Hi. I am trying out a new monthly feature here on the blog. I have been thinking lately about the kind of update I wish someone put together that featured the new books in the inspiration how-to space, what book was popular at the moment that should be paid attention to, and what was a best-book-of-all-time that I should check out. These features either don’t exist or they are done in a way that I don’t think helps readers find their next book to read. So, welcome to New/Popular/Best, a work in progress to try and highlight books that deserve attention. Special and deep thanks to my good friend Charlie Gilkey helping me get this idea out into the world.
- Love and Work: How to Find What You Love, Love What You Do, and Do It for the Rest of Your Life by Marcus Buckingham (Apr 5) – “Love, the most powerful of human emotions, the source of all creativity, collaboration, insight, and excellence, has been systematically drained from our lives—our work, teams, and classrooms. It’s time we brought love back in.”
- Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain (Apr 5) – “a bittersweet state of mind is the quiet force that helps us transcend our personal and collective pain.”
- Trust and Inspire: How Truly Great Leaders Unleash Greatness in Others by Stephen M. R. Covey (Apr 5) – “shift from this ‘command and control’ model to a leadership style of ‘trust and inspire.'”
- 12 Notes: On Life and Creativity by Quincy Jones (Apr 5) – “lessons that are hardworking and accessible, yet speak to the passion of self-expression.”
- Make No Small Plans: Lessons on Thinking Big, Chasing Dreams, and Building Community by Elliott Bisnow, Brett Leve, Jeff Rosenthal, and Jeremy Schwartz (Apr 12) – Founders of Summit event series share lessons from their journey.
- Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs About Aging Determine How Long and Well You Live by Becca Levy (Apr 12) – “age beliefs shape all aspects of our lives.”
- Brighter by the Day: Waking Up to New Hopes and Dreams by Robin Robbins with Michelle Burford (Apr 12) – “like any skill, optimism requires practice”
- Things That Matter: Overcoming Distraction to Pursue a More Meaningful Life by Joshua Becker (Apr 19) – “helps you identify the obstacles that keep you from living with intention and practical ideas for then letting go.”
- A Brief History of Equality by Thomas Piketty (Apr 19) – from the author of Capital, a similar deep dive into the history and potential toward equality.
- Big Feelings: How to Be Okay When Things Are Not Okay by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy (Apr 22) – second book from @lizandmollie that helps us “understand that difficult emotions are not abnormal and create a deeper sense of meaning.”
- Radically Human: How New Technology Is Transforming Business and Shaping Our Future by Paul Daugherty and H. James Wilson (Apr 26) – human centered AI built around Intelligence, Data, Experience, Architecture, and Strategy (IDEAS).
An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
By James Clear
Published by Avery on October 18, 2018
When a book reaches a certain point of popularity, readers fall into one of three categories: have read the book, reading the book, or it’s their next book to read. Brene Brown’s books have occupied that space over the last decade. Gallup’s StrengthFinder 2.0 held a similar spot in the business book marketplace after its publication in 2007 through to the start of the pandemic in 2020. We’ll come back to these books in future issues of N/P/B.
Right now, Atomic Habits is now THE business book. In the almost twenty years I have been working in this space, there has been nothing like it.
First, Atomic Habits is the fastest business book to reach 1,000,000 copies sold. It took 136 weeks. The prior record holder was StrengthsFinder 2.0 which took 150 weeks to get to the same point.
Even more notably—sales are accelerating. In 2019, the book was selling 3,000 copies per week. In 2020, the rate increased to 6,000 copies per week. In 2021, Atomic Habits sold an average of 17,000 per week. Both two inflection points happened in the Thanksgiving to New Year, New You holiday sales window. We are only 13 weeks into 2022, but sales look like they will be even stronger this year.
To try and make sense of this, I tracked down the Bookscan sales data for Atomic Habits and a handful of other very successful business titles. Then, I charted their cumulative sales based on their first years of weekly sales.
Look at that. It is not even close and Atomic Habits is still pulling away from the rest of the pack.
Note to Authors: Atomic Habits looked like most of the other successful titles for the first year of sale. The real magic happened in Year Two and Year Three. Stay with your books. Continued effort pays off.
What is remarkable to me as well, is that the 2010’s was The Habits Decade. There were so many books that already covered this space. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhhig sold over a million copies. Make Your Bed by Admiral William McRaven sold over a million copies. For me, Angela Duckworth’s Grit falls in this camp. The list goes on—Bard Press’ The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin, The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. It appears those books only tilled the space for what has followed with Atomic Habits’ publication in 2018.
