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Book Notes – The First 20 Hours


“The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne.”
— Geoffrey Chaucer, Parlement Of Foules, 1374

This quote that opens the book reflects the chaos in my life.
I have too many things to do, a busy life and yet, innately I am an autodidact.
I yearn to learn new things!
And learning new things is also how I’m slowly shifting my career goals.
Needless to repeat, tonnes to do, and grains of time in hand.

My growing frustration with why I cannot learn things as fast as I want to in conjunction, with aforesaid situation, is when I picked up this book by Josh Kaufman, last night. It seemed right for my situation. I’d bought it up along with The Personal MBA, a while ago and they’re in my unread pile.

And I was done in 2 hours. I don’t know why I did not read this earlier and save myself a tonne of grief.
While I’m slogging away at lots of things, I now realise I do not have to slog at all of them equally :)

“Work smarter, not harder.” As it turns out, the process of skill acquisition is not really about the raw hours you put in … it’s what you put into those hours.

Also, I don’t really want to become a world class expert. Just “good enough” will do, with most of the things I want to learn.

Based on research conducted by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson expert-level performance takes, on average, ten thousand hours of deliberate practice to achieve.
Ten thousand hours equals eight hours of deliberate practice every day for approximately three and a half years, with no breaks, no weekends, and no vacations. Assuming a standard 260 working days a year with no distractions, that’s a full-time job for almost five years, assuming you spend 100 percent of that time exerting 100 percent of your energy and effort.

As if learning a new skill wasn’t hard enough. Not only do you have to make time for practice … but you now also have to put in ten thousand hours? Most of us count ourselves lucky if we can set aside a few hours a week. Why bother at all if it takes so long to be good at something?

But … and this is a big but;

There’s an element of Dr. Ericsson’s research that’s very easy to overlook: it’s a study of expert-level performance. If you’re looking to become the next Tiger Woods, you’ll probably need to spend at least ten thousand hours deliberately and systematically practicing every aspect of golf.

On the other hand, what if winning the PGA Tour isn’t your goal?

That’s another matter entirely. World-class mastery may take ten thousand hours of focused effort, but developing the capacity to perform well enough for your own purposes usually requires far less of an investment.

That’s not to discount the value of what Ericsson calls “deliberate practice”: intentionally and systematically practicing in order to improve a skill. Deliberate practice is the core of skill acquisition. The question is how much deliberate practice is required to reach your goal. Usually, it’s much less than you think.

Leave the ten thousand hours to the pros. We’re going to start with twenty hours of concentrated, intelligent, focused effort.

20 hours! 20 hours to pick up and get good enough at a new skill? Now that’s an idea I can get behind.
And just how are we going to spend those 20 hours?
In a process called Rapid Skill Acquisition

You’ll have a better chance of success if you start with twenty hours of rapid skill acquisition.

Rapid skill acquisition has four major steps:

  • Deconstructing a skill into the smallest possible subskills;
  • Learning enough about each subskill to be able to practice intelligently and self-correct during practice;
  • Removing physical, mental, and emotional barriers that get in the way of practice;
  • Practicing the most important subskills for at least twenty hours.

And while that is the big, one–two–three–step, high level, 30,000 foot overview of the process, here’s ten principles to get you to do rapid skill acquisition really, really quickly

  1. Choose a lovable project. (or something you really, really want to solve)
  2. Focus your energy on one skill at a time. (Guilty! will pare them down to 2)
  3. Define your target performance level. (Define your enough. I want to learn just enough Ansible to setup my server)
  4. Deconstruct the skill into subskills. (This was my biggest aha! Know the map. Know your map. I used to think of Python as this big amorphous thing that’d take me years to learn. Now I’ll just take it one problem to solve at a time. What problems? Well I’ll figure that out for myself.)
  5. Obtain critical tools. (Try and do all your yak shaving beforehand)
  6. Eliminate barriers to practice. (I just roll out of bed and eat my physio frog first. That’s the hardest. Followed by studies now that I know this)
  7. Make dedicated time for practice. (Mornings for 12th studies. evenings for programming)
  8. Create fast feedback loops. (Well Python is brutal at that. You know instantly when you’re wrong. But with studies, I can do this with Anki and tests)
  9. Practice by the clock in short bursts. (Pomodoro FTW!)
  10. Emphasize quantity and speed. (Lots of writing to improve writing, lots of studies to do well in 12th, lots of Python to … well you get the idea)

And this is just the first two chapters :)
Josh also has another chapter on effective learning to close out the first half of the book.
The second part is the fun part.
Josh walks the talk and tackles six disciplines that run the gamut from health (Yoga) to a mental discipline (programming) to physical (windsurfing) to prove that rapid skill acquisition works.
And how!
Yoga’s done in three hours, programming in twenty, and he falls short in windurfing, doing nine and learning a tonne, but ending up thwarted by nature.

