Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative (Mathematically!)

A common principle cited in self-help books is the Pareto principle: the idea that 80 percent of results comes from just 20 percent of causes. Living the 80/20 Way by Richard Koch sets out as its premise that we can use this understanding to improve every aspect of our lives.

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Winners Often Quit and Quitters May Win

Happy 2016! I’m going to get back in the swing of posting book reviews (that’s what this blog is really for, after all) – expect a new review every two weeks or so.

My choice for the first book to review in the new year might seem incongruous. After all, I just posted a whole series on goal-setting and our collective energy around New Year’s Resolutions is still high. But think again! Today’s book, Mastering the Art of Quitting (now republished as Quitting), is all about pursuing the goals that really matter to you by consciously disengaging from outdated aspirations.

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Why is the Most Important Question

Why do some leaders gain a following and others don’t make a lasting impact? Why do many companies struggle to achieve and maintain success, while a few achieve astonishing customer loyalty and profitability? In Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek argues that long-term success comes from a simple yet powerful concept – start with WHY.

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Mini-Review: 12 Surprisingly Effective Ways to Get Organized

I appreciate a good rhetorical gimmick, I do. But sheesh, organize stops looking like a real word about halfway through this article.

It’s not that I disagree with the overall content; it’s straightforward common sense (although as always, my “common sense” meter may be biased from years of reading self-help-y books and articles). However, I have a couple of quibbles with the ideas presented this article. Namely:

Wrong Focus: Contradicting its title, the article doesn’t describe “ways” to get organized. “Ways” implies methods or how-to tips. Rather, the article describes areas of one’s life where one should organized. I appreciate the attempt to make the article universal – saying “Your email should be organized” has much broader applicability than “you should use the Inbox Zero method” – but the mismatch between title and content feels misleading. 12 Areas of Your Life to Organize for Surprisingly Effective Results would have been a better title.

Shoehorning: Structuring the article’s rhetorical framework around the word “organize” is inherently limiting. Not only is it repeated ad nauseum, but the word’s meaning is stretched in service of the gimmick. “What’s important”, “time for yourself”, “in advance”, “your expectations”, and “your problem-solving” don’t make sense as things that can be organized. Rather, you prioritize what’s important, schedule time for yourself, are proactive by doing things in advance, evaluate your expectations regularly to make sure they match reality, and focus your problem-solving on finding solutions.

The last paragraph even defines being organized as “the ability to get things done”. It’s a nice definition for the purposes of an ORGANIZE EVERYTHING! article. The only problem is, it’s not the real definition of being organized.

Elision: I almost don’t want to complain about this aspect because it’s so common in the self-help genre. I see a regular split in self-help books between accomplishment and authenticity. I could probably write a whole blog post about this topic (and maybe I will!) but to sum it up:

  • Authenticity means having a purpose
  • Accomplishment means doing things efficiently and effectively

While the two ideas are not mutually exclusive, it’s common for a particular work to focus on one or the other. This 12 Surprisingly Effective Ways… article is no exception; it’s clearly about accomplishment. Organize your morning. Have a schedule! But then it tries to throw in some authenticity by talking briefly about “identifying what matters”.

This bothers me. Finding your “why”* is a whole different endeavor than figuring out how to be efficient. When a piece of writing spends 95% of its space on accomplishment and then has a single bullet on authenticity, it implies that authenticity is just a a subset of accomplishment. I disagree; authenticity isn’t something that you can achieve by having a good enough to-do list. (For the record, the opposite also annoys me – finding a dream or a overarching goal does not automatically mean that the dreamer knows how to make that dream happen. A person with a great small-business idea who is drowning in paperwork needs a filing system, not more goal-planning.)

All that said, it’s by no means a bad article. More a reminder than anything new, but isn’t a reminder what we really need, at least most of the time?

“Organize” still doesn’t look like a real word anymore, though.

Full book reviews are coming! I have a bunch of most-complete drafts that just need polishing.

*Astute readers might guess from this phrasing that I’m reading Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, and I am! It’s on my list of books to be reviewed.