Gettin’ it done

Getting Things Done by David Allen
Project unstuck due to GTD! Next action: find photo for final frame
3 words: life-changing, practical,
invigorating
Wow, people.
This book has changed my life.
While I’ve usually felt good about my level of productivity, I’ve recently taken it up about 10 notches.
And meanwhile, I’ve been
walking around feeling relatively calm and contented.
And this book (plus the not-so-hard work of actually implementing the steps) is completely responsible.
It’s positively weird how effective this methodology is.
So, basically, there are several aspects to this system, and the parts that stick out the most for me are:
– If it can be done in 2 minutes or less, do it now.
– Capture all ideas and store them someplace safe. And then develop a surefire way to make sure you can retrieve the information at the right time. (Man, it’s so librarian-ish, I get all aquiver. Information storage & retrieval!)
– Decide: What’s my next action? And make it concrete.
That “next action” thing is ridiculously powerful. I recently got myself unstuck by changing the wording of my “next action” from “Send email to Person A about Project B” to “Draft email to Person A about Project B.”
I know it seems silly, but it works. 
So — it’s probably a good idea to avoid me for a while, because I’m on the loose in this world, radiating the zeal of a particularly fervent convert. Given the chance, I’ll start talking GTD, and I’ll be all gleeful, and you will wish to flee. 
And then I’ll go and do something remarkably pedestrian but wildly productive. 
And then I’ll cement the bliss by listening to the Getting Things Done podcast or watching a GTD video on YouTube
And then I’ll try to tell you about that, too. 
So: you’ve been warned.

Habitually happier

Better Than Before: Mastering the
Habits of Our Everyday Lives
by
Gretchen Rubin
3 words:
encouraging, practical, inspiring
I’ve
been binge-reading and binge-listening to Gretchen Rubin these past couple of
months, and it’s been making me Happier.*  
After
reading The Happiness Project a virtual lifetime ago, I was a Rubin
convert. 
And then
I read Happier at Home a few months
ago, and: more happiness in my home, too.
Habit helper: setting a bedtime alarm
This
latest book, I feared, might be kind of a buzz-kill. It’s about habits, and
that sounds so very, very earnest. 
And after a long day of giving it all I’ve
got, by the point in the evening when I actually get to sit down to read, I
wasn’t so sure that reading about habit formation was really gonna set my world
on fire.
Wrong.
Sometimes
I love it when I’m wrong.
The
things that save this book are the same things that made Rubin’s other two
books so delightful: her voice and her honesty and her research and her
willingness to throw herself into her work and then put herself out there for
us to see.
Also,
even though I’m tired by the end of the day, I have a weakness for
self-improvement projects, and when I read this on page 5, she had me: “Habits
make change possible by freeing us from decision making and from using
self-control.”
The
thought that better habits could make it easier to do the things I think I
really should do—that’s some
revolutionary stuff right there. 
So I wrote a list of 5 things to work on, and I’m picking away at them. (Currently ignoring my bedtime alarm, so I’ve gotta pre-post this bad boy and hit the hay.)
But first…
3 more words: empowering, exciting, enjoyable
 
 

Happy house

Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump
More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the
Practice of Everyday Life
by
Gretchen Rubin

3 words:
domestic, inspiring, pleasant

It’s only 92 degrees as I post this, so: HEARTH.

