Professional/Personal Development (gross) Books that are Great for 2016

Hello all, I’m back at it with a few more book recommendations. This post is dedicated to that necessary evil we all love to hate—Professional/Personal Development.

I’ve written on the subject of self-help books before, though “Personal/Professional Development” sounds a little sexier, if not creepily hormonal.  Wouldn’t you know, there’s a brand new batch of great books for 2016 just waiting to be devoured. I’ve always been open to various genres (turning my nose up will likely result in me walking into something). So I’ve tried it all—from trashy romance novels to horribly angsty YALit to some really dry, difficult classics, and they’ve all taught me something valuable.

The thing about Personal and Professional Development books is they aren’t sly about their teaching—there’s basically a big ol’ neon sign flashing “this is going to teach you something” above each work. In our fast-paced society, it’s easy to feel bogged down, unmotivated, and overwhelmed, especially when you evaluate your career and life and come up wanting.

The thing is, everyone is a work in progress. Everyone could use a little extra boost. 

I’ve always been kind of obsessed with the topic of improvement. My shelves are lined with notebooks filled to the brim with neatly scripted to-do lists and goals and inspirational phrases painstakingly transposed from Google (is that endearing or just sad?). I’m a big believer in setting attainable goals and working my arse off until I can contentedly slide my pen across one less item on my ever-changing life list. No matter if you’re a CEO of a major corporation, a stay-at-home mama with a brood of lovely rascals, or a fresh-faced college grad with a little too much pluck, these books can help you and your  career develop (yuck).

1.) I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of their Time

Laura Vanderkam

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I enjoyed this book so much I read it twice. Seriously, I did. Though I will say this book isn’t exactly the most beautifully crafted—Vanderkam’s turn of phrase won’t make you sigh with metaphysical understanding or laugh out loud. However, her advice is practical and her approach is pragmatic, and I love the book’s underlying theme. In the book she interviews hundreds of “mosaic women,” females who have young children but also have a career that earns them over 100K.  She simply asks these women how they manage their time without delving into the archaic, dried-up “how does she do it all” narrative. She discusses practical ways women can truly engage with family and grow their career while not falling prey to the harried, scary business mommy trope. She reminds us that we actually have 168 hours a week, and those hours can be spent catering to a hectic job, raising a loving child, engaging in meaningful connection with a spouse, and facilitating truly beneficial “me time.” She writes:

You don’t build the life you want by saving time. You build the life you want, and then time saves itself. Recognizing that is what makes success possible.

and this little gem…

In life, you can be unhappy, or you can change things. And even if there are things you can’t change, you can often change your mind-set and question assumptions that are making life less good than it could be.

She also takes on the narrative we tell ourselves about how “busy” we are. In society business is a status symbol in the same way a lack of sleep seems to represent a life well-lived (more so, at least, than someone who happily clocks 7-8 hours a night). Vanderkam takes these assumptions to task and upends them, asserting that it’s okay to have leisure time and to be well-rested.

2.) The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

Marie Kondo

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Okay people get ready to have your world rocked. I understand that this book is very “in” right now. It’s very “buzzy.” It’s all the “rage.”

Unnecessary quotations are wonderfully awful.

Marie Kondo is a self-proclaimed tidier who has spent her whole life looking for efficient ways to store, manage, and enjoy her belongings. It’s kind of impossible to continue living in clutter after reading her engaging work. Yes, my purse is still a madhouse of fools and my car is kind of an embarrassment to the human race, but my cabinets…my cabinets are truly lovely. The same can be said for the majority of my house, although my closet tends to build up with clothes and puppy toys faster than you can say clutter. However, Kondo’s two-point approach to getting rid of stuff and filling your space with things that truly bring you joy is really compelling.

In a review of the book an author sums up her approach quite nicely:

First, put your hands on everything you own, ask yourself if it sparks joy, and if it doesn’t, thank it for its service and get rid of it. Second, once only your most joy-giving belongings remain, put every item in a place where it’s visible, accessible, and easy to grab and then put back. Only then, Kondo says, will you have reached the nirvana of housekeeping, and never have to clean again.

When she says put your hands on everything, Kondo means everything. And she means do it all in “one sitting,” or a cohesive space of time, not spread erratically over a year or a few months. She divides up your tidying into different categories based on their degree of difficulty, with the last category, personal memorabilia, allowing you to put off throwing away your love letters and kindergarten poems until the end. Kondo’s method comes from a worthy place—according to her, your home should only contain the things that bring you contentment and joy.

I will say that her section on books was hard for me—she requires you get rid of books that no longer bring you joy. I must confess I didn’t go through my books as I should have because it is so hard for me to give away books. One day I may need them! Or worse, someone else may randomly need my extra copy of Southern Women Writers and I will be able to fill that void. I know I have a problem and I’m working through it, but I digress.

Kondo asserts that the things you don’t absolutely love are taking up the space that the more joy-bringing items could occupy.  She encourages people to toss or donate these misfit items. Donate and toss I did. By the end of my tidying I had 6 garbage bags filled with stuff I no longer needed. And as Kondo promised, I felt a lightness I could only describe as declutter detox.  The feeling was so strong, I told about 7 of my friends they absolutely had to read the book so we could talk about it at length.

The Life Changing Magic, is much more than a cleaning book. It’s a book about taking stock. It’s a book about assessing the life you have and how it measures up to the life you want, and adjusting accordingly.

So there you have it. Two books to fill up your brain and your Kindle, that will also help you professionally and personally. Happy reading!

 

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3 Ways to Say L8r Dayz to Writer’s Block or How to Become More Productive

Well ‘ello loves, glad to be back for more ginger shenanigans. Today I’m going to talk about something we’ve all experienced at some point in our lives, and it’s not that dream where we look down and realize we’re pantless, though…that happens.

