Mid-Year Book Round Up: Best of What I’ve Read

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I’ve been using GoodReads the past two years to incentivize myself to read more books. Reading is pleasurable – but I wasn’t doing enough to keep myself better educated and entertained in those spare moments of the day. Reading has been a source of enjoyment for as long as I can remember, whether for fun or even for assignments. Certainly, books of my own choosing win over books for English class! In case there are some of you out there who are looking for recommendations, I thought I would share my first half of 2017 “best of” books that I’ve read so far!

Current Reads

Here is a crazy number: I have SEVEN books on my “currently reading” status. SEVEN! No, not to keep to some lucky number, but for well-intentioned reasons. Sometimes I find a book I need to spend more time with, so I have to be thoughtful and intentional about getting as much out of it as possible, as opposed to consuming it as fast as I can. Joanna Barsh’s Centered Leadership: Leading with Purpose, Clarity, and Impact is one of those. There is so much action-oriented information to pull out for self-development, it isn’t easy to get everything out of it I can on a crowded train. Another one is Chris J. Anderson’s TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking.” Improving at public speaking, and maybe even adding professional speaking to my current resume, is a goal of mine, so there is a lot to gain from this book, too!

If I am taking the time and expense to read these books, I want to gain from them, not just swipe through pages on my Kindle. The reason I find myself with several thought-inducing books is because I am looking for something to re-start in my “in-between currently reading” space. Unfortunately, I also find other books that fall into this category!

Other times I find books that are good in small doses, for whatever reason. These books may not pique my interest at the time but may have been recommended or been published to some worthy acclaim that encouraged me to pick up a copy of the book. Maybe you find it just as frustrating to spend $10, or $15, or $20 or more, hoping to find a few hours of pleasure or opportunity to learn, and are completely unsatisfied along the way.

As one who is becoming increasingly aware of the value of my time, I’ve started to stop reading books that feel like a chore.  I normally hate quitting on my goals, but if a book is not adding value or enjoyment, it is not a goal worth having to only finish it. I usually give 40% of the book to decide to keep going or not (and this sometimes falls into the category above of needing to set aside for a bit – but for a different purpose!). Usually by that time I’m past a slow intro or into some good content and it is worth reading.

This year, only two books (both rated above 4 stars on Amazon or GoodReads) have fallen into this category – one star in my estimation. They shall remain nameless to not bias reading opportunities negatively. The one I am struggling with – despite recommendations and high rating all over the internet – is Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. I’m not going to give up on this one yet, and try to get to at least halfway.

The Best I’ve Read in 2017

I’m defining the “best” of the first half of 2017 by those books I have given 5 stars to.  I have to be compelled strongly to give a five star rating, and truly feel a passion for what I have read.  My list of the best I’ve read in 2017 are, in the order in which I read them:

  1. Breaking into the Boys’ Club by Molly D. Shepard. Having been in male-dominated fields my whole career, I wish I had read this sooner! It is one I will probably re-read at some point to refresh the principles and remind myself of what is worth fighting for, and how. It was a mind-opening book that I highly encourage other women in similar positions to take a few hours to read. Ms. Shepard’s writing is sharp and clear with great storytelling!
  2. The Guest Cottage by Nancy Thayer. Who doesn’t love a book set on Nantucket! This was well written, I could feel the breeze and smell the ocean! The story line was sweet enough, and not over-saccharine. I felt relaxed reading this book at the same time on the edge of my seat egging the characters on in my mind. I look forward to reading more by Ms. Thayer!
  3. Originals by Adam Grant. This book was highly recommended by a good friend, which moved up this book on the reading list. Finding it on discount was an added bonus. For someone who is considers herself a non-traditional creative, or an original of sorts, this book hit home and while enjoyably informational, was also comforting that I’m not alone in this world, and that
  4. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Couldn’t. Put. This. Down. Every free moment I had to read, I had Fangirl opened up. I was skeptical at the content, but I’ve loved everything Ms. Rowell has written that I’ve previously read, so I picked it up. It reminded me of the difficulties of finding who you are when settling into college, but also that joy of self-love and self-discovery when you find it. The narrative is fantastic and dialogue never forced.
  5. Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennette. Twelve year-old me would have been all over this book. It left me inspired to do more to support my own journey and other women in my life specifically and generally.  The tips and tools were helpful and thoughtful – not necessarily common sense, and I mean that in a good way. The illustrations added to the humor on an important subject. Had I bought this in hard copy I would have been giving it to every friend I could.

Notable 4-star books include:

  1. Earning It by Joann S. Lublin
  2. The 10 Habits of Highly Successful Women by Glynnis MacNicol
  3. Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte (this was close to a 5 star for me – I think had I not been reading it on my honeymoon, it might have inched up!)
  4. Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth by James Altucher

For someone who doesn’t claim to read a lot of fiction, I was surprisingly reminded that I do love the escapism of a well-written story of fiction! I tend to gravitate more towards self-improvement books that will help me grow as a person and as a professional, but once in awhile you need to live in someone else’s world to feel normal, or accomplished, or that all really is well. I did only read three fiction books this year, but two are certainly worth noting. I’ll be picking up more from those authors! Rainbow Rowell in particular has been a star for me. I’ve loved everything I’ve read from her. This goes along with other authors like Jennifer Weiner and Curtis Sittenfeld, at least in my eyes!.

