Category Archives: reading

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Book: Daddy Long Legs, and letters

A chance remark by the turtle about Daddy Long Legs led me to request the 1955 musical from the Toronto Public Library, and then to read the book online. Fred Astaire’s dance sequences (particularly the first one where he makes drumsticks dance better than most people do) and a couple of good lines, and a nice ending made me smile. Yes, the age gap’s bigger in the movie than it was in the book, and it must’ve been hard for Astaire to perform that with what was going on in his personal life, but it’s still a good one.

The book, on the other hand, was an unexpectedly delightful find. It’s written as a series of letters from this orphan-turned-aspiring-writer, with vivid descriptions and general cheer. I’m half-inspired to do more letter-writing myself, or to bring that kind of vivacity to my blog.

(Will you put up with descriptions of life? In any case, it is my blog, and I would like to be able to remember. =) Prepare for more adjectives!)

Now I am on the lookout for other epistolary gems. I have requested “A Woman of Independent Means” from the library, remembering my mom’s recommendation. Do you have any favourites?

Work on the business from the outside, not in it – Book: Effortless entrepreneur

One of the key points of “Effortless entrepreneur” is that you need to create systems and delegate work so that you can free up time to improve your business.

p38. Work on the business from the outside, not in it. A great
entrepreneur builds systems to run the business as if it were a
machine, and stands over it instead of being part of its inner
workings. A business owner should sell that machine to clients and
perfect its functionality, but not sit in the gear room. How many
times have you seen a local store owner answering phones, doing
paperwork, and assisting customers all at once? This business owner
works IN the business, not ON it, and hasn’t identified the different
positions within his business, such as receptionist, salesperson, and
cashier. Instead, he does all those jobs himself.

Creating manuals and training maps for each position from the get-go
forces you to evaluate what needs to be done and helps identify tasks
you might not think of right away. That can mean fewer unpleasant
surprises down the road. At first, you’ll likely have to work IN your
business and do most, if not all, of the work for each position.
That’s common when you start out. But create a system that allows you
to just work ON it as soon as possible. Once that system is operative,
a business gains its true value.

Work on your business, not just in it. It makes sense, although lots of small-business owners find it hard to make that jump.

How can people practice this now? After all, even if you work for a company, you work for yourself, too.

It’s kinda like what Trent (The Simple Dollar) writes about in “Who is your real boss? Some perspectives on career success”:

My belief is this: the people that succeed are the people who invest that energy and time and patience and thought a little differently.
What do I mean?

  • Option A: Let’s say you go to work each day and leave it all on the
    table. When you leave work, you’re so drained you can barely make it
    home. You sit on the couch, vegetate for a while, eat dinner,
    vegetate a bit more, then hit the sack. Or perhaps you’re a parent
    and you leave work with just enough energy to get through your
    parental requirements in the evening.

  • Option B: On the other hand, let’s say you go to work and
    intentionally keep half of your energy for yourself. You give the
    company 50% of the gas in your tank. After you leave, you spend that
    50% improving yourself. You go to night classes. You go to the gym.
    You go to the library. You go to meetings of professional growth
    groups, like Toastmasters.

Well, maybe not 50%. If you can do your work with 80% effort, and then invest the rest into building skills and processes, then it’s like a savvy entrepreneur investing time into building systems, not just fighting fires. Sometimes it’s more like a full-energy work and 20% extra, but I enjoy the work and the learning along the way.

At work, I’m learning about the way we work on projects: the processes, the templates, the questions and conversations. I like making systems, processes, and tools, so I’m learning how to improve things.

I’m working on applying this idea of “working on the business, not just in it” in personal life as well. Hence the household optimizations: batch cooking and a chest freezer, tweaked routines, relationship-building. Capacity-building for future adventures.

I’m looking forward to do even better. At work, I want to to learn more about Drupal 7, consulting, and the processes we have. I’m also looking forward to writing up more notes and coaching others. In the rest of life, I’d like to experiment with delegating again, invest time into becoming a better writer, and continue building wonderful relationships.

How about you? How can you not only work in your business, but on it?

Effortless entrepreneur: Work smart, play hard, make millions
2010 Nick Friedman and Omar Soliman
Three Rivers Press
ISBN 978-0-307-58799-2

Book: Effortless entrepreneur 2011-01-10 Mon 19:27

Moving my book notes online

I moved more of my book notes online, reasoning that a braindump is better than occasional whining about the lack of a good system. ;) Fellow Emacs geeks who use Org will probably get the most out of this, as they can open it in Emacs and work with the hierarchy, but someday I may figure out a neat little hyperlinked solution that will make it easy for everyone else. Or I’ll pull more and more of these posts into my blog, where they’ll be individually linkable and commentable.

Compare: http://sachachua.com/blog/category/book/ , which wins points for being graphical and highlighted and comment-friendly, but loses topical organization, overview, search, and offline access.

