Book Report: Slow Productivity

I recently read Cal Newport’s latest book, Slow Productivity. Cal Newport is one of the leading voices in productivity, particularly for knowledge workers. One of the things I like about him is that he covers a diverse array of topics, from planning your career in So Good They Can’t Ignore You to finding focus in Deep Work and now slowing down for the important stuff with Slow Productivity.

book cover from Cal Newport's book titled slow productivity. it shows a wooden cabin on a cliff in the background, with multiple pine trees in the foreground, with a winding path made of stone in the middle. Way in the background is snow-covered mountain.

There’s a movement afoot concerning productivity and slowing down, and it’s a good one. With the emergence of technology, we all came to the idea that we needed to do more faster, which led us into this current crisis where we’re all so busy doing the little things that we never have time to think about the big stuff. Even though this is normal to us, it is unusual in history.

In this book, Cal goes back through history and explains how, normally, people spend a lot of time thinking about important questions to come up with valuable and important answers. Sir Isaac Newton didn’t have to contend with an email inbox. In this book, Cal talks about ways to bring us back to those roots where we can focus on the big things and a lot less on the small things.

This has been an overall trend for me as well. So much so that one of the video lessons in the Productivity Field Guide is called You Have To Do Less. This is straightforward advice to give and hard advice to accept.

In this book, Cal gives some great examples of practical ways to turn slow productivity into a reality. The book is entirely digestible at 220 pages and full of good ideas for exploration. As a complete aside, I will note that of all of Cal’s books, this one has the best cover.

Book Review: Darth Plagueis


Star Wars content below. You’ve been warned.

I’ll never forget the first time I discovered the fact people were writing books about Star Wars. I was sitting at a rusted bench in the break area behind the Jungle Cruise when one of my fellow skippers pulled out Timothy Zahn’sThrawn trilogy. I quickly found and read them, and loved every minute of it. This was years after the original trilogy and years before the prequels. While this was a great first step, over time I soured on the expanded universe Star Wars books. They seemed to really stretch things and a lot of them felt like they were written on a bet.

Recently, when I appeared on the Technical Difficulties podcast, Gabe Weatherhead, knowing my affection toward the original Star Wars trilogy and animosity toward the prequels, recommended I read Darth Plagueis, an expanded universe novel about Emperor Palpatine’s Sith master and the origin story of Emperor Palpatine. Gabe said, “It almost saves the prequels.” He said that. I wrote it down. Well if it is good enough for Gabe, I was going to read it.

So I went and purchased the Darth Plagueis audio book and just finished a few days ago. This book follows the journey of Darth Plagueis (a Muun Sith master from the banking clan…banking clan…eye roll) as he gains power and attempts to bend the universe to the Sith way. About halfway through, the story increasingly moves to his apprentice, Palpatine.

Like a lot of Star Wars stories, these two spend some time together, get connected, and then separate for a good portion of the book to tackle their own challenges. In Darth Plagueis’s case, he becomes obsessed with conquering death and Palpatine, as you can probably guess, goes to Coruscant to focus on amassing political power.

Palpatine’s story is really the best part of this book. While even as a youngster, he is not very likable, I can see how he gets from point A to point B. Moreover, the way in which he becomes increasingly adept at subtle manipulations and wielding political power are interesting and show a progression that leads nicely to the prequels.

Does this book save the prequels? No.

There is still a lot of talk of treaties, negotiations, and political machinations. I don’t think the author, James Luceno, had any choice as the book is intended to lead directly into the prequels. While I think having read this book could give me more insight to the prequels (if I ever watch them again), it also further damns the prequels. If Palpatine was so adept at pushing the universe around, maybe they should have included some of that. Rather than give us this dorky story of how Anakin was never very heroic and one day decided to go to the dark side and kill everyone he knew, maybe we could have seen how Palpatine was secretly pushing all of Anakin’s buttons.

For example, I never understood why the Sand People took Anakin’s mother or what the heck they were doing with her in Episode II. Regardless, it was a key moment in the story and the event that turned Anakin into a ruthless killer. What if we had the Palpatine from this book making his mother’s abduction happen. That would at least give me some greater understanding.

If I hadn’t seen the prequels, I think I may have enjoyed the book more because I’ve got such a chip on my shoulder that I kept wondering how this story could have been used to make that story better. All of this said, it was fun going back into the Star Wars universe again and I will recommend this book. Just don’t hold your breath on it (or any other object in the known universe) fixing the prequels.

