The 100-Book March: A Reading Challenge

books on brown wooden shelf
Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

I’ve always been a meticulous record-keeper when it comes to keeping track of what I read and when. I use Goodreads (and a spreadsheet) to do that. While I always set a yearly reading goal, I usually pick the number I know I’m going to read anyway.

This year I’m attempting to read 100 books. I set this goal not because I care that deeply about quantifying my reading but because I want to change some bad habits. Late last year, I realized I’d fallen into the rut of using my pockets of free time to skim news headlines or scroll through Instagram for the hundredth time. Having a yearly reading goal that’s big and bold is a reminder to use my found time to read instead. So far, it’s going well. (Admittedly, the last couple of weeks have been difficult since I went back to obsessively reading the news for COVID-19 updates.)

Because I don’t want to turn reading into a job, I set some rules for myself when I started this journey in January:

No selecting books based on how long they are. I don’t want to try to “trick” the system by purposely seeking out short books or avoiding long books. I read what I want without regard for how it will impact my goal.

Quit books that aren’t working for me. I’ve always been a joyous and enthusiastic un-finisher of books I don’t like. I never count unfinished books in my yearly lists, and I won’t force myself to keep reading a book I’m not enjoying just to put it on this year’s list. When I force myself to keep going on a book that isn’t speaking to me, I end up reading less because I avoid reading altogether!

Don’t stress about monthly goals. In order to reach 100 books in a year, I need to read about 8.5 books a month. But tracking that closely stresses me out. I’m avoiding looking at numbers and instead focusing on using any extra free time I have in a day to read. Some months are going to be busier than others. I’m okay with that. (March has been a splendid reading month so far because of Spring Break and because I can’t go anywhere.)

Celebrate the positives. If I don’t make it to 100 by the end of the year, I’m fine with that. What I care about is renewing my commitment to books (and breaking some of my bad technology habits). Part of the fun of setting a goal is the time spent working toward it. So far, it’s been a fun little project.

Do you set reading goals? How many books do you read a year? How do you find ways to read more?

Do You Read Fiction? Turns Out It’s Good for You!

stack of books in shelf
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I wrote about the benefits of reading literary fiction for  Harvard Business Review last week. I interviewed some really interesting people who are bringing guided literature discussions to a place you’d least expect: corporate America.

You can read my article, “The Case for Reading Fiction,” here. Come back and tell me you always knew reading fiction was good for the soul!

Do you think you could talk your organizational leadership into doing reading groups?

 

 

Achievement Addiction Is a Real Thing

achievement confident free freedom
Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

I’m an achievement addict, and I’m working on breaking that addiction.

Before I go on, I want to be clear that this isn’t a humble brag. This is not the equivalent of the person who walks around fake-lamenting about how they wish they weren’t so talented at absolutely everything! This isn’t about talent; it’s about a deep emotional attachment to defining myself by what I produce.

I’m talking about a mindset where the search for achievement overrides everything else. It’s a kind of obsession that drives every decision you make. It’s exhausting and it’s dangerous. It sustains ideologies about work that are bad for everyone. It’s a monolithic goal that stands in the way of happiness because it clouds judgment and overvalues production.

I wrote about it here: “Don’t Fall in Love with Achievement.”

Let me know if you can relate.

 

 

Have You Accidentally Joined a Cult? Me Too!

neon signage
Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

I’m pretty convinced these days that productivity often functions as a cult. Do you ever feel like you are committing a cardinal sin if you aren’t constantly trying to maximize your output and produce as much as possible? Do you feel guilty about not doing something productive? Do you fetishize being busy as a way of feeling important?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might be in the productivity cult. And once in, it’s so hard to get out. So hard!

Here’s an article I wrote about how to know if you are in the cult or not. It’s very subtly titled Productivity Is a Cult: It’s Time to Deprogram Yourself and Exit.

When your productivity practice becomes the goal — and you are no longer thinking about what you produce, how you produce it, and whether or not you should produce anything at all — you might have become a productivity cult member.

Don’t feel bad if you are card-carrying member because you are not alone. Let’s practice un-brainwashing together.

Tell me how you will resist the productivity cult.

 

My Favorite Books of 2019

Choosing my favorites is hard because I read a lot of good stuff. I’ll cheat by using categories.

Best Historical Fiction
The Island of Sea Women

 

Best Set in a Boarding School Book (my favorite sub-genre)
The Swallows

 

Best Book about an Old Lady Serial Killer (also a nominee for Best Use of Cross-stitch)An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good

 

Best Psychological Thriller
The Turn of the Key

 

Best Romantic Comedy
The Unhoneymooners

 

Best Nonfiction That Scared Me Half to Death
I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

 

Best Sequel
Olive, Again

 

Best Weird Book
The Need

 

Best Nonfiction That Confirms the World Is Terrible
The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters

 

Best “Change Your Life” Book
The Myths of Happiness

Best Overall (Tie)
Home Fire  Girls Burn Brighter

 

The Main Reason You Aren’t Writing? Probably Distraction

notebook
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

It’s impossible to write well if you are distracted (says I, who is currently writing this while watching the subpar episode of The Office where Jim buys Pam a house).

Resisting distractions is hard and it saps our willpower. (That obviously explains why I ate three salted nut bars while writing this: no willpower left.)

So how do you get rid of the distractions, sit down to write (or read or whatever), and do it well?

(That last part about doing it well is key,  by the way. I’ve produced all kinds of garbage while watching TV. I’m not bragging; I’m confessing.)

I suggest we try creating environments where multitasking isn’t the default. We have to build space and time where distraction simply doesn’t enter the equation.

