Laura Vanderkam: Off the clock

Lately, I did a lot of reading. The last piece I have finished, was time management book Off the clock, by Laura Vanderkam. I would recommend this book to any busy person who wants to enjoy his daily commitments, activities, hobbies etc. At times Vanderkam’s advice is straightforward, at times challenging, but definitely worth the time to read. This book actually convinced me of taking time off the work to rest when I was sick. Somehow it helped me to straighten my priorities. Here are two ideas I want to apply from the book to my life as well. I attach pictures of Dexter who was chilling in my bed when I was reading this book.


I have all the time in the world

“Being off the clock implies time freedom, yet time freedom stems from time discipline.”

In the first pages I read an inspiring quote of a high profile businesswoman that Laura was interviewing. Laura wanted to ensure the businesswoman that she wouldn’t take up much of her precious time with the interview on productivity and to her surprise the business woman said: “Oh, I have all the time in the world.” I would like to adopt the same mindset of being present at the moment, deeply focused at the person or task in front of me. To practice mindfulness or being “off the clock”, Laura Vanderkam recommends to devote some of your time daily to do some quiet activity, such as reading, meditating, journaling or praying.


Make memories

“Do something memorable daily, because that is the only way to keep time from slipping through our fingers.”

The most impactful idea for my day to day life from this book is to create special memories for myself. Routine is not bad, but we remember mostly moments which were out-of-the-ordinary. What if I set out to visit all the museums in my radius of 100k one by one each Sunday? What if I change my patterns and instead of a lunch in my local cantine I walk to a library instead? There are many small ways how to make days more memorable. Just think creative!


Make art when you can. Relax when you can’t.

“Lowering expectations to the point of no resistance is what makes bigger things possible.”
Finally, the last idea. Sometimes we have too big expectations of ourselves. I want to manage this, I want to do that. In the end we do nothing properly and what is worse we do not enjoy it. Small things done consistently can bring much more effective results. Laura Vanderkam highlights a famous quote from Moveable feast by Hemingway: “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” Similarly, Laura gives her client advice who is struggling to make time for her art: Make art when you can. Relax when you can’t. I want to take the same advice for my personal passions, which is drawing and writing this blog.

The Subtle Art of YouTube Book Recommendations

I am a regular YouTube consumer, I mostly listen to it as a background when doing some housework. I enjoy watching my subscriptions, even more so I was delighted when some of my favorite influencers started making book recommendations. Soon I have found that being a successful YouTuber does not immediately imply having a great taste in literature.

One of the most suggested books recently was “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***k” by Mark Manson. I was curious about it after hearing all those fantastic reviews on YouTube. Soon I have searched for the audio-version on Swedish app StoryTel and voilà I was listening to it! Unfortunately, I soon found out this book is so overrated. Originally, I wanted to write a whole post about it, but I decided to devote my time and space on this site to books that actually added value to my life. So I stop here 🙂

To bring this post a bit on the positive note, there are YouTubers that make good book recommendations. For example fashion designer Justine Leconte introduced me in one of her monthly inspirations to Kurt Tucholsky. I did not finish his book yet, so I might add more in the future. Funny entrepreneur Tai Lopez  made me read about genetics, more on that in my post here. And there may be others that you know, so please share!

This post was not supposed to be a rant. Pardon me, if you get the impression. YouTube was not made to give book recommendations. There are other media for that, I get that. Maybe next time I hear a so-called influencer praising a book, I should visit Goodreads or read any other review, before spending my precious time on that. 🙂

Reading Frankl in Nice (travel diary)

This post is a travel diary as well as a collection of quotes from Viktor Frankl‘s book Man’s Search for Meaning. I was reading this book while on a girls’ weekend in Nice, France. Despite being surrounded by azure Mediterranean sea and carefree palms, reading lessons from concentration camp was not an easy task to do.

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We arrived in Nice early April, afraid we would not get any sun. This is what had been waiting for us! Fantastic weather and azure sea. What’s more, Nice is full of palm trees. I could not resist drawing them in my sketchbook.