My home’s
been a regular little hive of domesticity in recent days (which makes it sound
like I’ve been baking bread and whipping up souffles and generally using my
kitchen, which I assure you is not actually taking place; also: no flower-arranging).
But ever
since I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I’ve been changing my life by tidying
up. 
Crazy
but true: this stuff actually works.
[Update:
I’ve KonMari’d my clothes, and a wonderful friend helped me build a dresser to accommodate my little bundles of clothes, and I am almost frighteningly happy every time I
open my closet (which now actually closes).]
And then
I turned to Gretchen Rubin for some more home life inspiration, because I’m on
a roll here.
I really liked Rubin’s earlier book, The Happiness Project (liked it even more than expected).
And I
knew I’d like this one, too—once I was feeling settled enough to read it. 
(I’m
currently feeling wildly, contentedly, excitedly settled, so I went in.)
Rubin
covers some similar ground as Marie Kondo (removing clutter), and she builds on
some ideas in her own Happiness Project (building
shrines: gathering together objects that remind you of happy times).
But the
book goes beyond the physical aspects of home, to encompass things like giving
warm greetings and farewells, and suffering for 15 minutes.
This
15-minute suffering concept intrigues me. Basically, the idea is: we can stand
almost anything for 15 minutes. So
spend 15 minutes a day on one of those odious tasks you keep avoiding, and the
thing’ll actually get done.
I might
also convert it into “relax for 15 minutes”—because sometimes that’s the thing
that doesn’t get done. 
I’m putting “Read for 15 minutes” on my to-do list for tomorrow. (As if I’ll stop at 15…)

Sparking joy all over the place

The Life-Changing Magic of
Tidying Up
by
Marie Kondo

Don’t
worry—I’m not about to post a YouTube video of my perfectly re-folded sock
drawer. (I haven’t gotten to that part yet.)
But I’m
here to tell you, guys, this total non-hoarder just dispensed with 3 garbage
bags full of clothes after reading this quick little book. And against all
odds, I recently packed for a 5-day trip in a mere carry-on!
 
I am a
changed woman.
And
dang, it feels good.
So here’s
why this book is sweeping the nation: Kondo’s theory is that we should keep
only the things that spark joy. 

Everything else: out!

So she
has you go through your home, touching each object (which I thought would be
counter to de-cluttering, based on research that shows that once we touch an
item in a store, we’re umpteen times more likely to buy it—but it actually helped
me get rid of stuff) and deciding whether it brings joy. Then you toss out all
the old stuff that no longer does it for you.
She
suggests going through your home by category, starting with clothes. This also
works. (Though I cheated and started weeding my library before I’d cleared all
the closets. Book fanatic inevitability.)
So here’s
what she suggests when it comes to the books: take all the books off the
shelves, stack them on the floor, and then pick up each book and decide whether
it gives you joy.
I might
actually do that.
Then you
go through everything else in your house, category by category.
Then you
get to do the fun part and KonMari your clothes.

(This
was my carry-on packing secret weapon.) 
So I’m
all swept up in it, purging things like a wild woman in my meager free time. It’s
become one of my treats.

I know.
Sick.

But this
place is looking darn spiffy, guys.

Everybody writes

Everybody Writes: Your Go-To
Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content
by Ann Handley
3 words:
smart, cheerful, encouraging
Of
course you don’t. 
But of course you also knew I’d remind you. I got your back
that way.
Well, Everybody Writes is similiarly
binge-worthy. 
Handley’s voice is friendly and welcoming, and she’s there
coaching you and cheering you on as you flail away at the keyboard.
Here’s
the cool thing about this book: She tells you all kinds of ways to suck less as
a writer. And while you know it’s gonna be work, she makes you want to do it
anyway. And she breaks it down into friendly little pieces, so it’s manageable.
My
favorite chapter—the one that will forever stay with me: “Embrace the Ugly
First Draft.”
It took
first place, even after its preceding chapter (“Organize. Relax, You’ve Got
This”) had been awarded the gold medal only minutes earlier.
That “Organize”
chapter gives us permission to do the easy thing—just jot ideas down on paper
and then pull them together later. Just spew it out, almost like brainstorming. What a relief! (Seriously.)
Then she
motivates you (oh, so gently; oh, so cheerfully) to become a better writer.
I’m
actually gonna buy a copy of this book. That’s
how good it is.

Self-… what?