This is amazing!
Six skills in less than a year!

Is this possible? Really possible? Why, yes of course, Josh promises, with this caveat,

You can prepare. You can research. You can eliminate distractions and alter your environment to make it easier to practice. You can find intelligent ways to make your practice more effective or efficient.
But, in the end, you must practice.
What feels like the long way is the shortest way.
Zero-practice shortcuts don’t exist.
No practice, no skill acquisition. It’s as simple as that.

To see how he did what he did, watch Josh’s TedX Talk above.
To learn how to practice deliberately, with intention, read Peak or watch the whimsical summary below.

And like Josh asks as he closes the book,
What will you do today?



Writing Day 29 – Conspiracy

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Started: 2018-03-18
Finished: 2018-03-19

I think most of my writing about books will be just short stabs like this.
Or I’ll never get to anything in time.

I was supposed to start with Perennial Seller and then this popped up and looked like less intensive, so I picked it up first.

Well, it’s an awesome, racy read.
And something only Ryan Holiday could have done justice to.
He writes almost objectively, never hiding his biases.

Sometime in late 2007, Gawker publication Valleywag, outed Peter Thiel as gay.
And nearly ten years and ten million dollars later, Peter Thiel burned Gawker Media to the ground by secretly backing another Gawker victim with his case against Gawker in court.

So what happened in between?
Well, that’s what the book is about.

The sheer amount of hopelessness, hubris, desspair, planning, plotting, conspiracy in the whole book is almost perversely delightful.

I don’t agree with Thiel on most of what he does. (Palantir … Trump … )
But when I put myself into his shoes, what would I have done, if I was violated and I had the means to strike back?
I know that feeling of despair when I have been wronged, and yet I couldn’t do anything about it
I would have done exactly what he did.

And while the book is about conspiracy, the part that I identified the most with, was the fact that Peter was the only one with the balls to call Gawker’s bluff.1
Gawker upset a lot of rich folk and large companies.
Yet, it was only Peter who did something about it.

And I identify with it, because I did exactly that after nearly 4 years of being bullied and blackmailed in high school.
Reading this brought back memories …
Driving an enemy into the ground, so completely that they’ll never do harm again, is exhilirating.
I’ve never let myself be helpless ever again.

And while I’ve taken Marcus Aurelius’ exhortation2 to heart, there is also a bit of truth to this quote from the book …

I couldn’t stand it. I still can’t stand it.
I can’t stand the way things are. I cannot tolerate this age.
What is more, I won’t.
That was my discovery: that I didn’t have to.
—Walker Percy, Lancelot


  1. And the fact that revenge is a dish best served cold. 

  2. The best revenge, is not to be like that 

Writing Day 21 – Notes on Willpower

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Started: 2018-05-14
Finished: 2018-05-14

Willpower is like a muscle.

There’s only so much of it that you can use if you don’t train it.
And it gets tired and depleted of its energy reserves, if you just use it rashly.

You need to train it, bulk it up and make it strong so that you can then use it to create change.

As Baumeister states in the conclusion of the book,

Self-control is ultimately about much more than self-help.
It’s essential for savoring your time on earth and sharing joy with the people you love.
People with stronger willpower are more altruistic.
They’re more likely to donate to charity, to do volunteer work, and to offer their own homes as shelter to someone with no place to go.
Willpower evolved because it was crucial for our ancestors to get along with the rest of the clan, and it’s still serving that purpose today.
Inner discipline still leads to outer kindness.

Notes from the book

Willpower 101, First Lesson: Know Your Limits

No matter what you want to achieve, playing offense begins by recognizing two basic lessons
1. Your supply of willpower is limited, and
2. you use the same resource for many different things.

Watch for Symptoms

Do things seem to bother you more than they should? Has the volume somehow been turned up on your life so that things are felt more strongly than usual? Is it suddenly hard to make up your mind about even simple things?
If you notice such feelings, then reflect on the last few hours and see if it seems likely that you have depleted your willpower.

While you’re depleted, frustrations will bother you more than usual. You’ll be more prone to say something you’ll regret.
Impulses to eat, drink, spend, or do other things will be harder than usual to resist.

Pick Your Battles

You can’t control or even predict the stresses that come into your life, but you can use the calm periods, or at least the peaceful moments, to plan an offence.

