June was a tough month! I don't know, the ongoing pandemic, the immense amount of accumulated work that suddenly appeared on my plate, Black Lives Matter protests... I just needed some comfort reading, so that's when I turn to steampunk and sci-fi romances.
Heart of Steel (Iron Seas, #2) by Meljean Brook : Steampunk alternate Victorian era in a world with dirigibles, nanoagents, mechanical flesh, zombies. I think I still like the first book better. However, this one has a strong lead female character who is an experienced badass captain of an Airship. Yasmeen, captain of Lady Corsair, and Archimedes Fox, adventurer, go out on a journey to search for a treasured sketch from Leonardo da Vinci. There is also revenge but that wasn't too clear to me. Good fighting sequences with zombies, but in the end, I didn't get who/what they were fighting against really.
Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal : The premise here is: we are also responsible for being addicted to technology so the author discusses some tactics to make us less prone to use it mindlessly. But, I don't think it is for everyone. There are some drastic measures that I think might work for some. I didn't like it as much as I thought I would.
Polaris Rising (Consortium Rebellion, #1) by Jessie Mihalik: I enjoyed this space-opera! Lots of adventures: boarding ships, cracking security codes and locks, dealing with smugglers, discussing ship layouts, sending encrypted messages and blending in a crowded port to avoid being recognized. The two main characters, Lady Ada and Loch, were equally strong and I liked that they were both highly skilled at their areas of expertise. And rescues! It happens a lot and for the most part the rescuing is done by Lady Ada (as opposed to the male hero always rescuing the damsel in distress). It had that old Star Wars feel but without aliens. Fun!
I've been following the GTD (Getting Things Done) method to organize my life since 2013. GTD is a method of organization and personal productivity created by David Allen (this is the book). The main objective is to “empty our minds” and have a trusted system to store and manage our actions, projects, events, goals, objectives and even life purpose.
I've just spent around year in the following cycle: trying Nirvana, loving it, using it for a while, then looking at other productivity apps, switching to Trello then Todoist, moving back and forth, then deciding I would stick with Nirvana.
Nirvana is a cloud-based task manager that can be accessed online on any platform and has Windows, iOS and Android apps as well. There is a basic version with some limitations (like the number of projects), a complete Pro version or a Lifetime subscription (you can check their pricing here). Disclaimer: I'm not affiliated with the company in any way. It's just an app that I love!
Nirvana is made by a small independent team in Canada. So don't expect constant updates. The team is very deliberate on improvements and that makes the app extremely reliable. It brings together he GTD concepts beautifully. The developers attended the GTD Summit in 2019.
This was a hard month for reading. Distraction was with me all the time! It was one of the few months that I didn't enjoy my readings that much. The highlight was “Broken Angels” by Richard Morgan, always a good sci-fi!
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell, 240p: Maybe too philosophical to my taste. Although the title book starts with “How to…” it's not really a manual. It's more like an exposition of the author's memories and her musings about art. Art like a critic of the status quo. There is a lot of talk about art. It was not my cup of tea.
Broken Angels (Takeshi Kovacs, #2) by Richard K. Morgan , 480p: I thought this book had a totally different tone than the first one. It totally feels like military sci-fi. The pace is kinda slow until half of the book and then it's action-packed till the end. There is a lot of worldbuilding when Takeshi remembers his childhood and the wars he has fought in. There is an interesting group of characters that are put together to fulfill a mission. Alien ruins, old artifacts, soldiers, war, archeology, mental illness.
The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months by Brian P. Moran, Michael Lennington, 208p: I get the concept: treat 12 weeks (3 months) like it's your year. That way it forces you to set up achievable goals and don't lose track of them. It makes sense. It brings a systematic way to define vision, goals, projects, plan each week and evaluate progress using a scoring system. I think it works for some people, but for me, at the moment, it felt like too much pressure on myself. The basic concepts of having a productivity system are all there: goals, time blocking, weekly reviews. So, it's not unlike other systems, like GTD, for example. But there is this added urgency because of the 12 weeks time frame. Not sure it would work for me.