Easier said than done, of course, but I do have some strategies for doing that. You can read about what I’m trying to do in my article “Distraction Is Keeping You From Writing: Three Ways to Foster Deep Thinking and Improve Your Writing.”

Should you trust me? Probably not. I just paused to watch this video of babies talking to each other.

How do you build distraction-proof areas in your life?

 

After Dinner Conversation: A Fascinating Publication

Survival Kit: After Dinner Conversation Short Story Series by [Seifert, Christine]

After Dinner Conversation publishes short stories about ethical or philosophical questions. It’s been fun to dive into fictional worlds that explore questions about what it means to be human. If you like short fiction, you should definitely check them out. They include discussion questions along with each story.

My story, “Survival Kit,” just hit #1 on Amazon downloads. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it or any of the other stories. Better yet, write your own and share it!

 

Is Doing Nothing the Same as Doing Something?

landscape photography of snow pathway between trees during winter
Photo by Simon Matzinger on Pexels.com

Sometimes I write short stories. Did I tell you that?

Well, here’s my latest:

A wife in an unhappy marriage gets caught in a freak snowstorm with her husband and sees the opportunity to end her “suffering.”

You can read it at After Dinner Conversations, a great new collection of short fiction and podcast episodes. Each story deals with an ethical or philosophical idea.

My story is about whether or not doing nothing to save someone from calamity is the same as contributing directly to that calamity. Let me know what you think.

Click here to read “Survival Kit.”

Things We Can Blame on Leonardo DiCaprio

rainforest during foggy day
Photo by David Riaño Cortés on Pexels.com

Earlier this month, Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, blamed Leonardo DiCaprio for setting forest fires in the Amazon rain forest. “Leonardo DiCaprio is a great guy, isn’t he?” President Bolsonaro said facetiously. Bolsonaro went on to say that DiCaprio “donat[ed] money to set the Amazon on fire” for his own personal gain.

DiCaprio responded on Instagram by reiterating his support for the people of Brazil and for the continued protection of the rain forest.

But the whole incident got me thinking: What if we could just blame everything on Leonardo DiCaprio? What if all the bad things in the world—real or imagined— could just be attributed to him? Wouldn’t that be cathartic?

So in no particular order, here are the things—real or imagined—I intend to blame on Leonardo from here on out:

  • He handwrites letters to children telling them there is no Santa Claus.
  • He shot J.R. Ewing.
  • He greenlit Season 2 of The Masked Singer.
  • He’s on a friends and family phone plan with O.J. Simpson and Matt Lauer.
  • He replies-all in all of his email, just as a matter of course.
  • He thinks Friends would have been a better show if Paula Deen had played the Rachel character.
  • He dated Taylor Swift, but he was so boring, she never wrote a song about him.
  • He used Lizzo’s tiny purse as a handkerchief.
  • He invented Tik Tok, autoplay on Netflix, and those plastic anti-theft cases cassettes used to come in.
  • At karaoke, he only sings the full version of Don McLean’s “American Pie.”
  • He suggested Beyonce and Jay-Z name Blue Ivy “Mildred Ethelred.”
  • He thinks Tom Hanks is “just not that nice.”
  • He signs you up to receive robocalls, junk mail, chain letters, Candy Crush invitations, and evites to that co-worker’s fourth baby shower.
  • He wants to recast all of Hallmark’s Christmas movies with the Kardashians.
  • He’s always on a juice cleanse and wants to tell you all about it.
  • He’s already seen the script for Season 4 of Stranger Things, and he tweeted that the lovable weird kid dies at the end and Barb is NEVER COMING BACK.
  • He came to Thanksgiving and said the turkey was “quite moist.”
  • He thinks puppies are overrated.
  • When he comments on your blog, he uses all caps and hashtags his own comments. #LeoWasHere #Blessed
  • He knew how to get everyone off of Gilligan’s Island, but he said nothing.
  • He eats egg salad on your holiday flight.
  • When asked who his favorite poet is, he said Justin Bieber.
  • He has a selfie-stick. And he likes it.
  • He messaged Kate Middleton and told her Meghan hates all of her hats.
  • He uses that old dial-up modem sound for his ringtone.
  • He picked you in Secret Santa, and he bought you a Peloton.
  • He’s the reason TSA makes us take our shoes off at the airport. It’s a weird foot fetish thing.
  • He ate all the Popeye’s chicken.
  • He went to see himself in The Revenant, but he whisper-talked the whole time.
  • He was steering the Titanic.
  • He insists his essential oils MLM is not a pyramid scheme.

See? Don’t you feel better already? What do you want to blame on Leo? Go for it!

Do You *Do* Productivity?

alone bed bedroom blur
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I have a secret vice: It’s productivity self-help literature. I read everything about it because I secretly believe that there’s some elusive–but ultimately accessible–method for producing more and more and more and more.

I’m here to say there is definitely a method for producing more. In fact, there are many methods. It turns out they aren’t so elusive, nor are they particularly hard to implement. Many of them work very well.

But I recently realized I’m asking the wrong question. Yes, I can be more productive, but the bigger question is should I be more productive? And if so, at what? All work isn’t good work.

I wrote an article about my new anti-productivity mindset for The Ascent. Here’s a snippet:

When we talk about productivity, we lack the language to even interrogate the concept because we’ve built virtuousness right into the definition. We can’t examine, critique, or even question productivity without accidentally endorsing laziness, a cardinal sin in our culture. Questioning productivity is like trying to make an argument against generosity or kindness.

Anti-productivity is all about questioning what we are doing so that we can ensure we’re doing the right things.

What anti-productivity look like? Well, let’s talk about it. It’s about time.