When you pick your battles, look beyond the immediate challenges and put your life in perspective.
Are you where you want to be? What could be better? What can you do about it?
You can’t do this every day, of course, and certainly not during busy, stressful times, but you can set aside at least one day a year—maybe your birthday—to do some reflection and write down notes on how well you spent the previous year.
If you make this an annual ritual, you can look back over the notes from previous years to see what kinds of progress you’ve made in the past: which goals were met, which goals remain, which ones are hopeless.

Tactics

  • Make a To-Do List—or at Least a To-Don’t List

    • Write & Prioritise stuff
  • Beware the Planning Fallacy

    • When was the last time you heard of a highway or building being completed six months early? Late and over budget is the norm. One way to avoid the planning fallacy is to force yourself to think about your past.
  • Don’t Forget the Basics

    • While cutbacks might seem a fair price to pay in order to channel all you energies into preparing for exams, In the long run, slovenliness can leave you with less energy—and fewer healthy relationships.
      Self-control will be most effective if you take good basic care of your body, starting with diet and sleep.
  • Use The Power of Positive Procrastination (like The Nothing Alternative)

    • Do what Raymond Chandler did to write his books. Use the Nothing Alternative; a marvelously simple tool against procrastination for just about any kind of task.
      Set aside time to do one and only one thing. You can look out of the window or stand on your head or writhe on the floor, but you are not to do any other positive thing.
      You might, for instance, resolve to start your day with ninety minutes devoted to your most important goal, with no interruptions from e-mail or phone calls, no side excursions anywhere on the Web.
  • Keep Track

    • Besides offering immediate encouragement, monitoring lets you improve your long-term planning. If you keep records, you can periodically check how far you’ve come so that you can set more realistic goals for the future.
  • Reward Often

    • When you set a goal, set a reward for reaching it—and then don’t stiff yourself. If you just use willpower to deny yourself things, it becomes a grim, thankless form of defense. But when you use it to gain something, you can wring pleasure out of the dreariest tasks. We’ve criticized the everybody-gets-a-trophy philosophy of the self-esteem movement, but trophies for genuine accomplishments are fine.
      Which incentives work? A mix of frequent small prizes with occasional big ones.

Writing Day 19 – Artemis

Artemis Book Cover


Started: 2018-05-07
Finished: 2018-05-10

Done with Artemis.
If you like sci-fi well told, if you liked the Martian, you’ll love Artemis.

I did audio this time and was in for a pleasant surprise.
Rosario Dawson reads the book. Yes. That Rosario “Badass” Dawson!

And of course, she makes for a badass narrator too.
Listening to her go, “Shit! Shit! Shittity Shit!” is a hoot.

Instead of a solo guy stranded on Mars, this one is all about the first lunar city (the titular Artemis) with it’s settlement domes and loads of intrigue

Andy Weir opts for a heroine this time and Jazz Beshara is badasser than Watney ever was. (aah, which is why they got Dawson to narrate, natch)

I wish he’d put more drama into the endings though. They always wind down properly and logically.

Totally worth your time time.


Writing Day 8 – The Art of Thinking Clearly

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Started: 2018-03-23
Finished: 2018-04-24

This is not quite book notes, but now with the craziness that is my studies, I don’t have time to write them all down.

I still want to catalogue the fact, that I finished it though.
This is an amazing book, amazing with a capital A

You know you should read the ancients, you know you should read our modern minds, like Taleb and Kahneman and Cialdini and Munger.(You also know you should eat your green leafy vegetables :))

But if you find Taleb waxing too eloquent, Kahneman verbose and dry, Cialdini too long, Munger too abrupt and the ancients not quite accessible, you ought to read this book.

Want to know why to live each day as if it were your last, but only on Sundays?
Or what role survivors bias plays in life? Or why we take on too much? And why you should not accept free drinks?

Read the book to find out.

This is another one of those books where amazing amounts of knowledge is compacted into every cell of every page.1

Must read!


  1. Obligatory Farnam Street review. 

Book Notes – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

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Started: 2018-03-11
Finished: 2018-03-13

Imagine the school bum, mending his ways, becoming a success and then sharing his stories and experience.

Well, that’s what this book is.
A pithy summary for a pithy book. Punchy, wise and brief.
Mark Manson is the Dale Carnegie for millenials.