The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons fron
Extraordinary Lives
by Katie
Couric
OK, so here’s me,
reading any self-help book: “Profound! So simple, yet so meaningful…” 
Then, one week
later: “…What was that book about, again?”
So yeah. I’m
running true to form here.
I listened to the audiobook, and I liked it plenty. Couric contacted a whole passel of
famous people and asked them to write a short essay on the best advice they
ever received. 
And some of the essays are actually great. And a few of them I
had to fast-forward through because they were so self-congratulatory I wanted
to hurl. But most of them
contained some darn good advice.
Which I promptly
forgot.
But here are the
few things that I jotted down in time, so they weren’t lost forever.
“Be comfortable with the uncomfortable.”—General David Petraeus 
[I’ll refrain from
commenting about his personal ethics, though I’m sorely tempted to do so.]
Basically, this one’s about learning new things and taking risks and being OK
with the discomfort of trying something unfamiliar. And I’ve been getting some practice in this realm, and I like it.     
This one made me
gasp: “Treat yourself as well as you treat others.”—Gloria Steinem. 
Yeah, some
of us have some work to do there.
And here’s my
favorite line, from Couric herself: “We have an obligation to find and give
joy.” As responsibilities go, that’s one I can happily embrace.

This stuff ain’t for sissies

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be
Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
by Brene Brown
OK, raise your hand if you’ve seen Brene Brown’s viral TED talks.


TED Talk the First (that’s it, just above there) 
Yeah, I’ve seen ’em, too. (After two people
from completely different realms of my life mentioned her within the same week,
I decided that was an indication I should check this stuff out. And I gotta tell you: it was at the perfect moment. [And I gotta tell you: there’s probably not an imperfect moment to hear these ideas.])
If you’re intrigued by Brown’s research about how we need to be vulnerable in order to really fully live our
lives, then this book is just the ticket. 
I found it fascinating, inspiring,
terrifying, and eye-opening. (Why terrifying? Because vulnerability is not for
the weak of heart, people!)
Here’s the other thing to know
about Brown: she’s a great storyteller. So even though, yes, she’s an academic
researcher, she puts the soul back into the data.
There are so many good ideas
packed into this book, it’s hard to isolate them. But here’s what I carried
away:
Vulnerability shows strength,
not weakness.
If we numb the pain, we also
numb the joy.
And guys, that’s all I’m gonna
say. This book has life-changing capacities. ’nuff said. 

Unruly Runner

No Need for Speed: A Beginner’s
Guide to the Joy of Running
by John Bingham

Reader becomes runner. 

How’s such a thing even happen?
Well, I’ll tell ya.
Back in college and grad school, I ran 2 to 3 miles and didn’t think much of it. Then I basically became a slacker and did the walking thing for years. (Fast. I walk fast. But still: walking.)
Then one day (not the good kind of day), out of nowhere: running. I was out on a walk, and I just burst out into a run. And I started running little short distances, but I was running, guys.  
And then a friend recommended this book. And since I’m readerly (way more readerly than runnerly—at least in normal times), I checked out the book from the library and started in.
I expected a training plan, but this book is more than that. In fact, this book isn’t really a training plan at all; it’s an inspiration instead, and that’s actually more important.
I mean, listen to this:
“Understanding that I could find joy in the activity itself, rather than in my level of proficiency, liberated me. Imagine the number of physical activities you might engage in if you didn’t care how good you were. Imagine the other goals you might pursue if you didn’t have to wait until you were ‘good at it’ to begin to enjoy the pursuit.” (p. 155)
I say Yes to that.
The main thing that surprised me (in a positive way) about the book is that much of it is the story of the author’s own rather unexpected road to running, which started in his early 40s when he was an overweight smoker. 
So already, if you aren’t overweight and/or a smoker, you’re thinking: If he can do this, I can do this…  (And if you are overweight and/or a smoker, you’re also thinking: If he can do this, I can do this…)
This book: It is a friendly book. It is encouraging and kind, and if you’re in the mood for it, it will help your life become a better thing.
So it wasn’t long before I was back to my 3-mile mark, and then—out of nowhere—I was at 5 miles—then 7 and gaining speed—and dang, I was feeling good.

