books · english · idea · review

Deep Work [Book Review]

I should say that this book is my gem in 2018. I read this book in early 2018, tried to practice some of the rules, and re-read again this one. So, I really think I should try to summarize this book for myself.

Before 2018, I found myself so difficult to focus on a task for a long time (throughout 30 minutes, I check my phone or wandering the internet while trying to finish a task).  Even, finishing a book took me a lot of effort. Sounds familiar? A lot of people suffer from this condition in this digital and high-connectivity era: a new kind of attention-deficit-disorder. Or in another word: “craving for distraction”. It’s scary, isn’t it?

Despite being a computer scientist and professor, Cal Newport is extremely against the digital world and high-connectivity. In this book, he campaigns the term and rules of ‘Deep Work’. This deep work has helped him to be a high achiever in his professional life, without sacrificing his personal and family life.

As he explains: High-quality work produced = (time spent) x (intensity of focus). Majority of us will do overtime to produce a good result for our work (although a lot of people do overtime just for the sake of ‘fake productivity’). Newport campaigns that we should increase our ‘intensity of focus’ instead of time spent to produce the same result.

He divides this book into 2 parts:. In part I, he explains WHY we need to practice deep work. He convinces (and bought me!) that deep work is valuable, rare, and meaningful to balance our professional and personal lives. In part II, he explicates HOW we could start practicing deep work. Some of the ‘rules’ are quite extreme, but he explains a good reason behind it.

Here are the rules of deep work:

#1 Work Deeply.  Move beyond good intentions to do a deep work. Routine and rituals are helpful to minimize the amount of our limited willpower! Example of some things that need to be decided before doing a deep work: where you’ll work and for how long; how you’ll work once you start to work; how you’ll support your work (coffee? light exercise? aromatherapy?).

Another important thing in mind is to shut down ourselves after work! This is important to recharge energy for the next workday. Moreover, we don’t have full energy after work, so the work we do in the evening is much less valuable.

#2 Embrace Boredom. Don’t take breaks from distraction, take breaks from focus! It is just natural now that we take a glance on our phones anywhere anytime: in the toilet, inside the subway/tram to our work, when finishing an important deadline. This is what Cal calls as ‘craving for distraction’. Embrace boredom to heal ourselves from such nasty craving. We could try several strategies, such as scheduling internet time (ikr, this is sooo difficult! But, let’s try together!). Another strategy is to meditate productively, e.g. take a walk, shower, on a tram/bus, anything that gives you time without the necessity to think . Use this time to think something important about your work/goal. Plan what to think ahead so you don’t just daydreaming.

#3 Quit Social Media.  “Willpower is limited, and therefore the more enticing tools you have pulling at your attention, the harder it’ll be to maintain focus on something important.” (page 182).

Don’t use the internet to entertain ourselves! Use time outside of work as time meaningful for us: cuddling with fams, doing hobbies, put more thought into your leisure time! Choose some activities we would like to enjoy for the rest of our day outside work hours (this time is as important as work hours!). Cal suggests us to choose structured hobbies that will generate specific goals to fill our time.

#4 Drain the shallows. The ultimate advice from Cal is that we should try to classify a shallow vs a deep task. This would help us tremendously to focus on the few things that are most important to us. Some of his tips are:

  • quantify the depth of every activity, this will help us to prioritize tasks
  • schedule every minute of your day
  • finish your work by five-thirty! This creates the sense of urgency and discipline ourselves to drain the shallows!
  • Become hard to reach. Not every message comes to our e-mail or IM apps need to be replied.


This book helps me to read books again (28 books so far in 2018), write some papers, and enjoy boredom more (as a housewive). But, I admit that I still couldn’t totally drain the shallow social media in my life :)). Let’s see how far I could practice this deep work during thebook more challenging year of 2019!

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books · review

Factfulness [Book Review]

“This world is getting worse and worse. We should live like we were in the past. Where we live side by side with nature. When everything is so peaceful without nuclear power, terrorist threats, or climate change,” that’s how a lot of people thinking about the world nowadays. Even me, I love to imagine ‘the good old days’ of my childhood. But, is it true that our world getting worse?

Hans Rosling is a professor in global health who campaigns the importance of data in viewing our world. He worked hard with his son and daughter-in-law to collect data from the UN, WHO, World Bank, etc to decipher whether this world is getting worse or better. And yes, our world nowadays is not getting worse! Often, it is just us fail to see the fact, don’t know where to look the fact, or just simply ignore it.

