Tuesday, March 17, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: First Things First by Stephen R. Covey

ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

What are the most important things in your life? Do they get as much care, emphasis, and time as you'd like to give them? Far from the traditional "be-more-efficient" time-management book with shortcut techniques, First Things First shows you how to look at your use of time totally differently. Using this book will help you create balance between your personal and professional responsibilities by putting first things first and acting on them. Covey teaches an organizing process that helps you categorize tasks so you focus on what is important, not merely what is urgent. First you divide tasks into these quadrants:
  1. Important and Urgent (crises, deadline-driven projects) 
  2. Important, Not Urgent (preparation, prevention, planning, relationships)
  3. Urgent, Not Important (interruptions, many pressing matters)
  4. Not Urgent, Not Important (trivia, time wasters)
Most people spend most of their time in quadrants 1 and 3, while quadrant 2 is where quality happens. "Doing more things faster is no substitute for doing the right things," says Covey. He points you toward the real human needs--"to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy"--and how to balance your time to achieve a meaningful life, not just get things done. --Joan Price


I couldn't help thinking most of the time while I was reading this book that it's kind of like a diet book: "All other diets are useless...This isn't a diet, it's a revolutionary new way to approach eating...Do what we say in this book and your life will be transformed forever...blah, blah." When the bottom line is really: Think about what you're eating and make smarter choices. Most time management books are probably similar: "Follow these guidelines, rather than every other time management gimmick you've read about, because this is not a gimmick. This is the right way to approach time management."

Needless to say, I was not a huge fan of this book.  It took a long time to get to the point and then there were some great take-aways (about chapters 2-5) and then the rest was just painfully boring.  If you're hungry for some time management advice, read chapters 2-5 and that's really all you need to know.  The bottom line is: Don't get caught up in urgency addiction, plan your days according to what you really need to get done and don't get caught up in things that are unimportant.

Monday, March 9, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Remote by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

The “work from home” phenomenon is thoroughly explored in this illuminating new book from bestselling 37signals founders Fried and Hansson, who point to the surging trend of employees working from home (and anywhere else) and explain the challenges and unexpected benefits. Most important, they show why – with a few controversial exceptions such as Yahoo -- more businesses will want to promote this new model of getting things done.

The Industrial Revolution's "under one roof" model of conducting work is steadily declining owing to technology that is rapidly creating virtual workspaces and allowing workers to provide their vital contribution without physically clustering together. Today, the new paradigm is "move work to the workers, rather than workers to the workplace." According to Reuters, one in five global workers telecommutes frequently and nearly ten percent work from home every day. Moms in particular will welcome this trend. A full 60% wish they had a flexible work option. But companies see advantages too in the way remote work increases their talent pool, reduces turnover, lessens their real estate footprint, and improves the ability to conduct business across multiple time zones, to name just a few advantages. In Remote, inconoclastic authors Fried and Hansson will convince readers that letting all or part of work teams function remotely is a great idea--and they're going to show precisely how a remote work setup can be accomplished.


I started working remotely 8 years ago for a company that is 100% remote. After working my way up within the company, I now oversee all of the day-to-day operations. 

I am a strong believer in remote working. I personally thrive in this environment, but over the years I have learned that working remotely is not for everyone. I felt that the authors of Remote did not get as deep into the real life issues of remote work environments as I was hoping they would.  Their approach was more of a sales pitch on allowing employees to work remotely (and using their software program to manage those remote projects).

Regardless, Remote is a quick and easy read.  If you're considering allowing workers in your company to work remotely - or if you're trying to pitch the idea to your boss - this book has a lot of helpful information.   

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Detroit by Charlie LeDuff

ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

Back in his broken hometown, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Charlie LeDuff searches through the ruins for clues to its fate, his family’s, and his own. Detroit is where his mother’s flower shop was firebombed in the pre-Halloween orgy of arson known as Devil’s Night; where his sister lost herself to the west side streets; where his brother, who once sold subprime mortgages with skill and silk, now works in a factory cleaning Chinese-manufactured screws so they can be repackaged as “May Be Made in United States.”

Having led us on the way up, Detroit now seems to be leading us on the way down. Once the richest city in America, Detroit is now the nation’s poorest. Once the vanguard of America’s machine age—mass production, blue-collar jobs, and automobiles—Detroit is now America’s capital for unemployment, illiteracy, dropouts, and foreclosures. It is an eerie and angry place of deserted factories and abandoned homes and forgotten people. Trees and switchgrass and wild animals have come back to reclaim their rightful places. Coyotes are here. The pigeons have left. A city the size of San Francisco and Manhattan could neatly fit into Detroit’s vacant lots. After revealing that the city’s murder rate is higher than the official police number—making it the highest in the country—a weary old detective tells LeDuff, “In this city two plus two equals three.”

With the steel-eyed reportage that has become his trademark and the righteous indignation only a native son possesses, LeDuff sets out to uncover what destroyed his city. He embeds with a local fire brigade struggling to defend its city against systemic arson and bureaucratic corruption. He investigates politicians of all stripes, from the smooth-talking mayor to career police officials to ministers of the backstreets, following the paperwork to discover who benefits from Detroit’s decline. He beats on the doors of union bosses and homeless squatters, powerful businessmen and struggling homeowners, and the ordinary people holding the city together by sheer determination.

