Book Summary: “How to Read a Book”, Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren

How to Read a Book, Mortimer J Adler

How to Read a Book, Mortimer J Adler

“How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading”
Mortimer J. Adler, Charles van Doren

449 pages – Paperback | eBook

Perfect for you if:

  • You’re a slow reader or find reading difficult.
  • You’re busy and want to get the most from your reading.
  • You already think you’re a pretty good reader.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss

I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve been reading my whole life. I think I can handle a book.”

And the fact is you’re probably right. If you’re reading this, you obviously can read. You may even read quite a lot. But you’re probably not very good at it.

Unfortunately, just like the 90% of people who think their driving is “above-average”, there’s a good chance you’re blind to your failings. What’s more, even if you know you have room for improvement, you may have no idea how to get started. Fortunately, it’s precisely this blindspot Adler and Doren’s How to Read a Book sets out to cure.

Why is learning to ‘read well’ important? Because your mind is the most wonderful gift nature gave you. It will outlast your body for decades. It will almost continuously grow, shape and transform your entire experience of life.

And books aren’t an optional extra – they’re the key to unlocking your mind’s full potential. They’re a source of unending insight. They’re a limitless well of flash-frozen wisdom from mankind’s best thinkers and doers.

The good news? Reading is a skill – one you can greatly improve. Like all skills, it can be broken down, practised and mastered – no matter who you are, how much you read or where you’re starting from.

So open your mind, grab a pen and get ready – because despite the decades of reading behind you, it’s finally time to learn…


Reading can be done for three reasons, for:

  • Entertainment – to relax, hear a story or “just because”;
  • Information – to acquire facts (to see more of the world); and
  • Understanding – to develop insight (to see the world differently).

Of the three, reading for understanding is hardest – and the focus of this guide.

Why? Because cognitive leaps are hard work. They begin with books that are beyond us, they lead us to new and occasionally uncomfortable truths and they end with adopting a whole new perspective.

To begin closing your gap to an author, you must confidently answer four questions:

  1. What is their book about as a whole?
  2. What is being said in detail, and how?
  3. Is their book true, in whole or in part? and
  4. What of it?

How do we answer those questions? We tend to think of reading as passive. But the secret is to realise it’s a two-way exchange. The author’s job is to throw, yours is to catch – a book’s success depends on both of you playing your part. 

The more active your reading, the better your reading. The better your reading, the better your answers to the questions above. And the better your answers, the more likely you are to see the world in new and wonderful ways.


But how? Reading actively means mastering four levels of reading:

  1. Elementary reading – Turning symbols into information;
  2. Inspectional reading – Getting the most from a book in a given time;
  3. Analytical reading – Thorough and complete reading for understanding; and
  4. Synoptic reading – Exploring a subject through wide reading.

Let’s discuss three general active-reading tips and then examine each level in turn.


The first general active-reading tip is so important, we’ve mentioned it already and will come back to it at the end. Always approach reading as a conversation with the author. Approach every book with an open mind and remember that books are the imperfect creations of imperfect creatures. 

Don’t treat everything you read as inflexible statements of fact. Do question and challenge. But do also make sure you understand what you’ve read before criticising. Active-reading is like active-listening. If you can’t restate the author’s position better than they can, you don’t know it well enough to help fix it.

The second active-reading tip is this – make every book you read your own. To do so, use:

  • Highlighting – underline, circle, star, asterisk and fold pages;
  • Linking – number arguments on the page, reference other pages or sections; and
  • Synthesising – write in the margins, top and bottoms of pages and front and endpapers.

Making a book your own as you read improves concentration, encourages thinking (through words) and forces active engagement.

The final tip for active-reading is to set your reading environment up for success. Make sure your environment is well lit, tidy and allows you to focus. Treat every session with the same respect as a life-changing meeting of minds.

So, with those thoughts in mind, it’s time to get started with…


Elementary reading is the skill of turning symbols into information. If you can get from the first to the last page of a book (or if you’re reading this) you’re already there. But one major improvement we can all make is to read with appropriate speed. 

The majority of speed reading courses focus on two tricks:

  1. Reducing fixations – The number of jumps your eye makes; and
  2. Reducing regressions – The time you spend rereading.

The solution to both is as simple as running a pencil down the page as you read at a slightly faster rate than feels comfortable. With practice, this will help you reduce bad habits like sub-vocalising and increase your reading speed by hundreds of percent.

But the most important word in the sentence above isn’t speed, it’s appropriate.

“Every book should be read no more slowly than it deserves, and no more quickly than you can read it with satisfaction and comprehension,” Adler and Doren tell us.

The key insight is that not all books are created equal. When reading for understanding, one 300-page book may deserve just an hour of skimming, another may deserve days or even weeks of your time. Grasping this marks the difference between those who are widely read (lots of reading, little understanding) and those who are well read (less reading, more understanding). It’s a vital distinction to make.

Learning to spot and adjust your reading approach at each end of the spectrum is critical. The secret? It all hinges on…


Inspectional reading is the art of getting the most from a book in a given time. You should inspect every book you are thinking of reading before reading it. Why? Doing so helps in two ways:

  1. It primes you with an overall framework of the book; and
  2. It tells you whether and how to read it.

The first will greatly speed up your reading if you decide to dig deeper. The second will save you many hours reading books better skipped. Both outcomes mean mining more insights from books that most deserve your time and attention.

So how does it work? Inspectional reading has two parts and begins with…


Takes: Ten minutes to an hour.
Answers: What kind of book is it? What’s it about? How is it structured? Is it worth reading?

To begin your systematic skimming, first study the:

  • Title – Take a moment to read it aloud. What does it tell you to expect?
  • Contents – How has the author structured their work? How does it flow? What are the pivotal chapters?
  • Index – What terms are most frequently referenced? Do any surprise you?
  • Publisher’s blurb – What does the publisher think is important? How have they synthesised the work? and
  • Author’s preface – What does the author want you to take away? How do they want you to read?

At this stage, try to avoid syntheses, commentaries and reviews as these will bias your ability to come to your own conclusions.

The next step is turning the pages, as you do so:

  • Read titles, sub-titles, figures and tables;
  • Read a paragraph or two, sometimes several pages – Never more;
  • Skim pivotal chapters in full – Especially opening and summary statements); and
  • Read the last two or three pages in the main part of the book.

Third, pencil some brief, structural notes (blank front pages are a great place to do this):

  • Classify the book – is it:
    • Non-fiction, narrative non-fiction, fiction?
    • Prose, verse, theatre, other or a mix?
    • History, science or philosophy?
    • Theoretical or practical?
  • Write a short synthesis of its contents – One to three sentences at most; and
  • Bullet its high-level structure.

By this point, you should have a good idea of what kind of book this is and what it’s about. That’s helpful because the final step in skim reading is to:

  • Decide whether to read the book or not.

If you only live for 700,000 hours (~80 years), do you really want to invest ~6 of them in this book? Is reading this book going to rock your world? Is it one of the ~1,000 good or ~100 truly great books that Adler and Doren suggest might exist? If not, you may want to read something else.

Hopefully, you can see how a quick upfront skim and one simple question can save hundreds of hours of frustration and effort. 

If you do decide to read the book, that’s great! The next step in inspectional reading is…


Takes: Depends on the book, but at a faster rate than comfortable.
Answers: What does it say (big picture)?

Superficial reading is a simple as reading the whole book, all the way through without stopping.

Do take notes and make the book your own but don’t look anything up or puzzle out bits you don’t immediately understand.

Why? First, your questions may solve themselves as you keep reading. Second, the important thing here is to get a view of the forest without getting lost in the trees. It’s a good tip because, as Adler and Doren note, “even if you never go back, understanding half of a really tough book is much better than not understanding it at all.” 

But as you finish, if you decide you do want to go back – if this book is really worth pulling apart – then it’s time to start… 


Analytical reading is the art of thorough and complete reading for understanding.

The goal of analytical reading is to close the gap in understanding between you and an author. By the end of the process, you should be able to explain what the author said, what they meant and why they said it. You should also be able to clearly state your position on their work with specific reasons for any criticisms.

The three parts that follow give a detailed and idealised checklist. You may feel like you do many of these steps mostly well. The goal here is to make them explicit; to pull the skill of reading apart so you can see, practice and master the components. Challenge yourself to practice each step below (especially where you’re most resistant) the next few times you really dive into a book. Doing so will make you a better, faster and smarter reader.


  1. Classify the book;
  2. Synthesise it briefly;
  3. Identify, organise and outline the parts; and
  4. Define the problems the author is trying to solve.

Now that you’ve read the whole book once through, the first step in analytical reading is to revise and extend your notes from Inspectional Reading. 

First, check you still agree with your classification. This may feel excessive but it will help calibrate the rest of your approach.

Second, review your synthesis. What is the main theme or point? What is the author trying to achieve? How do they get there? Make this as brief, accurate and comprehensive as possible (no more than a few sentences or a short paragraph).