In this book, Rosling explains ’10 instincts’ that ‘blind’ us about the fact of our world. For instance, the negativity instincts. Why all the headlines in the newspaper are about something bad? Corruption? Global warming? Terrorist attack? Airplane crash? On the good side, these news control and correct our society. On the other side, they give us a vivid illusion that this world is getting worse and worse. And yes, we all realize that bad news is good ‘news’. As Rosling writes: ‘gradual improvement is not news’. However, facts say that our world today is getting better from various aspects. Life expectancy increases across the world, middle-income societies is increasing (I really feel this phenomenon in Indonesia), less than 10% of the global population live in extreme poverty in 2017 (compared to 70% in 1900), etc. So, it’s time to pack up our negativity instinct; see the brightness and opportunity of today’s world.

Another instinct that attracts me is ‘the fear instinct‘. This is closely related with the negativity instinct. Combine the negativity instinct with a dramatic situation, we will get the fear instinct where we often take a sloppy decision. This fear has made people are more afraid to terrorist attack than their own beer (in the US, alcohol contributes to 69000 deaths/year and terrorist attack 159/year, see in page 121). We shouldn’t conclude that we don’t need that anti-terrorist defense strategy, but we should always remind ourselves that the fear instinct exists, and we should always try to look over this kind of instinct by looking for any data we could get.

There are still many facts revealed by Hans Rosling et al. In addition, they also compile their data into beautiful graphics in gapminder.org. I’ve just tried to play with some graphic there and it was interesting!

 

Overall, I would like to recommend everyone to take a look on this book!

books

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind [Book Review]

23692271This book has sat on my bookshelf for about 2 years. Bought when I was in Japan, I blame my ‘research busyness’ not to finish this book. Two years later, I regret that I didn’t finish this earlier. This book is GREAT!

Harari tells us how us, Homo sapiens, end up being the ‘king’ of the world. Apart from my religious perspective, I enjoy his arguments and data presented in this book. He divides the advancement of Sapiens in several revolutions: cognitive, agriculture, scientific, industrial, and ‘permanent’ revolutions.

For me, the scientific and ‘permanent’ revolutions are the best parts of this book. Harari explicates the close relationship between science, capital, and power; which is quite mindblowing for me. Another interesting analysis from him is on how the European ‘dominate’ our world today. He argues that this is because of European’s curiosity on 15-18 centuries that they traveled and explored (and later conquered) other continents. Had China, or Ottoman, or India ‘open’ their eyes and ignorance of the world, they would be the one who dominates the world today. It is interesting for me to know that in 18-century, Asian empires dominated the world economy. In the last part of his book, Harari argues that permanent revolution has changed the way we see family, community, and humankind. State and market are modern people’s parents. And, what is human? What does it mean being a human? With all rapid advancement in technology, it would be more complex to define our humanity in the future.

Here are some interesting notes I take from this book:

  • Biology shapes our history. Harari writes: “Biology sets the basic parameters for the behavior and capacities of Homo sapiens. History takes place within the bounds of this biological arena.”
  • The agricultural revolution was a trap. After the agricultural revolution, there was no chance of human ‘live peacefully’ with nature. Human have mastered our world by sacrificing other organisms (plants, animals)
  • An overview history of money and credit, how credit transforms our society, for worse and better.
  • The characteristics of modern science: (i) the willingness to admit ignorance, (ii) the centrality of observation and mathematics, (iii) the acquisition of new powers.
  • Surviving large wild animals are <10% in today’s world (in mass)!

Finally, this piece is a really worthy food for thought for anyone!

books · english · review

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

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I nodded many times when I read this book, as this book is a kind of self-affirmation reading for me (and my husband). Both of us are introverts, but often take the opposite sides of introversion. As Susan Cain writes, there are a lot of sides of introversion, in which different people may have some but not the other traits.

It’s interesting how Susan explains how ‘the culture of personality’ takes over human interaction in the 20th century, where people are expected not only to sell product or service, but also ‘themselves’. “We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal – the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.” (page 4).