If Detroit is America’s vanguard in good times and bad, then here is the only place to turn for guidance in our troubled era. While redemption is thin on the ground in this ghost of a city, Detroit: An American Autopsy is no hopeless parable. LeDuff shares an unbelievable story of a hard town in a rough time filled with some of the strangest and strongest people our country has to offer. Detroit is a dark comedy of the absurdity of American life in the twenty-first century, a deeply human drama of colossal greed and endurance, ignorance and courage.


I will be traveling to Detroit early next year, so this book caught my interest.  I'm glad I read it, but it is certainly not a feel-good book!

Journalist Charlie LeDuff returns to his hometown of Detroit after several years away.  He tells the story of Detroit from its rise to its decline, interwoven with bits and pieces of his own life. LeDuff describes the realities of life in Detroit, from the rampant arson for the sake of entertainment to the deteriorating firehouses (one specifically that cannot park its engines inside the building because the floors are unstable) to the government paper trail showing millions of dollars that supposedly went into fixing the firehouses (some of which did not even exist).  He talks about the effects of the changes in the auto industry from the perspective of the people who work in the factories (or used to) and the drug abuse and murders.

It is depressing yet fascinating.  I recommend this book for readers who have an interest in Detroit and/or American history.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Quiet by Susan Cain

ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts—Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak—that we owe many of the great contributions to society.

In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts—from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.


Things I knew about myself before reading this book:

  1. I hate small talk, but I love spending hours in deep conversations with close friends or family members.
  2. I have a huge fear of public speaking and prefer to express myself in writing.
  3. When I worked in a building with other people around (before I worked from home), I used to close my office door to "get work done."  I never understood how everyone else ever got anything done when they were hanging out and talking all day.
  4. I would rather spend an entire Saturday by myself (or with my family) than "out with the girls."
  5. I hate answering my phone unless it's my husband or a handful of people I know will only keep me on the phone for a few minutes.

What I learned about myself from reading this book:

I am an introvert!

Okay, so I would have described myself as an introvert even before reading this book, but it gave me a new understanding of what it means to be an introvert.

In Quiet, Cain writes about introversion in the workplace, in the school system and in relationships, and she discusses parenting/teaching an introverted child. She talks about how introverts are perceived by the outside world and what is really going on inside those heads.

Even though I was absolutely fascinated by the book, there were just two things I wish she would have covered more about:

1) Statistics on introversion.  She mentions that 1/3 to 1/2 of the population is introverted, but I'm also curious about statistics specifically on introverted people, i.e. gender and birth order.

2) Being an introverted parent with an extroverted child/children.  After reading this book, I've decided I now need to go find a book on this topic!  Let me know if you have any recommendations!

If you are (or think you might be) an introvert or if you are married to an introvert, this book is a must-read.

Friday, February 20, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Publishing by Gail Godwin

ABOUT THE BOOK (from Amazon):

Publishing is a personal story of a writer's hunger to be published, the pursuit of that goal, and then the long haul--for Gail Godwin, forty-five years of being a published writer and all that goes with it. A student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1958, Godwin met with Knopf scouts who came to campus every spring in search of new talent. Though her five pages of Windy Peaks were turned down and the novel never completed, she would go on to publish two story collections and fourteen novels, three of which were National Book Award finalists, five of which were New York Times bestsellers.

Publishing reflects on the influence of her mother's writing hopes and accomplishments, and recalls Godwin's experiences with teachers Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Coover at the Iowa Writers' Workshop; with John Hawkins, her literary agent for five decades; with John Irving and other luminaries; and with her editors and publishers. Recollecting her long and storied career, Godwin maps the publishing industry over the last fifty years, a time of great upheaval and ingenuity. Her eloquent memoir is illuminated by Frances Halsband's evocative black-and-white line drawings throughout. There have been memoirs about writing and memoirs about being an editor, but there is no other book quite like Publishing for aspiring writers and book lovers everywhere.


This book caught my eye because I have been in the (indie) publishing industry for nearly 10 years.  Working every day with writers who want to publish a book, I thought this memoir would be interesting.  It certainly was, although I would recommend it more highly for readers who are already fans of Gail Godwin.  I had never heard of her before, so I did have one regret while reading the book -- that I had not (yet*) read any of the books she discusses writing and publishing.  If I had, I think I would have felt more connected with her while reading her memoir.

Besides discussing the reading and publishing of her books, however, Godwin also talks about her experiences as a writer - studying under Kurt Vonnegut and writing stories with her mother - and also the changes that she saw happening in the traditional publishing industry over the years (from her perspective as the author).  I found both of these themes in her book very interesting.

*I have reserved A Mother and Two Daughters by Gail Godwin from my public library and am looking forward to reading it.

Favorite quotes:

"Publishing is about wanting for a long time to be a published writer and about the condition of living as a writer for a long time after you are published."

"If I am an unknown man and publish a wonderful book, it will make its way very slowly or not at all.  If I, become a known man, publish that very same book, its praise will echo over both hemispheres.  You have to become famous before you can secure the attention which would give fame."