Next, revisit and expand your high-level structure. Identify the main parts of the book. Break each bullet into sub-bullets. Split those sub-bullets further until you have a solid outline of the book’s contents and flow.

Finally, make a list of the questions you think the author is trying to answer. What are the main questions? What are their sub-questions? Which questions are primary and which secondary? Don’t just do this in your head. Write them down.

With this birds-eye view in hand, it’s time to move on to… 


  1. Spot all the keywords and understand what the author means by them;
  2. Distil the key propositions from the author’s most important sentences;
  3. Find or build the author’s arguments from sequences of sentences; and
  4. Decide which problems the author has, hasn’t and knew they couldn’t solve.

Where part I of analytical reading is top-down, part II tackles the task bottom-up.

Just as writing uses words to build sentences and paragraphs, so logic uses terms to build propositions and arguments. Your work now is to find and relate these back to part I.


First, make a list of, then define all the unfamiliar or important keywords in the book – technical, antiquated and otherwise. Use the title, headings, figures, glossary and formatting to help spot them. Once listed, make sure you understand exactly how the author is using these words; be sure you understand what they mean. 

Glossaries, dictionaries and reference books can help (especially for technical jargon). But the most important clue here is context. What do the words around the keywords say about how the author is using them? What about the rest of the book? The combination of keywords and the specific way an author uses them are the author’s terms.


Second, find, highlight and dissect the sentences whose meaning is either not immediately obvious or that are clear declarations of knowledge or opinion. These are the author’s propositions, the foundations that support their main arguments. A good way to spot these is to look for high concentrations of the terms that you gathered above.

Once you’ve found them, puzzle away at these propositions until you can re-state them clearly in your own words. Alternatively, challenge yourself to exemplify the general truth they imply with a specific personal example. Both exercises will challenge you to show true understanding.


Finally, find or piece together the collections of sentences or paragraphs in the book that connect one or more propositions in support of a particular conclusion. These chains of logic are the author’s main arguments.

To spot them, look for things the author states they must assume, can prove or need not prove because they are self-evident; look for conclusions where you find reasons (and vice versa).

Finally, relate your analysis back to your observations from part I. What problems has the author solved? Which have they missed? Where did they know that they failed?

Following this rigorous process of deconstruction will put you in an excellent place to tackle…



  1. Understand before you “agree”, “disagree” or “abstain”;
  2. Be open-minded and collaborative, even when you disagree; and
  3. Be specific in any criticisms you make.

A general rule for criticism is to always approach a book like a light-hearted and constructive problem-solving session with a friend.

Begin with an open and collaborative mind, assume benign intent and be able to state the other person’s position better than they can before weighing in with your own. 

Remember that both you and the author are (usually) just as curious about and interested in finding the truth. Focussing on that, and not who is right or who is wrong, will help you get more from your reading.

Where you do disagree, monitor your emotions. Remember, just because you don’t like someone’s arguments, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re wrong.

Always criticise with an eye towards resolution and keep your own propositions and arguments to the same standards as you hold the author’s.

And remember, there’s a very good chance that it’s you that may misunderstand or be ignorant on some important point.

The best way to keep yourself logical and honest is to…


An author and their arguments can fall short by being:

  1. Uninformed – The author does not know something important;
  2. Misinformed – The author states something that is incorrect;
  3. Illogical – The author’s arguments are inconsistent or don’t follow; or
  4. Incomplete – One or more important additional conclusions omitted.

One or all of these may be true, but only for specific parts of a book.

“The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks,” Adler and Doren remind us.

So when you criticise, make sure you can clearly explain where your criticism applies, what kind of shortcoming you’ve spotted and (for extra points) how you might improve or rewrite the argument. If you can’t, be as suspicious of yourself as you would of someone else criticising your work whose best explanation is “a general sense of unease”.

And remember, until you can level at least one of the first three points at a work, you cannot (logically) disagree with its conclusions, even though you may dislike them.


If you’ve successfully applied the three parts of analytical reading you should find the gap between you and an author has closed considerably. 

Congratulations! Using nothing but the power of your mind, you’ve conquered a book that was once well beyond you. You’ve elevated yourself from student to peer. You’ve met the mind of the author as equal and seen the world through the eyes of a giant. That’s pretty amazing.

But what of it? What of the fourth and final question active-reading must answer? To take a step back and connect not just one dot but many, to use your new found powers of reading to transform not just one part of your world but the whole thing we must move on to the last level of reading… 


Synoptic reading is the art of exploring a question or subject by reading widely. It’s not about reaching conclusions. Instead, it’s about putting together a really good map. It’s about discovering and noting the landmarks, the sights and the hazards so that when you do set out on the journey, you’re the best-informed traveller out there.

The most significant shift here is from a book-focussed perspective to a subject-focussed one. Where analytical reading treats a book as an end in itself, synoptic reading treats a book as a means; as an input to a wider discussion.

That’s why the first part of synoptic reading is less about “how” and more about “what”. It begins with…


Like any good project, synoptic reading starts with good planning. The following six-step process will help set you off on the right foot:

  1. Roughly identify the subject you want to tackle – Try to be as specific as possible, but don’t worry – you’ll be refining this as you go along;
  2. Realise more than one book is necessary to tackle it – Sounds obvious, but how many people do you know (including yourself) that read one book and then regurgitate it like it’s the single, objective authority on a topic?
  3. Draw up a long bibliography – Draw from libraries, advisors and bibliographies in other books. Use the Synopticon (Vol 1, Vol 2) to identify references to particular themes in The Great Books of The Western World (N.B., this is exactly what I’ve been doing here);
  4. Systematically skim all the books on your list – Do this before reading anything on your list superficially, let alone analytically. Add any extra sources you discover to your long-list as you go;
  5. Solidify the subject you’re tackling – List the questions you want to address. These will set your boundaries and define your terms; and
  6. Shorten your bibliography – Include only those books that say something important about the questions you’ve asked.

By now, you should have a solid idea of:

  • The subject you’re tackling;
  • The angle you’re tackling it from;
  • The sources that have something important to say about it; and
  • Roughly what side of each question those sources fall on.

So with your mission and short-list in hand, it’s time to start…


Synoptic reading is the fourth level of reading because it involves a skilful combination of elementary, inspectional and analytical reading. To do it:

  1. Find the relevant passagesDo not read every book on your short-list analytically. How much time you spend with a book in synoptic reading depends on how much of and how well it relates to your questions;
  2. Bring the authors to your terms – “Translate” each author’s terms to bring everyone on to the same (your) page (this can be the hardest part of the process);
  3. Get the questions clear – Refine and order your questions to shed the greatest light possible on the subject;
  4. Define the issues – Set out the different ways each author answers each question; and
  5. Analyse the discussion – Order the debate to throw as much light on the subject as possible.

Remember, synoptic reading is like drawing a map – keeping it as objective as possible will give you the best chance of safely navigating your subject.

With this in mind, take particular care in step 5. Watch out for soft biases when ordering your questions, the debate and especially in the tone of your writing. Cast the facts as you wish, but remember, your thinking will thank you if you can resist adding bias too early.


So there you have it! Still feel like your reading has no room for improvement?

Hopefully, this crunch of Adler and Doren’s How to Read a Book has shown you how much more there is to reading than meets the eye. But also that reading is a skill – one you can greatly improve, no matter who you are or what your current experience.

The big secret? Activity is the essence of good reading – the more active the better. And to get there, we’ve explored not just four levels of reading (elementary, inspectional, analytical and synoptic), but also a huge number of practical ways to get started right away.

“Aw man, that sure feels like a lot of hard work!” 

I hear you. There’s no escaping the fact that learning to read well is a challenge. But so is learning or perfecting any new skill.

And sure, you could happily get through life with average or even below average reading skills. But the benefits of learning to read well are so enormous that any effort you make is well worth it.

Because tackling books that are beyond you won’t just improve your reading, it will make you a better, more compassionate person. It will make you “wiser in the sense that you are more deeply aware of the great enduring truths of human life.”

So don’t just settle for being an average reader. Become a good reader. Heck, become a great reader. Because doing so won’t just make the next book you read a more interesting, valuable and meaningful experience. It will elevate your mind to the level of humanity’s greatest thinkers and doers. It will transform your experience of life.

Book Summary: “10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades”, Thomas Frank

10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades, Thomas Fank

10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades, Thomas Fank

“10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades (While Studying Less)”, Thomas Frank
166 pages – Paperback | eBook

This 3hr Note is part of an ongoing project to read, note and crunch ~70 books on Learning How to Learn - for more, see the full Learning How to Learn reading list.

TYPE: Non-fiction (philosophy), practical.

SYNTHESIS: A short, practical guide for students on being more productive and studying more effectively by veteran student-success writer, Thomas Frank of College Info Geek.


