2019 Book Review

This year I set a goal of 30 books on my Goodreads challenge. That felt ambitious, yet doable and I’m proud to say that I’ve surpassed that number by a few books–and the year is not over yet!

I read too much non-fiction. I don’t really know why, except I surround myself with people (via Twitter, mostly) who recommend non-fiction way more than fiction which is how I’ve read Atomic Habits twice but never The Nightingale.

A quick count tells me 40% of my books read this year were fiction. I consider that a grand achievement. (Side note: Does Goodreads provide analytics on this? I had to count by hand but would love to see data around genre, length, etc.)

I don’t really have a rhyme or reason for reading the books that I do. About 50% of my books are read via Kindle while the other half is dead tree checked out from the local library. I had to carry around Steve Jobs for 2 weeks and that is a book I had wished I had read on Kindle.

I read a few obscure sci-fi books such as The Amber Project which was a post-apocalyptic series about people being driven underground because of a weird gas that took over Earth. The series follows a bunch of kids that have been genetically modified to resist the gas. This was one of the Amazon Lending Library book offerings which are always lesser known and of dubious quality. But! Fiction is fiction and it helped me towards my goal so I’m pleased.

My reading philosophy is that life is too short to suffer through a book you don’t like–so put it down if you’re not enjoying it. I usually have half a dozen books going at once and I’ll stop and start them without much guilt.
For example, I’m about halfway through The Ego is the Enemy but that’s not really a book you just tear through in a couple days. It’s been sitting on my Kindle for the past 2 weeks unread but I think I’m ready to pick it up again. Same with The Courage to be Disliked.

I devoured Sally Rooney’s two books–Conversations with Friends and Normal People but I don’t know if I’d recommend them. They left me sort of sad and hollow inside. It bummed me out to think that young people would read these books and imagine relationships had to be this way–overly complicated and full of drama.

For 2020 I might up the ante to 40 books and shoot for 50% to be fiction. If you have any fiction book recs–please let me know!

Playing around with SoqlX

A fun thing about starting new jobs is being exposed to different tools & ways of doing things. This is my first job where my computer is a Mac instead of PC. A popular tool in the toolkit of Salesforce Admins is DemandTools. It’s a pretty nifty software but at its core it’s a GUI for using SOQL to find and update records. And it only runs on PC. What’s an enterprising Salesforce user supposed to do?

I was introduced to SoqlX, an open source tool for Mac users to edit, update, and query data. I’m going to walk through some of things I’ve learned since I’ve started using it. Between SoqlX and Dataloader, I’m pretty set and don’t miss DemandTools at all.

Ever since I started using SoqlX I pretty much avoid using Salesforce’s report builder. I find SOQL faster and easier overall, plus the added benefit of being able to edit a record directly within the UI of SoqlX.

Getting familiar with SoqlX

The SoqlX UI

I use the tool 100% for querying data, but you can also explore the schema and run anonymous Apex. All your objects (and fields!) are on the left. You write your query in the white box at the top.

The Recent button in the upper right shows you your past ~3 most recent queries. Which is super helpful if you forget to save your queries.

You can save your queries (DemandTools users might know these as “scenarios”). I highly recommend doing this when you think you’ll use it again. Especially if you took the time to write out a bunch of custom fields.

All my saved queries so far.

Command + S saves a query for you & Command + Shift + S saves the query results into a CSV.

SOQL 101

SOQL stands for Salesforce Object Query Language, it’s basically the command you tell Salesforce to give you the data you want. If you’ve ever used report builder in Salesforce it’s SOQL that’s running it under the hood.

Here’s a simple query, where I’m asking Salesforce to give me all the leads where Smith is the Last Name.

SELECT Id, LastName, State
WHERE LastName = 'Smith'
You can edit records in-line too. So I could change MICHIGAN to MI.

Once I run the query, I’m given all the records that fit the criteria, up to 2000.

