Reading List: Middle of 2020

For some time now, I have been contemplating a more regimented approach to my personal reading. Throughout most of my adult life, reading has been an intermittent habit overshadowed by work, television shows, and streaming movies. However, during the current COVID-19 pandemic and its requisite stay-at-home orders, my bookshelves have been dusted off a bit as the same free media content becomes dull and boring.

Why A Reading List?

Just the other day, I finished reading DUNE: The Battle of Corrin by the talented pairing of Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. I’ve read many books in my life and this one was not particularly exceptional, though good in its own right (my husband will have strong words for me when he reads this given his love for the Dune series). What struck me as gratifying was the sense of accomplishment I felt upon reading the last words on the last page of this 600+ page fictional story. Watching a movie is a passive experience and is over in a couple of hours. While reading a full-length book takes effort, concentration, and commitment – all things that contribute to feeling accomplished at the end of any particular book.

In the spirit of personal improvement (an ongoing theme of this blog for those who are new), I have selected a few titles I plan to read between now and the end of September. I have chosen these titles from a number of recommendations, my own curiosity, and my personal interests. I have set no expectations for this more structured approach to reading. This is an experiment and my reflection at the end of this experience will help determine if I continue this process in the future.

The Reading List

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

This book is about one Danish woman’s adventures in Kenya in the early 20th century. It is a love story, a story of war, and a story of personal adventure all wrapped into one. This also happens to be one of my mother’s long-time favorite authors and books. For those more in tune with the cinema, a movie adaptation of Out of Africa was made starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

With a longstanding presence on Bill Gates reading list (as well as the random stranger next to me in the airport bookstore in which I purchased my copy) this choice was one of curiosity. It has been billed as a humorous and insightful look into the development of the human race. With all the turmoil in the world today, maybe it will provide me a more optimistic outlook on the future of humankind.

Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space by Lynn Sherr

For anyone who doesn’t know, I have been a space geek since childhood. That’s right, I grew up on Star Trek, had the privilege to attend Space Camp in Alamogordo, New Mexico for three summers in a row, and have always dreamed of being a part of putting human’s into space. With the recent launch of the SpaceX Falcon9 rocket system propelling the Crew Dragon capsule with two American astronauts from the Kennedy Space Center, this book becomes even more fitting. The biography of Sally Ride should prove an inspiration to me and I am really looking forward to reading this one!

blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

This is another title recommended to me by some of my friends and colleagues. It aims to justify quick decisions to be as effective as long deliberated decisions, when to trust these rapid decisions and when not to, and understand how these snap decisions can be educated and controlled. An interesting introduction already has me turning the pages quickly!

Middle 2020 Reading List In A Place I Won’t Ignore Them

What Next?

I have my books picked out and a timeline selected. My books are stacked on my desk so I can’t forget about them or avoid this self-assigned task. I am still working on better scheduling my time (especially at night and over the weekends) to ensure I have what I need to complete this assignment.

Sounds like I am all set to start reading and digesting new information and stories!

I plan on writing a post about each of the books as I complete them as well as a reflection on the entire process when I have finished my reading list. It is my hope that my experiment in a more regimented reading approach will inspire others to put down the remote control (or phone or tablet) and pick up a book. Let’s see how this plays out!

What books are you reading? Anything you would recommend? Let me know in the comments below!

Week 3, 2019: Staying on target

Week 3, 2019 and I'm staying on target!
Week 3, 2019 and I’m staying on target!

It’s the end of yet another week and I am happy to report that I am still fulfilling my January Challenge of closing all my activity rings on my Apple Watch! I’ve accomplished this through lunchtime walks, weekend excursions with the dog, and treadmill runs (because it’s flipping cold outside). That’s the good news.

The bad news is I have found myself slipping into some of my familiar bad habits this week. Including an abundance of television watching (boo!), an increase in my nicotine intake (yup, still a smoker in 2019), and less activity between the events in the paragraph above. I feel the worst part is I haven’t been writing as much this week as I have in the past month.

Of all the therapeutic activities I have participated in throughout my life (admittedly, it hasn’t been as much as it should be), writing has always been my saving grace. It’s the ability to take an errant thought, bad decision, or fantastically wild idea and bring it into the physical world that amazes me about writing.

Holding on to negative emotions? Cool, write it down and I’ll bet you money you will feel better instantly.

Got a crazy idea for a new business? Outstanding, put it on paper, type it into Evernote, or drop it in an email to yourself, make it real!

Having a hard time figuring out a solution to a problem? Write it out on a dry erase board or draw pictures of it on a blank piece of paper and a solution will come to you.

Throughout my life, when I have gone long periods of time without writing down my thoughts (privately or publicly) my emotional stability deteriorates, my concentration suffers, and the grey hairs on my head multiply like rabbits in a box. Plucking the best, mundane, and worst out of my head brings stability and calm to an otherwise rocky ride. Surely, I am not the only one who experiences this phenomenon.

