Book review: Indistractable

Author: Nir Eyal
Subtitle: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life

TLDR; Being indistractable is a superpower of people leaving happy lives according to their own values and beliefs. In his book, Nir Eyal gives everything you need to understand and gain that power to change your own life for the better.

The author

Nir is the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life. He was taught as a Lecturer in Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Design School, and sold two technology companies since 2003.

Nir worked in the video gaming and advertising industries where he learned and applied the techniques used to motivate and manipulate users. He writes to help companies create behaviors that benefit their users while educating people on how to build healthful habits in their own lives.

For whom?

This book is for anybody, who wants to live their own life, aligned with own values and driven by conscious choices.

How to read

Nir was kind enough and gave precise recommendation on this, so I have nothing to add there.

You’re welcome to navigate the four steps to becoming indistractable however you like, but I recommend you proceed in order through parts one to four.

That’s what I did, and have zero regrets. However, if you don’t like to read books in order or prefer learning by examples, Nir covered you as well:

If you’re the kind of person who likes to learn by exmpalpe, and you want to see these tactics in action first, feel free to read parts fine and on, then come back through the first four parts for a deeper explanation.

My impression

I was impressed by the amount of great reviews at the beginning of the book. There are several pages of them, but I was already hooked by reading the first several reviews.

The book is very well-structured and easy to follow. Relatively short chapters allow getting joy from the book step by step. It’s nice that each chapter ends with Remember this section holding the major ideas, so it will be easy to quickly refresh some key points in memory. In addition to that, there is a Chapter Takeaways section at the end of the book for a supersonic look back.

Language used in the book is of high quality, in my opinion, it is very expressive and precise. I’m not a native speaker and had to use a translator from time to time to get more accurate meaning of some words, which is good for me as I learned some new words phrases.

I liked a lot the model of traction and distraction presented in the book, and was surprised that modern tech is not the source of the distraction problem, but human brain is. It was also interesting to read how brain structures and behaviors which helped us to survive over the ages are preventing us from feeling comfort for too long.

Furthermore, there are enough tips on how to explore distractions, deal with internal and external triggers, and stay focused on what really matters. Ideas and tools mentioned in the book look simple and obvious (after you read them), yet insightful at the same time. It’s easy to try them out, and I’ve already started validating them on practice. Don’t have enough results to share yet, but I’m very excited at the moment and curious where I will get to in the next months.

Favorite quotes

Sharing my favorite quotes as is, and letting you make your own conclusions.

Living the life we want requires not only doing the right things; it also requires we stop doing the wrong things that take us off track.

It’s good to know that feeling bad isn’t actually bad; it’s exactly what survival of the fittest intended.

While we can’t control the feelings and thoughts that pop into our heads, we can control what we do with them.

you are only powerless if you think you are.

Think of all the locks, security systems, and storage units we use to protect our property and how little we do to protect our time.

You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it’s distracting you from.

Staying late at work or feeling pressured to reply to work-related messages after hours means spending less time with our family and friends or doing something for ourselves.

This review is barely a tip of the iceberg. I encourage you getting the book (FYI, I’m not affiliated), reading it from cover to cover, and becoming the main stakeholder in your life!

Book review: The Manager’s Path

Author: Camile Fournier
Subtitle: A guide for tech leaders navigating growth & change.

TLDR; This is a very good guide on how the individual’s journey could look like in the tech company if they choose to follow the management track. It has plenty of management wisdom yet is delivered in a lightweight way giving directions for further in-depth exploration. Personally, I was very impressed by the density and quality of the thoughts in the book, so I will encourage every team member to read at least the first several chapters. Thank you, Camille, for this book!

The author

Camile Fournier (@skamille) is currently a Managing Director at Two Sigma. She studied at  Carnegie Mellon University, worked at Microsoft, went from the tech lead to CTO at Rent The Runway, and took many other leadership positions in different companies. Here is a great quote from the book expressing the growth experience of Camille:

As the organization scaled, so did I. I had mentors, coaches, and friends who provided valuable advice, but no one was there to tell me specifically what to do. There was no safety net, and the learning curve was brutal.

In the “Manager’s path” book Camille shares her lessons and own experience as well as describes in many details different stages of the engineering management career. You can find more of her posts on medium.

For whom?

I think this book will be valuable for many people at different career levels, starting from middle engineers to tech leaders and engineering managers of any grade. 

Engineers will benefit from better understanding their mentors and managers, taking a look at what leadership roles are, and getting prepared for the first steps if they decide to follow that path.

Current leaders will find some great tips and ideas for their day-to-day work as well as insights about senior leadership roles.

The book might be interesting for non-tech leaders too because they can learn a lot about the life of their colleagues from tech departments.

How to read

The book is very well structured and you can jump straight into the level of your interest. However, I’d recommend starting from the introduction and covering at least one chapter below and above the level of interest. And don’t forget to take a pencil or a notebook for taking notes. Believe me, you’ll want to do so. Personally, I enjoyed reading all the chapters one after another.

