Archive for January, 2023
Should we read one book or many at a time? I’ll tell you what my experience has been, hoping that it may help you experiment and see what works best for you.
As an English as a second language teenager, I started to read one fiction book after another for many years. That is, I’d read daily, and as soon I finished one book, I’d start the next one.
Fast forward to 2016, when I shared how I was catching up with my book reading. At that time, I said “I have the bad habit of starting to read several books and then taking a long time to finish (I just finished a book that I started to read 3 years ago!)”
Why did I refer to that habit as bad? Because it takes a long time to finish? So what?
I’ve since realized that I can finish reading a book within a timeframe if needed; when I’m in a book club, or taking a course that has deadlines for the reading assignments. For all other books, I just take my time. No need to hurry.
I picked up Tribe of Mentors in 2018, and finished it in 2022! At some point I’ll skim over it again, reflecting on highlights and notes I wrote for the book.
Be always reading
But back to reading many books at a time. I keep doing that. It’s a habit. Not a bad one.
Mark Manson brings up that up as one of his tips on how to read faster: read more than one book at a time.
For the record: I don’t necessarily want to read faster. I want to be always reading.
I try to choose books that are very different from each other; e.g., a technical book and soft skills book.
Sometimes I do end up starting books that turn out to have some overlap. That’s ok; I take note of that, often exploring differences between the different authors’ perspectives, or where they overlap.
What I’m reading at the moment
As I write this post, these are the books I’m actively (daily) reading at the moment:
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships, by Marshall B. Rosenberg
Humans vs Computers, by Gojko Adzic
These are the ones I read a few pages every week:
The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, by Barack Obama
Stronger: Courage, Hope, and Humor in My Life with John McCain, by Cindy McCain
And this is one I read a few pages every month (I started it in 2017. No rush.):
- Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers, by Tim Ferriss
What, when, how
I’ve been somewhat specific about what time of the day I read each book, and even which format (printed, ebook, audiobook).
The “morning” books are usually the ones I’m reading as part of a book club and I want to take more notes and reflect more on what I read, so I can have better conversations with the groups. I favor printed copies for these.
The “evening” ones are easy-reads that won’t get my mind too engaged with, otherwise, I’m not letting my mind rest while I sleep.
When I’m reading technical books, I favor reading those in the morning, so to stretch my brain, getting it active for the day. Again, I don’t want to feed the mind with complicated stuff right before going to bed; I used to do that, but not anymore.
I have been marking up the book with highlighters and writing notes directly on the pages and on stickies. When I finish the book, I go through it again, processing my notes, connecting them to other thoughts, which helps me wrap up books that take me a while to get through.
A conversation with multiple people
Here’s another way I’ve been thinking about this practice of reading multiple books at a time.
Say we walk into a party, strike conversation with someone, and 15 minutes later realize we couldn’t quite connect. Should we stick talking with that person through the end of the party? Maybe we should thank the person for the chat and politely check out.
Or maybe we did connect with the person and can tell we could easily spend hours chatting, but, we also notice that there are a few more people we’d like to connect with at that party. How about we exchange contact information, write down a few words to remember the context of the conversation, and then go chat with the other people?
We can approach books as conversations with their authors. Start the conversation, and if we’re having a good time, keep it going (or write some thoughts down and come back to it later).
But if it’s dragging and we feel it’s going nowhere, put… it… down!
We do NOT have to finish every book we start.
Sometimes I do feel like giving up on a book, but if it was highly recommended, I may stick with it a little longer, asking myself why I’m not enjoying it: is it the author’s tone, their analogies with which I can’t connect, too many points I heavily disagree with?
Whatever the case, I may find out I am the problem, and can think of ways to change my perspective in how I’m approaching my reading of such book.
So be always talking to many people. Be always reading.
Here are some of my favorite quotes read in 2022. In no particular order.
If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.
If you want to know your past look into your present conditions.