How I’ve Been Achieving My Reading Goals

As of today, July, 20, 2017, I have read 22 of my 35 book goal for the year. This goal seemed audacious back when I set it, and given my success so far, combined with knowing people far busier than I read over one hundred, or even multiple hundreds, of books each year, my goal for next year will be to read an average of one book each week, or 52 books in 2018.

I see four primary reasons for why I am on track (and even slightly ahead of!) my goal for books to read this year:

  1. Kindle. Ease. Affordability ($1.99 sales versus $30 hardcovers!). Portability.
  2. Take opportunity to read whenever I can. Kindle helps with this – easier to carry, multiple books at once, ability to highlight and go back to those lessons.
  3. The tracking on GoodReads helps me stay motivated. I am a goal-oriented person. Reading to read often falls off the to-do or daily practice list, but knowing I am striving for a certain number of books read is a huge motivator!
  4. Some of the books have been short! Is this cheating? I don’t think so. The reads that are 4-5+ hours make up for the short reads in the average – but it certainly helps the tally up! Sometimes you need a small win when you can – finishing a book, no matter the size, is always a rewarding accomplishment.

What are you reading work recommending? Do you have a first half of the year book list to share? Post your list or a link to it in the comments and hopefully we all enjoy more of our days spent reading!

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7 Takeaways on Living Better with Only 24 Hours in a Day

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One of my favorite reads is Inc. magazine (no compensation for this post), whether in hard copy or online.  The content is relevant, entertaining, and realistic.  Even my husband, who is more science-focused than business-oriented, enjoys when the issues arrive each month. In a recent issue, there was an article that highlighted eight entrepreneurs and how they spend their days.  Time management and energy management are subjects that intrigue me because there are only so many hours in a day, and much I would like to accomplish.

The visuals provided great comparison between CEOs, and it was interesting assessing similarities and differences.  I had a few takeaways from reading this article:

  1. If all of these high-powered entrepreneurs have time to dedicate to an hour of exercise each day, then it must become a priority for me! I always sleep better when I exercise, and it helps me to fuel better during the day as well as provide additional and better energy than too many cups of coffee.  My mood is also always positive – the pride of completing a challenging workout, the endorphins flowing, and leading to better interaction with my colleagues.   
  2. Commuting can take away more time than we realize in a day. It also saps important energy needed for other endeavors, whether it is for physical activity or family or pets or even pet projects. At one point in my career I was commuting, door-to-door, about three and a half hours each day.  I was lonely because I had no time for friends, hated work because of the amount of time it took to get there and home, and was constantly exhausted.  Life was not what I wanted it to be, or what I was capable of living out.  Moving to Boston to be closer to work made a world of difference.
  3. Michelle Phan (Youtube star and Ipsy founder) leaves time for creative endeavors in her day. This is a reminder to keep that time in my schedule sacred. When the creativity comes to me in the day, I should keep a separate notebook to quickly scratch down the concept to spend more time exploring later. Sometimes my creativity is not art or writing, but “crazy ideas” I get excited about – my husband and two of my other best friends often have the pleasure of hearing them out.   My enthusiasm for the ideas leads me to sharing them with these three, forcing me to better develop the concepts and address some questions they have.  This dedicated time would allow me to explore more deeply my creative thoughts and how I can actually execute and implement.
  4. Cal Henderson’s (CEO of Slack) strategy of keeping a half hour open between meetings to stay on schedule is genius. I’ve sometimes had to do this myself, but to prevent someone from taking time for myself as time for their meeting (since we have viewable calendars throughout the company) I tend to block it off as busy.  If I have work that needs a large chunk of time to work on, I’ll always block off a window as busy. It isn’t false because I will be busy, in a meeting with myself and my work!
  5. Most of the featured entrepreneurs, including the real estate expert Barbara Corcoran, have their own take on what I call ruthless prioritization. Like Ms. Corcoran, I love the satisfaction of crossing out my to-do list items on paper.  I type my to do list and organize by project and who I am waiting on or responsible to.  It is easy to move around and saves time against re-writing by hand each day.
  6. The criticism to the schedule of Warby Parker’s Neil Blumenthal was the phone addiction.  While I bristle at any accusation of being addicted to my phone, since I can go hours without touching it, I am guilty of the check-email-immediately-upon-waking-syndrome. This is a bad habit I’ve become more conscious of and working (most days) successfully holding off on reading email or Twitter or Pinterest until I am on the train.
  7. Rebecca Minkoff’s (leader of the self-titled brand) schedule gained kudos for taking advantage of lunch time for personal needs, like a hair or nail appointment. I like this concept of “taking back lunch” as a pleasurable break.  Getting away from the desk, and the office, can be refreshing.  I’ve started carrying socks and sneakers to work each day in case my shoe choice is not conducive to walking Boston’s brick and cobblestone sidewalks. This action makes it easier to get away from my desk and out of the building for an energizing activity with exposure to sunshine and good vibes. Trips to Macy’s and DSW for needed errands also have occurred at lunch, and reduce my stress during limited evening times.  

I’m fortunate to have employment and a boss that allow me some of the opportunities above – the focus on maintaining a balance and staying stress free help me to produce work that is valuable to my colleagues and organization.  The little hacks above allow me opportunity to work smarter instead of longer. I like working with intensity – my FitBit reminds me every hour to take some steps, and it is an opportunity to refresh instead of grinding to exhaustion. Who can ever produce good work while exhausted?!

What are your tips and tricks for staying productive? How do you make having only 24 hours in a day work for you?