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July Reading List Email

Hi, 

Welcome to the Monthly Reading List Newsletter! Each month I will share a few thoughts on 3-5 books I’m reading and why I think you should pick them up. So, if you enjoy this email, please forward it to friends and family and help us continue to grow! Also, make sure you sign-up for our new The Sunday Email where each week we will share a quote/passage from a book and a short insight.

Before we jump into this month’s email, I want to apologize for the length up-front. The opening essay is a bit longer than normal but it’s worth your time.  

Every now and then, an idea emerges from my habit of reading that significantly alters my world view. In these moments, I feel like I’ve uncovered an unexpected secret. I spend time thinking about it, talking about it, and often even writing about it in a blog post or in one of these emails. More importantly, I emerge in life with a new world view, and my thoughts and actions change for the better.

The relationship between information and attention

Recently, I came across the idea that the information we consume affects our quality of life, because our quality of life is largely determined by where we focus our attention. 

In Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, author Winifred Gallagher writes, “Your life -- who you are, what you think, feel and do, what you love -- is the sum of what you focus on.” In her extensive research, she found that our experiences in life are a collection of what catches our attention, while those events we ignore or never think about again, never find a space in our mental capacity.

This psychology is an age-old phenomenon. More than 2000 years ago, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus compared every situation in life to two handles of a jar - one broken and one we can hold. He said we have the ability to choose which handle to focus on and therefore it’s up to us to determine the quality of our experiences and whether they become embedded in our internal operating systems. 

These ideas were further echoed in the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Dr. Mihaly Csikzentimhalyi whose research found “the information we allow into consciousness becomes extremely important; it is, in fact, what determines the content and the quality of our life.” 

The problem of “infobesity”

If the information we consume affects what we pay attention to, and what we pay attention to determines our quality of life, as a society, we may be in trouble. Many of us suffer from what my friend and author of Noise, Joseph McCormack, calls “infobesity.” We live distracted lives with information and entertainment right at our fingertips, constantly pulling us into our digital devices. Often, we lack intention with the time we spend on our smartphones. We have no idea what we’re going to find or experience when we dive into a world where what we see is largely determined by algorithms that we know little about

McCormack’s concept of infobesity becomes even more alarming when we look at how much time we spend on our digital devices. I recently came across a series of statistics noting people spend anywhere from three to five hours a day on their smartphones. Those living on the high end of the spectrum spend 6.2 days a month or 75 days a year glued to their screens! Most of these hours are lost scrolling social media feeds, staring at the curated pictures of friends and family, memes that poke fun at life, and the never-ending wave of breaking news.

Would you eat cheeseburgers at every meal for 75 days? 

If you think about it, the information we consume can be compared to fast-food vs. fine-dining. We know from years of research on nutrition and long-term health that eating fast-food cheeseburgers all the time negatively affects our health and athletic performance. Similarly, consuming this easily digestible information all day long is essentially doing the same for our mental health, coating our minds with arterial plaque. With all of these distractions, coupled with family, work, and social responsibilities, it’s easy to see why so many people are struggling with stress and anxiety

Failing to be deliberate with our informational diet can lead us to neglect important relationships at home. Instead, we yearn for what others have based on the tightly manicured pictures curated on social media. At work, this lack of focus can affect our culture, decision-making, effectiveness, and the quality of life for everyone in the organization. For me, I attribute every poor life choice I’ve ever made to a lack of intention with my behavior. This awareness is partly where my passion for being deliberate about how I spend my time and attention originates. 

Becoming intentional with my attention

When I started paying attention to my information diet, I finally began to feel centered for the first time in years. Instead of losing hours scrolling through endless social media feeds, I used reading, writing, and reflection to better understand what I was spending my attention on, and where I needed to reinvest it. When I spent too much time consuming informational cheese burgers, I struggled to integrate my internal values, beliefs, and attitudes with my external behavior. Why? Because I was distracted.

As many of you know, books are one of the most frequent tools I use for reflection. They are where I go for informational fine-dining. When I began reading with the intention of thinking about my behaviors and actions, my leadership style, and my roles as husband and father, the lens through which I viewed books changed. Instead of passively consuming them, I used them as a catalyst for introspection. Reading helps me focus on behaviors I want to adopt and bad habits I want to drop. Books also help me develop new perspectives to view the world and past experiences. With this newfound focus on being intentional while being more introspective, it became much easier to integrate my life.  

I’m not sure where you are at in your life, but if you find yourself moving 100mph and doing so while mindlessly spending hours each day scrolling through your social media feeds, maybe it’s worth stopping for a few minutes each day and examining your own life. Maybe instead of killing time with your smartphone, you embrace time, and use it for something more productive like reading, writing, and reflection. I still have a lot of work to do, and I don’t always get it right, but I know that when I pay attention to where I’m paying attention, I get way more enjoyment out of life than I used to.  

The Reading List

Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life by James Kerr. I first read this book a year ago, and as I prepare for command, I thought it was worth reading again. Legacy is about cultivating a strong organizational culture. Kerr takes his observations from his time following the All Blacks rugby team and reinforces them with lessons from the military and business world, providing readers with fifteen practical lessons. 