Here are several notes I take from this book:

  1. the excessive collaboration and open-office systems happening right now are not always the better ways to improve creativity and achieve goals.
  2. both introvert and extrovert leaders can produce the same effective results, if only they recognize the character of their teams.
  3. the ‘rubber band theory’ and ‘free trait theory’: we are elastic and can stretch our personality, but only until a certain point. A lot of introverts act as pseudo-extroverts if they think it will beneficial for things that matter to them (their job, people they love, etc.). But still, they need their solitude to calm their mind at the end of the day.
  4. several cases on how to deal with extrovert-introvert conflict, as well as how to nurture the potency of our introvert children.

Susan also argues about the correlation of genetic make-up (short allele of SERT gene) with high-reactivity and introvert people. However, I think it’s still a very early conclusion as there is no research paper directly prove the correlation of SERT and introvertness. We still need more effort to prove the biological correlation between genetic make-up and human traits (if any).

Reading this book makes me realize some reasons underlying my actions. After an intense and happy vacation with family or friends, I need a day or two to ‘take a breath’. My husband and I find that the maximum time we should go out in a week is three (attending events, dinner or lunch with our friend). In addition to the conversation during dinner time, our quality time is when we lay beside each other, he watches some youtube videos (about game strategy, or news, or cute kitten) while I read a good book. We enjoy our solitudes! Lucky me that we understand each other the importance of this kind of solitude 🙂

books

Option B [Book Review]

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Sheryl Sandberg might be a role model for a lot of so-called modern women: smart, owns a good career and portfolio, beautiful, and a very good writer (the last one is my impression after reading her book). She also has a great family until a tragedy happened, the sudden death of her husband. In this book, Sandberg writes about how she deals with hardships after that tragedy. This book is also co-written by Adam Grant, who provides various psychology theories and experiments that are relevant to Sandberg’s effort to build her resilience.

While I don’t suffer from any tragedy in my life recently, I think this book provides several interesting lines that apply to our daily lives. We all need “option B” to deal with a lot of daily problems and enjoy our lives. Here are some of my notes:

  • The amount of our resilience isn’t fixed, so we need to put effort on how to become resilient. Resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity, and we can build it. (page 10)
  • 3 P’s theory from Martin Seligman: personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence. We could speed up our recovery from any hardships by: (1) realize that not all bad things happened are our faults (intrinsic factor), but are also affected by external factors; (2) our hardships will not affect our entire aspect of life, and will not last forever. (page 16)
  • We often avoid painful conversation with people who suffer from hardships (serious illness, family’s death, etc.), sometimes we even avoid to talk to those people since we don’t know what to ask and we don’t want to hurt those people by asking some ‘dumb’ questions. Actually, we need to talk to them. It’s more hurtful to suffer from cancer and everyone around you avoid talking about cancer. Sanberg elaborates this topic in the chapter “kicking the elephant out of the room”, and I really like this topic as I found myself as the one who often avoided difficult conversation :(. “Instead of making assumptions about whether or not someone wants to talk, it’s best to offer an opening and see if they take it.” (page 40)
  • When people are in pain, they need a “button” (page 47). A button here is an emergency moral support they can rely on, which surprisingly could improve people’s resilience even though they don’t really use this emergency button. Just thinking about this kind of button makes people more assured and secure.
  • Labeling negative emotions makes them easier to deal with (page 63). Keeping a journal or record ourselves could be ways to shed our emotions.
  • A traumatic experience could trigger post-traumatic growth in 5 different forms: finding personal strength, gaining appreciation, forming deeper relationship, discovering more meaning in life, and seeing new possibilities (page 79).
  • When we look for joy, we often focus on the big moments (graduating from school, having a child, getting a job, etc.). But happiness is the frequency of positive experiences, not the intensity. How we spend our days is how we spend our lives. Rather than waiting until we’re happy to enjoy small things, we should go and do the small things that make us happy (page 100). These are my favorite self-reminder lines!

Before reading this book, I saw mix reviews in Goodreads and Amazon about this book. A lot of readers point Sandberg’s advice would not work for a majority of people without any privilege as Sanberg has. But, I found that this book contents could be applied generally to any situation other than losing someone. One of my friends also says: “The right time to read a self-help book (like this one) is before the real tragedy happens, to prepare ourselves. Because, once a tragedy happens, it’s natural that we couldn’t think clearly to digest any book.” Well, I couldn’t agree more.

books

Back to my (not-so) old love: books

 

 

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Every time I have a chance to write down my hobbies, reading is always at the top of the list. I used to be an avid reader. Bookstore and library are my favorite places in the world. Have you ever felt a calming feeling steps in your heart whenever you see rows of bookshelves or piles of books? That happens to me.

