What I Read in 2017

Another year of reading has finished, so it’s time to take stock of how I did for 2017.  While I’m not an advocate of reading purely for the sake of speed or volume, I do challenge myself to see how many books I can get through during the year, if for nothing else than to ensure I’m carving out time to read.  For my 2016 results, check back to my post on What I read in 2016.

This year, I managed to get through 44 books and almost 14,000 pages, which is on par with my results from last year.  I posted my top list of books I read this year a few posts back, if you want to check it out.

I would say a little more than half of these books are audio books, as I decided to get an Audible subscription, and a friend has been kind enough to supply me with Terry Prachett books.  I have significantly picked up on the amount of fiction I’m reading, which was a deliberate choice since I noticed I consumed a lot of business and self-help books last year.

Title Author Pages
1 Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less Greg McKeown 272
2 The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck Mark Manson 224
3 Leaders Eat Last Simon Sinek 368
4 Awaken the Giant Within Tony Robbins 544
5 $100 Startup Chris Guillebeau 304
6 Tools of Titans Tim Ferriss 736
7 American Gods Neil Gaiman 558
8 The View from the Cheap Seats Neil Gaiman 544
9 The Consolations of Philosophy Alain de Botton 272
10 Catching the Big Fish David Lynch 208
11 The Colour of Magic Terry Pratchett 288
12 The Path to Purpose William Damon 240
13 The Light Fantastic Terry Pratchett 288
14 The 80/20 Pinciple Richard Koch 288
15 The Complacent Class Tyler Cowen 256
16 How Proust Can Change Your Life Alain de Botton 208
17 Equal Rites Terry Pratchett 282
18 No Fears, No Excuses Larry Smith 272
19 Mort Terry Pratchett 272
20 The Death of Expertise Tom Nichols 240
21 Never Split the Difference Chris Voss 288
22 Sourcery Terry Pratchett 336
23 On Writing Stephen King 288
24 The Happiness Project Gretchen Rubin 368
25 Reading the Humanities John Greenwood 156
26 Spark John J. Ratey 304
27 Wyrd Sisters Terry Pratchett 336
28 Managing Oneself Peter F. Drucker 72
29 Pyramids Terry Pratchett 308
30 The Checklist Manifesto Atul Gawande 240
31 Total Recall Arnold Schwarzenegger 656
32 Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual Jocko Willink 208
33 I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had Tony Danza 272
34 Guards! Guards! Terry Pratchett 416
35 Eric Terry Pratchett 160
36 Side Hustle Chris Guillebeau 272
37 The Productivity Project Chris Bailey 304
38 Moving Pictures Terry Pratchett 400
39 Mating in Captivity Esther Perel 272
40 Finding Ultra Rich Roll 400
41 Reaper Man Terry Pratchett 288
42 The Art of Learning Josh Waitzkin 288
43 Machine Man Max Barry 288
44 The Road to Character David Brooks 320
Total: 13904

All in all, I am very happy with the results, and I am looking forward to tackling the growing stack of books I have in my office for 2018.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

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December 2017 Sleep Check-in

My November sleep check-in fell short of my target of 7-hours, so I was hoping to rally stronger in December to close out the year-long experiment.  Let’s see how I did for December.

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10/31 times (December 1st was cut-off on the far left of the image)

Success!

I managed to hit my target of 10 nights, but only just barely.  This is thanks in large part to my time off from work from December 23rd through the end of the year (5/9 nights).  One item of note is that I also managed to get 3 nights on the 14th, 16th, and 17th (Thursday, Saturday and Sunday), which is unusual for me.

On the other hand, I still had long stretches of time where poor bed-time habits and a lack of routine caused me to fall short of my target.  My lack of intentionality nearly lost me the challenge for another month.  This has been a persistent problem with the sleep challenge all through 2017, which suggests a lack of priority in sleep overall (though I’ll leave that reflection for the 2017 Sleep Review).

At the very least, it feels good to close 2017 and kick off 2018 on a positive note.

Happy New Year!

Ryan

Top books of 2017

On the internet, December marks the time of year where everyone releases lists of their top favourite things from the past year.  It’s my turn to add to that mighty tradition and announce my top books that I read in 2017.  I will post my total list of books read in 2017 in January.  For those curious, here are the 44 books I read in 2016.

Here are my top books that I read in 2017.

List Criteria:

For this post, I have three criteria notes.