I’m talking about the demon, the worst person at the party, the drunk uncle (thank you SNL). Yep, all of those unrelated people point to one very annoying phenomenon: writer’s block.

The thing is, you don’t have to be a writer to have writer’s block. I would even argue that many who loathe writing, hate writing because they have no blooming idea what to write. Writer’s block, or the more inclusive “productivity block” manifests in daily jobs and responsibilities–reports, assignments, tasks, emails, whatevz. You get an assignment that you’re completely capable of completing, you sit down in front of your laptop with a steaming cup o’ Joe ready to tackle the task into submission, then the next thing you know you’re banging your head on your desk while the sinister curser blinks again and again at you in mockery. This is a dramatization, but you get my drift.

So how do you battle it? How do you take ahold of a task and twist it into what you need it to be? How do you happily slice the pen across that to-do list rather than begrudgingly add another, then another item to it? (If you don’t have a to do list, this is a really good time to start one. Trust. They’ll change you).  Here are 3 ways I combat the evil Sith lord that is writer’s block.

1. Trading Spaces

Srsly people, do you remember this show on TLC? It was my JAM. Two designers were assigned to two different home owners, and the two teams…you guessed it…traded spaces with each other. Each team revamped a drab kitchen or fugly living room while their counterpart in the other house did the same. There was a big reveal and everyone freaked out and lost their minds at how awesome their new digs were. Until they didn’t. There was one episode where someone deisgned a room in the exact replica of a circus tent, and for the first time in my life as a child watching the show, I understood what schadenfreude was. 

I digress.

In order to become more productive, you have to get in a zone of productivity; you need to trade spaces with your unproductive self.  The same place you binge watch 30 Rock with a bag of Cheetos in all likelihood doesn’t house your writing muse.  Sorry.  You brain is trained to recognize spaces for what they are. If you’re cuddled up in your comfy bed wrapped in soft blankets that are just begging you to close your eyes…for…one…second, you’re not going to be able to pound out a chapter of your YA novel or your financial report or that email you absolutely must send. You need to create a zone, a space, that screams productivity.

This place can be a tidy desk, a comfortable (but not too comfortable) chair, a floor, wherever. When I was working on my M.A. thesis there was this one spot on the floor in my spare room I swear had magical powers. I would flop down on the ground not really sure where I was going with my paper, and then like magic, I’d be in the writing zone so deeply that not even a batch of freshly baked cookies could deter me. That’s a lie, but I did accomplish a lot of writing.

I realize if you work in an office you might be worried because your desk is where you both work and shamelessly troll social media or Buzzfeed or cat videos. You’re not alone, child. It’s hard to create a space of serenity and productivity when 10 Ways to Figure out Which Harry Potter Character You’ll Marry is one tantalizing click away (it’s Ron, okay.) This brings me to my next tip…

You, on productivity.

You, on productivity.

2. Pump Up the VAH-uuume (translation: get a mix of sweet, sweet tunes)

If your desk has become a place of Youtube debauchery rather than a laser-focused writing utopia, fear not. Music is a great way to set the mood for basically any situation. I like to think of my life as a crazy, if endearing, movie set to various fabulous songs. That’s how I survive traffic jams or sucky moments. Hey everyone, it’s just a movie! Cue the Hall and Oates!

A playlist is a surprisingly easy and effective way of telling your brain It’s time to work, honey, especially, if your playlist is only played during times of work. Don’t make your writing mix the one your run to, or you’ll find yourself typing entirely too fast and jadjkdja;fdk

Get the picture?

What kind of tunes, you ask? Well that’s entirely up to you! Personally, I like a relaxing playlist because my brain personified is a hamster on a hyperdrive wheel.  Music by The Staves or Fleet Foxes really zens me out and helps me focus. You may need more upbeat songs to power you through that to do list, and that’s great! Whatever it is, make sure you quarantine it to times you need to get. ish. done.

3. Work in Spurts

Spurt is one of the worst words of all time, so I thought I’d incorporate it because I just couldn’t bear the burden of the word alone. You’re welcome.

A few months ago when I was faced with a 45 page thesis paper that required intense, at times, mind-numbing research, I learned real fast that if I didn’t take it in bits, I’d end up in the fetal position in a corner somewhere. It was important for me that I felt like I had accomplished something, but that something didn’t have to be a pristine copy of perfection. That something just had to be a bit.

Some days it was so effing hard to write, to research, to not binge watch The Real Housewives of New York because, y’all, Ramona was losing it and I loved when she lost it! But I told myself to just write for a small section of time. If I absolutely couldn’t do it after the allotted time, then I could settle my buns into the couch and dive into the drama of the Upper East Side as God intended it.

Setting aside 10 or 20 minutes of pure productivity (or if you’re a writer, writing time) is a great way to trick yourself into accomplishing something.  If this seems daunting and you just started Scandal on Netflix, then try for 5.  This is the same logic I used when I began meditating. Except I was pathetic, so I only did it for a minute–60 seconds of silence and mind control. It was hard, but putting a limit on it, telling myself I had to try for 60 seconds and then I could go back to working out the existential meaning of a cronut, actually worked. I’m happy to say I’ve worked up to 10 minutes of sloppy meditation, and if I can train my jittery brain to shut the eff up (for 10 minutes!), then you can complete the task that has been relentlessly mocking you for the last week.

Hopefully these tips help you in your writing and work endeavors.

What are other ways you improve productivity? How do you force yourself to write? What has been the outcome of more writing and productivity? Most importantly, what is your favorite Real Housewives locale?