If you want to know your future look into your present actions.
One who makes no mistakes makes nothing al all.
No matter how bad or slow things go, you’re still way ahead of everyone who isn’t even trying.
Your level of success will seldom exceed your level of personal development.
When you create a difference in someone’s life, you not only impact their life, you impact everyone influenced by them throughout their entire lifetime.
No act is ever too small. One by one, this is how to make an ocean rise.
Busy is a decision. We do the things we want to do, period. If we say we are too busy, it is just shorthand for the thing being “not important enough” or “not a priority.” Busy is not a badge.
You don’t find the time to make things, you make the time to do things.
To what are you committed? What cause, what mission, what purpose?
What are you doing?
And more important, why are you doing it?
How does what you do every day reflect, in some way, the values you claim to care about?
Whether or not something is deemed a “failure” is dependent on when performance is measured.
I signed the book deal for Atomic Habits in November 2015 and it was published in October 2018. If you were to measure the performance of the book at any point during those three years, the project would have been deemed a failure. In January 2016? It was incomplete. A failure. In August 2017? Still unfinished. A failure. In February 2018? Again, a failure.
But after October 2018, it looked like a success. Same project. Different time when the outcome was measured.
This idea applies in many areas of life. You’re not failing. You’re just in the middle of succeeding.
In your actions, don’t procrastinate.
In your conversations, don’t confuse.
In your thoughts, don’t wander.
In your soul, don’t be passive aggressive.
In your life, don’t be all about business.
No matter the lesson, you can teach it only by instilling a sense of pride, not shame, in the pupil.
Teaching is successful only as it causes people to think for themselves. What the teacher thinks matters little; what he makes the child think matters much.
-Alice Moore Hubbard
The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.
-Alexandra K. Trenfor
A mentor is not someone who walks ahead of us to show us how they did it.
A mentor walks alongside us to show us what we can do.
Leadership: the capacity to identify a useful goal and enable its achievement.
Leadership emerges at the convergence of passion and responsibility.
Great leaders know that people respond much more favorably to appreciation than to criticism. Appreciation inspires a person to excel, so as to receive more appreciation. Criticism tears people down, and people who don’t feel worthwhile don’t feel they can do a good job.
Leadership can be a daunting task. The use of criticism is an indication of a leader who lacks the resources to truly lead.
A leader’s job is the careful balancing of inspiration and direction.
For anyone who is considering growing old, I remind you that although physical abilities diminish with age, many mental capacities continue to improve, especially those dependent upon an expert accumulation of experience, deep reflection, and enhanced knowledge.
Forgiveness is accepting the apology you will never receive.
If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.
Here are my favorites books read in 2022, in no particular order.
In 2022, Improving has started a company-wide initiative called Come Together to “bring Improvers closer, no matter the distance.” Each month had a theme; for instance, January was wellbeing), and April was spirituality. For the latter, one Improver decided to extend the experience by running a book club, and the book chosen was Will Bowen’s A Complaint Free World. That book had been on my radar for a while, so I was glad to join the club.
The book has made me rethink some things:
- Criticism and sarcasm? Both are a form of complaint.
- Venting out frustrations? Not a great thing to do.
- Yelling at an automated voice system? Not great, either, bud.
I took lots of notes and will likely condense some of them into a blog post. For now, here’s one of my favorite quotes on the book:
The squeaky wheel may get the grease. But if it squeaks too much, it ends up getting replaced.
As we wrapped up the book club on A Complaint Free World, the group enjoyed it so much we decided we wanted to run another club on a similar group. After tossing some ideas around, we’ve landed on Michael A. Singer’s The Untethered Soul.
Easy read. I finished it quickly. We’re taking it easy with the book club, having the meetings without rushing it.
I’m glad we’ve picked up this book after the previous one, as it helped me look at similar ideas through different perspectives.