My impression

I want to say that the book is amazing and let you read it on your own, but that would be unfair to you 🙂 Each chapter has great thoughts and sparked more than one idea in my head.

Chapters about the levels I’ve already experienced (up to leading the team) resonated with me a lot. They had a lot of precise notes, observations, and tips. I wanted to scream something like “Yes! Yes! Yes! This is so true!” or “I wish all my teammates knew this!”.

Chapters about the next leadership levels were very interesting. They made me play with my imagination but still were much vaguer because I haven’t had such an experience yet. I also felt that life at the higher levels varies a lot depending on the context and organization culture which I believe is perfectly fine and expected for those positions.

Anyway, the book has left a very positive impression and I think I’ll read it again more than once.

My favorite quotes

I was thinking to pick three to five quotes for this section, but after making an initial list of 43 it was unrealistic to shrink it down that much. I struggled while was removing quotes from the initial list, so here are the ones I couldn’t get rid of. Some of them are very obvious and simple but still very powerful.

… experience of being managed is the foundation on which you build your own management philosophy. Unfortunately, I’ve come to see that there are people who have never in their careers had a good manager.

That is a very good definition of a problem in the industry as well as the source of trouble because engineering management is hard, and not every person steps into the role striving to become good at it.

Developing the sense of ownership and authority for your own experiences at work, and not relying on your manager to set the entire tone for your relationship, is an important step in owning your career and workplace happiness.

Accepting the fact that you own your experience was the biggest game-changer not only in my career but in my life. Staying in the same spot while suffering and complaining is also the choice, but not mine 🙂

One of the early lessons in leadership, …, is that people are not good at saying precisely what they mean in a way that others can exactly understand.

I noticed it during the past year as well. No matter how clear the message sounds in your head it will land differently on people’s minds, so it might be a good idea to validate what people heard, e.g. by asking them for a summary or by taking shared notes.

… there is nothing worse than showing up for your big job with nowhere to sit and no access to the systems.

New people onboarding process is one of the key elements of team success at times of rapid growth. Welcoming new people, making them feel you were waiting for them, is a significant booster if done right. So make sure you allocate enough time to prepare for onboarding a new teammate. If don’t know how? Read the book for many great tips.

The idea that the tech lead role should automatically be given to the most experienced engineer, …., is a common misconception that even experienced managers fall for.

“There are more experienced people in a team” – several people mentioned this to me as a blocker for looking into leadership roles. In practice though, it’s absolutely not a blocker! In my opinion, it’s good when a leader knows he/she is not the smartest person in the room, so they have to bring other skills and tools for leading the team in the right direction.

My final advice is to remember that you can switch tracks if you want. It is common for people to try out management at some point, realize they don’t enjoy it, and go back to technical track. Nothing about this choice have to be permanent, but go it with your eyes wide open. Each role has benefits and drawbacks, and it’s up to you to feel out what you enjoy the most.

I hope this quote removes another common fear among tech folks looking at leadership roles. It’s a different job, you may like it or not, both are fine. 

In the long run, if you don’t figure out how to let go of details, delegate, and trust your team, you’re likely to suffer personally. … Your time is too valuable to waste, and your team deserves a manager who is willing to trust them to do things on their own.

Trust your team, they won’t let you down and will save you from burnout.

Whatever the procedure is at your company, the process of coaching someone out should begin long before any performance improvement document is filled with HR, and long before the actual act of firing. One of the basic rules of management is the rule of no surprises, particularly negative one. You need to understand what a person is supposed to be giving you, and if that isn’t happening, make it clear to her early and often that she is not meeting expectations.

That’s probably one of the hardest things you need to do as a leader. Letting someone know they don’t meet expectations is usually a tough conversation, but avoiding tough conversations with the hope that things will get better soon is the worst path you can take. Poor performance or misbehavior should be addressed sooner than later because it harms overall team health. But, don’t rush by calling HR to kick somebody out of the team because everyone can have a hard time in their life. First, do your best to help a person with getting back on track, but if it doesn’t work out stay clear and honest with the person and help them to leave the company gracefully for the sake of the overall team.

Appropriate context is what helps teams make a good decision about how and where to focus their energy. As the manager, it’s not your job to make all of those decisions by yourself.

Yep, as a manager, you better focus the energy to create conditions where the team is capable to make decisions rather than deciding everything on your own. Autonomy is one of the basic psychological needs.

Delegation is the primary way you claw yourself out of the feeling of having too many plates spinning at once.

It’s also a great way of developing talents in a team.

As you grow more into leadership positions, people will look to you for behavioral guidance. What you want to teach them is how to focus. To that end, there are two areas I encourage you to practice modeling, right now: figuring out what’s important, and going home.

This year was very busy for me and for many of us at Automattic. One of my biggest insights from this adventure is for success you don’t need to work more hours, you rather need to work on the right things.