Unfortunately, there is always an excuse:

  • I have no time!
  • I’m too busy!
  • I have too much going on!
  • I don’t feel like it!
  • I don’t want to!
  • I’m tired!

Any of those sound familiar? I tell myself at least one of those everyday. The fact is, we all have more time than we admit to having. How many hours a day/week do you watch non-educational/non-developmental TV? How many hours do you spend drinking alcohol (and recovering from it)? How many hours do you spend commuting (don’t write a journal while driving, but you could do a stream-of-consciousness voice memo)? How many hours do you waste not helping yourself?

I am an advocate for taking time off, lounging about for short bursts of time, and (every now and then) just shutting down for a few days. However, it can’t be every weekend or everyday when you get home from work. There is a point when relaxation becomes sedation and that doesn’t help anyone.

Take 15-minutes, set a timer, and start writing about your day – the events that happened, your feelings about those events, your plans for the future, what you want to accomplish tomorrow, and so on. Fifteen minutes. That’s all it takes to start something.

Week 2, 2019: Still On Target

Two weeks complete in Apple Activity.

I am happy to report that I am still on target for accomplishing my January Challenge. Thirteen days in a row my Activity Rings on my Apple Watch have been fully closed. I’d be lying if I said it has been easy – yesterday, I had to do a semi-intense 45-minute workout throughout my house at 10:45 at night to close them all. Lazy days lounging around the house don’t contribute to success in this Challenge.

My energy levels continue to be higher than what I have become accustomed to over the years. I still don’t know if this is attributable to the increased activity related to the Challenge or the increase in water consumption or decrease in fast food/restaurant food or a combination of all three. On the one hand, I am a bit disappointed that I have made so many changes at the same time that it is impossible to narrow down which of the changes have had the greatest impact. On the other hand, I am happy that I have made the changes because I haven’t felt this good in years.

With nearly half the month in the past, I am keeping my focus on finishing this Challenge but not losing sight of what’s coming up next month. In preparation for a 28-day sprint to becoming a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), I ordered the hardcopy Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) today. I already have the kindle version, but for this Challenge, I think a physical copy will be much better for me. I have always retained information and generally learned better in the real world.

Becoming a CAPM is important for my professional development but will also have positive effects on my personal life. Learning new ways to look at, evaluate, and solve problems will always be a universally applicable skill. I wish more people would take different approaches to the same old problems, but that is a post for another time.

As a disclaimer, I have read most of the PMBOK already, but not in a way designed to set me up for success to take the CAPM exam. My focus on the first read through was immediate application of certain principles and process into my day-to-day work. February’s Challenge is to end the month with a passing score on the CAPM exam. This will not be easy, some people study for months in order to pass the CAPM exam – I will be relying on in-depth study sessions on my own as well as with my husband to achieve success in the shortest month of the year.

I look forward to completing my January Challenge successfully and determining how I will maintain my gains throughout the year. Check back regularly to see how it’s going!

How are you doing with your Challenges? Any unexpected benefits? Use the comments to share your own experience in 2019 so far!

4 Podcasts that get me through the week

I never thought I would be a podcast kind of person. It’s like listening to talk radio, right? Who wants to listen to people talk about random stuff for hours on end? Well, for the past 2 years, me. I want to listen to people talk about all kinds of different topics for hours on end. It turns out, you can get a lot out of podcasts that your normal media (cable, network television, social media, etc.) will never expose to you.

Now, I have to start with a disclaimer: Not all podcasts are created equal. On a regular basis, I don’t consciously think about audio quality unless it is so bad I can’t understand what is being said. There are a lot of podcasts that are close to having these types of audio problems. Shuffling paper, heavy/labored breathing, and even loud animals in the background can ruin a podcast pretty quickly.

All of the podcasts below are available on any major podcast delivery medium. Personally, I use Spotify for convenience – it auto updates, is on my phone, and is also my source of music so most of my audio entertainment is in one place. Use what you want, but definitely seek out these podcasts!

Okay, here are the 4 podcasts that get me through my week:

1 The Daily by the New York Times – political leanings of modern day news agencies aside, this podcast is updated 5 days a week and is the first thing I listen to in the morning (it’s made available by 6 AM ET). It’s a short 20-30 minutes and usually focuses around a single topic. This morning was about illegal immigration and how it actually ties to terrorism with a short bit about President Trump’s planned address to the nation tonight. It’s informative, not commentary based (i.e. no talking heads yet) – it reminds me of the news programs I watched as a kid, just minus the visual component. You can find out more about this podcast here.