A Quick Summary
If you are somehow still in the “I haven’t read Atomic Habits” camp, the structure for the book is a model you will likely recognize: cue, craving, response and reward. For each stage, Clear describes the behavior and he describes it from both sides of one’s desire—to create a new habit or to eliminate a bad one.
Cues, for example, are the first step in a chain and act as the trigger for the learned routine. If you want to create a new habit, make the cue as obvious as you can. Stack your new habit on a habit that already exists. The next best thing is to write down exactly where and when you plan to act, a technique supported by research called implementation intention. You can also use your environment to make the cue easier (put your running shoes at the bottom of the stairs) or harder (store the cookies in the basement). Clear does the same for the other three phases of habits with equally deep dive with anecdotes and ideas.
Clear takes the complete approach and puts everything (and the kitchen sink) into this one book. If there is a tactic, trick, scheme or shortcut that will help with habits, you will find it in Atomic Habits. That broad survey makes it a great compliment to The Power of Habit or as a great place to start for someone who prefers to dig immediately into the details.
Get Everything Done:
and Still Have Time to Play
By Mark Forster
Published September 2000 by Hodder & Stoughton
A problem we all identify with is the challenge of getting things done. Our livelihood and our legacy is ultimately judged by the work we do in the world.
Part of what makes the topic difficult is the disagreement about what the precise cause is of not getting things done. The problem looks different for different people. For some they see all the possibilities and over-analyze the options to the point of decision paralysis. Others plow into their to-do list with vigor and often without connection to a broader vision. Folks, like myself, are easily tempted by a new idea, followed by another, and then another. Each of these reflects a natural tendency towards the work we each like doing, but also shows the potential downsides of those inclinations.
Time commonly gets blamed. We often say things like “I don’t have enough time” or “I need to manage my time better.” We can’t control time or accumulate more of it. And we certainly can’t manage time.
The only real choice we have available is what we do with our attention. Attention is the precious resource we need to manage and direct toward the work we want to accomplish. The skill we want to build is focus. We benefit enormously from strengthening our ability to concentrate on a task. That sustained focus is what changes the world one task at a time.
“[R]egular focused attention is the key to virtually every problem and challenge in life, and the more we learn how to direct and focus our attention the more skilled we will be at life.” p8
In the introduction to Get Everything Done, Mark Forster offers a challenge to the reader. He asks readers to think about one thing they want to accomplish tomorrow, and when tomorrow arrives, do it. If you are successful, Forster says pick another item for the next day, but choose a task that is slightly more difficult to complete. If that ends up being too easy, commit to completing two things the following day. Some find the exercise easy, while others struggle with the shifting priorities and commitments. Repeat this daily ritual until you feel confidence in your ability to finish what you say you are going to start. Create a habit of focused attention.
I appreciate there might be some risk in choosing an author whose work you may not know, but Forster has written five books, addressing the problems with traditional time management, creating goals that create real change, and the nuances of different techniques to get more done. The conclusions all come from his work as a coach and I think we too often forget that we read books to learn things— we need authors who are good teachers.
As a coach, Forester says that time management is the one number requested item for help. You might recognize some of the symptoms of his new clients: always behind on work, once started you become distracted by all the other things to do, feeling stretched by more and more things to be done. The primary technique of time-management that Forster begins with is “No”. Start by reducing the amount of work you have or by slowing down the rate by which you take it on. Forster suggests that we take on too much by saying yes too often to those around us. We literally have to learn how to say no to loved ones and those we value in our lives. Be prepared to say no more than once.
After we reduce the number of things we need to do, we allow more focus and improve our ability to get those fewer things done. I could talk about how Forster says we need checklists rather than to-do lists or his highly adaptive version of working intervals (you might recognize it as the Pomodoro Technique). Those tactics all drive at the core problem: overcoming resistance. Resistance to getting work done may not look like resistance at first—procrastination, unfocused anxiety, and my personal crutch, spending time on trivia or ‘easy work’. Antidotes like breaking large tasks into smaller ones and building routines through strong habits reduces the ways we waste our precious attention and, as Forster says, avoid sabotaging “all of our goals and plans and hopes and dreams.” Get Everything Done is the perfect starting point for making sure your action system addresses the big problems that keep you from getting work done.
Forester says that people who are successful at managing their lives are very different from those who are not:
- Good time managers are decisive; poor time managers are impulsive.
- Good time managers work from the big picture; poor time managers get bogged down in trivia.
- Good time managers have good systems; poor time managers have poor systems or none at all.
- Good time managers keep work and play in balance; poor time managers have work and play unbalanced—so they both suffer.
- Good time managers are relatively unstressed; poor time managers make stress a way of life.
- Good time managers are focused; poor time managers are diffused.
- Good time managers’ response to fear is action; poor time managers’ response to fear is avoidance.