On the other hand, I am grateful to have read the book now, sooner than later. I have long struggled to understand meaning of unnecessary suffering that I observed around me lately. This book has just addressed that for me even though written more than 70 years ago. The author, Jewish psychiatrist Frankl, survived holocaust thanks to the love for his wife. He imagined speaking to her and hearing her voice in his mind many times during the time he was in Auschwitz, Dachau and other concentration camps. Read my favorite quotes below.

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My friend Stanka at the door in Hotel Rex, where we stayed. Terrible wifi made perfect conditions to read a lot. Stanka read Paul Auster, I read Viktor Frankl.

“We had to learn ourselves and we had to teach the despairing men that it did not really matter what we expected from life but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Life ultimately means taking responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”

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Sunset at Port de Nice. I can imagine having here perfect ice-cream date. We were on a girls’ trip however, discussing various topics while reading and sketching.

“I doubt whether a doctor can answer this question in general terms. For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.”

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One day trip to Monaco was definitely worth it. From Nice, it takes only 15 minutes by train to get there. However, be careful with the roaming. I switched mobile data off quite quickly as we arrived to the train station. Yet, I received a huge bill from O2 after I returned home 🙁

“… often it is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself. Instead of taking the camp’s difficulties as a test of their inner strength, they did not take their life seriously… Yet, in reality there was an opportunity and a challenge. One could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate as did a majority of the prisoners.

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We ate famous Nicoise salad not in Nice, but in Monaco. The tuna was delicious!

Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.” 

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There are couple of beautiful gardens or “Jardins” in Monaco that we have seen. This photo is from Saint Martin’s.

“The attempt to develop a sense of humor and to see things in a humorous light is some kind of a trick learned while mastering the art of living. Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent.”

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Searching for Marlborough Fine Arts Gallery from our wiki travel guide in Monaco, we have instead come across this free exhibition of ultra expensive photography. The above picture costs just a little above 7000 Eur.

“In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitiveness of the life in a concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen. Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom.

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We were walking a lot on this vacation, on average 25 000 steps. View from top of Nice, were we climbed before a storm on the last day.

“… everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

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Don’t believe wiki travel! It is often outdated. We paid the price, as we read that Matisse museum is for free and it wasn’t! We did not have much time and came in last minute to see at least couple of paintings before closing. This is the only picture from the trip which makes me sad (even though Stanka is smiling.).

“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.” 

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Our last tourist selfie in Nice! #ILoveNice

“But let me make it perfectly clear that in no way is suffering necessary to find meaning. I only insist that meaning is possible even in spite of suffering – provided, certainly, that the suffering is unavoidable. If it were avoidable, however, the meaningful thing to do would be to remove its cause, be it psychological, biological or political. To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.” 

I have finished reading this precious book after coming back from Nice. I would like to reread it couple of times in the future, to “sink in” all the wisdom. Certainly, this post will be a nice memory of both the trip and the book.

Genetics, or the only sure Inheritance you might get

Genetics

“Isn’t that fascinating?” my sister asked me waving with her hand in the air and gazing at her bone structure moving underneath her skin. “No, not at all.” I laughed in her face and turned away to get some more sleep. Seemingly unimportant childhood memory, yet so revealing. Unlike me, my sister dazzled by biology and chemistry became a pharmacist. However, when it comes to genetics, even hard-headed economist like me could not resist to learn more. It is a topic close to everyone. Inheritance, How our Genes Change our Lives and our Lives Change our Genes was a page turner.

Using common language, scientist and physician Sharon Moalem, introduces you to curious cases of his medical practiceMeet Ethan, boy with XX chromosomes, who might change your binary view of the world. Chef Jeff will tell you that there is no one-size-fits-to-all diet or medication. Especially, when you have high cholesterol and hereditary fructose intolerance that you are not aware of. All of Moalem’s cases will make you curious about yourself and your family history. Because no one is average according to him. All of us inherited something. As researchers from Zurich examining mouses found, a trauma in one generation was genetically present two generations down the line. But wait for a while with genetic testing and think twice. As Moalem suggests, with genetically proven disorders your insurance premium might rise significantly. For you as well as your children.