2 Project Management Happy Hour by Kim Essendrup and Kate Anderson. I listen to this while driving to the office. My 9-5 job uses a lot of project management principles to achieve success. Since I am not a certified Project Management Professional, I take in information about this subject in as many different ways as possible while working towards that particular certification. This podcast helps to break down project management concepts into real-world examples (and some Star Wars examples, thanks Kim!). It’s a motivator for me as well, helping me to learn different approaches to difficult clients, organization and tracking of projects, and interpersonal communication techniques. Oh yeah, and if you are a PMP, you can subscribe and use this podcast as your PDUs. You can find more about this podcast here.

3 Clockwise by Relay FM. Four people, four topics, and never more than 30-minutes…because they’re always watching the clock. This is my favorite tech oriented podcast. Period. The hosts, Mikah Sergeant and Dan Moren, are engaging, personable, and a joy to listen to on a regular basis. The guests contribute to the quick-fire conversation, contributing one topic a piece, and responding to the other presented topics. I like to listen to them while walking during lunch or while driving home from the office. You can find out more about this podcast here.

4 Critical Hit: A Dungeons and Dragons and Dragons Campaign by Major Spoilers Entertainment. This is the podcast that started it all for me and has become my weekend treat. This is a fun group of people playing DnD. The podcast has been going for 6 years (if I recall correctly) and is on episode #485 (75% of which has been centered around the development and adventures of a specific DnD campaign). To mix things up, the group does play other tabletop role-playing games, but it’s primarily been DnD. Such an entertaining group of people with laughs, learning, and plenty of pop-culture references (thanks Matthew!). You can learn more about this podcast here.

There you go, years worth of learning and entertainment at your fingertips (or ears, not sure if that works in this case). I recommend everyone take some time to listen to them all and make your own judgments (no, this is not a paid endorsement post, just my honest opinions). Happy listening!

Do you listen to podcasts? What are your favorites? Share to your heart’s content in the comments!

It’s been a while..

I am living the stereotype of a blogger right now. Sitting in a quiet, local coffee shop with my computer taking up half the table while sipping on sun brewed iced tea is the picture of a millennial blogger in my mind. Glancing about to see well-oiled beards and mustaches, couples whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears, and groups of seniors enjoying a midday coffee and water. Is this the college experience I missed out on? or simply the feeling of freedom my daily grind doesn’t typically afford me? Who knows, but I should make a point to be the stereotype more often because this is the quietest and calmest I have felt in quite some time.

So, what’s been going on? Why the long delay between posts? I could make up some excuse (it’s not like any of you could fact check me) about how life is overwhelming and work is crazy and the kid broke his leg (to be clear, I don’t have any kids), but, instead, let’s try a little honesty in this online world of fake news. Are you ready? Here it is:

I’ve been too lazy, distracted, and/or not focused enough to put together a coherent blog the past couple of weeks.

There it is. Simple and straightforward. No fluff or extended reasoning behind it, just simple truth.

However (you knew something was coming), I have noticed an uptick in productivity while at work throughout the week which isn’t related to not pushing out a blog post, but is interesting. I work at a tech startup in sunny (and hot) Albuquerque New Mexico. The short description of the primary product is: a patient engagement platform that utilizes secure messaging, surveillance, and automation to get patients prepared for or recovered from an acute medical event (think surgery). My role is effectively relationship/project manager which means I work directly with hospital staff to implement our product within their team and improve their human processes to accommodate/embrace our product. On a daily basis, I am good at my job, but there are days when I do not have the motivation or focus to push through a list of tasks. This has not been the case recently.

I have done two big things in the past couple of weeks that could be positively impacting my work productivity. The first is remaining hydrated. I am not a fan of water. It is plain and boring. Other than when I am obviously dehydrated, water just isn’t my drink of choice. I prefer sugary, sweet sodas, coffees, and teas over water. But, drinking upwards of 100 ounces of water a day (just under a gallon) led to a couple of positive effects:

  1. I found myself in the restroom a lot more frequently – obviously.
  2. I haven’t been suffering from the mid-afternoon lull that usually knocks me down.
  3. It’s been easier to wake up in the morning (as early as 5:00 AM).
  4. I feel better overall

I highly recommend that everyone try drinking more water and less soda, coffee, and tea to see how it positively impacts your life.

The other thing I have been doing is scheduling all of my time. Now, this can cause some people stress and be a negative thing to do. I have found it pushes me to fill my time with productive activities instead of making it up as I go. Going into a day without a plan leads me to binge watch television, sleep, or generally lounge about for longer periods of time than I should. My productivity is linked to what I know I need to do within a single day; anything above and beyond what I need to do is simply icing on the cake.

Time block your day on your Google Calendar or iCal and see what happens.

Now that I have broken my 2-week drought for blog posts, I am going to sip my iced tea, chat with The Husband, and enjoy my Sunday afternoon – I hope all of you do the same!

What leads you not to accomplish your goals? How do you increase your productivity? What methods have you found to stay motivated? Let us all know by leaving a comment! Also, don’t forget to follow this blog!