If you do decide to read it, I’d recommend the Audible book. It’s a good production and goes beyond most audio books. When they are on a ship, you hear the ship in the background. When they fight, you hear two lightsabers clashing. When a droid speaks, it gets a little extra tin-foil processing. This definitely improved the experience.

Delight is in the Details

Shawn Blanc is a tech blogger but also much more. Shawn frequently inspires me with his posts about motivation and finishing a project. Shawn just released a new book, Delight is in the Details. As Shawn explains, the subject of the book is how to create substantive work that delights and excites your audience. The book is in multiple formats and includes interviews with many people I respect including Marco Arment, Michael Simmons, Jory Raphael, and Federico Viticci. The ebook is $20 or the full bundle (with the ebook, an audiobook, and interviews) for $29. I’ve just downloaded my copy and I’m looking forward to reading it on vacation.


Self-inflicted Wounds

Aisha Tyler was simply one of the best workflow guests we ever had on MPU. Her new book, Self-inflicted Wounds, is releasing tomorrow and I’m really looking forward to reading it. In it, she talks about many of her own mistakes and embarrassing moments. I’m pretty sure none of them could be more embarrassing than when 16 year old me had my first “professional” music gig and performed in front of 300 people with my zipper down but we’ll see.

iPad for Photographers, Second Edition


You may have heard of Jeff Carlson before. He’s written several technology books and is a true gentleman. (Jeff even did a home screen post.) Jeff is also an accomplished photographer and just released the second edition of his iPad for Photographers book. The book, which is beautiful, includes some great tips for using your iPad to get great photos. Jeff’s going to be a future guest on the Mac Power Users but, in the meantime, you should bone up and check out Jeff’s book.


Workflow: Beyond Productivity

“Productivity” is such a loaded word these days. I even wrote an article about it. It is really easy to spout off tips about how to print faster. I do it here all the time. There is something much deeper to this productivity schtick dealing with underlying gut-level motivations and emotions. For the last two weeks, I’ve been working my way through Kourosh Dini’s new book, Workflow: Beyond Productivity, and this book is the real deal.

Kourosh Explains it best:

“What you will not find is a series of quick fixes or how-to lists. However, you will find an in-depth examination, from basic concepts to an advanced understanding so you can build the secure foundations needed to truly develop meaningful work.”

Kourosh writes with a patient voice that is perfect for this material. The book is $30. That is an introductory price that goes up on June 1. I encourage you to go download the preview and decide if it can inspire you as much as it did me.

My Little Geek

There is no question that MacSparky readers and Mac Power Users listeners are all amazing. I received further proof of this recently when Andrew & Sarah Spear sent me their children’s book, My Little Geek (all the way from New Zealand). It’s a wonderful little book beautifully illustrated. I’ve been reading it with my two year old nephew and it is way too much fun. I just wish this book had existed when my girls were small.

Book Recommendation: The Rook

On the heels of my last fiction recommendation, the Incomparable recently made another recommendation, The Rook, which I downloaded via Audible and (thanks to some fortunate traffic jams) I finished quickly. This is the story of an amnesiac, Myfanwy Thomas, who wakes up in a London park surrounded by dead people wearing latex gloves. It turns out she is part of a supernatural MI5 and from page one, the game is afoot. The book is quirky, funny, and by about halfway through, I couldn’t wait to see where it all went. If you’d like a fun read, check this one out. When you’re done, go download episode 128 of The Incomparable and listen to Jason, Scott, and Dan talk about it, but only after you’re done.

The Rook

Amazon Affilate Link


Book Recommendation: Among Others


I am really happy about subscribing to Jason Snell’s Incomparable podcast. In addition to entertainment and information, Jason and his merry gang are also great sources for book, movie, television, and comic recommentations. On their recommendation I just listened to Jo Walton’s Among Others. The book is the diary of a 15-year-old girl during 6 months of her life as she deals with magic, science fiction, and (hardest of all) being a 15-year-old girl. The book won last year’s Hugo Award and I really enjoyed it. Now I’m trying to get my 16-year-old daughter to read it.

If you are an Audible subscriber (I am), I recommend listening to the Audible version. The primary character’s Welsh heritage is a big part of the book and having someone read it with a Welsh accent made it all the better.