But, I almost forgot my love to books in the past 3-4 years. I used my ‘busy’ life as an excuse to run away from real books. Honestly, I felt it was difficult and focus to read an entire book. I got bored after some pages of reading. This was so strange as when I was a child until teenage, I used to read hundred of pages a night (for some books!).

But, from the beginning of this year until June, finally I made a quiet great achievement for myself: found my way back to reading books. Hurray!

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I found my love back to books. Honestly, I push myself to enjoy reading book again. There’re 2 reasons that drive me to read: a cool library near my house and my effort to stay away from screens. Early on this year, I did a small literature research about how screens, internet, and technology affect our brain. The result blew my mind (I might write about that in this blog later). Further, I read “Deep Work” by Cal Newport, who campaigns the importance of build a healthy relationship between technology and ourselves. Hence, I need to find a way to stay away from screens, and book is still the best option for me (I tried several handcrafts, turns out it did not work well 😦 ).

As I am such a forgetful person, I also try to review and write some key points of the books I read here. So, welcome back my love 🙂

 

books · review

Letters to a Young Muslim [Book Review]

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This is an interesting book written by the former ambassador of UEA to Russia, Omar Saif Ghobash, as collection of letters to his son. Ghobash himself owns a strong background story to invite his son (and other young muslims) to reflect how we should practice Islamic value in this modern world. Ghobash’s father was shooted by another muslim when Ghobash was a child. Furthermore, Ghobash’s mother is a Russian, which introduce him as well to culture other than only arabic muslim.

In most parts of his book, he suggests us to think any Islamic rule and value not only in ‘black vs white’ sides. There’re a lot of aspects on this life, especially in this modern day, and a lot of those aspects lays on grey areas. There’re several arguments and narrations from Ghobash that trigger me to think more about myself as a Muslim, such as:

  • There was no reason to hate anyone. There is no reason to react to the world around you with hatred. You have to understand that someone has made the choice for you when they say you have to hate. The choice is yours and the only way you can make the world a better place is by doing the opposite of hating. It is by loving.” (page 3). He writes these sentences to counter the hatred idealism and action by some of the so-called radical muslim.
  • “What is the essence of Islam? What is it that distinguishes Islam? What is it that makes you a Muslim or something else?” (page 29)
  • Islamic interpretations coming out of the Arabian peninsula are dry and relatively harsh, a reflection of perhaps of the desert environment. Life in the desert was tough and literally a place of black and white.” (page 39). This passage explain a bit why Islam that can be found in Indonesia is on the more moderate side, just my two cents.
  • “What I am saying to you is that you need to make sure that you understand that those with plausible authority (i.e. clergy) are also human beings like you and me. They are human beiings, who can and will be distracted by the traditional human temptations of power, money, and sex.” (page 71). I found this is ridiculous, but to certain extent is exactly a reality.
  • “Rather than thinking in black and white, we should think with all the colors of the rainbow (muslim diversity) and see Islam as a moreally ad ethically rich faith. The blac-an-white approach is one that sets Muslims in conflict with one another neddlessly and robs us all of our humanity.” (page 76)
  • “It is not enough to chant in public that Islam is not violent or radical or angry – that Islam is a religion of peace. We need to take responsibility for the Islam of peace. We need to demonstrate how it is expressed in our lives and the lives of those in our community.” (page 103)
  • Being an outsider is humbling. It makes you realize the humanity of all outsiders. It is often the outsider who has the most interesting view of what life is and can become.” (page 110)
  • “If you want to be a true to your Muslim heritage, then you need to explore its history properly.” (page 147). Furthermore, Ghobash pushes us to find a role model in Islam, aside from ‘warrior or jihadist’ role models. Why don’t we make Avicenna or Al-Khawarizmi as our role models, with their achievements in science and medicine?

Honestly, I enjoy this kind of book and I like the way Ghobash writes this book. His writing flows smoothly, especially as he writes this book as a series of personal letters. He asks the readers to think, instead of pushes his arguments. However, I feel like I need other complementary books about Islamic value in our modern life. Please kindly tell me you have any recommendation 🙂