  1. The book didn’t need to be published in 2017.  I’m nowhere near able to keep up with the new material getting pumped out every year, so for my list, I will include anything that I happened to read and complete in 2017.
  2. Having said that, I will only count books that I read for the first time in 2017.  You’ll see in my overall list of books for the year, there were a few books I revisited that I read in 2016.
  3. Finally, the biggest criteria for “best” is books that stuck with me – they gave me knowledge or wisdom that I use, or that has lasting mental/emotional impact.  This is admittedly a wishy-washy criteria, so to summarize, these are books that I found valuable to have read and I will likely re-read in the future.

 

Honourable Mention

The Art of Learning – Josh Waitzkin

This book goes on the honourable mention list because I haven’t finished reading it as of posting.  It’s really good, though, and would have made the list had I finished it in time.  Waitzkin is a bit of a wunderkind, having won chess championships as a child, then becoming a national push-hands championship, and now (post-book publication) has become a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  I mention this because it gives credit to the idea that he’s given a lot of thought to the learning process, and his book provides many insights that I will use both as a student and as a teacher.

 

Top 5 Books (in no particular order)

American Gods – Neil Gaiman

I read relatively few works of fiction this year, but American Gods stuck out for me.  It’s been a while since I felt engrossed in a work of fiction the way I was for American Gods.  It was my first introduction to Neil Gaiman’s work, and it certainly won’t be my last.  I’m looking forward to checking out the television series.

The 80/20 Principle – Richard Koch

This is a book that I implemented at work with my role in program updating and renewals.  I took the 80/20 principle and started thinking about the relatively few problems that lead to massive delays in the program review process in order to find solutions to the workflow.  I didn’t get a chance to implement many changes before the Ontario College Strike put things on hold, but I’m looking forward to continuing the process when things even out a bit.

Never Split the Difference – Chris Voss

I wish I could say that I implemented the lessons from this book, but truthfully, I found it hard to absorb all the fine details from my first pass in the audiobook.  This book will be a prime candidate for a re-read in the near future, as I will be able to take my time and work through the material to assimilate the useful information in my work.

Discipline Equals Freedom – Jocko Willink

I think this one will end up being one of those books I pick up and thumb to a random page for an aspirational kick in the pants.  Jocko’s main lesson is that, paradoxically, if you want more freedom, you must get more disciplined.  That means doing what you need to do when you need to do it.  As he says, if you want more money, you need more financial discipline.  If you want a body that doesn’t let you down, you need to have discipline in diet and exercise.  As a former US Navy Seal, having this guy telling you to get on it, and why I have no excuses to stop is pretty powerful, even from the written word.

Tie: Mort and Pyramids – Terry Pratchett

This might be a cheat, but I simply couldn’t pick a favourite between these two.  Both have compelling stories, both have memorable characters, and both are awesome.  Mort is a story where Death looks for an apprentice, and Pyramids tells the story of a prince-turned-assassin who is recalled to rule when his father dies in a land resembling ancient Egypt.  Fantastical stories full of charm, and I laughed out loud while listening to them both.  Therefore, they make the list in a shared spot.

Keep an eye out for my complete 2017 list in January.  In the meantime, I really need to get on my Christmas shopping!

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Ongoing Education and Solving Problems

There is a general perception that going through the formal education process is sufficient for career success.  If you follow the standard formula of secondary school, followed by some form of post-secondary education, whether through trades, college, or through the university, you should have the necessary tools in order to enter the workforce and perform well in most situations.  While this might be true to some degree, I’m willing to bet that if you were to ask people of their thoughts on this process, you’d be met with a certain level of skepticism.  Yes, there are some critical problems with how we view and use higher education, but on the whole, I think the missing piece is this: the role of higher education should be to give students the ability to think and learn for themselves (often concurrent with learning some kind of job-market skill).

The value of higher education is the exposure to ideas and of ways of thinking about things.  By exposing students to ideas and problems they’ve never encountered, you are giving them experience that they can use to navigate life after the classroom.  I think most people get too hung up on the job-market skills and end up de-emphasizing the other stuff referred to as “the humanities” or “breadth electives.”  What is important is for students to be able to cross over the threshold of their vocational training and learn to navigate in systems of knowledge that they aren’t comfortable with so that they can learn to gather information, define problems, and test solutions for things that are applicable to them.

I have a small example of this in action for myself.  Recently, the provincial college system was brought to a halt during a labour dispute.  Once the teachers came back to work, everyone set to work on figuring out how to carry-on and salvage the remainder of the semester.  One of my tasks was to track student requests for accommodation once it was determined that the holiday break was being scaled back to allow students to complete the fall semester.  If students had made previous plans for travel, asking them to cancel their plans (which often was at a huge financial loss to the students) was something the college did not wish to do.  So, the goal is to see where we can find solutions for students missing class in the revised schedule.  My job is to track the requests from students and track the faculties responses.