  1. Pay better attention in class
  2. Take more effective notes
  3. Get more out of your textbooks
  4. Plan like a general
  5. Build a better study environment
  6. Fight entropy and stay organized
  7. Defeat procrastination
  8. Study smarter
  9. Write better papers
  10. Make group projects suck less


Avoid burn out by staying healthy:

  • Eat healthy 90% of the time.
  • Work out regularly.
  • Get at least 6 hours of sleep per night.

Be deliberately and actively present in class:

  • Sit up front.
  • Speak up in class discussions.
  • Take lots of notes.

Take lots of notes by finding ways to force yourself to do it:

  • Make an internal commitment.
  • Form a note-sharing study group.
  • Use a habit tracking tool (like Habitica).
  • Make your notes public.

Minimise willpower killing friction by preparing in advance:

  • Find next year’s accommodation 7 – 8 months ahead of time.
  • Plan for the following day the previous evening (charge devices, pack bags, sync files).
  • Use notes (physical and digital) and alarms to trigger your mindfulness.

Be solution oriented but be sure to use Professor’s office hours if you’re really stuck:

  • First, push yourself for 15 minutes to solve something.
  • During that time, note everything you do to try and solve the problem.
  • Only then, if you’re still stuck, should you ask for help.
  • But not before you have a clear answer to the question:
    “What is it [exactly] that I don’t understand?”


Copying down word for word will distract you from taking time to understand the content.

Instead, focus more on what is meant (meaning) than what is said (syntax) when taking notes

Experiment with the following 5 note-taking methods to help:

  1. The Outline Method – a standard hierarchical approach.
    • Use bullets and sub-bullets to structure your notes
    • Pros: easy to do.
    • Cons: can lead to mindless note-taking (see above).
  2. The Cornell Method – split each page into three columns:
    • Cue column – Questions based on the main ideas and important details.
    • Note-taking column – Contains your normal notes during class.
    • Summary column – End of class summary of your notes column.
    • Pros: sets up notes for efficient studying while you take them.
  3. The Mind Map Method (a great web app is Coggle)
    • Write a single “umbrella term” in the middle of a blank page.
    • Write words around it that expand the idea and more words around those.
    • Use lines, colours, doodles and diagrams to connect all the words.
  4. The Flow Method – a holistic approach that forces active note taking and best used for topics where ideas readily connect.
    • Write important terms down as they come up.
    • Connect them with arrows to show links.
    • Synthesise things in your own words (don’t parrot).
    • Create backlinks to earlier parts of your notes
  5. The “Write on Slides” Method – annotate your slides instead of writing separate notes (be sure to stay active and don’t get lazy!).


Don’t do all your assigned reading.

  • Much will be covered in class; and
  • You won’t be tested on a lot of it.

Instead, gauge your classes and split your reading into:

  • Primary readings – things you must read (like the generally required textbook); and
  • Secondary readings – things it would be nice to read (smaller books, articles, case studies etc…).

Adapt your reading style to the way your knowledge will be tested e.g.,

  • Multiple Choice – Learn facts and specific details; or
  • Essays – Identify and summarise the main ideas.

Read actively, not passively using these 6 techniques:

  • Pseudo-skim – Speed through filler text, slow down for the important stuff.
  • Read the chapter backwards – Prime your brain with any summary points, glossaries and questions.
  • Create questions – As you read, rework the details into questions you can use to test yourself later.
  • Pay attention to formatting – e.g., bold, italics and lists
  • Mark up and take notes in your book – Use sticky flags if you can’t deface the book, otherwise use a pencil or highlighter.

Write summaries of what you read as if you were teaching it to others.

  • Summarise what you’ve just read from memory immediately after finishing (active recall).
  • Make it simple and test your knowledge by imagining teaching it to someone else.


Separate planning from doing.
This will let you focus on doing without thinking making you more efficient.

Create and update a long-term plan for your education from day 1.

Plan your week on a Sunday and match your tasks to your energy levels:

  1. Make a list of academic and non-academic things you must do this week.
  2. Group those activities by “High” and “Low” thought-intensity work.
  3. Plan and adapt your tasks during the week to your energy levels.
  4. Get to know when your typical high energy level times are and adjust accordingly.

Plan your day the night before or first thing in the morning:

  1. Look at your calendar and to do lists.
  2. Make a list of things that need to be done tomorrow.
  3. Prioritise your list by putting the most important things at the top based on:
    • Positive impact – What will get you closest to your goals?
    • Negative impact – What will stop your life spiralling into chaos?
    • Willpower – What will require the most willpower to complete?
  4. Estimate how long each task will take to complete (adjust for your fudge ratio*)
  5. Combine this with your start time to come up with an end goal for the day.
  6. Start from the top of the list and work your way down.

* To work out your fudge ratio (the amount you tend to underestimate timings):

  1. Estimate your task times for the day (e.g., task A: 1 hour).
  2. Record your actuals (e.g., task A: 1h 37 mins).
  3. Divide your actuals by your estimates (97 mins / 60 mins = x1.62).
  4. Use your fudge ration to improve your estimates.
  5. Trust your gut once you have a better feel for setting timings.

Break down projects by:

  1. Splitting the project into tasks.
  2. Grouping the tasks into contexts.
  3. Planning exactly how and when you’ll devote resources to them.


Design your environment deliberately to minimise friction.

  • Optimise location and music.
  • Minimise real-world and technical distractions.

For location:

  • Work where others are working (e.g., libraries, coffee shops and cowering spaces).
  • Think out of the box (e.g., attend concentrated seminars or work weekends on a topic).

For music: experiment to see what works for you…

  • Try different genres with different kinds of work.
  • Experiment with white, pink or brown noise.
  • Trial ambient noise (e.g., rain, coffee shop etc…).
  • Mix them all together.

To limit real-world distractions:

  • Avoid distracting places – See above, comes down to personal preference.
  • Avoid distracting people – Studying with friends isn’t always a good idea.
  • Learn to say no to fun things.
  • Make it difficult for people to contact you (see above and below).

To limit digital distractions: put hurdles in place to make procrastination more hassle than its worth:

  • For your phone:
    • Turn it off.
    • Turn off most of the notifications.
    • Put in on do not disturb mode.
  • For your computer:
    • Block your access to time-sink websites with e.g., StayFocusd (Chrome), FocalFilter (Win), ColdTurkey (Win) or SelfControl (Mac).
    • Uninstall time-sink apps (e.g., games).
    • Hide the bookmarks bar in your browser.
    • Set up a “work” user account on your computer.
    • Use a different computer entirely (e.g., in a computer lab) to do your work.


Organise your files the right way:

  1. Download and install Dropbox/Google Drive – gives you access to your files wherever you are.
  2. Set up your folder structure – split your life into sensible pieces as a start.
  3. Set up your college folder – split it e.g., by year > class > projects, add extra folders for e.g., clubs.

Build a quick capture system to get ideas out of your head with tools like a physical notebook or apps like Drafts (iOS), Evernote, Scanbot, Trello, Google Calendar, Todoist or Pinboard.

Use Evernote (or Dropbox) as a second brain.

Use a task manager: “The best to-do app is the one that works well for you.”

Some good options include: Wunderlist, Remember the Milk, Google Tasks, Todoist, Producteev, Omnifocus and Asana.

Fight entropy and friction by using a checklist to keep your world and your systems tidy each week.


Only say, “I don’t feel like it” if you add “but I’m going to do it anyway.”

The Procrastination Equation is a useful way to think about motivation. It says:

  • Motivation = (Expectancy x Value) / (Impulsiveness x Delay) where
  • Expectancy – your perceived odds of succeeding at the task;
  • Value – how much you care about the reward;
  • Impulsiveness – how easily distracted you are; and
  • Delay – the time it’ll take you to get the reward.

So to increase motivation:

  1. Notice you’re procrastinating.
  2. Understand what part of the equation is suffering.
  3. Find a way to fix it. I.e.,
    • Increase expectancy – work on your confidence at succeeding;
    • Increase the task’s value – make the reward bigger, or process more rewarding;
    • Decrease impulsiveness – better avoid distractions (see tip 5); and
    • Accept delay – give yourself micro-rewards (e.g., chocolate).

Build good habits with Habitica

  • Willpower is a limited resource.
  • Habits allow you to act without using willpower.
  • Building good habits makes putting in consistent daily effort easy.
  • Habitica makes building good habits easy by making it fun and social.

Give yourself permission to batch your fun (e.g., games, social media) into high-density stretches that incentivise you to get your work done.

Use the Pomodoro technique to just focus on the next 25 minutes:

  1. Commit to one task.
  2. Set a 25-minute timer.
  3. Do as much as you can in that time.
  4. Have a short 3 – 5-minute break.
  5. Repeat.

