sound of Waves” by Yukio Mishima(1):

“The only thing that really counts in a man is his get-up-and-go. If he’s got get-up-and-go he’s a real man…”

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

(1) Rather morbid, but interesting nonetheless, Mishima committed seppuku (Japanese ritual suicide) at age 45, after a failed attempt at a coup d’état in 1970.

On being selected

Throughout our lives we are going to put ourselves up as a candidate for selection. We are going to hope that some person or organization will select us.

Sometimes we will be selected and other times we will not.

It can be disappointing to not be selected. Some people equate not being selected as failure; as some shortcoming in their character or efforts.

Not being selected is not failure.

Not being selected is an outcome that is based on your skill, effort, and luck.

You can control skill and effort. You can’t control luck.

“I make my own luck.” No, you don’t. You enhance your skill and effort so that you could “possibly” reduce bad luck. I say “possibly” because it’s a fool’s errand to try to reduce something that will always be there, out of your control.

When you have a good outcome, it is easy to think it’s because of your skill and effort and forget good luck. When you have a bad outcome, it is comforting to dismiss it as bad luck.

Skill + Effort + Luck = Good or Bad Outcome.

True failure is in not trying at all.

HEY’s KILLER feature.

If you’ve been hanging around the right Twitter alleyways, you’ve probably heard a lot about HEY, the new email service from Basecamp.

Yesterday, I watched Jason Fried‘s video tour of HEY. The ability to annotate an email caught my eye. Hey lets you leave notes to yourself to any email thread.

This is a KILLER feature.

Even though I have not used HEY’s implementation of this feature (I’m still waiting for my invitation), I’ve use a similar feature daily in another email/workflow SaaS. At my company, Basis 365 Accounting, we use Karbon, a workflow management software that allows our team to leave notes on email threads. Again, it is a KILLER feature because it allows us to collaborate with each other to coordinate a response or seek clarity without cluttering up our inboxes with forwarded emails.

When HEY brings this feature to the business version HEY later this year, I guarantee that it will be your favorite feature.

This one feature by itself, is almost worth the $99/year price point, but HEY offers up so much more that justifies the price. As a point of comparison, we pay about $70 per user per month for Karbon.

This sounds crazy to say in 2020, but I’m genuinely excited about email again and I’m pounding the refresh button frequently just to see if the invitation has landed in my mailbox.

Books I Read in 2019

I keep a list of books I read each year, by month. In 2019, I read 19 books. Some were great, some were mediocre, some I read because I was tired of hearing about them.

Recommended books are denoted with *. Audible books are denoted with ^.


January

  • The Magic of Thinking Big, by David J. Schwartz.
  • Smart Retirement, by Matt Zagula
  • The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months, by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington.

February

  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. *
  • Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, by Cal Newport. *

March

  • The Dichotomy of Leadership, by Jocko Willink *
  • Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great, by Jim Collins

April

  • Lead Yourself First:Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude, by Michael S. Sorensent and Raymond M. Kethledge
  • Frederick Douglass: The Prophet of Freedom, by David W. Blight ^
  • The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts – Vol. 1, by Shane Parish. ^ *

May

  • The Odyssey, by Homer translated by Emily Wilson. ^ *

June

  • Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, by Dr. Joe Dispenza. ^
  • The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. ^ *

July

  • Grit, by Angela Duckworth *

August

  • The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, by Jeff Cox and Eliyahu M. Goldraft

September

  • The Longevity Solution: Rediscovering Centuries-Old Secrets a to a Healthy, Long Life, by Dr. Jason Fungoes and Dr. James Dinicolantonio. *
  • Work The System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less, 3rd Edition, by Sam Carpenter
  • The Lessons of History, by Ariel Durant and Will Durant.

October

  • I Hear You, by Michael S. Sorensen. ^

Truth

Here is the truth: We don’t know the whole truth.

I came across this in my reading today from The 80/20 Principle:

Nothing flows from one simple cause. Nothing is inevitable. Nothing is ever in equilibrium or unchanged…few people understand what is really causing anything, good or bad.

