Reading List

In my last blog entry I mentioned the book How to do Everything and Be Happy and how it made a positive influence on my monthly schedule. Following up on it, I thought this would be a good opportunity to provide a list of some of the books that I have found helpful or interesting over the past few years. They range from productivity hacks to using behavioural science to improve your day to a few that are from way out in left field. Curious? Good! Let’s get started …

How to do Everything and Be Happy (Peter Jones): This is one of the books that kicked things off for me, making me realise that there are simple changes you can make to put yourself in control of your own life.  The writing style is engaging and is a good first port of call if you’re interested in adding a bit more organisation and happiness into your life.

How to Have a Good Day: The essential toolkit for a productive day at work and beyond (Caroline Webb): In a related vein, How to Have a Good Day uses a solid scientific base to examine many aspects of modern working life, with helpful tips and tricks to help you construct a better work day. This book will make you look at your day-to-day interactions in a whole new light.

59 Seconds: Think a little, change a lot (Richard Wiseman): Don’t feel you have enough time in the day to read the other books on this list? Then this one is for you. These bitesize nuggets of behaviour change are worth considering.

Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management (Mark Forester): This and the author’s Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play take a new approach to time management.  I freely admit that my current job is not compatible with the system he describes, but if you have more control over your schedule, then this is definitely worth a look.

The 12 Week Year (Brian P. Moran and Michael Pennington): This is a completely different approach to productivity, goal setting, and scheduling than I’ve come across previously, I am still trying to get my head around the system (it’s not that complicated, I’ve just had a rather full plate recently!), but I can see how it can help increase both work productivity and personal accomplishments … if you can make the time to implement it.

The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg): Nearly 40% of what we do each day is down to habit. This books provides a great overview of the habit cycle—cue, routine, and reward—and the wiring of the brain that allows habits to form and to be overwritten.  [Related to this is S.J. Scott’s Habit
Stacking
, but I prefer the approachable science behind Duhigg’s book].

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Daniel Pink): What makes you tick? This book provides an excellent background to the science of motivation, both intrinsic and extrinsic drivers.  For example, job satisfaction tends to be motivated by the intrinsic factors of autonomy, mastery, and sense of purpose – not the size of the pay check.

Flow: The Psychology of Happiness (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi): This is a classic book that examines the commonalities that occur when people are so wrapped up in an activity that they want nothing more than to continue doing it. Why do some activities cause this “flow” state and some do not? I am only about halfway through the book at the moment (and some of it is hit or miss to be honest), but if you’ve followed me this far, it is a good companion to many of the books on this list.

Authentic: How to be yourself and why it matters (Stephen Joseph): I think many of us spend our lives compartmentalising ourselves, for example by presenting one face at work and another at home. Yet the tension between the two can be stressful and difficult to manage in the long term. This book helps focus on what actually drives us as individuals, and I certainly found the exercises eye opening and thought provoking. It also has given me something to strive for: eudaimonia, living life to its fullest potential.

Inside the Nudge Unit: How small changes can make  a big difference (David Halpern):  The idea behind “nudging” is in the sub-title: small changes can yield a big difference when applied to various social problems.  For example, requiring people to opt out of a desired behaviour (e.g. enrolling on a pension scheme) instead of opting in leads to greater uptake. This book originates from Nudge (which I have not read yet) and is a good overview of how the techniques have been tested and applied in the UK.

Black Box Thinking: The surprising truth about success (Matthew Syed): This was a standout from my reading over the past year. It makes you reconsider failure and how an organisation’s approach to mistakes can either help or hinder it on a systemic level.  Incredibly thought provoking.

Be a Free-Range Human (Marianne Cantwell): If you are tired of being trapped in the career cage and are seeking an escape, or are just starting to test the waters of life outside the cubicle, then this book is for you. I have read a number of books about starting a business or freelancing,
and this is hands down my favourite.  

Making a Living Without a Job (Barbara Winter): As I said, I have read numerous books on this topic!  This is another very good one; sometimes it feels a little behind the times (I don’t recall the internet or social media getting a mention in the edition I read), but she has some solid ideas for how to escape the 9-to-5.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking:  As an extreme introvert, I found this a fascinating read about how culture shapes whether introverts or extroverts are prized and how each deals with the world in very different ways.  A must read for introverts or people who live with, work with, or teach introverts.

The Big Necessity: Adventures In the World of Human Waste (Rose George): I did say some of these would be from left field … I was probably predisposed to like this book as I spend quite a bit of my time thinking and writing about a different type of human waste (i.e. litter), but the importance of proper hygiene and sewage, and its place in history, makes this both an eye-opening and engaging book.

All of these come with the caveat that the books are products of their time. Some behavioural science studies have recently been shown to have less of an effect than originally supposed, and the jury still seems to be out on techniques like priming. Like I mentioned last week, be curious: don’t believe everything hook, line, and sinker, and instead dig a little deeper if something sounds too good to be true. And, finally, these are all Amazon affiliate links; feel free to use them or go elsewhere if you’re interested in reading these books.

Off the Beaten Track Wiltshire

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