Chapter 12, Taking down the walls, is my absolute favorite. I could see that chapter turned into a movie. Or at least that’s how effective the author was at making me visualize what his words describe.
I wish I could draw that visualization. Since I can’t, I’ll drop an image here to remind me of it.
I started reading James Clear’s blog posts a few years before Atomic Habits was published. Some of his posts on identity building and related topics resonated with me, I followed some of his tips, and it made a difference. I read the book as soon as it came out, and it was a great refresher for the content I had already consumed. I either gifted or recommended the book to many people, and a good number of them came back to say they loved it.
Then, a group of Improvers showed interest in reading the book. What do we do then? Book club!
This was one of my favorite book clubs. We had a nicely-sized group, with folks joining from many of our offices.
It was great to hear about the habits different people were trying to either stop or start, their challenges, and also see some us getting teaming up as accountability partners.
Going through the book again while discussing it with such an engaged group of people was absolutely great.
And as it has become a tradition: we’ve wrapped up the club with many of us giving lightning talks to share our main takeaways, offered to another group of Improvers who were interested in hearing it.
Telling you, Improvers are a different breed. It’s part of our culture.
How to Live was one of my favorite books in 2021:
“It has been only 2 months or so since I’ve read the book, and I’m planning on reading it again very soon“
And I did. I started on January 1st.
The 2nd time through was even better. I highlighted different passages, wrote down new notes on old passages, pondered more.
I’ll drop here two of my favorite passages.
Teaching and learning are telepathy.
We can connect across oceans and centuries.
Words written by someone long ago and far away can penetrate your mind.
Share what you learn so it can be received by others, even when you are long gone.
On Making Memories
To enjoy your past is to live twice.
Nostalgia is memories minus the pain.
Turn your experiences into stories.
Last year I’ve also run into this great interview with Derek, in which at some point he talks about How to Live. I enjoyed listening because he helped me visualize some points I had missed when I read the book.
Another re-read. Another one by Derek Sivers. I got an email letting me know the 3rd edition of Anything You Want – 40 lessons for a new kind of entrepreneur was out. I remember I enjoyed reading the 1st edition several years ago, so I figured it was a good time to revisit it. Also, I love Derek’s writing style and approach to book publishing, so I support him and hope he keeps putting out great content.
This book is a very quick read, filled with great gems. Here’s a couple of my favorites:
Starting with no money is an advantage. You don’t need money to start helping people.
And this one:
Your business plan is moot. You don’t know what people really want until you start doing it.
Up until I’ve read this book, I don’t think the following words had ever come out of my mouth: “I’m a songwriter”, despite having written many songs.
An Improver mentioned this book to me and I decided to check it out. As I read through it, I thought “hey, I’ve been doing most of those things for years!” So there, I am a songwriter!
Reading the book and trying out some of the techniques was a fun. A few lyrics for my most recent song, “From a Distance”, came out of that.
Since many Improvers ask me about my songwriting process, I created and taught a 3-hour class last year to teach them, focusing on writing lyrics, with some of the activities borrowed from this book. That was a ton of fun! One of the attendees took on the challenge and wrote his own lyrics for “From a Distance“, and we’ll be co-creating a Part 2 for that class, to share with others the lessons we both learned: him writing his first lyrics, and me getting to see my own creation interpreted and heard through a different perspective.
I got a little bit obsessed about the TV Series The Good Place. To this date, I watched its 4 seasons 3 times!
A comedy show that talks about philosophy? Does that work? Well, that one worked for me. And its series finale is my favorite one to date.
When I heard that the show’s creator, Michael Schur, was publishing a book to talk what he learned about philosophy and how he used it in the show, I knew I had to read it. I did, and enjoyed it.
My favorite part about the book is the author’s take on happiness and flourishing:
I prefer “flourishing,” because that feels like a bigger deal than “happiness.” We’re talking about the ultimate objective for humans here, and a flourishing person sounds like she’s more fulfilled, complete, and impressive than a “happy” person. There are many times when I’m happy, but I don’t feel like I’m flourishing, really.