Take this book on the plane

The Good Among the Great: 19 Traits of the Most Admirable, Creative, and Joyous People by Donald Van de Mark
Here’s a testimonial for this book: It helped me handle one of those annoying airline travel scenarios with calm detachment (and even a little bit of moderate contentment).
Here’s the scene: I was about halfway through this book when I boarded a return flight that was delayed for hours for mechanical reasons, and the airline people were saying things like, “We recommend you call 1-800-THISAIRLINE to reserve a seat on tomorrow morning’s flight.” It would not have been convenient to have been delayed overnight. But also, not the complete end of the world.
While people around me were angrily using extremely foul language and acting out in ways that were rather unbecoming (it was really quite something), I made a phone call, formulated Plans B, C, and D, and then returned to my self-improvement book. Seriously, what else could I do? (Please bear in mind that I am not always so calm. I can freak out with the best of them.)
So we’ll give this book partial credit for keeping me calm. Credit also goes to my sister and her family, whom I’d just visited; they make me laugh uncontrollably, so I was all loosened up before hitting the airport. I’m thinking that helped.
This book is a great booster-shot sort of a thing. Meaning, I’ve read other books about happiness and living-a-good-life that offered more memorable facts or that made a bigger impact on me. But this book presents similar information with a new spin: dividing up Maslow’s description of self-actualized people into 19 characteristics and exploring each one.
It reinforces the general concepts that float around about how to live your best life.
It’s quite a jolly book (being jolly is one of the 19 characteristics!) and I found it to be a source of encouragement.
I believe it also made me a source of mild annoyance to the hostile man* next to me. With every new announcement from the airline people, he swore a blue streak, and by the 4th round of announcements (each one worse than the one before), I was chortling. (Jolly! Joyous! Hysterical? Naaaaaaa….)
(BTW, the flight happened that night. All that drama and swearing for naught. Seriously, people. Calm yourselves. It’s gonna be all right.)
* The dude was on vacation. He wasn’t visiting an ailing loved one; he wasn’t on an important business trip; he was on vacation. This delay was really ruining his whole vacation, and apparently, his entire life. Perspective, anyone?

Great ideas, made even better

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Martin E. P. Seligman
Martin Seligman’s earlier book, Authentic Happiness, is on my top-25 list. Now Flourish takes the ideas presented in the earlier work and expands them.
And man, it’s good.
Yeah, listen to me being all positive about the positive psychology.
Positive psychology is one of those topics—like space, Buddy Holly, needless tragic events, frugality, and personal finance—that sucks me in like a vortex. And I think of Seligman as the grand poobah of the positive psychology world. Certainly he’s the one who’s made most of this stuff accessible to us regular Janes and Joes.
Here, he critiques his earlier ideas as focusing too much on positive emotion alone, and he expands the goal to encompass engagement (flow!), relationships, meaning, and accomplishments. Because life’s not just about feeling happy, it’s also about loving and being loved, serving something bigger than yourself, having and achieving goals, and all that good stuff. It’s about well-being.
So this book does a couple of things. First, it tells you how you can enhance your own sense of well-being. One of the building blocks is the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. (You can do the survey online, and it’ll tell you your top 5 character strengths.) There’s lots more to the well-being stuff, but this character strengths business is pretty darn interesting.
The other thing that Seligman does here is tell us how these ideas are being used to improve others’ lives. The part I found most fascinating was about his work with the U.S. Army to improve the well-being of soldiers. In particular, he writes about the work they’re doing to help prevent PTSD, and it’s encouraging stuff.
I already own a copy of Authentic Happiness. I rather suspect I’m going to be adding a copy of Flourish to my shelves sometime in the next year, because I suspect I’m going to keep thinking about it and thinking about it and thinking about it…