Make procrastinating (failing) painful with e.g., Beeminder


Get used to assessments by replicating test conditions when you study. To do so:

  1. Gather your materials – syllabus, handouts, notes, assignments, textbook.
  2. Identify the topics likely to come up in tests – prioritise these in your learning.
  3. Create study guides for each topic – design questions that will test your active recall on the topic.
  4. Get studying – write model answers to the questions.
  5. Test yourself – practice until it’s easy to answer those questions under test conditions.

Prioritise active learning over passive learning.

  • Passive learning – exposing yourself to material and hoping it will sink in.
  • Active learning – force yourself to recall information independently with testing.

Use spaced repetition (see Anki) to maximise learning efficiency.

  • Forces active recall just when you might forget it.
  • Helps you focus on things you still need help learning.

For subjects like Math:

  1. Learn to notice your confusion – be specific about it (see step 1), test for gaps with problem sets.
  2. Understand, don’t memorise – chip patiently away at concepts until the “Aha! I get it!” moments, test by explaining it to someone else.
  3. Do. The. Math! – Learn by doing lots and lots of problems.


  1. Do an unstructured brain dump – Knowledge, questions, points, sources, quotes.
  2. Develop a focus and questions to answer – This will break down and give your research direction.
  3. Keep your research focussed and systematic
    • Find sources – Use Wikipedia, textbooks and Google Scholar to find sources.
    • Make a personal copy – Save or scan a copy to e.g., Evernote or Dropbox.
    • Annotate the material – Skim while creating short notes that reference page numbers.
    • Decide if you’re done – Stop when you have at least 2 facts to support each main point.
  4. Write an awful first draft – Just get ideas on the paper, stay detached by doing so in a separate document or app like Evernote or Byword (Mac, iOS).
  5. Edit ruthlessly – Add needed detail, restructure, reorder and fix mistakes asking:
    • Is there good narrative flow?
    • Is the main idea clear, relevant and effectively communicated?
    • Do the sections back the main idea up?
    • Is there enough research to support the facts?
    • What can I remove or state in a simpler or better way?
  6. Tighten up the writing – Check spelling, grammar, formatting, rhythm and flow by:
    • Print out the paper and mark the errors in full by hand.
    • Read the paper out loud to yourself.
    • Take note of your common errors (i.e., spelling, punctuation).
  7. Ask for feedback from experts and non-experts.
    • Use each potential reviewer only once.
    • Explain what kind of feedback (detailed, big-picture) you want.
  8. Do a final check – Ask yourself “Is it ready?” Once you’re satisfied, let it go.


Make good use of the first meeting:

  • Get everyone knowing everyone
    • Make small-talk and be a generally nice human being.
    • Gather names, numbers, emails – send these to the whole group during the meeting.
    • Have everyone share a bit about themselves (strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes).
  • Set up goals and expectations – “When in doubt, be the leader.”
    • Create and schedule milestones for the project.
    • Assign every task to someone specific based on strengths and preferences (never assume something will get done).
    • Set a time for the next meeting.
  • Create strong communication channels – see Slack

Nominate an editor whose job it is to collect and integrate all the finished components.

Use great tools to make life easier:

  • Trello – To track and delegate tasks.
  • Slack – For team communication.
  • Google Docs – For real-time document collaboration.


  1. Pick 1 – 2 main focusses.
  2. Write down a goal for that area.
  3. Write an action plan to achieve it.
  4. Get started!


The Simplervention: 5 Steps And 30-Days To A Simpler, Happier Life


Here we go again. Another day, another frantic bolt from start to finish. Another baseline of anxiety, punctuated by stress, numbed by sporadic distraction.

Your treadmill is running too fast – so fast that rest, exercise, hobbies and time with your loved ones all feel like childhood fantasies. You’re busy, you’re always too busy. 

“Why am I always behind? Why does each day feel too short?” you wonder helplessly, “Why can’t life just be simple?”

And yet life can be simple. Your life can be simple. And you already have everything needed to get there.

“But how?” I hear you ask. The path to simplicity is simple itself:

  1. Identify the most important things to you in life; and
  2. Eliminate, automate or say no to everything else.

“But how?!” I hear you cry, “How can we buy ourselves time and energy to take back control? What can we do, right now, to get started?”


There are two tried and tested ways to almost magically simplify life: 

  1. Have a very serious health scare; or
  2. Take a very long trip (~6 months or more).

Fortunately, many are mostly spared the pains of the first. Unfortunately, even fewer experience the joys of the second.

But there’s also a less extreme way to cut through the noise and return to what matters:

  1. The Simplervention – a 5 step, 30-day intervention to a simpler, happier life.

The process is (unsurprisingly) simple:


  1. Stop the supply – Put a hard, temporary stop to anything adding complexity.
  2. Fix the basics – Use your new found time to sleep, exercise, eat well and slow down.


  1. Discover your baseline – Work out exactly where your time and energy go.


  1. Reflect and simplify – Identify then start or do more of what matters. Stop or do less of what doesn’t.


  1. Improve yourself – Get better at playing the game. Life is as complex as your ability to meet it.

Some of the challenges ahead may scare you. Others may feel impossible. Good. The more resistance you feel, the more you should force yourself to confront those dependencies. 

Nothing proposed is permanent and the challenge lasts just 30 days. So approach the Simplervention with playful curiosity, and challenge yourself.

In the worst case, you’ll end up where you started. And the best case? You might just transform your life.


The first step to fixing a busted pipe that’s flooding your home is turning off the supply. The same basic principle applies to a Simplervention. Step one is to disconnect you from the mains. Only then can we sort through the wreckage of life, fix the plumbing and get your supply back to normal.

To stop your supply, you must commit seriously to each of the following measures for the next 30 days.

  1. Block time-sink websites;
  2. Delete time-sink apps;
  3. Disable all notifications;
  4. Unsubscribe from everything;
  5. Unplug your TV;
  6. Stop drinking;
  7. Buy nothing; and
  8. Start saying “No”.

Steps 1 through 5 need only be done once. Doing so should take no more than a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon.

Steps 6 through 8 will demand light, firm and regular doses of discipline over the course of your 30-day Simplervention.

Remember, the more resistance you feel, the more you should force yourself to confront those dependencies.

You’re not giving these things up forever, you’re taking 30 days to remember you don’t need them.


Make a list of any websites you’ve spent time on in the last few weeks.

The list should cover everything, from social media, entertainment and news to shopping and porn.

Now, block all sites you’ve listed on all your devices for the next 30 days (click here for simple instructions).

If you catch yourself browsing substitutes during the Simplervention, add these to your list and block them too.

The only exceptions here are sites absolutely vital to your livelihood.


Delete every non-critical app you’ve downloaded on all your computers and devices.

That includes all social media, entertainment, news or shopping apps. It also includes all deletable messaging apps and anything remotely game-like. 

For extra points, temporarily block your ability to (re)install apps using your device’s parental control features.


Disable all notifications for every remaining app on all your devices.

That means turning off badges, popups, pop downs, noises, lights, vibrations – everything.

The only exception is for incoming phone calls. If people are calling it’s possibly urgent – you can always decline if it’s not.


Unsubscribe from everything you’re not actively seeking.

That means all news and magazine subscriptions, email updates, newsletters – everything.

Search your inbox for “Unsubscribe” and opt-out of every newsletter or update you’re currently getting.

As for all these steps, make a note of everything you’re eliminating so you can optionally reactivate it later.


Unplug every TV in your home and store the power cables somewhere you can’t see or easily reach them.

You should already have blocked sites like Netflix and YouTube across all your devices in step (i).


Go teetotal for 30-days.

If all you like is the taste of alcohol, it should be easy to give up for a month – just tell your friends you’re “detoxing”.

If you struggle to relax, be yourself or function without alcohol, you have bigger problems to deal with – problems that drinking won’t solve.


Buy absolutely nothing new for the next 30 days.

That means no clothes, no gadgets, no subscriptions, no books, no tools, no toys – no anything. And that includes spending money on other people.

Instead, limit spending to nothing but food, transportation, bills, basic sanitary goods and urgent healthcare.

Reread your old books, re-wear your old clothes and if something breaks, repair it. In every other case, whatever it is can wait until next month.


Say no to everything and everyone for the next 30 days that doesn’t directly lead to quality time with your partner, family or 3 – 5 closest friends.

Say no to new commitments, projects, meetings and opportunities. Say no to lunches, dinners, drinks or even just people stopping by for a chat. 

Either stick to a simple “No, I’m really sorry I’ve got something else on” or have fun coming up with outlandish excuses.

The only exceptions are genuine emergencies or otherwise immediately career-ending requests at work.


Following the steps above will unlock a glut of time, space and energy in your life. 

Your job in week 1 is to use this new space to get your basics in order:

  • REST – Sleep at least 7 – 9 hours each night. If you haven’t had a long vacation in a while aim for 8 – 10 hours.
  • MOVEMENT – Do at least 45 minutes of strenuous exercise as many days of the week as possible.
  • FUEL – Eat a varied diet (colour, food groups) and avoid processed sugars (soft drinks, snacks).
  • SLOWING DOWN – Stop as often as 10 times each day to just be. Breathe, connect to your senses, really look at and listen to your loved ones and the world around you.