Remember, you’re not expected to know everything just because you’re a manager.

No comments, just remember that.

The processes should have value even when they are not followed perfectly.

People are not machines, they do mistakes, so consider making fragile processes more resilient or get rid of them at all, especially complex and fragile ones.

You have to be able to manage yourself if you want to be good at managing others. The more time you spend understanding yourself, the way you react, the things that inspire you, and the things that dirve you crazy, the better off you will be.

I simply agree here, self-awareness, coaching, and other practices helped me a lot with getting better as a human and a leader.

If not convinced yet, believe me, there is much more in that book. I encourage you to buy a copy and keep it nearby on your bookshelf!

Book review: A higher standard

TLDR; In the book, Ann Dunwoody describes her journey within the US Army starting from the very beginning to the highest rank ever achieved by a female person at times of her service. Along the way, she shares a great number of thoughts and examples of both good and poor leadership encountered during the years of an outstanding career. 

The book is written by Ann Dunwoody –  the first four-star female general in the history of the US Army, and subtitled “Leadership strategies from America’s first female four-star general”. I’m not very familiar with US army ranks but four stars sound like a significant achievement for anyone in the army. However, the fact that Ann achieved this being a female person in the very male-dominant system (at least that was my perception of the military before reading the book) makes it an outstanding achievement. I was curious about the story of Ann on its own but the leadership strategies part in the subtitle increased my team lead’s interest. 

While reading the book it was obvious and impressive how Ann is very proud of her country and US army. Sometimes I even thought it couldn’t be ideal like that in reality, luckily there were moments in the book describing very tough challenges physical and mental, how arrogant male officers would try to put her down or obstruct personal growth and fail in their attempts. I admire how Ann overcome those challenges and changed the perception of many about what a strong leader can achieve no matter what their gender is.

At times it was a bit hard to read the book due to multiple references to military ranks. Without understanding them the difficulty of a particular choice, the importance of new opportunity, or the overall context of the described cases wasn’t fully clear. However, it wasn’t too much trouble, I was able to get the essence of leadership examples and as a bonus got a better picture of how the US Army operates.

Speaking of leadership advice and examples, there were plenty of them along the lines and I found them very useful and inspiring. My quotes list from the book got too long to publish in a single post, moreover, some of the quotes cover pretty broad topics deserving their own post. That’s why I’m sharing only some of my top picks.

You train people so they don’t flail or fail – you train them to succeed.

In my opinion, that’s a great mindset for leaders to have – focus on what needs to happen or to be done for success, rather than making minimum to escape failure. Despite the quote mentions people training, I think it applies to success in general as well, no matter if it is your success, direct report’s success, team’s success, company success, etc. Once the leader is aware of the success definition for each individual case they can work towards it.

The most important leadership lessons I learned throughout my career came directly from someone who took the time to teach, coach, and share ideas with me.

This is so true and I fully agree. What I also like in this quote is that one could receive and give support at the same time. I really appreciate the intention, time, and knowledge of people who mentors and coaches me, and at the same time, I’m doing my best to pay back and forward.

Never walk by a mistake

That rule might sound arguable and I think even be harmful if applied at the extreme level, but the idea is very powerful. An unaddressed mistake sets a lower standard by giving a signal to a person or a group that a particular level of quality/behavior is acceptable. After a few confirmations (unactioned mistakes) the lower standard transforms into the implicit culture. That’s why spotting, acknowledging, and working with mistakes helps to update the standard and support the culture. 

So this rule should be considered in the context of the culture you’re supporting. Never walk by a mistake disrupting your culture. Even if it’s small enough it’s way easier to fix it until it grows into something huge like a snowball.

Do the right thing for the right reason

Courage is defined in the book as “Having the guts to do the right thing for the right reasons”. This is so true, whether it’s speaking up, having a tough conversation, letting the person go, stepping back, or anything else, leaders need the courage to get out of their comfort zone and “Just Do It” :trademark: It may look like something easy to do in theory but very hard in practice at times.

To maximize potential – … – leaders need to look in the mirror and at their immediate surroundings to figure out what’s missing. Those courageous enough to embrace the power of diversity will thrive.

People are different, everyone has their own unique background – the mix of history, knowledge, culture, environment, and experience. It applies to people you work with and people you create products and services for. So our background inevitably affects any opinions, thoughts, or biases we have and limits our ability to see a bigger picture. That’s where the power of diversity is needed to look at the problem from various perspectives, assemble the pieces of the puzzle, and make better decisions.

Everybody is replaceable – kings and queens, generals, CEOs, Hall of Fame athletes. Great leaders should be prepared to fire themselves and help find their heir apparent.

No comments here, just fully agree and love that idea.

I got the book more than a year ago as part of the employee welcome pack at Automattic and it spent some time on the bookshelf before I finally read it. I enjoyed the book a lot and recommend reading it with a pencil, notebook, or any other tool of your choice to collect the leadership wisdom dimes and bring them to life for the win.