When the pandemic hit this spring, I all of a sudden found myself in a very different position than normal: for the first time in pretty much ever, I had no set schedule. At that point, we hadn’t created a fixed online school schedule. With an entire work day at my disposal, but no clear structure, I found that my productivity went down the drain, and I could not focus worth a diddle.
What did I do?
I found books on productivity, of course 🙂 (and talked with wise people, also)
Now, unlike some types of readers, I’m usually not one to find every book there is on one particular subject and gobble it down. This time was different, though. The topic of the wise use of technology and time management was one that was highly relevant and interesting to me given my circumstances.
I didn’t start out planning to read all of these books, though a few were already on my TBR list. I also read these over the course of several months, not right in a row. But one of them led to another, and here we are:
5 Books on a Purposeful Approach to Technology, Productivity, and Relationships
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
- Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
- Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung Kim-Pang
- The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
- Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle
Here are a few highlights from each book, along with their focus:
Deep Work – how to train your brain and order your schedule so that you can have solid chunks of time for true, creative productivity. Rather than waiting for inspiration to strike, we must do the hard work of creating consistent conditions for “deep work” to happen. There are specific mentions of how to manage technology such as email and social media distractions, and other tips, like batching similar tasks, for helping yourself be as productive as possible.
Digital Minimalism – Newport makes a case for choosing the fewest possible apps/websites to use, all with a specific purpose and with a specific time in mind. That way, we avoid feeding into the goal of tech companies to capture our attention for as long as possible. The author himself has never had Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. or other social media devices. Some critics have scoffed, saying “How could he have things worth hearing about this stuff if he’s never used them?” He proposes that he has a unique perspective, having never been sucked into the vortex of social media dopamine hits. I took his advice and turned off all notifications from apps, unless they are direct messages from people, and I am so glad I did. Sometimes, I’ll even go a day without notifications from Messenger, WhatsApp, or texts and it’s delightful.
Rest – This one had similar ideas to Deep Work, so if you’re short on time, just pick one of them to read. However, it was fun for me to hear some of the same ideas I’d heard in Newport’s book, since it meant I was getting familiar with a portion of the well-known research on this topic. This book, however, focuses more on how important are all kinds of rest to helping us be our most productive, creative selves. I especially loved the idea of how, often, our brains need to work on a problem, take a break, and then come back to the problem with a new insight. I’ve found that to be true in my life, so it was neat to hear it backed up by others’ experiences, too.
The Power of Habit – This book isn’t specifically on technology, but it does involve productivity and how to manage life in general. It explains the science behind habit, and why habits can be so valuable or destructive in our lives. We’ve all heard that it “takes 30 days to form a new habit” – but we’re not always successful in doing so. Duhigg explains why. The appendix was actually one of the most helpful parts of the book, since it actually gives readers a process to follow for breaking unwanted habits and forming new habits. Make sure you read it too!
Reclaiming Conversation – as I mentioned in my November recent reads post, I wish every person was required to read this before owning/using a smartphone. Ms. Turkle has years of research and data to support her findings and she has so many insightful things to say about all kinds of relationships in life and how our phone/app usage affects relationships and society at large. It was sobering, but had a hopeful note as well. It’s organized into sections that deal with different kinds of relationships: our relationship to ourselves (the ability to experience quiet and solitude), our family relationships (parents and kids), romantic relationships, society relationships, and finally our relationship to AI technology. Highly relevant and profound. Though it is a fairly long read, I encourage you to take the time to read it.
BONUS: Have you watched The Social Dilemma documentary on Netflix? I just watched it today, and I found many parallels between these books and the information I heard on the documentary. It’s a sobering but necessary message.
Have you read other books on productivity, technology, and relationships?
I know I haven’t read them all, and I’m curious to hear what others have read and been able to put to good use.