It’s a start. Here’s what’s working well:

CAPTURE: Using Org + Remember to capture book notes uses the same process as my other notes. Diagrams can be scanned in and attached to files. I used to scan and OCR dogeared pages, but typing or dictating them in is okay, and it helps me review. The capture part of my process is fantastic.

ORGANIZATION: org-refile or copying and pasting are easy, so this part of the process is fine.

REVIEW: I might schedule times to refresh my memory of certain books. I can do that with Org agenda fairly easily.

SHARING: Here’s where the process breaks down a little. org2blog-post-subtree is great, and I’ve used that a number of times to post the relevant subtree of book notes. That adds the notes as entries in my blog, storing the post ID in my Org file so that I can get back to the post afterwards. org2blog also makes it easy to edit entries, hooray.

Once it’s in my blog, people can use the categories to find other entries. However, my current blog layout doesn’t highlight the categories, and it’s not easy to browse the different book-related categories. Maybe it’s worth tweaking a “reading” or “book” category layout page.

Aha! How’s http://sachachua.com/blog/book-notes/ ? It’s a manually-edited list at the top (thanks, Org!), followed by an automatically-generated index. I’ll gradually move my other notes into this system – text notes in my Org file and blog entries for linkability/commentability. Progress…

Marking up books

I’ve been rereading Adler and van Doren’s “How to Read a Book”. I always get tripped up by the advice to mark up one’s books (p48-51). I’ve experimented with this on and off – wild sallies into the world of underlined passages and marks in the margins of books that I own — but I always recoil, returning to furtively dog-eared pages (and even this, when done to library books, earns me a teasing frown from W-). But Adler and van Doren spend two and a half pages arguing for the value of writing in one’s books and giving tips on how to do it effectively. Their reasons:

  • It keeps you awake and concentrating.
  • It makes your reading active.
  • It helps you remember the thoughts of the author.

Maybe I can get the same benefits by writing my thoughts down elsewhere, but not on the printed pages. Ratchet up my book-blogging, perhaps, as a life-long project to build a personal, digital syntopicon?

W- has started a fresh new professional notebook for 2011. In this, notebook he writes down ideas and lessons from his work and from the books he reads. He’s been taking notes on another book I’ve browsed and dogeared – Visual Meetings.

I sporadically keep paper notebooks. They can be much more convenient than typing on a laptop, especially when one is propping a book open to the right page. Perhaps the tablet will make it easier to keep my handwritten notes?

What would my ideal book notes system be like? Decades later, I’d like to be able to say – ah, if you’re interested in that, here are the books I’ve read about it, and this is how they’re connected to each other, and the arguments they made, and how my personal experiences have supported or contradicted them, and what I’ve done with what I learned from those books, and what else I could add…

Margin notes can’t contain these, but maybe I’ll figure out my own system over time – searchable, hyperlinked, backed-up, personal, and social. In the meantime, I keep my notes in an Org text file, organized in an outline, tagged with keywords, and (occasionally) published on my blog.

What’s your system for book notes?

ISBN:0-671-21280-X
How to Read a Book
Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren

My reading round-up

  • Books

    The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work
    2010 Shawn Achor, 978-0-307-59154-8 http://books.google.com/books?id=ceYlEs6gT3QC

    Are people happy because they’re successful, or successful because they’re happy? Achor summarizes a lot of research into positive psychology, sprinkling anecdotes from corporate consulting and day-to-day life in between easy-to-read findings. Achor also shares some useful tips for changing your behavior.

    If you like this, you might want to read Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life for another research-backed practical approach to happiness. If your taste runs towards life-as-experiment memoirs, check out The Happiness Project.

    Writing About Your Life
    2004 William K. Zinsser, 1-56924-468-5, http://books.google.com/books?id=rLaciLyzFFEC

    In this memoir, William Zinsser not only shares tips on how to write about your life but also demonstrates those tips in action. He sometimes steps out of the narrative to point out how the memoir works. Definitely worth a read if you’re writing a personal blog, or any sort of nonfiction that could benefit from story.

    Well Connected: An Unconventional Approach to Building Genuine, Effective Business Relationships
    2010 Gordon S. Curtis and Greg Lewis, 978-0-470-57794-3, http://books.google.com/books?id=4bbo9S06QloC

    This is an intermediate/advanced book on targeted social networking. It’s a good book to turn to when you have clear goals and you need to figure out how to reach the specific people who can help you achieve them: the right person, the right approach. It builds on reciprocity and suggests several ways you can offer value.

    Life’s Too Short to Fold Fitted Sheets: Your Ultimate Guide to Domestic Liberation
    2010 Lisa Quinn, 978-0-8118-6993-5, http://books.google.com/books?id=BpnGPwAACAAJ

    This book boils down into: Don’t stress out so much, and here are some productivity, housekeeping, home decoration, and entertaining tips for making life easier. I’m particularly looking forward to trying the section called “17 meals made from a deli chicken.”