Whenever you’re lost or craving something you’ve given up in step 1, come back to and work on one of these four fundamentals.

Any time and energy you invest getting back to basics is always time and energy well spent.  


There are few keystone habits with impacts as immediate and profound as tracking your time.

From the start of week 2, use your calendar or journal to keep an honest and detailed record of what you get up to each day.

Next, schedule at least 10 minutes each evening to review that record and ask yourself:

  • What went well? How long did you spend on things or with people that are really important to you?
  • What lessons did you learn? How long were you lost in shallow work? Why?
  • How can you make tomorrow 1% better?

Finally, take 5 minutes to visualise and plan tomorrow. Then, at your next review, compare your plan with your actuals for even more insight.

That’s all there is to it! Tracking your time in this way will make you automatically and acutely aware of opportunities to make your life simpler.


With your headspace uncluttered, basics in order and baseline established, it’s time to simplify what’s left.

To do so, find 30 minutes each day of week 3 to list, examine and evaluate all your outstanding commitments. 

Make a long list of every hobby, activity, possession, membership, subscription, organisation, project and relationship that makes demands on your time and your energy. 

Next, take each one in turn and ask yourself: “Knowing what I now know, would I take on this commitment again today if I had the choice?”

Whenever your answer is “No” start taking steps right away to wind up that commitment, no matter how painful or daunting that seems.

To do so, either look for ways to automate or delegate your involvement OR put the commitment on hold for 30 days then eliminate it entirely.

The decisions you make in week 3 won’t be easy, but each will bring you closer to a life that feels simpler, purer and more focused.

Getting into the habit of making regular time for this kind of “zero-based thinking” is the master-key to keeping life simple and happy.


The extent to which anything (including life) feels hard or easy depends on two things:

  1. The complexity of the task; and
  2. The skill of the person tackling it.

In steps 1 through 4 of the Simplervention we focussed mostly on pruning complexity.

Step 5 is all about making you awesome. It’s about bringing you one step closer to mastering life’s relentless concerto.

What can we learn to get better at meeting life’s challenges? And how should we go about learning it? 

That’s pretty much the focus of this entire blog (and thousands of years of philosophy). For now, why not:

Don’t just be awesome, become awesome and watch life become simpler in turn.


Life is as simple as you choose to make it for yourself.

You make the game. You create the rules. You are the judge, court and jury.

We feel happiest when life is simple enough to let us excel but not so simple that we don’t feel stretched.

To get there you can either reduce the demands you’re imposing on yourself or get better at meeting them.

But doing any of this is impossible when you’re drowning in the shallows of trivial time-sinks.

That’s why the Simplervention works. It forces radical simplification, fixes the basics, builds clarity and direction and helps you live life in crescendo.

Do it once in your life, once per year or as often as needed to battle creeping complexity. Each time you do, you’ll find yourself settling closer and closer to that perfect ideal.

But the most important time to stage a Simplervention is now, so block out a few hours this weekend to get started.

Because enjoying greater simplicity, clarity and happiness isn’t just possible, it’s essential.

And all it takes is 5 simple steps.

Reading List (On Learning): 70 Great Books To Accelerate Your Learning (+ Summaries)

70 books on learning how to learn

Learning is a skill – one you can greatly improve. And whether you’re an athlete, student, hobbyist, employee or entrepreneur; whether you want to accelerate your learning and unlock your potential or you just want to read more this year, the 70 books below are an amazing place to discover the secrets of getting better at getting better.

In the coming years, I’ll be reading every book below, passing on the best ideas in articles and distilling the very best books into crunches. If that sounds like something you’d like to join us for (and you’re not already signed up), use the form below to get free updates delivered right to your inbox:

But for now, without further ado – here’s the list!


