Can You Read a Self Help Book Effectively in 90 Minutes?

Last month I highlighted a strategy by Darius Foroux. He claimed a reader could get just about everything useful out of a self help book in only ninety minutes.  To explore his technique I tested it out on Joy at Work by Marie Kondo & Scott Sonenshein.  Here’s what I found.

Step One in Foroux’s method was to pick the book wisely.  I choose Joy at Work. It is a follow-up to Marie Kondo’s best selling The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up which focused on the home. My family had fun applying the Konmari principles to our house last summer, so I was curious to see how the philosophy could be transferred to the workplace. Given that I am a firm believer in GTD, I was also interested in learning how her techniques complimented and contrasted David Allen’s classic approach to getting things done. 

Step Two was to study the table of contents to identify what to focus on and what to skip over.  The assumption is that most self help books contain lots of filler, usually in the form of illustrative stories or personal narratives. By jumping to the important bits a reader may risk missing useful material, but the trade off in efficiency is worth it.  For Joy at Work, I primarily focused on the following chapters:

  • Tidying Time
  • Tidying Decisions
  • Tidying Meeting
  • Tidying Teams
  • Selections from the other chapters thrown in for good measure. 

Step Three involved a focused forty-five minute read with a timer.  To be honest I forgot to use a timer, but I did read all the intended passages in one session. It felt good to speed through the book and true to his argument I was not worried about missing a few tips for the sake of the larger picture.  In the end I probably spent an hour reading, so I could have been more selective.  However, the book is a short simple read making the extra pages very little effort.

Step Four was to write a short summary.  He suggested thirty minutes for the task, but this guidance contained wide latitude.  Foroux notes from personal practice that some books deserve only a one sentence summary while others become whole essays for his blog.  Below are what I consider the key points from Joy at Work presented in progressive summarization format.

  • There is a high cost of non-physical clutter on our ability to work.
  • Aim for one simple goal: Knowing where everything in your work space belongs.
  • Tidying a desk can take five to six hours.
  • Three types of things to keep – those that spark joy personally, those that are functional and aid work, those things that lead to future joy.
  • Books spark joy based on your personal values.For keeping books consider, why did you buy it, what role does it play in your life, has it passed it prime for interest.
  • Rule of thumb for paper is to discard everything, keeping only what is necessary based on content.
  • Divide paper into three categories: pending, save because you have to, save because you want to.
  • Tidy business cards down to only those you want to retain, especially if you already saved their contact information.
  • Keep on hand only what you need or enjoy. Store by category, use boxes, don’t store things on your desk.
  • Avoid activity clutter (over-scheduling) – three traps – over-earning by working too hard for the wrong results, prioritizing urgent tasks over important ones, multitasking.
  • Urgent tasks must be done by a certain time, Important tasks have bigger positive or negative outcomes.
  • Urgent tasks have a quicker payoff while important tasks are more difficult to complete.
  • Instead of asking which tasks to eliminate, ask which ones should be kept.
  • Types of tasks: core tasks (essential to the job), project tasks (discrete beginning and end), and development tasks (learn and grow).
  • To eliminate tasks, identify if they are essential to the job, spark joy when doing, do they benefit anyone, or help with decision making.
  • Add more downtime into the calendar for reflection.
  • Automate low-stake decisions. Identify medium and high stake decisions.  Keep all high-stake ones.  Sort through medium ones and only keep those that are critical to the work, advance work-life vision, or spark joy.
  • Delegate decisions which don’t meet these criteria.
  • When making a decision, determine what type of outcome will spark joy – don’t spend too much effort looking for the perfect solution.
  • Trim your social media contacts down to: connections needed for your work, connections that advance work-life vision, connections that bring joy.
  • For selecting meetings, identify those that are required for your job, bring you closer to your work-life vision, bring joy – avoid all others.
  • People don’t want to attend meetings that are disorganized or not relevant to their work.
  • Meeting are more joyful when you show up to engage, come prepared, put away electronics, listen, speak up, and do no harm.
  • Running a meeting: know what is to be accomplished, think carefully about participants, state the goals in the meeting invite, encourage participation, set timelines, recap at the end.
  • Team leaders outline the team’s purpose – three questions: is the team required for my job, does it help me move towards my work-life vision, does it bring joy.
  • Avoid big teams, the optimal size is 4-6 people, but no more than 9.
  • Offer more gratitude to others throughout the work day.
  • Clean your work space at the start of the day to ensure neatness – when we care for the things we choose to keep they give back positive energy. Aim to create a joyful workspace.
  • Tips to work as a couple – grasp reality, prioritize projects and decide on time frames, break projects into tasks.
  • Tidying is the first and most effective step towards realizing your vision of a joyful career.

Going forward one practical takeaway is that I intend to clean my workspace at the start of the day.  Also, I liked the repeated emphasis in many chapters that the way to get more enjoyment out of work is to concentrate only three things: items critical to your job, items that contribute to your work-life vision, and items that spark joy. Joy at Work reminds me of Essentialism which also advised readers to ruthlessly purge the non-essential and focus only on the truly important and meaningful. One of the early steps in the Konmari method is to discard. To that end I intend to examine all my work duties to determine which ones to delegate or eliminate. This should allow for more mental and temporal space to focus on what truly matters.

In terms of comparing Joy at Work to Getting Things Done, the two books share many traits. Both guide their readers to simplify their work lives. For Marie Kondo, recognizing the aspects of your work that spark joy and advance your work-life vision allows for greater fulfillment. For David Allen, becoming organized at the daily level allows people to empty their heads, which relieves stress and provides greater ability to focus on higher level goals and visions. Perhaps it is my personal preference, but I feel that GTD is the more complete system for organizing the workspace. Although for those who find David Allen’s approach too daunting, Joy at Work provides a simpler way to get started.

In summary, I felt Foroux’s approach was tailor made for this book. Although it had a little over two hundred pages the font was large and the book itself was physically small which meant fewer words per page. Additionally, one of Foroux’s assumptions was true with Joy at Work. The book was filled with the author’s personal narratives and stories of people who applied the practice. While illustrative of the techniques these stories can be classified as filler material.

Lately I fell behind in my professional reading. That feeling only served to put more pressure on me to read and ironically made me less interested in reading. Foroux’s approach broke that mental barrier as I quickly completed the task of reading a book I ultimately enjoyed. Overall Joy at Work was a short breezy read which was ideal for his 90 minute method.  I look forward to trying this approach again on a longer, more detailed book to see if the strategy holds.