Richard Koch

It is a lesson that is too often forgotten as we dig our heels in and expound the truth because we have a handful of data points that support our “truth.”

When the environment is chaotic, the truth is obscured. Those data points are hypothesis, rumor, gossip, and, sometimes, flat out lies. And yet, some among us cling on to data points that have no value because they are no longer true. We cling onto them because we want to stay “consistent” in our line of thinking.

Ah yes, the scared lineage of our thinking. That bloodline that justifies all of our decisions heretofore. Break the bloodline and we are a lie. We unravel. But, to unravel, to untangle, is that such a bad thing?

To pull on that thread of our “truth” or the “truth” we believe and to discover why we have stayed mentally knotted all these years. No, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing. To understand that our consistency is not a show of commitment or conviction. Instead, we begin to see that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds:

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency, a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradicts everything you said today.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The truth is what makes good sense today and that is supported by evidence today. We can discard yesterday’s truth if evidence no longer supports it. We’ll worry about tomorrow’s truth tomorrow.

#500words

“…most adult books are about 90,000 words, and no longer than 100,000 (unless you’re JK Rowling). Teen books are about 55,000 words.”(website)

I don’t have aspirations for writing a book, but I do want to write more frequently because it is an essential life skill. If you can’t articulate your thoughts in writing, when you have time to formulate your thoughts, select the exact words that mean the exact thing you want to say, then you’ve really have no chance of communicating at all.

For better part of my time as a CPA (certified public accountant) in public accounting, I used my writing and reading skills (not very good) more than I did my math skills (which I have none.) I read technical accounting literature, interpreted it, and wrote position memos to support an accounting position. I wrote footnotes that went into SEC filings of public companies. I’ve written memos explaining the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board why a certain audit procedure performed was to standard.

The more I write, the easier it gets to crank out a decent first draft. The more I write, the easier it is to get into the flow of writing but I still don’t do it enough. When I do go on a writing streak, I there is a noticeable difference is the flow of the writing. This doesn’t mean that the writing is any good.

To keep the state of writing flow near and readily accessible, I decided that I should add a daily writing component to my #75hard challenge.

Here’s what I’ve been doing since August 14th: write 500 words per day.

Here are the simple rules I use:

  1. Write 500 words per day.
  2. Any topic is okay.
  3. No editing, unless I catch a typo mid-sentence. The goal is to make progress, not perfect prose.
  4. No research. The focus in on writing, not researching (a deep and endless rabbit hole.) If I don’t have a fact or figure, I’ll put a placeholder like this: [insert fact or figure here].

Let’s do some math. 500 words per day x 365 days per year = 182,800 words.

Adult books have about 90,000 words; therefore, 182,800 divided by 90,000 = 2 books per year; or, 1.8 books if you’re JK Rowling. But, again, forget about books. That’s a lot of words for your blog, movie script, marketing content, thesis, journal, or whatever.

Here’s some technical stuff: I start my writing in the Drafts app which has a nice word count feature. I then push it to Dayone and tag it with “500 Words” for the writings that I want in my journal. I don’t want everything in the journal because some days are just rambling…forcing myself to write 500 words, even if it’s a bunch of nonsense (remember: progress, not perfect prose.)

By the way, the post has exactly 500 words in it so it’s part of my daily #500words.

Shadows

This is Miles, my dachshund. This year he will be 18 years old (126 dog years!) A few years ago he had a back surgery. He recovered nicely but lately he’s looking frail again. No one knows how much time is left.

As I look at him, with the sun beaming past his body and lighting his way, I think that we are all like Miles.

When the sun is behind our backs, the shadow faces forward. It is darker because there is no clarity.

The shadow is a signpost of the past and the future.

If we let it, the shadow is the hazy memory of past failures. It could of a reminder of what we could have been but never was because we didn’t make so.

Or, the shadow can be the nascent self, the better self, if we can only get past the opaque outline and the uncertainty of what that self really is when we arrive.

The sun lights the way. Are we using the light to choose our path or are we staring at our shadow?

Whatever you do, don’t stare too long. The shadow will move, with or without you, to create a regrettable past or a unexplored future.