This book is short (224 pgs), easy to read, and the lessons are applicable to any level of military leadership. Kerr also incorporates ideas and quotes from a lot of different authors, so in some respects this book is a gateway to further reading. Shout out to Colonel Joe Fairfield for introducing me to this book over two years ago!    

Winning Matters: Be the Best You Can Be by Sean Fitzpatrick. Sean Fitzpatrick is a famed team captain of the New Zealand All Blacks who played in the early 90s and is mentioned a few times in Kerr’s book, so I decided to pick up his autobiography. 

In Winning Matters, Fitzpatrick shares lessons he learned coming up in the game of rugby. Many of those same lessons are ones I’ve heard from other high performers on the podcast. He talks about the importance of putting in the work no matter the outcome, why organizations thrive when people give feedback “in the belly not the back”, and how leaders drive change, among other great lessons.  

If you are a sports fan and are looking for an easy leadership read, check this one out. 

Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. I’ve seen this book on a lot of silicon-valley reading lists, and I didn’t know why until I read it. Pang argues that rest is an essential activity for people who create for a living, whether that creation is a physical one or knowledge work. He observes that while work provides us with a means to live, rest provides us with a means for living. Pang also says that we have to “resist the lure of busyness, make time for rest, take it seriously, and protect it from a world that is intent on stealing it.” This last point underscores what I wrote about in the opening of this month’s email. 

Each of the chapters in Rest covers different rejuvenating activities, from walking and exercise to taking naps and getting enough sleep. Pang provides readers with the science behind taking breaks along with numerous examples of those who used rest to overcome mental blocks, reach scientific and literary breakthroughs, and create art such as the award-winning musical, Hamilton

I recommend this book for anyone who thinks that moving faster and working harder is the key to increased productivity. 

Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. I first read this book in 2019 and it forced me to examine how much time I was spending on social media apps. I decided to pick it up again to think a little deeper on how distractions affect my thinking. 

Cal Newport covers a number of important ideas related to attention and how fragmenting our attention affects our ability to do what he calls “deep work.” He defines deep work as work performed with distraction-free concentration that pushes the limits of our cognitive abilities. One example he provides of fragmented attention (that I’ve been guilty of) is switching back and forth between tasks that require concentration and those like checking email, social media feeds, etc. He points out that we have a left over attention residue every time we switch back to the deep work task. This residue slows us down cognitively, and therefore we’re not really doing ourselves a favor by multi-tasking. 

He offers leaders a lot of practical advice to limit distractions and improve their ability to deep work. If you are like I was in 2019, spending too much time on my phone, this one might be worth your time. 

After reading how Cal was able to “tone down the background hum of nervous mental energy” by minimizing his distractions, and therefore focus his energy on achieving goals he set out for himself, I felt his example was worthy of emulation. 

If you are someone who thinks they can bounce back and forth between deep thought work and your social media feeds, this might be worth reading. It helped me a lot.

Just Work: Get Sh*t Done, Fast & Fair by Kim Scott. Last month I read her previous book, Radical Candor and thought it was the perfect guide for getting and receiving feedback in organizations. This month, I picked up her latest book, Just Work. It is a book about creating a work environment that embraces individuality and fosters collaboration.

When it comes to work place culture, Kim found that there are six problems that typically get in the way of diverse team coming together: bias, prejudice, bullying, discrimination, and harrassment. Just Work is a guide to dealing with these problems from multiple viewpoints: the person harmed, an upstander (a bystander who acts), the leader, or the person doing the harm. She even covers some of the risks to organizational culture such as alcohol at work parties. Scott shares times that she drank too much (imagine blowing chunks at a company dinner-she did) and times where she found underwear and a bra in the cushion of a couch the morning after a work party.  

Overall, I thought this book is the perfect guide for those who are committed to fostering organizational cultures where everyone feels like a valued member of the team. Look for my interview with Kim on the season premier of the FTGN podcast in September!

Finally, if you haven't been on our website lately, check out the following new posts! We also released some amazing episodes on our podcast!!

Quite a few From the Green Notebook readers have gotten to know Onebrief – the future of military planning. Their collaborative software takes the friction out of your planning process, especially on large staffs. Onebrief also updates your staff products automatically: if you change a slide, your Sync Matrix and OPORD/OPLAN stay consistent.

So far, they’ve been accepted to Y Combinator (original backer of Airbnb, Reddit, and Stripe) and raised $2.55M in Venture Capital. Their advisors include LTG (R) H.R. McMaster and Dr. Andy Terrel (prominent Machine Learning authority).

For the past 58 years, there’ve been dozens of planning software products. But real-world planners didn’t adopt any of them. Today, we’re still slaves to PowerPoint: US Forces in Afghanistan created over 15 million slides.

Want to participate in their user research? Every month, they hold a planning exercise via Zoom. You’ll be part of a 6-person Operational Planning Team on a fictional Joint Task Force. It takes 8 hours on a Saturday, and you’ll be paid $500 for the day. Details and signup here.

To get Onebrief for your staff, you can contact their founder directly at 443-902-2041 or grant@onebrief.com

One more thing: Thanks for opening my monthly reading list email, if you have any book recommendations or questions, please feel free to reply. I read every response and if I have the time, respond. 

All the best,

Joe

**This email contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This helps with the cost of running the website each year. 
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