  1. Mastery, Greene (3hr Note)
    An exploration of Mastery – its benefits, principles and strategies – enriched with instructive and inspirational biographies of historical and contemporary masters – by modern-day Machiavelli and author Robert Green.
    Rated 4.3 over 17,000 reviews on Goodreads
  2. The Brain that Changes Itself, Doidge (3hr Note)
    Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science
    An informative and readable journey into the history, science and consequences of recent research in neuroplasticity – the brain’s incredible ability to change and reorganise itself – by psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and researcher, Norman Doidge.
    Rated 4.2 over 24,400 reviews on Goodreads
  3. Tools of Titans, Ferriss (3hr Note)
    The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers
    A curated collection of interview notes on health, wealth and wisdom from over 100 conversations with top performers and curious characters – by author, podcaster and life-hacker Tim Ferriss.
    Rated 4.2 over 12,800 reviews on Goodreads
  4. Peak, Ericsson, Pool (3hr Note)
    Secrets from the New Science of Expertise
    A practical, fact-based primer on the primacy of purposeful and deliberate practice in expert performance – by psychologist and scientist, Anders Ericsson, and science writer, Robert Pool.
    Rated 4.3 over 5,400 reviews on Goodreads
  5. Deep Work, Newport (Crunch)
    Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
    A timely reminder of the value of deep, focussed work and the dangers of losing yourself in the shallows of entertainment and distraction – by author and associate professor, Cal Newport.
    Rated 4.2 over 25,100 reviews on Goodreads
  6. Outliers, Gladwell (3hr Note)
    The Story of Success
    A systematic debunking of the myth that success is mostly determined by talent and hard-work – with quantitative and qualitative evidence from medicine, sport, business, history, music, science and more – by journalist and author, Malcolm Gladwell.
    Rated 4.1 over 394,300 reviews on Goodreads
  7. The Inner Game of Tennis, Gallwey
    The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance
    Rated 4.2 over 5,300 reviews on Goodreads
  8. A Mind for Numbers, Oakley (Crunch)
    How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)
    A practical, research-based guide to unlocking the power of your brain to learn math, or anything else you put your mind to, even if you think you’re hopeless – by professor Barbara Oakley.
    Rated 4.2 over 6,100 reviews on Goodreads
  9. Tribe of Mentors, Ferriss
    Short Life Advice from the Best in the World
    Rated 4.2 over 4,400 reviews on Goodreads
  10. Black Box Thinking, Syed (3hr Note)
    Why Some People Never Learn from Their Mistakes – But Some Do
    A fascinating account of how cognitive biases and fixed mindsets cause individuals and institutions to fail to learn from their mistakes (and what to do about it) – by athlete and author, Matthew Syed.
    Rated 4.3 over 3,200 reviews on Goodreads
  11. Flow, Csikszentmihalyi (3hr Note)
    The Psychology of Optimal Experience
    A bottom-up guide to finding success, growth and happiness through flow – an optimal experience of being, characterised by total absorption and joy in the present moment – by psychology professor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
    Rated 4.1 over 36,200 reviews on Goodreads
  12. Make It Stick, Brown, Roediger, McDaniel (3hr Note)
    The Science of Successful Learning
    Tools, strategies and stories to help students, teachers and trainers learn more effectively based on 10 years of collaboration between 11 cognitive psychologists – collected and synthesised by author Peter Brown and psychology researchers Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel.
    Rated 4.2 over 5,100 reviews on Goodreads
  13. 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades, Frank (3hr Note)
    (While Studying Less)
    A short, practical guide for students on being more productive and studying more effectively – by veteran student-success writer, Thomas Frank of College Info Geek.
    Rated 4.4 over 1,500 reviews on Goodreads
  14. Chasing Excellence, Bergeron
    A Story About Building the World’s Fittest Athletes
    Rated 4.5 over 1,200 reviews on Goodreads
  15. Fluent Forever, Wyner
    How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget It
    Rated 4.2 over 3,400 reviews on Goodreads
  16. Mastery, Leonard
    The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment
    Rated 4.2 over 4,200 reviews on Goodreads
  17. The Power of Habit, Duhigg (Crunch)
    Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
    A page-turning dive into the power and ubiquity of unconscious habits in shaping our decisions and destinies (plus a practical guide to changing them) – by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Charles Duhigg.
    Rated 4.0 over 190,600 reviews on Goodreads
  18. Spark, Ratey
    The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain
    Rated 4.1 over 7,600 reviews on Goodreads
  19. So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Newport
    Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love
    Rated 4.1 over 14,000 reviews on Goodreads
  20. Mindset, Dweck (3hr Note)
    The New Psychology of Success
    A research-grounded dive into the self-fulfilling nature and impact of Fixed- and Growth-Mindset beliefs in personal development, by social and developmental psychology professor, Carol Dweck.
    Rated 4.1 over 44,300 reviews on Goodreads
  21. Grit, Duckworth
    The Power of Passion and Perseverance
    Rated 4.1 over 28,200 reviews on Goodreads
  22. Unlimited Memory, Horsley (3hr Note)
    How to Use Advanced Learning Strategies to Learn Faster, Remember More and be More Productive
    A short and accessible introduction to mnemonic memory techniques for anyone looking to quickly improve their memory and increase their productivity – by Grand Master of Memory, Kevin Horsley.
    Rated 4.2 over 2,700 reviews on Goodreads
  23. Bigger Leaner Stronger, Matthews
    The Simple Science of Building the Ultimate Male Body
    Rated 4.2 over 3,800 reviews on Goodreads
  24. High Performance Habits, Burchard
    How Extraordinary People Become That Way
    Rated 4.3 over 1,000 reviews on Goodreads
  25. Switch, Heath
    How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
    Rated 4.0 over 32,900 reviews on Goodreads
  26. The Master and His Emissary, McGilchrist
    The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World
    Rated 4.3 over 900 reviews on Goodreads
  27. The Art of Learning, Waitzkin
    An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance
    Rated 4.1 over 9,800 reviews on Goodreads
  28. The Talent Code, Coyle
    Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.
    Rated 4.1 over 13,600 reviews on Goodreads
  29. Neuroscience, Bear, Connors, Paradiso
    Exploring the Brain
    Rated 4.3 over 900 reviews on Goodreads
  30. Brain Rules, Medina
    12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
    Rated 4.0 over 21,100 reviews on Goodreads
  31. How to Become a Straight-A Student, Newport
    The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less
    Rated 4.2 over 3,000 reviews on Goodreads
  32. Zen in the Art of Archery, Herrigel
    Rated 4.0 over 8,400 reviews on Goodreads
  33. Pragmatic Thinking and Learning, Hunt (3hr Note)
    Refactor Your Wetware
    A practical and extensive collection of ideas, frameworks, tools and tips to supercharge your learning, ostensibly for programmers but relevant to anyone who plans on hacking their learning at school, home and work – by programmer and life-long learner, Andy Hunt of Pragmatic Programmers.
    Rated 4.1 over 3,200 reviews on Goodreads
  34. The Little Book of Talent, Coyle (3hr Note)
    52 Tips for Improving Your Skills
    52 short, immediate and practical tips to kick-off your learning, improve your skills and sustain your progress at school, at work, at home and at play – by journalist and author, Daniel Coyle.
    Rated 4.1 over 4,200 reviews on Goodreads
  35. Effortless Mastery, Werner (3hr Note)
    Liberating the Master Musician Within
    An inspirational and practical guide for advanced and expert practitioners in any field on finding mastery by getting out of your head and surrendering to your art – by jazz pianist and composer, Kenny Werner.
    Rated 4.2 over 1,200 reviews on Goodreads
  36. Bounce, Syed (Crunch)
    Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success
    Rated 4.0 over 4,800 reviews on Goodreads
  37. How to Read a Book, Adler, van Doren (Crunch)
    The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading
    Rated 4.0 over 11,900 reviews on Goodreads
  38. How the Mind Works, Pinker
    Rated 4.0 over 15,500 reviews on Goodreads
  39. In Search of Memory, Kandel
    The Emergence of a New Science of Mind
    Rated 4.1 over 3,700 reviews on Goodreads
  40. Talent is Overrated, Colvin
    What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else
    Rated 4.0 over 14,400 reviews on Goodreads
  41. Willpower, Baumeister
    Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
    Rated 4.0 over 14,700 reviews on Goodreads
  42. The Practicing Mind, Sterner
    Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life — Master Any Skill or Challenge by Learning to Love the Process
    Rated 4.0 over 4,400 reviews on Goodreads
  43. The 4-Hour Chef, Ferriss
    The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life
    Rated 4.0 over 8,300 reviews on Goodreads
  44. The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, Ericsson, Hoffman
    Rated 4.3 over 100 reviews on Goodreads
  45. How Children Succeed, Tough
    Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
    Rated 3.9 over 19,400 reviews on Goodreads
  46. Moonwalking with Einstein, Foer (3hr Note)
    The Art and Science of Remembering Everything
    An overview of the history, science and philosophy of memory set against journalist Josh Foer’s year-long sprint from memory virgin to 2006 U.S.A Memory Champion.
    Rated 3.9 over 57,800 reviews on Goodreads
  47. Periodization Training for Sports, Bompa
    Rated 4.2 over 200 reviews on Goodreads
  48. How Learning Works, Ambrose et al
    Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching
    Rated 4.1 over 700 reviews on Goodreads
  49. A More Beautiful Question, Berger
    The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas
    Rated 4.0 over 2,500 reviews on Goodreads
  50. Teach Students How to Learn, McGuire
    Strategies You Can Incorporate Into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation
    Rated 4.3 over <100 reviews on Goodreads
  51. Music, Language and the Brain, Patel
    Rated 4.1 over 600 reviews on Goodreads
  52. High-Performance Training for Sports, Joyce
    Rated 4.5 over <100 reviews on Goodreads
  53. The Neuroscience of Intelligence, Haier (3hr Note)
    A neuroscience-heavy, research-rich review of the evidence, myths and future of our understanding of intelligence – including what it is, why some people have it and what can be done to enhance it – by psychologist and professor, Richard J. Haier.
    Rated 4.4 over <100 reviews on Goodreads
  54. The Trivium, Joseph, McGlinn
    The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric
    Rated 4.1 over 500 reviews on Goodreads
  55. Synaptic Self, Le Doux
    How Our Brains Become Who We Are
    Rated 4.0 over 4,200 reviews on Goodreads
  56. Design for How People Learn, Dirksen
    Rated 4.1 over 700 reviews on Goodreads
  57. Why Don’t Students Like School?, Willingham
    A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom
    Rated 4.0 over 2,800 reviews on Goodreads
  58. The Complete Problem Solver, Hayes
    Rated 4.6 over <100 reviews on Goodreads
  59. Visual Intelligence, Herman
    Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life
    Rated 4.1 over 500 reviews on Goodreads
  60. Small Teaching, Lang
    Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning
    Rated 4.2 over 200 reviews on Goodreads
  61. The Mind of a Mnemonist, Luria
    A Little Book about a Vast Memory
    Rated 4.0 over 1,300 reviews on Goodreads
  62. Being Wrong, Schultz
    Adventures in the Margin of Error
    Rated 3.9 over 4,800 reviews on Goodreads
  63. Strength and Conditioning, Cardinale, Newton, Nosaka
    Biological Principles and Practical Applications
    Rated 4.4 over <100 reviews on Goodreads
  64. Teaching At Its Best, Nilson
    A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors
    Rated 4.2 over 100 reviews on Goodreads
  65. Science of Sports Training, Kurz
    How to Plan and Control Training for Peak Performance
    Rated 4.3 over <100 reviews on Goodreads
  66. The Memory Book, Lorayne, Lucas (Crunch)
    The Classic Guide to Improving Your Memory at Work, at School, and at Play
    A practical guide to remembering anything, faster, with simple, millennia-old mnemonics and proven memory boosting techniques – by memory masters, Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas.
    Rated 4.0 over 1,500 reviews on Goodreads
  67. Teach Yourself How to Learn, McGuire (3hr Note)
    Strategies You Can Use to Ace Any Course at Any Level
    Simple strategies and inspirational stories to help you ace courses and enjoy a lifetime of deep, effective learning from retired Chemistry professor and writer on academic success, Saundra McGuire.
    Rated 4.8 over <100 reviews on Goodreads
  68. How the Brain Learns, Sousa
    Rated 4.1 over 300 reviews on Goodreads
  69. How We Learn, Carey
    The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens
    Rated 3.9 over 3,300 reviews on Goodreads
  70. The ABCs of How We Learn, Schwartz, Tsang, Blair
    26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them
    Rated 4.2 over <100 reviews on Goodreads
A graveyard for books on learning that have notes or crunches on FASTER TO MASTER but fell off the lists above in a previous update. This usually happens when better books push it off the bottom of the list or I decide it isn’t relevant enough to the topic to stay on it.

  1. Wooden, Wooden (3hr Note)
    A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court
    An effort-and-integrity focussed personal philosophy – spanning family, achievement, success and excellence – by UCLA’s famous philosopher-coach, John Wooden, and author, Steve Jamison.
    Rated 4.5 over 3,300 reviews on Goodreads
  2. Learning How to Learn, Shah (3hr Note)
    Psychology and Spirituality in the Sufi Way
    Collected snippets of wisdom from talks and correspondence with author and spiritual teacher, Idries Shah, on the theme of learning from a Sufi perspective.
    Rated 4.4 over 200 reviews on Goodreads

26 APR 2018 (v1.0) – First version of the 70-book list published.

28 MAY 2018 (v2.0) – First refresh of the list to account for new books found during the first 15 notes/crunches of books on the original list. Syntheses added to noted/crunched entries. +21 new books make the list.

