Life skills upgrade: focus

I have a confession to make: I have a very hard time focusing on things in general.  You may have noticed this, as it’s been several months since my last blog post.  (Case in point: After writing the previous sentence, I left this post to go check a minor point in my server’s configuration, looked at three config files, then did a Google search on how to modify them.  While my results loaded, I returned to this post.)

I’ve found some help for this problem, and I want to share it with you.  It came in the form of a book, simply titled “focus.”  The subtitle is: “A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction.”  Poignant? Yes.

I found the book from the great blog Lifehacker, which I then stopped reading on the advice of the book.  Irony abounds.

Anyway, the book is free.  Sort of.  It’s free for the free version (which is a .PDF-contained eBook), which you can download here: FREE GREAT BOOK HERE NOW SUPERLATIVE EXCLAMATION!  I have to confess, I read the free version first.  But it was so good that I actually went back and purchased the paid version of the book (which is also a .PDF-contained eBook) for 35 bucks.  The free version was worth way more than 35 bucks to me, which means that the full version is worth potentially more still.  Either way you choose to go, it’s a heckuva deal for the quality of the material.

Though the writing is intentionally clean and easy to read, this is not a book that you want to rush through.  I have tried to read it as part of a morningly working focus ritual.  Here’s how it works for me: I sit down at my desk, close all other programs, close the door and issue a stern warning to any who might be tempted to break my concentration, and breathe deeply a few times while I mindfully start reading.  At this point, I’ve gotten a lot of value out of the exercise before I even start reading the book!  When I read, I never read more than one chapter at a time.  I’m not really meditating, just reading mindfully, learning to focus and only do one thing.

This is one of several aids to productivity that have influenced my thinking about work in the past few years.  The other is the Getting Things Done methodology, pioneered and preached by David Allen.  Getting Things Done, or GTD in the parlance of us devotees, deserves its own blog post.  It probably deserves several, but I’ll leave that for another day.  Suffice it to say that this book, Focus, is influenced by and compatible with GTD.

So how has it gone for me?  Really well so far.  I wouldn’t be writing about it otherwise.  (I never would have gotten around to it.)  I’ve read the entire free version of the book once, and I’m now re-reading the full version of the book.  I don’t end up reading it every working morning, but I find that when I do invest a few minutes in the morning to focus, my entire day is VASTLY more productive.  As a matter of fact, if I’ve done any work for/with you in the past six months, you probably owe my participation partly to this book.

The format of Focus is very helpful, as well.  It’s not framed as a large, thought-provoking explanation of anything.  It doesn’t carry that kind of authoritative weight.  Instead, it’s a bunch of bite-sized chunks of useful tips and helpful practices.  There are sections with tips for parents, employees, managers, etc.  Most of the time, I’ve been able to read a chapter and walk away with a very small change to my day.  There’s been at least one occasion where I stopped reading mid-chapter, closed the book, and went on to implement something from that day’s chapter right away.

Anyway, I highly recommend it.  I’ll even buy you a copy of the free version if you’d like.  It’s at least that good.  Here’s the info:

focus : a simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction

author: Leo Babauta
price: free or $34.95

Book Report: Mexifornia

What a book!  This one, written by Victor Davis Hanson, was alternately hard to read and fascinating.  It wasn’t hard to read in terms of reading level, though that may make the ideas in the book accessible to fewer people.  it was hard to read because of the raw honesty with which Hanson talks about issues of race and immigration.

As a small-town farmer and now university professor, he blasts what he terms the race industry for their tactics, which he claims serve only to further alienate those who are already aliens in California.  He waxes a bit nostalgic about his growing-up years and the approach to racial integration demonstrated by his early teachers.  But he also claims that the usually-ugly specter of modern lowest-common-denominator culture holds much promise for racial integration, even despite it’s otherwise putrid pallor.

As a classicist, Hanson offers a fascinating solution set, complete with alternate futures.  He’s wise enough to predict several outcomes, and because of this will probably be seen by history as prescient.

I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to debate or understand our public policy options with regard to illegal immigration.  At 150 pages, it’s almost short enough to be considered a long pamphlet.

Even if you judge this book by its cover, it still garners high marks.  The presentation and cover art are visually pleasing.

My two critiques:

  1. I think the writing style puts this book and its important message out of the grasp of some people.  The issues to debate will need all our minds and wills, and I’d hate to see these important thoughts lost because of the form they take.
  2. I’d like to see the author’s preferred solution set fleshed out a little more.  I guess this isn’t a policy platform, but a powerful discussion-starter.  I know that it goes a long way toward giving my future policy stance on illegal immigration a firm footing.

Book Review: Mere Christianity

Ed. note: I don’t feel adequate to even review a book by C.S. Lewis. For years I’ve considered the man a literary Everest.  After reading this book, I still feel that way.  But audacity has never slowed me much, so here goes:

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewsis garners a score of 5 (out of a possible 5) for importance of content, originality of thought, clarity, and skill of expression.  The first half of the book was given as a series of radio talks during World War 2 in Britain.  It’s a brilliant (and brilliantly simple) defense of theism in general and Christianity in particular; a cause plead as if to an unbelieving world.

Every section of the book has the peculiar quality of being at once relatable and theological; original and orthodox.  You feel as if Lewis is sitting on a porch with you appealing to the ordinary, sensible chap you feel yourself to be.  He’s strident in his appeals, but not so strident as to make you feel uncomfortable.  Lewis is an analogy-artist.

Each chapter is short and digestible (like bathroom reading-type short) and sufficiently small in its scope.

I picked this book up because it’s considered by many to be a must-read.  I must now number myself among those people.  You’re free to borrow my copy, but not for too long.  I’ll definitely be diving back in from time to time.