You can also count how many records that fit a certain criteria as well by modifying the query (the answer is 1,362)

WHERE LastName = 'Smith'

SOQL is pretty powerful. If you aren’t super familiar with it I recommend reading SFDC’s developer docs, which are quite clear and useful.

Searching against the database

This is obviously one of the main benefits of DemandTools, but can be achieved using SoqlX as well if you have a little bit of a patience and a coworker (thanks Leon!) who can help you write a nifty Excel formula.

I usually need to search against Salesforce using email addresses. This is a common situation where a user extracts a list, but then they want to know more attributes about the records.

“Do you have record IDs?” I ask. “No just emails,” they say with a shrug. 🙄 (Note: I’d use the same steps below if they had record IDs, I just prefer them over emails because they are unique.)

When writing a query using emails, it needs to be formatted like this.

SELECT ID, FirstName, LastName, State
WHERE Email in ('testemail@gmail.com','testemail2@gmail.com')

You don’t write an equals sign because you’re looking for many records. The syntax is pretty straight forward, but what do you do when you have a 100+ emails? Certainly you’re not going to write them out by hand.

The Excel formula allows you to take a row of emails and immediately format them so they are read-for-SOQL. I made a Google Sheet that you can copy here.

The formula concatenates all your emails while respecting the single quote comma syntax that SOQL wants. Note: SOQL has a 20,000 character limit for queries so keep that in mind–if you try to shove too many emails into a single search you’ll get an error.

Let me know if you try out any of the above or if you have better tips that I’m missing! 👋🏻

Tradeoffs in getting rid of stuff

In advance of our move to San Francisco, Jordan and I are getting rid of almost everything we own.

There are only a few ways to get rid of your possessions: sell them, toss them, or donate them. I am using donate loosely. As long as you are not throwing it in the garbage or getting money for it, I will consider it a donation.

I immediately realized there was a framework I was operating under when deciding what to do with each of the things we owned.

Time: How much time will it take to offload this item?

Value: Does this item have good resale value?

Effort: What is the effort involved in getting rid of this item?

For me, most high value/high effort items were furniture and appliances. Our couch is practically brand new and I knew its resale value would hold. So I was willing to invest more time into getting it sold and out of the house. On the flip side, my random collection of wrapping paper and mason jars were much low value/low effort. I could easily toss them or donate them without taking much time.

Examples of low value/high effort items are large, broken things. Think of your grandmother’s garage with two TVs from the 90s. No one wants these things but getting rid of them will involve some effort on your part. As you go through your life try to jettison these items or avoid them all together. It makes moving much easier.

I made a spreadsheet of our high value items with the understanding that it would probably take more time to get rid of these things. I immediately listed our dresser, Vitamix, KitchenAid, etc. on Craigslist so that I wouldn’t be in crunch at the end trying to offload this stuff.

I think the biggest mistakes people make when moving are underestimating the sheer amount of stuff they own and the time it will take to organize/pack/get rid of the stuff they own. If time is on your side (which it usually is) then start the process as soon as you find out you are moving. Jordan thought I was nuts for immediately culling clothes and books but it has made the whole experience way less stressful.

Another mistake is that people totally overvalue their possessions. A good rule of thumb for selling items is 50% off the retail price. Sometimes lower. It cracks me up when people list couches that were purchased for $1200 for $900. People buy used stuff because they want a deal. Understand your target customer.

You also need to remember: You are balancing between the desire to get paid and the desire to get rid of it. I might not have gotten top dollar for everything I sold but I got it out of the house and made some money so I considered it a win.

Tactically, what does getting rid of stuff look like? I leveraged Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, my friends/colleagues, and my local Buy Nothing group.

Some things like stationery, books, costume jewelry, and small decorations are low value/low effort. I could just toss them in the trash! But that makes me sad, so I’ve actually increased my effort by offering these small things to friends and colleagues which sometimes means I am a lugging stuff around to its new owner. However, I happen to value gifting/donating this stuff over throwing it away. That’s just my preference.

