I'm not a person who sit down regularly to read a book...perhaps someday that will be part of my daily routine, but I'm currently in a season with lots of movement, growing a business, and just generally working to maintain our household and lives. Because of that, over the last few years, I've moved from reading to listening for my information gathering—it lets me get stuff done "while I read".
While I do love fiction, I find it hard to stick with unless I'm reading it with someone—usually Larry—so I typically reach for business, psychology, and personal growth type reads. Recently, I was introduced to the Libby app by my friend Natalia, and that's been a bit of a game-changer for my book consumption!
I hadn't realized it until I was reflecting last week on the titles I'd recently completed, but when I jotted them down in my notebook, I realized I'd read—or listened to—seven books since quarantine started in March! That might not be a lot for those of you who read regularly, but this is somewhat record-breaking for me!
The books I read over the last couple of months covered a range of topics, from happiness, creativity, and productivity, to fear, trauma, and minimalism. Interestingly enough, there have been some fascinating parallels—and contradictions—amid several of the titles, so I thought it'd be fun to share what I've been learning and give a few take-aways from each book.
Let's do it!
The Happiness Equation:
Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything
First up, The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha. I particularly love his subtitle (which is the happiness equation): Want Nothing + Do anything = Have Everything. My main take away from this book was that often when we do something for an expected outcome (like pay, fame, likes, or recognition), it takes the joy out of it. It's the wanting, not the doing, that takes away from our happiness.
Doing something simply because it's fun and interesting to you without attaching an expected outcome is a recipe for enjoyment, but once we attach an obligation, dollar, or desired goal to it, we often lose the joy that was attached to a beloved activity.
I'm particularly interested in the science behind happiness, and how what we think will make us happy is often incorrect. I read Stumbling on Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert, earlier this year, and it was filled with interesting studies about what we think makes us happy, how certain activities do and don't impact us the way we think they will, and how, for the most part, people have no idea what will actually bring them happiness. Definitely worth a read, and has some great parallels to Neil's book.
Digital Minimalism: Choosing a
Focused Life in a Noisy World
I loved Digital Minimalism. Cal Newport, author of other titles like Deep Work and So Good, They Can't Ignore You, hits on a tender subject that I think so many of us are feeling these days: digital overwhelm. I know I'm there, and with owning a small business, it often feels like I HAVE to be present on social media in ALL the places or I'll be left behind.
Cal talks about the many negative impacts of social media on our minds, happiness, and mental health—including how many of us are addicted to our devices and social media outlets. I resonated with his concept of Digital Minimalism because, truly, it comes to my home and the THINGS that I own, I do feel a great sense of minimalism there. I intentionally keep only things that have value, bring me joy, and are useful to me, so why not apply that to my digital life?
After reading Cal's book, I started to evaluate the benefits of the various forms of media I was using and consuming and made some changes. I still maintain my facebook account, mainly for business purposes, but I've unfollowed everyone I'm connect to so that no "news" shows up in my feed. I find facebook to be much more negative than other social media, like Instagram, but I was also getting a lot of duplicate information. I still hop on once in a while out of habit, but I quickly realize there's nothing new to see, and can get back to more meaningful tasks.
I did the same—unfollowed everyone—with my personal Instagram account since I followed many duplicate accounts on my business feed. This way, I don't need to check multiple feeds.
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing
This book was SO fun for me. I'm a bit of a psychology nerd, so learning the science and psychology behind our daily rhythms and routines—and how we can schedule them to work to our advantage—was suuuuuper interesting.
Key things to take away from When include learning about your Chronotype (are you an early bird or a night owl?) in order to leverage your best, most productive hours, as well as discerning the types of activities you'll be working on—rational/logical tasks vs. creative tasks—and how depending on whether you are an early bird or night owl, you'll handle those tasks differently at different times of day.
Quick tip from this book: 3pm is the WORST time of day to do just about ANYTHING.
Also interesting to discover was the impact of an impending deadline on procrastination, productivity, and creativity. The closer your deadline, the faster and better you work. A practical application for me, in this case, was to try making the design phase of my projects shorter. I've always found the phase from initial consultation to presentation to be grueling. While some things are out of my control—like how quickly a supplier gets back to me with a quote or how long it takes for a sample to arrive—for the things I DO have control over, I've started moving up my deadlines. So far, the impact has been that I enjoy the process more! Since I'm not dragging it out over seven weeks, I'm not anxious about my procrastination and I can move on to the next thing.
Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to
Caring for Self While Caring for Others
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky with Connie Burk
This book was required reading for one of my husband's seminary classes, and when he was done, he passed it over to me and said, "You should really read this." His pitch was that, while the focus of this book was on helping professions, like social work or pastoral care, it was really a book about burnout.
Burnout is no stranger to the business owner, and I've definitely been there—in fact, I'd say I'm navigating it now—so this book couldn't have been more timely.
Trauma Stewardship focuses on secondary trauma—exposure to the trauma of the people we help—and the impact it has on our lives. I find that, while I may not deal in life/death, spiritual, or mental health scenarios, I do navigate some tricky territory.
There are many layers to leading a client through a design project, from lighter things like trying to understand the client's needs and wants, their personal style, or what their budget should be, to bigger issues like finding out a client has mold in their walls, or the construction budget coming in way higher than they originally had hoped.
This book is a starting point for learning how to lead someone through a scenario without taking it or their emotions on as your own, and a guide for putting boundaries and practices in place to help avoid burn out. For me, that means asking myself how I can lead my clients through big, layered projects with long timelines without taking on their anxiety, fear, or frustration as my own. No answers yet, but working on it!
Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan For
Embracing and Achieving Your Goals
I'm a regular listener to Rachel Hollis' podcast, Rise, so when I saw her book pop up on Libby, I was excited to get into it.