This book is a worth read till the very end. In the very last chapter, Moalem expresses compassion with all his patients and finds a subtle meaning to their suffering. Without their odd illnesses, we would be missing much progress in developing cures for common diseases such as high blood pressureLast but not least, if all the aforementioned did not persuade you to read the book, you might also want to pick it up in case you want to climb Mount Fuji one day 🙂 Because Sharon Moalem did, and he also shares his experience about that.

Kleon Austin: Show your work!

Show Your Work!

Along with couple of other books, I had Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Kleon Austin on my Goodreads wishlist for quite some time. When I started using Kindle, things changed. Suddenly, buying books has become easy for me. I would say too easy. Just one click! Too often, I am on a comfortable shopping spree in my bed. This time it was no different. Click! And Kleon’s amazing book arrived to my Kindle library. It is full of funny visuals and illustrations. However, I would have preferred to see them in color not in fifty shades of Kindle grey 😉

While I was taking notes of my favorite passages for this post, I have realized I am starting to copy the whole book. So I prioritized my top 3 thoughts and here they are:

1. Work doesn’t speak for itself

Imagine two identical pieces of art that you immediately fall in love with. You don’t know anything about these paintings. When someone tells you, that painting A was painted by a Dutch master from 17th century and painting B is a forgery. It was copied by a student in local art college. Which canvas looks better now?

I have noticed this truth in many of my friends’ Instagram posts. While social media is designed to convey messages instantly (the faster the better), I am often drawn to images with interesting story behind captured in captions below. If these captions are missing, the story seems usually empty to me. Of course I do not read each and every Instagram caption in my feed. I already know which friends have natural gift of story telling. So I read mostly posts based on my (un-)conscious bias. But you can learn storytelling too. Just observe and practice, Kleon advises.

2. No guilty pleasures

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you f—ing like something, like it.” Dave Grahl

That’s the motto of this whole chapter, that our likes and dislikes connects us and we should not be afraid to share them. Your Spotify playlist may inspire your friend even though it’s a garbage. And you should have a courage to like your garbage. Because, as Kleon writes, finding the treasure in other people’s trash, sifting through the debris of our culture, paying attention to the stuff that everyone is ignoring and taking inspiration from the stuff that people have tossed aside for whatever reason is one of the jobs of artist, “dumpster diving”.

3. Share something small everyday and use the So what?! test

Become your own documentarian and share the process of your work and your progress as an artist. People are interested to see your evolution. Here comes to my mind, before and after pictures you may see on internet of people who lost weight. Aren’t they fascinating? When I discover an artist, I like to stalk him to the beginning of his feed to see where she started. To find something relatable. If you are scared of oversharing (posting to often to scare your audience away) use Kleon’s So what?! test. If you are not sure, whether your post is meaningful enough, ask yourself this powerful question. So what? If you are still not sure, save your post for later. There is nothing wrong with having some patience.

This book has many other artist’s secrets to offer. I leave the author to spill those out to you when you read the book yourself 😉

 

Side Hustle by Chris Guillebeau (audio book review)

Listening to audio books while dog walking

Last year I signed up for a Goodreads reading challenge (more on that in my post here) and since I was quite behind my goal of finishing 20 books that year I was searching for a way to  speed up my reading. So I have started listening to audio books while dog walking Dexter.  You might call that cheating, I call that proudly time saving

I have soon learned, that you cannot listen to just any kind of a book while throwing stick for Dexter and picking up poop after him. There are just books more suitable for listening and then there are books that need my full attention. I find non-fiction books the most suitable genre for audio listening.

Today I have finished listening to the tender voice of Chris Guillebeau (uh, I have to always double-check spelling of his name!) on Swedish app, Storytel which also contains books for English speakers. I saw Chris on Marie Forleo show and was so impressed by his authenticity as a person as well as sound advice he gave that I immediately subscribed to his podcast #SideHustleSchool.

In the book, which is very similar in content to the podcast, Chris explains simple steps how to develop a “side hustle”, i.e. additional source of income. He takes you on a journey from side hustle idea creation and assessment to actual implementation. Indeed, this book is not just another “nice-to-know” read, but a serious practical game-plan with many real life examples of people practicing side hustles.