Back to lifting

I’ve been lifting weights in various forms since 2012. Like many women, weights alluded me in college in favor of an elliptical but once I graduated I joined CrossFit and began my love affair with barbells.

Over these past 7 years I’ve done it all: CrossFit, Olympic lifting classes with a former Olympian, bootcamps, bodybuilding programming, powerlifting programming, Orange Theory, and Barry’s. All of them have their merits and I’m firmly in the camp of “the best workout for you is the one you do.” I have many girlfriends who aren’t interested in lifting weights and choose barre or spin classes. While I’m still convinced they’d see better results if they picked up something heavier than 10 lbs., I’m happy they’re dedicating time to their pursuit of fitness.

For the first 6 months of this year, I did Orange Theory Fitness classes. Orange Theory focuses on interval training where you spend time on a treadmill, rower, and floor with dumbbells. I chose it out of convenience (I lived across the street from the studio) and because I was tired of hyping myself up at the gym where I lifted.

You don’t realize how freeing it is to be able to walk into a room and not think. After a full day at work where you’ve been making decisions left and right I relished the opportunity to just show up and be told what to do.

Admittedly, I should have been doing that with my weightlifting programming (which I pay for and do not write myself) but even getting to the gym and needing to fight for a squat rack felt like too much effort compared to the handholding that Orange Theory provided.

My 6 month contract with Orange Theory ended in June and so did my interest in their workouts. While my cardiovascular health improved tremendously (I ran a 58:08 10K in May) I missed the sense of accomplishment that came with squatting, pressing, and pulling heavy weights.

I’m currently doing 3/week program by Bret Contreras who is extremely knowledgeable about all things lifting. The price? $40/month for programming that is total body but has a slight focus on glutes. 🍑🏋🏽‍♀️

I used to feel guilt that I couldn’t stick with just one type of workout. But humans like novelty and mixing up my workouts has helped me achieve my fitness philosophy which is “keep moving.” What is yours?

Accepting change

I have been thinking a lot about change recently and how quickly time goes by. This topic has been rolling around in my mind like a marble for the past 6 months and this is my first attempt to articulate my thoughts on the matter.

We moved apartments and 2019 is almost half way over. My (no longer really a) baby sister just graduated high school. Friends are getting married, having babies, and buying homes. Topics of conversation in my friend group include debating the merits of screen time for our unborn children and the benefits of therapy. The last year of my twenties is upon me in full force.

I have never been one to reminisce on the “good old days.” My perspective is that these are the good old days. I have my health, a wonderful spouse, a challenging job, fun hobbies, and loving friends and family.

But then I remember that while I am sitting here writing this that even though I feel at peace now, my current emotion is not representative of how it felt to get here. Change in the moment is stressful. As humans we say things like “Embrace change!” or “Change is inevitable” but if we were as gung ho about change as we say, there wouldn’t be books, blogs, and entire professions designed around shepherding humans towards adoption of a new tool or process.

How can I simultaneously feel at peace in the current moment, grateful for what I have while acknowledging that this moment will pass and new challenges will arise?

I recently read Start Here Now by Susan Piver which is a friendly, accessible book about meditation. She follows the Shambhala tradition of meditation, which includes meditating with your eyes open and palms downward. While I’m still not a meditator I appreciated many aspects of her book including viewing your thoughts as a train racing along the tracks. For many people you are riding the train, unable to get off or observe your thoughts. Through meditation you can disembark the train and instead of being on the train you will be on a hill watching it go by.

After that book, I sought out additional content by her and found an interview with her and Dan Harris on his podcast: 10% Happier. In the podcast she was discussing her new book on marriage and how it relates to the 4 Noble Truths, which could be a post on its own. I was not familiar with the truths prior to this episode:

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth to the path of the cessation of suffering (source)

The first truth is often stated as “life is suffering” but not in a painful, Jesus on the cross way. According to the podcast, it is hard to translate the concept into English in a way that conveys the original meaning. My understanding is that this “suffering” is caused by our desire to hold onto impermanent things in life. Holding on to our desire to not age, to never leave vacation, to not experience change.

This resonated with me and with my bolded question above. It is such a delicate balance to love the moment you are in while not despairing that the moment will pass.

Reclaim some Gmail storage with just a few clicks

I created my first Gmail account in 2006 at the tender age of 16. These were the halcyon days when getting access to Gmail required an invite from someone who already had Gmail. My friends and I were early adopters and quickly moved off AIM to Google Chat (remember when it was a separate standalone program on your computer?) A few weeks ago I was scrolling through my archives and reminiscing on softball games and the files I would email myself to print at school.

My walk down memory lane was rudely interrupted by Google threatening to no longer deliver mail to me since my storage was almost full. I could have coughed up the $1.99/mo for 100GB but I hate recurring charges and the main function of this email now is to be my “throwaway” email for promotions and newsletters so paying for storage felt indulgent.

I’ve seen other tricks like searching for attachments but I knew that my issue was pure email volume (hello, 13 years!) vs. straight up documents.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Looked at my All Mail to find low-value emails I no longer cared about. For this example, I’ll choose francesca’s.

2. Open the email and identify the from: address. Bonus: You can also unsubscribe if you don’t want the emails anymore. Copy the address.

3. Navigate back to All Mail and drop that address in the search bar. Make sure to select the conversations and then select “Select all conversations that match this search.” As you can see, there are “many” conversations. If you’ve been subscribed to newsletters or promotions from a company for years you could be dealing with thousands of emails.

4. Select the trash can, it will warn you that you’re about to perform a bulk action. Click OK. Those emails do not spark joy!

5. You’ll probably see a little yellow Loading… bar at the top of your screen while the messages delete. You can navigate away from the page without impacting the deletion process.

6. Your final step is to go to your Trash, select all the messages and choose Delete Forever. Ta-da! No more emails. 🎉

I managed to delete over 6,000 messages and it only took about 5 minutes total. I was at maximum capacity and am now down by 3GB which gives me plenty of space to play. My daily Dictionary.com email had generated over 3,500 emails over the years! Multiply that by a few other subscriptions and you can easily have over 10,000 emails in your inbox.

Enjoy your freshly decluttered inbox and bask in the glory of saving yourself $20/year in storage.

Some thoughts on working more effectively

A watercolor I painted 12 years ago. No perfectionism here!

Below are a smattering of thoughts on productivity, efficiency, and just getting things done. I’ve been obsessed with order, process, and planning for almost all my life. I used a planner in middle school. I made a spreadsheet of my budget in high school. I currently help run operations for rapidly growing media company. My qualifications on this topic are that I’ve applied the ideas below to my life with good effect.

However, all advice is given through the lens of the advice giver. Oftentimes, they think their advice is correct (otherwise, why would they give it?). I recognize that this is just one way not the only way. Take what you want and leave the rest.

The most important part of productivity is focusing on the right things. After that, it’s the speed and volume at which you can get those right things done.

Tactical Things

-If you are new to all of this, read Getting Things Done (GTD) & Seven Habits of Highly Successful people. There is a reason they are bestsellers and referenced ad nauseum. They are good.

-If you are a productivity geek (i.e. you have all the to-do apps, have read all the books above, etc) but still feel like you don’t get anything accomplished, check out Atomic Habits, Better than Before, and The Power of Habit. These focus on habit formation, which is a key part of productivity.

-Choose a system to write stuff down and stick with it. Do not flip between Evernote, your email, and a piece of paper. That is stressful & you’ll have too many open loops & spend more time wondering what you wrote down to do rather than doing it. I personally have tried many apps and I always come back to a single Notepad document on my computer or a Google Doc.