I will say, if you do listen to her podcast, you've heard a lot of the book already. What I did enjoy, though, was learning about her story. I didn't know about her early days in event planning and local media, or how she got to where she is now with her major media conglomerate, The Hollis Co.
I so resonate with Rachel's message in Girl, Stop Apologizing—which is essentially, JUST DO IT, figure it out along the way, and don't worry if people think you're crazy. That said, I didn't personally feel that this was a book for me, and it's the only one on the list I didn't read completely (I got about 85% of the way there!).
Rachel talks a lot about what it looks like to be a mom while scaling a media business, how to do that without feeling shame, and about getting past the fear of what people will think or that you don't have the right skillset. I'm not a mother, and don't plan to be, and while I have had to get over the fact that some people I care about don't approve of my life choices, the "fear of getting started" aspect wasn't my story.
I was someone who—quite literally—made a business card and told people I was a designer...NO experience, NO background...just a hunch that I was better at decorating than the people who would hire me. I have other demons, for sure, but that wasn't one that spoke to me directly. That said, if you are struggling to get your business idea or dream off the ground and fear is holding you back, THIS is the book for you.
Once concept she talks about that I think many would find helpful is her daily 10-10-1 method for achieving goals and making your dreams happen. If you're interested in her method, see it here. I don't use this method daily, but I do come back to it a few times a month.
Oddly, I was reading this book and Trauma Stewardship at the same time and found them to be hard to reconcile. While one advises to slow down, care for your self, and avoid burnout, the other teaches how to reach for bigger, more exciting dreams, and how to always be moving forward. These are, of course, not mutually exclusive, but I can see and have experienced first hand how aggressive goal-chasing cause burnout. I suppose I will think of them as checks and balances.
The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape 9–5,
Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
The 4-Hour Workweek had been on my "to read" list for a long time, and unlike many books in the personal growth genre, this one was actually worth reading all the way through.
What I loved about this book was Tim's complete disregard for the way things ought to be, and how that allowed him to get creative and design the life he wanted to live.
This book was full of step-by-step tangible information for "lifestyle design", from automating income to remote work, to languaging learning and speed reading.
A big concept Tim comes back to over and over again in this book is the 80/20 rule, which can be applied in many ways:
80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your clients
80 percent of your pain comes from 20 percent of the things you do
80 percent of your new leads come from 20 percent of your marketing/referral partners
80 percent of your happiness comes from 20 percent of the things you do
I love this concept, the goal being to get rid of the "80 percent" isn't serving you and focus in on the 20 percent that is. Minimalism at its core!
I've thought a lot about this when it comes to our marketing. For example, most of our new leads find us via an online google search. Our organic google search presence is very high, so we don't have to do a lot of work to get people to find us there. On the contrary, we spend a LOT of time curating, writing, taking photos, and creating content for Instagram. When I took the time to read the analytics about how much traffic comes to our site from instgram, I found it was less than 4%. WOW, right? That doesn't mean I'll quit instagram completely, but it does tell me that I should focus less of my energy there and more of my energy on sites that do drive traffic.
Another take-away from this book was to put some helpful in automation in place, both in my personal life and in my business:
Like many, since Covid, we've been using the Shipt app in place of our basic grocery runs. This has made our grocery anxieties almost completely evaporate! We use the same shopping list every week, add or remove things that may not be weekly needs, and it arrives on our doorstep every Friday! We'll be sticking to this method post-stay-at-home order, for sure.
Additionally, I've put items like contact solution, makeup, and hair mousse on auto-ship for every three months so I never have to have that stressful moment of realizing, "Oh shoot, I'm out of contact solution and have to go to the store NOW."
In my business, I've moved (err—I'm trying to move) to checking email once a day, at noon, and have implemented my own version of Tim's suggested auto-responder. In addition, I've started to leverage some of my vendor partners to narrow down my decision making for me. Rather than scroll each of my online suppliers' hundreds of options, I shoot them an image of the style I'm looking for and ask for 2-3 options for each in my desired price range. So far, this is cutting my time down immensely and making the process much more enjoyable (because having fewer options DOES lead to more happiness! Learned that in The Happiness Equation).
Big Magic: How to Live a Creative Life,
and Let Go of Your Fear
Last up is Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert. This was a very fun read for me, and reminded me of many of my creative loves that I've left on the shelf for a while...things like creative writing, dance, and theatre...
This book is about creativity. It's about falling in love with the creative life and process—enjoying it to the fullest—rather than insisting it cause you suffering. It's about pursuing creativity for the joy of it rather than for what we might achieve from it.
She describes a friend who, at 40, took up figure skating after a couple decades hiatus, and how it brought something to her life that she couldn't get anywhere else. No, she would never be a champion, or even close to the best skater in her town, but it gave her a place to express herself, develop, and grow.
This book is more spiritual than the others, too. Elizabeth describes creative inspiration or ideas as "personalities" that search for collaborators—us—to assist in bringing them into the world. Sometimes, if we let an idea sit idle for too long, it will leave, and find a new collaborator who will pay better attention to it. I love thinking of ideas as something outside ourselves that come to us and offer themselves up as someone to be collaborated with. The ideas don't belong to us—they belong to themselves. We only get to decide whether we will collaborate with them.
The Wrap Up: Get the Libby App!
If your local library uses the Libby App, you've GOTTA get your hands on this. It's free, and, just like your local library—because it IS your local library—there are thousands of e-books and audio-books you can check out for FREE on your phone. Up your reading game like I did, my friends!
Work with Lauren Figueroa Interior Desgin
LFID is a full-service interior design firm based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We work with clients throughout west and southeast Michigan, and pride ourselves on creating bespoke, people-centered spaces—because after all, people are what this life is all about! If you have a project on the horizon, get started by telling us a little about your vision here.