Here’s Michael Schur’s “How Ethics Can Help You Make Better Decisions” TED Talk, where he goes over what triggered him to look into philosophy and eventually creating a TV show about it. Fascinating how we can turn our experiences around and make great things out of it.
This book have been on my radar for a long time. I recommend it to anybody interested in Behavior-Driven Development, Given-When-Then (aka, Gherkin), and related practices.
The book Badass: Making Users Awesome was among my favorites both in 2020 and 2021. Lessons learned from the book and applied to my work even inspired me to create a new “UX for Devs” type of talk (here’s a link to a recent presentation).
That book had also recommended several other books, and I decided to pick one of them next: The Design of Everyday Things. And guess what we did at Improving? Yup, book club!
Great attendance and great mix: half of the attendees were developers (including two devs from my own team), and the other half were UX designers. This mix was perfect for different perspectives and experiences to be shared. Having some of my teammates participate was also excellent, as we got to practice lessons learned together, building a common vocabulary, and sharing with the rest of our team.
I took a ton of notes on this one and keep going back to them to further refine my thoughts on what I learned.
Denny Kruep, one of my teammates who participated in the book club, will be presenting lessons learned from his perspective: Improving Software Design with Everyday Things. This is a free virtual talk happening January 18th, at 12pm CST. Click here to register and know more.
This is a great book, not just for those who play tennis; its lessons are valuable to anybody who wants to learn anything, and also to those who enjoy teaching others.
I’ve been playing tennis once a week for a couple of years now, as well as riding my motorcycle at the track almost every weekend. I’m applying lessons I’ve learned from this book to both sports and seeing good results. It’s also making me rethink how I normally teach and coach others, not just in sports, but on anything, really.
I’d guess a lot of people do and a lot people don’t pick up this book because of its title. I’m not generally offended by language used like that, so I had to pick up this book after getting a good number of recommendations for it.
In nutshell: this book is about deciding what to care about. That simple.
And I like the humor.
Here’s a good video summary by the author himself. Disclaimer: Mark Mason does drop F-bombs.
I’ve read this book when it first came out and have been recommending it to several developers over the years. I felt a need to read the book again and decide whether I should keep recommending it. Short answer: yes.
And how did I do it? You guessed it right: book club!
The book has aged well for the most part, which speaks a lot to a programming book published so long ago.
Many lessons have stuck with me after all these years and I still apply the techniques almost on a daily basis. Some had been internalized so deeply I forgot I had picked up from this book.
Picking it up from were I left of on my previous annual review. This year I’m going with a looser format.
I’ve kept and grown my practice of re-reading books.
I had to read The Accounting Game again out of a need to refresh my knowledge in that domain.
A few books I’ve read again because I’ve been recommending them for years and I wanted to know how well they’ve aged:
Both books were revisited in book clubs with my fellow Improvers.
In another book club, we covered Atomic Habits; one of my favorite books since it came out.
A few other books I simply enjoyed a lot and wanted to read again:
Other book clubs we’ve run that were great:
- A Complaint Free World
- The Untethered Soul
- The Design of Everyday Things
- Make Time – Como enfocarte en lo que importa cada dia
- Yes, the Spanish version, so that our Spanish-spring Improvers could help the rest of us learn and practice the language!
I’ve improved my book reading process by switching it over from Evernote to Obsidian and am very happy with how it’s coming along.
I’ve been having great conversations about the books I’ve read, as well as putting lessons into practice, pondering on them, and getting better.
My “favorite books read in 2023” post will come out soon.
Life at Improving
Most of my team’s scrum meetings (except for the daily scrum) happened in person. We enjoy getting together to have productive conversations, leverage our big whiteboards, and seeing the other Improvers who come into the office.