I wanted a simple way of tracking the information electronically on spreadsheets, and avoid copying huge numbers of cells worth of information into emails.  My solution was to set up a database.  I’ve never created a database before (only used existing ones), so I turned to resources available for employees at my work to teach myself the skills.  I set up a simple database, laid a form over it to allow for a cleaner user experience, and created standardized Word documents with placeholder values that would automatically call information from the database into the document for me to email out streamlined messages to faculty and students.

I shared this database tool across the college, and have been receiving very positive feedback from people who are using it.  I even recorded a 30-minute tutorial video on how to use the database and manage the information, then hosted the video online for other employees to use at their discretion.

My educational background is in philosophy, which is quite different from data process management.  However, through philosophy I learned skills such as how to self-direct my learning, how to define problems, and how to test solutions.  These skills are what has allowed me to come up with a way of managing all the information coming at me, and how to teach that system to others for their own use.  Being able to help others, and sharing something that they value, makes me feel really good and engaged at work, and I’m happy to be able to help others do their jobs more easily.

I understand that students often don’t have the luxury to think broadly about how their skills fit in with a larger view of pedagogy, but I think it’s important to remember that the specific processes, tools, and systems we learn at school are the micro expressions of overall deeper ways that we live, understand, and view our lives.  Taking a narrow view of the value of education tends to miss the proverbial forest for the trees.  The point of higher education is not just about vocational training and preparing people to enter the economy, but instead it’s main purpose should be viewed as a way of preparing people to become better problem solvers.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

What I’ve Been Reading (As of November 20th)

I haven’t updated this series since August, so I thought it would be a good time to check-in on what I’ve been reading as of late.

Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett

This book came as a recommendation from Jujimufu (aka. Jon Call) on YouTube.  In addition to putting a greater focus on fitness and health, I’ve been trying to be more mindful of the physical state of my body.  I know that carrying around a lot of extra weight is hard on the joints, but I do a lot of stuff that is also bad for my body, such as poor lifting mechanics, sitting and slouching in my chair at work all day, poor mobility and stretching habits, and not addressing niggling pains in my knees.  I picked this book up to help me be more mindful of good body mechanics, improve both my flexibility and mobility, and to address common pain I feel in my joints.

Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel

I first stumbled across Esther Perel through a TedTalk she gave a few years back, and again through the Audible Original mini-series released about her couples therapy experience.  I heard she recently released a book on infidelity, which got me looking at her other books.  I decided to pick up Mating in Captivity since I am getting married next year and it seemed relevant to future-me (the idea of sustaining passion in a relationship over the long term).  Are there problems with my love life?  No, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn something from an expert to ensure I’m mindful of my relationship moving forward.  If I want to be the best partner that I can be, then it means I should pick up good practices and insights wherever I go.  Long-term relationships are subjected to a lot of life changes (career, family, children, age, economy, etc.), and I’d rather be aware and exposed to things that threaten to cool the passion over time to better handle them down the road.

The Bookshop on the Corner (A Novel) by Jenny Colgan

This was a splurge purchase through the Bookbub mailing list I joined (they send daily lists of discounted Kindle ebooks on Amazon’s website).  The story is about an ex-librarian who decides to take a chance and buy a large cargo-truck to turn into a mobile bookshop.  I’m about a third of the way through the book and am enjoying the story so far.  It partially takes place in Scotland, which was a happy coincidence for me (I traveled to Scotland in July of 2016).  Truthfully, one fantasy I have is to retire and own a bookstore.  While this might not be an accurate picture of my future, I can still dream, can’t I?

Find Your Why by Simon Sinek, David Mead, and Peter Docker

A burning question for me concerns itself with purpose.  In a broad sense, I’ve been reflecting on purposeful living and articulating my values, but in a narrow sense, I’ve been exploring what gives me a sense of purpose and accomplishment at work.  Because I lack that definitive feeling of purpose at work (that I’m working on what I’m meant to do, whatever that means), I’ve been doing some soul searching, working with a career adviser, and reading this book.  I’m not very far into the book, so I can’t provide a lot of comments from it, but I liked Simon Sinek’s previous books, and so I’m looking forward to working may way through this one.

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

This list wouldn’t be complete with an update on which Pratchett Discworld book I’m on.  I just finished Moving Pictures last week, so I’ve just now moved on to Reaper Man.  Death has been a favourite character of mine, so it was nice to return to a Death-centred story.