3 JUN 2018 (v3.0) – Changed ranking methodology to a ranking of “Score Rank” + “Number of Ratings Rank” to balance both factors more evenly. Included a big first round of sports performance books on the long-list. +15 new books make the list.

Book Summary: “The Four Agreements”, Don Miguel Ruiz

The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz

The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz

“The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book)”, Don Miguel Ruiz
153 pages – Paperback | eBook | Audiobook

Perfect for you if:

  • You’re new to indigenous American spiritual traditions.
  • You need a good reminder that being human is complicated.
  • You’re interested in alternative views on the path to enlightenment.

The Four Agreements is a book that lays out an alternative, indigenous Mexican take on the nature of reality and existence. And though the author, Don Miguel Ruiz, identifies as “Toltec“, a broader label of neoshamanistic is probably more realistic.

In any case, the mythology he introduces is page-turning, his writing is powerful and his treatment of the illusory nature of reality is lucid and compelling. 

If you’re already steeped in Western or Eastern philosophy The Four Agreements is a good (short) read that casts familiar truths in new and enjoyable forms. 

If you’re new to philosophy of any kind, exploring neoshamanism or just looking for a good spirit-lifting read, The Four Agreements is as good a place as any to begin.


Your world is made up of labels, concepts and beliefs. But these labels, concepts and beliefs are illusions. You are living in a dream.

This dream has been programmed into you using words; through a training process that began the day you were born. Words that came from your parents, your teachers, your communities and your peers. Words that grew into the labels, concepts and beliefs that define the rules and the boundaries of your reality.

But this dream isn’t soft or harmless – to you, its illusions are as real and as tangible as the laws of physics. They are the rules that tell you about yourself and the people around you. They are the rules that tell you how things “are”, should or must be. They help you find order in chaos.

You agreed to most of these rules, even though you aren’t responsible for them and even though you didn’t really check them. And some of them are useful. But many of them are also inaccurate, unrealistic or unattainable. They trap you like a fly behind glass – unable to see past the fabric of the dream that constrains you. 

The most harmful of these agreements reinforce that you are never enough; that you are constantly falling short of some whimsical ideal. The result? The agreements you have made, knowingly and unknowingly, are the fundamental source of suffering and striving in your life. Worse, they make you a vector of suffering in the world around you.

And yet you hold on to them. Partly because you aren’t aware of how arbitrary they are. Partly because you don’t have any alternatives. Mostly because they make you feel safe. And safety, even if it brings suffering, feels better than throwing your world into chaos.


But it is possible to wake up from this dream. It is possible to re-engineer your reality without the endless striving, without the suffering.

To do so, you must master three skills:

  1. Awareness – Seeing the dream and its illusions for what they are;
  2. Forgiveness – Accepting the consequences of the dream, in you and in others; and
  3. Action – Dissolving and shaping your dream, and the dreams of others, into forms of your choosing.   

This “second awakening”, this end of suffering, is a state oft described as “enlightenment”.


Simply reading and understanding the truths above is a first step to freedom. But any awareness you now feel will fade, fast. Instead of rising above the dream and working on it, you will soon sink back and be sucked into it. Perhaps as soon as you stop reading this article.

Improving your ability to maintain a heightened state of awareness is the only true gateway to enlightenment. 

Many paths lead to such states of elevated consciousness. Prayer and fasting are common paths in most religions. The Buddha laid a clear path of meditation and mindfulness. Indigenous American shamans (among others) perfected their own path with a plant-based tradition that “accelerates” the journey through altered states of consciousness. 

Though he alludes to it his final ‘Toltec Pathway to Freedom’ (The Initiation of The Dead), The Four Agreements greatest weakness is that Ruiz’s didn’t (or couldn’t) plainly state the crucial importance of this plant-based tradition in neoshamanism. The result is a good description of “What” awakening looks like, but little real guidance on “How” to get there.

Whatever path you choose, the importance of training consciousness in “awakening” cannot be overstated. It is a fundamental prerequisite to all that follows.


With awareness and understanding comes forgiveness. Forgiveness for our past and ongoing ‘failures’ against agreements we still hold. Forgiveness for causing ourselves and those around us to suffer based on those illusions. Forgiveness for the suffering others cause as a result of their illusions.

This forgiveness, this unconditional acceptance, is at the heart of true, universal love. The delivery of this one idea alone, through a carefully kindled window of awareness, is perhaps the greatest triumph of The Four Agreements. Grasping it, even for a moment, will lift a crushing weight from your shoulders. A weight you may have long since forgotten you carry.

You will fail to live up to your expectations; and so will others. You will make mistakes; as others will too. But being human is complicated. We are all the products of the illusions that make up our realities. Acknowledge that reality, accept yours and forgive yourself, and others – “for they know not what they do”.


Forgiveness unlocks the space, energy and strength needed to reshape your reality by:

  1. Preventing new, unwanted agreements from taking root;
  2. Eliminating old, damaging agreements already in place; and
  3. Programming new agreements that slowly eliminate suffering. 

To this end, Ruiz proposes four new agreements to make with yourself today:

  1. Be impeccable with your word;
  2. Don’t take anything personally;
  3. Don’t make assumptions; and
  4. Always do your best.

1 – Be impeccable with your word.

Words are more powerful than we realise, they are the building blocks of labels, concepts and beliefs.

To avoid creating new, harmful illusions, be extremely conservative when using them on yourself or on others.

Get in the habit of saying only what you mean and meaning only what you say. When in doubt, say nothing at all.

2 – Don’t take anything personally

Remember that the words and actions of others are the products of their own illusory realities.

Acknowledge that if you shared the same reality you would know no better than to act and speak in exactly the same way.

Armed with this knowledge: take nothing personally. It will defuse the power of the words and actions of others to impact you.

3 – Don’t make assumptions

Though we know most assumptions are baseless, we often still give them the weight of full agreements.

The result? The violation of one-sided expectations is a major source of misunderstanding and suffering at all levels of life.

Be aware and wary of your natural tendency to assume things about yourself, others and the world around you. 

Instead, look and listen without labels or judgement. Have the courage to ask questions and clarify.

And remember, when someone or something surprises you – the failing isn’t theirs, it is yours.

4 – Always do your best

Always do the very best you can. Live with maximum possible areté in each moment.

But don’t worry about whether your best now is the same or better than your best yesterday, or even five minutes ago. 

Instead, accept that your best will change from moment to moment – depending on the conditions within and around you. 

Now, do what you can, with what you have, from where you are – you can ask nothing more of yourself.


Though The Four Agreements is strong on “Why” and “What”, it is sadly anaemic on “How”.

Ruiz lays out three pathways to freedom:

  1. Awareness;
  2. Discipline; and
  3. Death.

His contributions under the first two can be loosely summed up as: “Become aware of the agreements that dictate your reality and have the discipline to change them.” You might squeeze a little more out of his writing, but not much. Unfortunately, his pointers on getting there don’t extend far beyond a well crafted “Just do it“. 

Though it should form the crux of his contribution – Ruiz is equally weak on point three, death. It would have been exciting to find here a carefully crafted discourse (both risks and rewards) on the rich tradition of shamanistic ceremony and plant use to reach the altered states of consciousness said to accelerate enlightenment. Instead, we are treated to a half-hearted exhortation to: “Wake up each day as if death were just around the corner.”

Why Ruiz came so far only to abandon us at the most vital part of his teaching I don’t know. But in all three cases, those looking for more would probably do best to find a good teacher of indigenous American spirituality or explore other paths (like meditation) with large and easily accessible bodies of practical literature.


As with similar books, The Four Agreements is better enjoyed first-hand than crunched. This is especially true for crunches (like this one) that are more synthesis than summary.

Why? Because so much of their power lies in the author’s own voice, in Ruiz’s skilful ability to lift us, if only for a moment, above the thick smog of life to glimpse the blue sky above it.

If what you read here today struck a chord, I’d strongly recommend picking up the original book. At only 153 sides, it packs plenty of impact per page.

Master Your Morning Routine: 8 Ways to Win Before Others Begin.


Nothing – no earthly thing – fills the soul with dread like a smartphone’s alarm clock. If there’s music on the journey to hell, that’s the soundtrack.

“Just 10 more minutes”, your inner-teenager groans. And even though you know you’ll feel terrible, you still hit the snooze button six times.

Finally, you open your eyes. But you don’t get out of bed. Oh no, that would make life way too easy.

First there’s email, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the news to catch up on. Who knows what crucial things people did while you slept!

At last, with 20 minutes to go, it’s into the shower, on with the clothes, down with the coffee and a frantic commute to work.

Let’s not even contemplate the chaos of a version with kids.

Sound familiar? It doesn’t have to.

Imagine a world where you jump out of bed full of energy. A world where you do more in one morning than you used to get done in a week.

This isn’t sleep-deprived delirium talking. Imagine a world where you can master your mornings and feel great all day, every day.

Feeling curious? Let’s look at 8 ways to make mornings magic.


The best place to start your morning is the night before.

