Today Was a Good Day: a book review

We all want to have a good day, but we also have our share of bad ones. Those days where we don’t get done what we set out to do, we feel like we are spinning our wheels. when we feel anxious and stressed out and don’t navigate our relationships well. We feel low energy and give up when we see no path forward. But what if there was a way to have a good day or at least make the most of the ones we have? in How to Have a Good Day, executive coach and management consultant Caroline Webb draws on the insights of behavioral science to give us seven-building blocks for a good day. These include priorities, productivity, relationships, thinking, influence, resilience, energy. These building blocks are the components of what people describe as a good day.

HaveaGoodDayIn her introduction, Webb probes the components that make up ‘a good day.’ This gives shape to the rest of her book (the seven building blocks described above). Webb draws on “rigorous scientific evidence from psychology, behavioral economics and neuroscience.” Her purpose is to “translate all that science into step-by-step techniques for imporving your day-to-day life (5). She does this by presenting research, giving practical advice and sharing stories. Her focus throughout the book is on the business world. So are her examples. However a broad application of these principles can be made to other aspects of life.

Each section of this book is one of the building blocks of a good day. Part one is about setting priorities and being intentional in work and life. Part two discusses productivity. This is the longest section of the book and Webb covers the importance of ‘single tasking,’ planning deliberate down time, overcoming overload and beating procrastination. Part three discusses how to manage relationships well. Part four probes how to be more creative, wise and intelligent at work. Part five explores how to influence and maximize impact on others. Part six describes what resilience looks like in the face of setbacks, hard times and annoyances. Part seven puts the pieces together, and describes how to approach live with energy and enthusiasm. A postscript includes three appendixes with suggestions for how to have a good meeting, how to be good at email and how to reinvigorate your routine.

The whole book is helpful. I especially liked the productivity section and the relationships  and influence sections. Chapter four, on single tasking explodes the myth of multi-tasking. Webb argues convincingly that though multi-tasking makes your day more interesting, actually reduces productivity (72). While some people (a tiny single digit percentage of people) are ‘supertaskers’ able to process multiple tasks at the same time, the vast majority of us work slower when our attention is divided among too many things. Webb points out the irony that “the people who are most confident of their ablity to multitask, are in fact the worst at it” (73).  So Webb offers practical suggestions for ‘batching tasks and zoning your days. In the relationship and influence sections, Webb offers a number of practical suggestions for handling difficult people and motivating others through positive communication.

This is one of those business self-help books. But don’t let that turn you off. Because Webb roots her practical suggestions in research, there is substance to her message. This isn’t fluffy. It also isn’t super technical (she explains her terms and a glossary also gives working definitions of psychological terms. Her seven domains are more comprehensive and inclusive than your ‘seven habits’type books. The twenty one chapters each offer several suggestions for habits, though some of these stack on top of each other (i.e. chapter five’s discussion of deliberate downtime and mindful practices is reinforced in the section on resilience).

I give this book four stars and think that this is a helpful for leader, managers, executives, or really anyone that wants more good days. Of course each section of the book can delve deeper than Webb in fact does (she includes suggestions for further reading). but I have no real complaints. This is a great book. Having finished it, my day is already better and there is a lot worth practicing here.

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review

An Easy Decision: a book review.

I may not have decided to read this book, but the publisher sent me an uncorrected proof of Decisive and asked me to read it and review it if I liked it. I did read it, though I read everything else on my nightstand first and was slow to pick it up. The concept didn’t excite me, but when I finally read the book I found it really helpful. This is everything you want in a business/self help book. Chip and Dan Heath are humorous, well-researched and have plenty of examples (mostly from the business world).

The Heath brothers are the authors of Switch and Made to Stick. Chip is a professor at the  Graduate School of Business at Stanford, Dan is senior fellow at Duke’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE). In Decisive they put forward some principles which will help us make better personal and business decisions. Too many people ‘trust their gut’ when making decisions, but that is not reliable. Others are more rational in decision-making, making lists of pros and cons; however such lists are still vulnerable to confirmation-bias. We skew our results toward the desired outcome (even if we are unaware of it). The Heaths help us get past our own subjective biases/  The acronym WRAP summarizes their suggestions and provides the organization for this book: Widen Your Options, Reality-Test Your Assumptions, Attain Distance Before Deciding, Prepare to be Wrong.

The Heaths help us Widen Our Options by avoiding narrow-frame decision making. Often when we make decisions we frame it as an either/or or as a choice of ‘one.’ The Heaths get us to think about whether or not we could really do both/and, consider the costs to the outcome of our decision, multitrack decisions (allow multiple people/firms to work towards a solution and synthesize the best parts of eac)h, and to look for people/organizations which faced analogous problems and learn their solutions.

By Reality-Testing Assumptions the Heaths help us bypass our confirmation bias. Too often we seek out advice which re-enforces our own point of view. Chip and Dan suggest  giving due consideration to opposing opinions. They also want us to “Zoom out” and consider the situation from the “outside” and “Zoom in” and give the details a closer look. They also suggest that we don’t jump face first into the unknown. We should conduct a small test and evaluate the results before we leap.

Attaining Distance is all about not being caught up in the moment. The Heaths warn against short-term emotions and how they impact decision making. We tend to like what we’ve been exposed to and have an aversion to loss.  This biases us toward the status quo. When we look at our situation from an observer’s perspective we get beyond the emotional impact of our situation and can make a more reasoned decision. Likewise, we are not hoodwinked by too-good-to-be-true promises when we stick to our principles and honor our core priorities.

Preparing to Be Wrong,  involves us thinking through our decisions and developing contingency plans in the case of failure. It also means managing risks. Decisions that result in too much of a gamble should be avoided, but “trip-wires” can alert us to when we’ve gone to far, and where we should redirect.

I found these insights helpful and this book made me want to read the Heath’s other books. The book was a quick read and there were lots of business examples. I give this book ★★★★☆

Thank you to Crown Business for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.