Just to name a few, I was fascinated by story of a guy who benefited from writing recommendations for fish tanks on his personal website. Another smart young man crafted CV’s in his spare time and later scaled up his business by creating CV templates  for his customers to attract potential employers. But you do not have to have a brand new unique idea according to Chris. He mentions strategies to boost up also services as simple as giving guitar lessons or dog walking (I should think about that one…)

What I like most about the book however, is that Chris calls for action from the beginning till the very end. So you might ask, “OK Alice, this is all great, but did you actually start any side hustle?” To be honest, no. Not in the sense Chris defines a side hustle, i.e. activity that I could actually monetize. On the other hand, I developed a new hobby, which is writing this blog and thanks to the book Side Hustle I have now many ideas how to bring it forward. So as always stay tuned 😉

Google’s ultimate meditation book

Meditation improves happiness

In the header of this post I intentionally avoided the actual book title “Search inside yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness” because I find it somehow tacky. Funny enough, the author, Google’s former engineer Chade-Meng Tan, agreed with that at the end of the book himself. Unlike the title, I have found the content of the book very practical and written in a concise manner. Chade crafted this book with its pragmatic approach to meditation for rational people like me. Backed by research, Tan’s message is strong: Commit to mindfulness, at least one breath a day. 

More than a month passed from reading this book, I have forgotten all about the studies Chade mentioned, despite calling myself earlier a rational person. What resonated with me however, were all the mindfulness and meditation techniques he described at the end of each chapter. Quite some time I was searching for a complementary source to app Headspace for my own meditation practice on YouTube, Spotify and App Store.  Unfortunately, I just wasn’t satisfied mostly with the voice-overs and music. I wouldn’t have thought actually the solution to my problem is simple – use a book instead. Search inside yourself is a great source for daily meditation practice.

My favorite mindfulness exercise from the book is “Just like me” exercise.

Try it for yourself. Sit comfortably, close your eyes and think of a person you like and admire.

Repeat the following mindfully: This person has a body and a mind, just like me. This person wants to be happy, just like me. etc. (I will not copy the whole script from the book here and leave it here for your imagination.) After you have spend few minutes finding all the similarities, think of a person with whom you experience any tension. Repeat the very same words you did before, but thinking of the other person. This person has a body and a mind, just like me. The power of this exercise is that the positive vibes you get at the beginning from thinking about your loved one translate into the second half of the  mindfulness session. With practice your attitude towards that difficult person changes.

At the end of this review, I wanted to use one of the quotes I have highlighted on Kindle from this book. However, I have liked better the quote that has been highlighted by the public the most, so I close with that:

Happiness is not something that you pursue; it is something you allow. Happiness is just being.

 

My personal reading challenge for 2018

In 2017, I set myself up for a reading challenge at  Goodreads forum along with other friends and users. And I failed. Quite hard. My aim was to read 20 books in 2017 and in the end I finished hardly 10. Why was a I doing so miserable? Better question might be: Why did I want to make a race out of reading? After all, my goal was to read more again and feel the pleasure of “getting lost” in the pages and time while reading. With this challenge reading felt more like a chore and with my ambitious long-term goal I always felt guilty being far away from reaching that magic number of 20.

This year it will be different, I decided. I started again, but small. At the beginning, I gave myself a goal to read ten pages a day. This approach worked quite well early in the year together with all my new year’s resolutions. First book of 2018 I finished on January 14 and I was proud. It was a beautiful novel by Irène Némirovsky about love during time of war. It was a great book to start and afterwards I read many others. March 2018, I no longer hold myself to this strict rule of reading 10 pages a day. I do not have to. Once I pick up a good book I would not put it down so quickly. There are days when I come home after work tired and all I can do is to scroll through my Instagram feed. On another days however I truly experience the pleasures of reading mentioned before and I read more than 50 pages at once.

I set myself a new goal, however. I have noticed my memory is quite short and often I forget what I was reading one month before.  Therefore, I want to make a reading diary of all good books I will have finished. I use for this mainly my Goodreads account. What helps me as well is to discuss the books I am reading with my friends and therefore I want to share my notes at this website for them. With my reading drive lately I am in constant search for good reading recommendations. I find good book tips at the website of Tai Lopez, but would also like to get more sources of inspiration. So if you know any, please let me know in the comment section below… and stay tuned for my book reviews! 🙂