I wish I had read more this month! I think the COVID-19 pandemic has changed my reading habits. I've been way too much news articles and updates about. Ugh!
Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, 288p – A fun book about productivity techniques. It has lots of nice ideas on how to focus and achieve goals. One of the main messages is to choose the highlight of the day. It is valuable advice because the highlight can be something as ambitious as “finish that final report” or as simple as “enjoy a cup of tea after work”. It has lots of ideas to experiment with our habits and routines, not all of them will work for everybody. It is a lighthearted book about productivity with no pressure on being highly productive all the time. It's more about doing what we enjoy :)
The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz, 352p – Time travel, feminism, 90's riot grrl punk rock scene, murder, abortion rights, geology, wormholes. Yes, all this together to form an exciting story of people wanting to make the world a better place. Lots of imagination and interesting historic facts that creates various alternate histories realities. A great read with lots of historical references related to the 1800's social movements! I had to stop and do some Wikipedia research here and there. Fascinating!
I liked XMind the most. It’s not web-based but I loved the clean and minimalist space and the fact that I can brainstorm using the keyboard 99% of the time, no extra mouse clicking needed. I also tested Mindmeister, which is all on the web but it felt clunkier to add nodes and do everything using the keyboard. I want a mind mapping software to be easier to brainstorm than if I was doing it by hand (or as close as possible).
XMind seems to be the one for me. Super easy, simple, clean interface. But, again, it’s a desktop app, which lately has not been a disadvantage for me.
I have been noticing that I don’t like to use the web for everything. It’s distracting!
The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley, 369p: A different flavor of time travel in a military sci-fi setting. I liked the way the author doesn't emphasize gender differences, the characters are people and you can tell their gender when there is mention of a pronoun.
Swordheart by T. Kingfisher, 419p: A fantasy of a fantasy. A man that lives in a sword and protects the wielder of the sword. So it's kinda like the talking sword fantasy meeting the genie in the bottle. As I said, lots of fantasy! Oh, and romance.
As an introvert, I'm enjoying this “work from home” policy.
It's an opportunity to use introspection and slow down a bit. Look around. Reflect on where we want to be next as inhabitants of this planet. Focus on taking care of ourselves and our loved. Remembering that we are all in this together.
“Deactivating Facebook freed up 60 minutes per day for the average person in our Treatment group.”
I deactivated my Facebook account last year and I don't miss it. Not having the urge to open Facebook and get lost in its endless timeline and roller-coaster of “likes” gave me more time and mental space. Time to read more books, time to reflect on what I read, time to meditate, time to do Yoga, time to do... nothing.
After doing this little experiment myself I'm sure social media, as it is available today, really hijacks our minds and changes our behaviours. It creates a weird feedback loop in which we click, click, click, get small amounts of dopamine due to its intermittent novelty and the return of our time investment is not proportional to the effort.
After I stayed away from social media for a while I realized I don't enjoy snippets of information anymore. And by that I mean: I deactivated Facebook, I drastically reduced the number of accounts I follow on Twitter and I deleted my accounts on Instagram and Pinterest. So even the short science/educational videos on You Tube started to annoy me. I prefer now to watch a full length documentary about a topic instead of watching 4-5 short videos about cool and interesting science facts.
I'm changing the way I consume content. It takes time because all around us everybody is still on this fast-paced mode of paying attention to quick snippets of information. And the way this information is presented to us is addictive. That's why I'm changing.
This month was all about The Witcher books. I will definitely go through all the books in the series because: 1) I love the characters; 2) I like the writing style and 3) It's classic D&D with a twist.
Baptism of Fire (The Witcher, #3) by Andrzej Sapkowski, 378p: This book has that vibe of a good old Dungeons and Dragons adventure. It has the best group of characters travelling together: Milva (a hunter and bad-ass archer), Dandelion (the curious and talented bard), Regis (a weird druid), Zoltan Chivay and his group (a resourceful dwarf who is leading other dwarves and gnome) and Cahir from Nilfgaard (although he says he isn't). It was exciting, it had some gore, violence, but also friendship and happy moments.