If your resolution is to get more done, I recommend Cal Newport’s remarkable book Deep Work. (US) (UK) Newport argues that success in the world of work is dependent on the amount of time we can devote to serious, deep thinking.
An observation that hit home for me is that for many of us, the productivity-sink isn’t YouTube or Snapchat, but serious stuff like emails and meetings. Email is a severe temptation for me: swift, decisive email etiquette feels professional – but all too often it’s just an excuse for avoiding the real work.
There’s also David Allen’s Getting Things Done. (US) (UK) The central ideas of GTD are: take vague incoming issues (a phone message, an email, a meeting, an idea that pops into your head) and turn then into some specific next action, then write the next action down somewhere where you’re confident you’ll see it when you need it. This stops your subconscious constantly churning over the issue.
That makes GTD sound simple and in many ways it is. But in the messy reality of modern work it’s often easier to appreciate the principle than to make it work in practice. I don’t follow every piece of David Allen’s advice but I follow a lot, because it’s smart, practical and useful stuff.
In a recent podcast, David Allen’s own New Year advice: don’t get carried away making resolutions, but think about your projects in the year just gone and the year to come. Also: tidy something up. (Your shed; your desk; your glove-compartment.) Not only is the tidying satisfying but it will spark all sorts of intriguing thoughts.
Now, if your resolution is to try new things, may I suggest Robert Twigger’s wonderful little book Micromastery. (US) (UK) Twigger – among other things an explorer, prize-winning poet, and Aikido master – makes the case for mastering many deep-but-narrow skills. Learn how to do an Eskimo roll, or a racing turn, or how to draw a smooth circle by hand. Don’t aim to become a brilliant cook; start instead by mastering the omelette. A really fun book – and a wise idea explained well.
And if you fancy dipping into some behavioural economics to help you master life’s challenges, Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie’s Wiser (UK) (US) is the best book I know about group decision-making and how to overcoming polarisation and groupthink, while Think Small (UK) (US) by Halpern’s colleagues Owain Service and Rory Gallagher, or How To Have A Good Day (UK) (US) by Caroline Webb, are both practical applications of behavioural science to lose weight, acquire better habits, or deal productively with awful meetings.
My own resolution for 2018 is: One Thing At A Time.
Happy New Year!