These aren’t all the books I’ve got on the go (shamefully, there are books on my previous lists that I’m still plugging away at), but it does give a good snapshot of what you’d likely see in my hands.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

 

 

Ellipticals and Zombies!

In my search to find exercise routines that I can make stick around long enough to build habits from, I am experimenting with a running app and a new piece of home equipment.  My fiancee and I have recently purchased an elliptical machine for our home.  While I was initially hesitant about the cost when I was already paying for my gym membership, I have since come around to the convenience of using the machine at home.

One issue I’ve had with fully embracing exercising at home is my limitations.  Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I drop our dog off for daytime boarding, since both my fiancee and I work during the day (it gives our dog some socializing time and exercise).  This means that I have to be out the door a bit earlier than I otherwise would need to be, which cuts into time I could be at the gym.

I have been going to the gym Tuesday mornings for the last month and a half, but Thursdays are a write-off because I work at the bar Wednesday nights and don’t get to bed until 1am at the earliest.  Outside of weekend, this means that my morning exercises are limited to body-weight work, or the rowing machine that currently serves as a clothes rack.

Enter: the Elliptical

The elliptical, on the other hand, allows me to jump on for 30-45 minutes in the morning, then I can immediately shower and get ready for work and still get out the door in time.

(Note: I realize that these are not good excuses for why a more disciplined approach to my morning wouldn’t fix my problems.  While this is true, I’m trying to address these shortcomings with solutions, rather than relying on a fantasy alternative reality where I am a morning person.)

The elliptical is also good because it’s low impact on my knees.  I’ve recently discovered that 330lbs is the magical number where my knees are starting to hurt by the end of the day.  Ideally, I want to get  back into running, like I had done in undergrad, but I know that my knees and shins wouldn’t hold up to the abuse of trodding at my current weight.  The elliptical provides a good middle-ground to improve my cardio in the interim.

ACK! Zombies! RUN!

The last hurdle is that cardio is pretty boring.  This is where the zombies come in.  I’ve downloaded the Zombies, Run! 5k Training app (this is not a paid sponsorship; I just like the app).  It’s a fun spin on the Couch to 5k (C25K) training systems that gradually build a person’s endurance over a multi-week period to get them from complete novice to a 5km run through weekly drills and timed runs.

I’ve used it for a couple of weeks as of writing, and I’ve been enjoying the experience and sharing my “runs.”

My experience with the app have been good so far.  I like that it allows for external audio to play while the app is running.  I run Spotify in the background for music, then the running app interjects periodically to give me instructions, such as when to run and when to walk.  The app makes these instructions fun by forming them in terms of a story about a town fighting for survival during a zombie outbreak, so when you are running, it is from zombies that you can “hear” behind you.  The training is framed as you learning to be a better runner for the town (runner scavenge for supplies out of town, hence why they need to learn to run faster from zombies).  It adds a sense of purpose to the training, and provides a fun context to help you progress the story along.  At its core, it’s an audiobook laid over a GPS/step tracker.

Because I can complete a mission in under an hour without leaving the house, it fits well with my time restrictions in the morning.  I’m enjoying the experience and I hope to keep this going beyond the 8-week training module.  Combining this with lifting weights at the gym a few days a week (or the occasional YouTube lead yoga session), it provides a sense of novelty to keep me engaged in the process.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

October 2017 Sleep Check-in

After missing my target by one night in September, and doing a quarterly check-in, I was hoping to get things back on track for October in terms of sleeping.  Let’s see how I fared.

Screenshot_2017-10-31-14-55-55
8/31 – Ouch…

Yep, I failed another month.  This was entirely because I was not intentional with my sleep habits.  I didn’t think about going to bed on time, and I didn’t make any effort to structure my evenings around winding down at a reasonable time.  It’s starting to show, too.  I’m finding that as of writing, I generally feel a bit more tired and groggy during the day.

This doesn’t mean it was all bad or completely negligent on my part.  From the above chart, you see many stretches (Oct 4-7, 16-21, etc), where I was consistently not going to bed at a decent time, but you also see instances where I just barely missed the 7-hour bar.

The restless sleeping seems to be an issue for me, and I’m not entirely sure what is causing it.  There are a few issues that could be contributing to it, such as the dog jumping on the bed during the night, or perhaps my weight is giving me some form of undiagnosed sleep apnea.  Whatever the cause, it does have an impact on my sleep targets: I am down for 7-hours or more, but I am logging less than 7-hours of sleep.

However, this is shifting the blame a bit to soften the blow.  The truth is, for every instance where I just barely miss my target, there are at least two nights where I didn’t have a proper shutdown before bed.  Fixing those errors should be my priority, not making excuses.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan