I have been an Audible subscriber since 2012, I have listened to countless self-improvement books and some excellent fiction that have kept me up listening past bedtime.

The self-improvement books often fall in the category of “I believe what they are saying, I know what I need to change to improve myself, But I don’t end up changing anything.”

This first book probably only applies to you if you have a smartphone (irony intended).

Digital Minimalism

The crux of the book is that the little bits of time you spend on your phone throughout the day while waiting in line or on the toilet is not making you happier. In fact, it is probably adding a measure of anxiety and depression to your life and stealing a lot of intimacy from your relationship and killing your productivity at work.

It was so good that I listened to the other book from the same author:

Deep Work

Digital Minimalism will get you some margin back in your day, Deep Work will help you fill it. Some of the most satisfying things a human can do are to get entirely lost in a difficult task. We are surprisingly bad at gauging what will make us happy. I used to think that sitting still doing nothing will make us happy. I used to think that when I am on the toilet if I had to choose between sitting there bored and reading technology news for 10 minutes, reading about technology news will make me happier, it will not!

Two concepts to leave you with.

Attention Training

Your brain is like a puppy. You are training it every day. Sometimes, like puppies, it notifies you that it is bored, on the toilet or waiting in line somewhere, if you whip out your phone and reward it with some entertainment, you are telling it that resisting discomfort is okay behavior that will be rewarded with instant entertainment. When you are having an authentic conversation with someone you love or when you are in the middle of solving a challenging problem with code, your brain will keep up its lousy behavior of wanting to be pacified with some entertainment. Fighting off the temptation of distraction will rob you of genuinely focusing on what is most important to you, even if you manage to resist giving in. Part of the answer is to just let yourself be bored in the small moments in the day, this will build the attention capacity for your brain to perform when you need it.

Attention Residue

When you take a break from, meaningful, challenging, enjoyable, creative work (I love how programming fits all of these so well), what do you spend your break on? Do you give your attention to attention-merchants? (someone who sells your attention to others, in the form of ads). If you spend that break on getting input from someone else’s thoughts, through email, browsing the internet, checking social media, anything that wants to grab at your attention, that thing you paid attention to, leaves a residue on your mind when you try to go back to work. Try to arrange your day so that all of your creative work (Programming for me) is done in one or two big chunks, where you only take breaks that do not pull your attention to something else. My breaks are only for food, toilet, or a brisk walk (I will jump into a good conversation when it presents itself because for me it’s worth the cost). Stay away from anything that can be an attention trap. You want to focus only on the work for this entire time with no distractions, even during breaks. If this sounds like it might make you productive but miserable, please try it and let me know in the comments. It has made me more productive and happier.