There are f*cks strewn galore, so if you’re not comfortable with such language, stay away.1

Here’s a few things, I took away from the book

  • Learn to be comfortable with pain and failure and suffering and hardship
  • True joy comes from experience, from tackling pain and hardship, from living
  • Live a life of intention. Know what your enough is. Choose your struggle. Care deeply only about these few things
  • Learn to be self aware. Meditation helps.
  • Have good values
  • There are no ready made, cookie cutter solutions to your problems or to finding your path. You have to make your own way. And that is a good thing
  • Don’t be dogmatic. Be comfortable changing your mind as you learn and experience more
  • Learn to be ok with rejection. Also, learn to say No.
  • Be disciplined, focussed, and committed to the things you care about
  • Memento Mori.2
    So make the most of the life you have left. Learn to live, so that you leave with joy, not regret.
Quotes I loved

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of.
You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”
— Albert Camus

“I used to think the human brain was the most wonderful organ in my body.
Then I realized who was telling me this.”
— Emo Philips

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”
— Sigmund Freud

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life.
A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
— Mark Twain

On Commitment

I’m quoting this passage wholesale, because this was the thing that resonated with me the most; the fact that Deep Work matters.
Discipline, dedication and commitment to the few things that do matter in your life is what will make your life enriching.

… more is not always better. In fact, the opposite is true.
We are actually often happier with less. When we’re overloaded with opportunities and options, we suffer from the paradox of choice. Basically, the more options we’re given, the less satisfied we become with whatever we choose, because we’re aware of all the other options we’re potentially forfeiting.
So if you have a choice between two places to live and pick one, you’ll likely feel confident and comfortable that you made the right choice. You’ll be satisfied with your decision.
But if you have a choice among twenty-eight places to live and pick one, the paradox of choice says that you’ll likely spend years agonizing, doubting, and second-guessing yourself, wondering if you really made the “right” choice, and if you’re truly maximizing your own happiness. And this anxiety, this desire for certainty and perfection and success, will make you unhappy.

So what do we do? Well, if you’re like I used to be, you avoid choosing anything at all. You aim to keep your options open as long as possible. You avoid commitment.

But while investing deeply in one person, one place, one job, one activity might deny us the breadth of experience we’d like, pursuing a breadth of experience denies us the opportunity to experience the rewards of depth of experience. There are some experiences that you can have only when you’ve lived in the same place for five years, when you’ve been with the same person for over a decade, when you’ve been working on the same skill or craft for half your lifetime. Now that I’m in my thirties, I can finally recognize that commitment, in its own way, offers a wealth of opportunity and experiences that would otherwise never be available to me, no matter where I went or what I did.

When you’re pursuing a wide breadth of experience, there are diminishing returns to each new adventure, each new person or thing. When you’ve never left your home country, the first country you visit inspires a massive perspective shift, because you have such a narrow experience base to draw on. But when you’ve been to twenty countries, the twenty-first adds little. And when you’ve been to fifty, the fifty-first adds even less.
The same goes for material possessions, money, hobbies, jobs, friends, and romantic/sexual partners—all the lame superficial values people choose for themselves.
The older you get, the more experienced you get, the less significantly each new experience affects you. The first time I drank at a party was exciting. The hundredth time was fun. The five hundredth time felt like a normal weekend. And the thousandth time felt boring and unimportant.

The big story for me personally over the past few years has been my ability to open myself up to commitment. I’ve chosen to reject all but the very best people and experiences and values in my life. I shut down all my business projects and decided to focus on writing full-time. Since then, my website has become more popular than I’d ever imagined possible. I’ve committed to one woman for the long haul and, to my surprise, have found this more rewarding than any of the flings, trysts, and one-night stands I had in the past. I’ve committed to a single geographic location and doubled down on the handful of my significant, genuine, healthy friendships.

And what I’ve discovered is something entirely counterintuitive: that there is a freedom and liberation in commitment. I’ve found increased opportunity and upside in rejecting alternatives and distractions in favor of what I’ve chosen to let truly matter to me.
Commitment gives you freedom because you’re no longer distracted by the unimportant and frivolous.
Commitment gives you freedom because it hones your attention and focus, directing them toward what is most efficient at making you healthy and happy.
Commitment makes decision-making easier and removes any fear of missing out; knowing that what you already have is good enough, why would you ever stress about chasing more, more, more again?
Commitment allows you to focus intently on a few highly important goals and achieve a greater degree of success than you otherwise would.

In this way, the rejection of alternatives liberates us—rejection of what does not align with our most important values, with our chosen metrics, rejection of the constant pursuit of breadth without depth.
Yes, breadth of experience is likely necessary and desirable when you’re young—after all, you have to go out there and discover what seems worth investing yourself in. But depth is where the gold is buried. And you have to stay committed to something and go deep to dig it up. That’s true in relationships, in a career, in building a great lifestyle—in everything.


  1. It’s mostly for shock value, sprinkled liberally through the first third of the book. It peters out to almost nothing, as Mark gets into the meat and potatoes 

  2. Remember, you will die! The Daily Stoic explains it far better than I ever could