-Per GTD principles, try to only touch something once. When you get an email either respond, ignore, or forward on. This is called do, defer, or delegate. If any item will take you less than 2 minutes to do, just do it.

-I’m a huge fan of followupthen.com which allows you to forward emails for yourself on a specific day. Simply BCC nextweek@followupthen.com (or any time period) on an email you don’t want to forget and on that set time, it comes back to your inbox. I pretty much use this system exclusively for reminders. It is free and awesome.

-Use a password manager because copy + pasting passwords and remembering them is a huge time suck.

-Automate repetitive things like bills, deliveries, savings, etc. Learn a few keyboard shortcuts.

-Get plenty of sleep, drink water, and exercise. It is incredible how being healthy and well-rested can really give you an edge up.

The advice below progresses from work to personal life.

Hiring good people

People say they want to hire good people, but many organizations have employees that make you think, “how the heck did you get here?” A bad hire brings the vibe of the whole team down and is a real bummer. When hiring, look for people smarter than you and that you respect. This can be hard because hiring is hard. This Tweet, and this article are good pieces about hiring.

& delegate to them

You don’t have to have someone work for you to delegate to them (delegate to a spouse, a friend, a family member). You need to realize that you cannot do it all and, even if you could, there is value in giving other people the joy of learning a new skill. You want to be a force multiplier, lifting up everyone around you to be better.

If you find yourself doing something that you think, “God why am I doing this?” you should immediately identify someone to whom you can delegate that task. It is painful in the moment to teach someone a process that “only takes you 5 minutes,” but that 5 minutes is slowly eating away at you and killing you. Take the 60 minutes now to teach someone and you’ll be freed for the rest of your life. Do this with everything else you can think of. Now you have time to think of new cool things to do. Beautiful.

Say no ruthlessly

I don’t have many obligations. For clarity, I’m operating off a more negative definition of obligation: “doing something you don’t really want to.” Almost everything I do in my life is because I want to do it. It is very freeing and a huge contributor to my productivity. It’s much easier to get things done when you’re doing what you want to do, not doing what you have to do. Take a look at your calendar and your life. Are you doing things just because of social pressure or an expectation from someone else? When is the last time you told someone, “No thanks, I’m not interested.” You don’t have to be rude when declining people’s offers but you can’t live your life on someone else’s schedule.

Let things that don’t matter go, no perfectionism

A lot of successful people are perfectionists which can be beneficial in some ways (think of Steve Jobs’ obsession with design and the customer) but can often manifest itself negatively. Perfectionism is the killer of productivity because you continue to work on something that was probably good enough, ergo wasting your time and the time of everyone around you. If you’re a manager, your perfectionism could rub off onto your direct reports and now you’ve just slowed down an entire department. Follow the Pareto principle and be confident that you took it as far as you could within reason. This is easy for me because I’m a satisficer, not a maximizer. The biggest compliment I ever received from a colleague who is the epitome of a perfectionist was when she chatted me and said, “Cynthia! I pulled a you. I turned something in and it wasn’t perfect.” Love it.

Most decisions are reversible, start making more

Decision making is closely related to perfectionism. There are people who are SO stressed about making the “right” decision whether that be where they move, what they have for lunch, or who to marry. There are very few things in life that are not easily reversible. The things that come to mind are tattoos and babies. Most everything else can be undone, even if it costs money or time.

A key part of productivity is the volume of things you get done. This isn’t to say that working on one important thing isn’t productive, it definitely is. But life doesn’t usually let you work on the one important thing. You need to work on lots of things and lots of decisions need to be made. The faster you make decisions, the less time you spend deliberating, and more decisions you make the more feedback you’ll get on your decision making as a skill. The best way to improve a skill is a lots of reps and immediate feedback. You want to tighten that loop. I have many times said, “Do XYZ and if you get in trouble, tell ABC that it was my idea” just so that we could move forward on a project. You know how many times ABC has come after me? Zero.