    The Age of Productivity: Transforming Economies from the Bottom Up
    210 Edited by Carmen Pages, 978-0-230-62352-1 http://books.google.com/books?id=dUWPQAAACAAJ

    This turned out to be a deep research collection on the economics of Latin American companies. Interesting section on company tax evasion and the effects on productivity: tax-evading companies stay small to avoid attention, but that means they can’t enjoy economies of scale.

    The Heart of Simple Living
    2010 Wanda Urbanska, 978-1-4402-0451-7 http://books.google.com/books?id=r38fQAAACAAJ

    Typical tips on simplifying, decluttering, and developing the domestic arts. Good tip on reciprocal dining, which is more like a time/meal exchange among friends instead of a dinner party. More focus on environmental sustainability than most books I’ve read in this field.

    The Art of Barter: How to Trade for Almost Anything
    2010 Karen S. Hoffman and Shera D. Dalin, 978-1-60239-953-2 http://books.google.com/books?id=Btv9QQAACAAJ

    This book covers why, how, and where to swap instead of sell. Might be handy for negotiation practice.

    Choose to be Happily Married: How Everyday Decisions Can Lead to Lasting Love
    2010 Bonnie Jacobson, PhD with Alexia Paul, 978-1-60550-625-8 http://books.google.com/books?id=ABD_DJDSeZAC

    See my notes elsewhere.

    The Complete Works of Montaigne
    1943 Translated by Donald M. Frame, 0-8047-0484-8 http://isbn2book.com/0-8047-0484-8/the_complete_works_of_montaigne_essays_travel_journal_letters/

    I’m not done with this one yet. There’s a lot to read and learn in this collection of essays, travel journals, and letters from the man who invented the essay. I’ve skimmed the Gutenberg Project’s version and the John Florio translation, but Donald Frame’s translation is the style I like the most. I look forward to learning more about philosophy, history, and assorted topics. Thanks to Ryan Holiday for the post about Montaigne’s work!

    Pretty good haul for one week.

  • Other blog posts I liked

    The other day, I heard a weather forecast use the word “flurries”. Winter’s coming! Fortunately, Lifehacker has tips on winterizing your body. Me, I’m renaming winter to “baking season.” Or soup season. Or hot chocolate season. It’s also a good time to do social experiments, like getting better at giving gifts and setting up time to hang out with friends.

    *British comedian Stephen Fry rants about language snobs and the evolution of English.* He convinces me to reconsider my gripes about people using “action” as a verb, as in: “Please action this survey.” I can see this will be a tough thing to get over. Fortunately, IBM gives me many opportunities to practice this new attitude.

    Want to know if it’ll be worth picking up that hammer? DIY or Not compares the average cost of professional labour or do-it-yourself resourcefulness. It also tells you what kinds of projects the site’s readers would prefer to DIY or hire. For example, installing kitchen wall cabinets yourself might save you ~$800, but most people would rather have someone else do it. This site would be even better with a social network makeover. Wouldn’t it be cool to share your experiences with DIY or hiring things out, and your actual costs?

    Ever been interested in doing something, only to be discouraged because you suck? The Montreal Improv blog shares a great tidbit from Ira Glass. You might have started cat painting because you like . In the beginning, your abilities can’t match up your taste. Practice is the only way to close that gap.

Book: Choose to be happily married: How everyday decisions can lead to lasting love

Bonnie Jacobson, PhD., with Alexia Paul
2010 Adams Media, Avon, Massachusetts
ISBN 13: 978-1-60550-625-8

The book consists of short chapters that explore common conflicts and positive approaches in committed relationships. Each chapter includes one or two case studies, ways to recognize the conflict, and tips for resolving the conflict. This book is a good read for couples who are beginning to find themselves ensnared in repeating conflict patterns because they can identify and get tips for their situation. Couples who are starting out may also find it useful as a way to recognize potential conflicts before they become established.

  • Flexibility

    Responsive Reactive
    Good judgment Critical judgment
    Expressing your true self Conforming to a role
    Autonomy Isolation
    Surrender Submission
    Establishing space Neglect
    Patience Passivity
    Benign boundaries Emotional tyranny
    Awareness of limits Emotional recklessness
    Embracing change Preserving the status quo
  • Communication

    Taking responsibility Blame
    Needs Wants
    Detach Withdraw
    Speaking up Silence
    Giving the benefit of the doubt Making assumptions
    Intimate listening Hearing
    Influence Control
    Constructive criticism Destructive criticism
  • Personal power

    Deciding Craving
    Fighting fair Fighting unfair
    Support Protection
    Forgiving Forgetting
    Good selfish Bad selfish
    Family loyalty Self-interest
    Joy Happiness