Yes, we enjoy coming into the office. Fun fact: there are many of us who work from home on certain days, but end up coming into the office at the end of the day to attend to events, classes, user groups, or to simply hang out. One evening, folks came in to join my “how to write a song” class. Another evening, it was a class for those interested in learning how to play ping-pong. Here’s a great place to learn more about out Community and Culture.
For the first time since 2017, when I first started riding motorcycles at the track, I haven’t ridden a big bike at a big track. I have, however, ridden the mini-bikes a lot!
The Beyond the Track endurance team has raced all season (I joined as many races I could), and we’ve had a lot of fun.
I’ve also decided to do a few sprint races, which I also have enjoyed.
I plan on doing more sprint races in 2023, and our endurance team has already started our pre-season.
I’ve had some issues with my recording gear that prevented me from making more progress, but that has been addressed and I’ll have another new song coming up pretty soon. I have a nice backlog of music to work on when I decide to make time for it.
Looking at my YouTube channel, I’ve learned that these were the top 2 most viewed videos last year:
- Reaching Horizons, a cover of one of my favorite Brazilian bands, Angra
- Running, a metal cover of a dance-pop band from the 80’s (yup, you’ve got to check that out now, I know…)
I’ve put out a good number of posts both at the beginning and at the end of the year, and had a 6-month hiatus in between. These are my favorite ones:
- Pragmatic Programmers: Philosophy and Approach
- On Balancing Life
- Core and Supporting Values
- Improving my Reading System
- Differences between TDD and BDD
I really liked the series on testing that I’ve put out later in the year. Those posts came out of an “Ask me Anything” Lunch and Learn I presented and I thought more people might be interested in those answers. The posts generated some great conversations in different social networks, which triggered the creation of further posts.
Something interesting I found out looking at the analytics:
I have a batch of ideas for posts (some already filled with quite a bit of content), so stay tuned.
I started the year by putting a request on social network for people to help me get some of my talks booked as a Lunch and Learn for their companies or as a presentation to their communities and user groups. People answered the call and I got pretty busy talking!
I’ve had a lot of fun, learned a lot from the questions people asked me, and am very pleased with how well the content resonated with many.
These are talks I’ve had the most fun and gathered the best reactions:
- UX for Devs
- Effective User Stories
- Context-based Testing
Go here to get the description for those talks or any of my other ones. If you find something you like, plesae send me a request and I can arrange to deliver the talk either virtually or in-person (Houston and surrounding area) for your team and/or company.
Since mid-2020, I’ve used a Surface Laptop as my main computer to do .NET work, as my old Mac couldn’t handle the load. Later in the year I got me a new Mac M2 and am very pleased with it.
- I was up and running, working productively on my main project, within a couple of hours (most of the time was spent migrating data from my old Mac!)
- The backend code (.NET Core) has close to 1400 tests (both unit and integration). It takes 24 to 28 minutes to run them on my Surface Laptop. It takes a little over 8 minutes on my Mac M2!!
Coolest thing I’ve learned
I’ve learned a ton of things in 2022. Maybe the coolest one was Obsidian. I’ve been gradually either complementing or replacing Evernote with Obsidian. This is huge for me, as I’ve been an Evernote user since 2008 and it has played a huge part on my personal system. I’ll write more blog posts to talk about how this transition is coming along.
I haven’t worn wristwatches in a long, long time. Things like the Apple Watch haven’t appealed to me. But in 2022 I decided to try out the Halo View.
After wearing it all year and keeping an eye on the data it provides, these are the things that I like, and which are making me keep it for the time being:
- Information about my sleep: I’ve been analyzing my sleeping pattern, the quality of my sleep, how many hours of sleep I’m getting, and then I look for what has either a positive or negative impact on it;
- Activity tracking: I’ve both played tennis and ridden at the track almost every week all year long. It’s been interesting seeing how those activities compare against each other, how they affect my sleep and physical condition, etc.
2022, that’s a wrap. There are some great things to look up to in 2023, so off we go!