This post sums up the feedback loop nicely. I haven’t finished reading Thinking in Bets but that is another good book on decision making.

Believe in your work & enjoy the process

It’s a lot easier to get stuff done if you actually care about what you’re doing. If you think your work is pointless or doesn’t have meaning, try to identify who you are serving in your job. Where I work, I help the sales team. I get a lot of joy out of seeing them succeed. Who are your customers? Who are you helping every day? It’s been proven that helping people makes people happier, so try reframing your work that way.

Another aspect of enjoying your work is enjoying the process of getting work done. This is called the “progress principle” and it’s crucial to your happiness. It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re just keeping your eyes on the prize. For example, if I save $10,000 for a trip to Bali, just keeping that picture of Bali on my wall wouldn’t be enough while I ate rice and beans for 6 months. I’d be miserable every day. But if I learned to love the daily process of being frugal, walking to work, and coupon clipping, that sense of progress towards of my goal would bring me joy every day. You need to love your work, not just the result of your work.

Be clear in what you want and write it down

This is my current favorite Tweet because it sums up office life so well. A huge inhibitor to productivity is not knowing what to work on. As a leader it is your job to set the vision and make sure everyone is executing it it. However, the vision is probably fuzzier than you think. Now that you have all this free time from delegating you can actually sit and think and then write it all down.

The process of writing things down is a forcing function because in your mind you’ve jumbled a lot of ideas together that aren’t actually that clear. But brains are really good at filling in gaps and so in your head it is all very cohesive. Until you sit down and realize that your ideas are jelly and need a lot more work. Clear writing is clear thinking.

Now imagine being someone on the receiving end of your non-written, non-thought out ideas. You’ve made a lot of assumptions when communicating to them and now they are also making assumptions as they hear your instructions. Next thing you know, no one is really sure what should happen or what success looks like. Write it down.

A tactical, necessary thing related to writing it down: Process documentation. Does your business have basic processes written down and documented? How are new hires onboarded? By reading useful guides that direct them through the basics of their job or by oral tradition? If you don’t have basic processes written down for people to follow you are literally burning time. Take the 60 minutes to write up the processes so you aren’t reinventing the wheel every time do you do something. Another benefit to writing it down: You can get everyone’s agreement that this is the official way to do things. You’d be amazed about how once you write a process down everyone chimes in about how they do it a little differently. Yikes, that doesn’t sound very efficient to me.

Understand yourself, your ambitions and stop making excuses

Are you reading this and nodding but then excusing yourself for not doing certain things because you don’t have enough time or some other unique reason for why this doesn’t apply to you? That could be one of your issues. If you consume a lot of “productivity porn” and nothing is changing you might want to look inside yourself. Why aren’t you sitting down and getting work done? Maybe you don’t actually want to be productive? That’s okay too. But you need to introspect.

This first comment relates well to this, “In other words … it’s obvious that many people don’t want to be successful, and if they were to introspect deeply, they would see this clearly. In fact what they want is to be somewhere comfortable in the middle of the herd, not having to do too much work.”

None of the above matters if you don’t have the building blocks in place

Ultimately, in order to live a productive life, you need to have your values aligned with how you live your life. If you are reading this and agreeing with it but are in crushing debt, barely get 5 hours of sleep, in a job that you hate — you are not embodying these values. Your mind and body are not in harmony. This relates to the elephant/rider metaphor from Jonathan Haidt’s Happiness Hypothesis (which I strongly recommend.) The elephant is your primal, emotional, animal brain. The rider is your rational brain. The rider is on top of the elephant and can coax the elephant, but not steer is completely. This is why even when you resolve to do something you sometimes don’t do it. The elephant strikes again!

There is a reason why “making your bed” is popular advice for being a happier person. You need to be in control of your physical and mental environment to get the most out of what I have written above.