Your goal? Do all that you can in advance to make your morning as easy as possible.

First, set your priority hit-list.

Use pen and paper to capture everything you want to do tomorrow. Include anything you didn’t get done today that’s important.

Now, ask yourself one question: “If I could only do one thing on this list tomorrow, what would it be?” – put a ① next to this item.

Repeat this exercise a total of six times with the remaining items on your list.

These six outcomes are tomorrow’s priority hit-list.

Next, make your decisions up front.

Run through the first part of your morning in your head:

  • What exactly will you wear?
  • Where are your clothes?
  • What will you eat for breakfast?
  • Where are your keys, phone, wallet and bag?
  • What extra things do you need to bring with you?

Add anything I’ve missed to this list. Now prepare all those things in advance:

  • Choose your outfit tonight, not tomorrow;
  • Lay your clothes out neatly where you can see them;
  • Prepare your breakfast in advance;
  • Put your keys, phone, wallet and bag by the front door; and
  • Organise anything else (e.g., gym kit, laundry) that you’ll need.

Pre-load your bowl with your cereal, put the bread by the toaster, pre-boil your eggs – the more you do now, the less you must think of tomorrow.

The advantage of less thinking? More execution with less mental effort. Each thing you prepare is a pebble removed from your runway.

Finally, create the best environment for a good night’s sleep.

Sleep – at least 7 to 9 hours each night – is critical. This is not an article on how to get less.

Instead, here are some ways to get more “good” sleep with the time that you have:

  • Enforce a digital curfew – Cut blue light (e.g., from screens) out, or at least down around 2 – 3 hours before bed.
  • Wind down – Keep your last hour chilled. Imagine babysitting a child – what things would you avoid before sleep?
  • Sleep when you’re sleepy – Don’t push through just to hit “bed-time”. If you’re tired, sleep. Now, wake up earlier and be awesome.
  • Keep your room cool – 21 Celsius / 70 Fahrenheit is my perfect temperature. Find yours with heating, air-con, fans or a high-tech cooling system.
  • Keep your room dark – Invest in blackout curtains if you can. Try a sleep mask if you can’t.
  • Keep your room quiet – Silence is golden. Prioritise it when finding a new home. Otherwise, earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones may help.

Perhaps your partner snores, you have a newborn or you have mild insomnia – in any case, a quick google will turn up more tips.

Do your research. Become a sleep ninja. Because your problem isn’t playing too hard, it’s not recovering well enough.

Still curious? Check out Brian Johnson’s masterclass on sleep over at


“I’m just not a morning person! Waking up early is horrible!” – I hear you.

But can I also tell you a secret?

Waking up early is hard for everyone before it gets easy. I’ve been waking up at or around 5 AM for years and every cell in my body still groans when my alarm clock starts ringing.

Suck it up and be prepared for a few bleary days as you shift your rhythm and routine. It might suck for a couple of weeks. But, just like jet-lag, eventually everyone beats it.

Four simple steps to getting out of bed.

But how? If you’re a serial snoozer, try these four steps to get going each morning:

  1. Prime yourself the night before – Be prepared, get the best sleep you can and visualise yourself getting up as you close your eyes to sleep.
  2. Put your alarm far from your bed but near your next action – On the far wall, in the bathroom, under your clothes, by the door – the choice is yours.
  3. Count down from 5 – When your alarm rings, count: 5 – 4 – wake up, eyes open – 3 – 2 – sit up, feet on the floor – 1 – 0 – stand up and go!
  4. Make your bed – Not only have you ticked off your first chore, you’re also less likely to get in it.

Whatever your approach: take it easy. Shift your routine no more than 15 minutes earlier each day.

And remember: the hardest part of waking up for everyone is the first 30 seconds.

Why the early bird gets the worm.

Why is rising early important? Because mornings are quiet. They’re a blissful oasis of control, time and focus.

What about night owls? True, late at night is a quiet time too. And if it’s all that you have, then it can be a great time to focus.

But here are three reasons your morning-self might outperform you:

  1. Your mind is fresher first thing – Who would you bet on, a well-rested runner or the same one post 12 hours of hiking?
  2. Your mind is clearer – Like working on a chalkboard that’s totally clean versus one covered in shadows and traces of the day.
  3. A strong morning supercharges your day – The goal of a morning routine isn’t the routine itself. It’s in priming your day for success.

Of course, early mornings are a luxury some of us simply don’t have. In that case, do what you can, with what you have, from where you are.

But they’re also a life-changing time many more of us voluntarily miss.

So do what you can to rise early.

Because though early mornings aren’t essential to success, they do make the journey much easier.


Still feeling fuzzy? Try these time-tested tricks to jump-start your mind and your body:

  • Do light exercise – Try a brisk walk and stretch to get your heart pumping and blood moving after ~eight hours of being horizontal;
  • Take a (cold) shower –  Nothing washes away sleep like water. For extra points, be brave, crank your shower to cold for instant alertness and a big boost to blood flow;
  • Drink a large glass of water – Don’t wait to rehydrate – do it first thing. For even more benefits, drink warm or hot water with lemon squeezed in.
  • Get a caffeine boost – Whether in tea, coffee, mate or matcha, caffeine kick-starts your nervous system, warms up your body and balances your blood-pressure.

I combine all four approaches in my morning routine.

Total investment? No more than 10 minutes – and yet the instant energy and hours of gained productivity are awesome.


Some people love breakfast, others do without it.

I’m somewhere in the middle: I enjoy the focus I get from an empty stomach but at some point I do need to refuel.

Whatever your view, one thing is certain – food is fuel, and you should always feed yourself like an Olympic gold athlete.

The general consensus? A healthy and high protein (~30g) breakfast that releases energy slowly and keeps you fuller for longer.

2 eggs (12g of protein) with an avocado (+4g) on a slice of toast (+3g) plus a wedge of feta (+5g) will get you close (=24g). Throw in a banana (+1g) and a serving of almonds (+6g) and you’re there (=31g). For more ideas, ask Google – there are many yummy options to choose from.

What doesn’t it look like? Breakfast cereals, pancakes, muffins, sweetened yoghurt, concentrate fruit juice etc., – there’s a long list of processed and high sugar foods to avoid.

One reason we favour these foods is they’re often quicker to make, eat and clean than healthier options. To overcome this, go back to step 1. Prepare as much as you can in advance. Make breakfast the night, or even the week before. Then simply reheat and eat in the mornings.

Your body is an incredible alchemist that can transform nearly anything into energy. But abuse it too hard, for too long and a breakdown is inevitable.

So fuel yourself mindfully and not only will your body power you through the day, it will serve you through a long, productive and healthy life.


A key concept in nature, science, economics and industry is a baseline – a known and stable starting point against which all change is measured.

One of the most important things you can do in your morning routine is find your baseline.

How? Two millennia-old practices stand out:

  1. Journalling – Either unguided or guided, best performed with pen and on paper; and
  2. Meditation – Placing attention for 1 to 20 minutes (or more) on an object of focus (often the breath).

I’ve described my take on journalling here. A quick google for “morning routine journalling” will turn up many more paths to explore.

To start meditating quickly and easily, try these steps with me now:

  1. Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds – focus on the chest rising.
  2. Hold your breath for 2 seconds.
  3. Breathe out through your mouth for 6 seconds – focus on the body relaxing.
  4. Repeat up to 5 times for a full minute’s exercise.

I simply can’t overstate the value of meditation. If there’s one exercise that’s most changed my life, and one I’ll focus on most in years to come – this is it. For more, check out this video, this book and this app.

Both journalling and meditation are powerful ways to “get to zero” first thing. But doing so is only half the battle. With your baseline established you must also…


Repeat after me:

  • I will not check my emails, messages, social media accounts or the news before my first hour of deep work.
  • I will not check my emails, messages, social media accounts or the news before my first hour of deep work.
  • I will not check my emails, messages, social media accounts or the news before my first hour of deep work.

Get it? Got it? Good.

The whole point of your morning routine is to build a launch pad of energy, clarity and focus.

Do not direct your awesome and inspiring power at things as trivial as emails, social media and news.

Turn on aeroplane mode. Remove problem apps from your phone’s home screen. Disable their notifications. Delete them entirely.

The only way that other people can knock you off centre is if you let them. So don’t – defend your hard-earned clarity at all costs and…


Why did you wake up this morning? What does success look like for your day, week, year or life? How are you planning to get there?

Reminding yourself often of your working answers to these questions is vital. And doing it each morning isn’t just inspiring, it sets the tone for your whole day.

Here are three lists I read quickly each morning to calibrate my internal compass:

  • My Mission – My purpose, the reason I am here, the principles I value and a snapshot of what success looks like for my life.
  • My Focus Areas – The big parts of my life (people, learning, writing, freedom etc.) I’m committed to this year.
  • My Outcomes – Currently actionable outcomes I’m committed to realising in the next 12 months.

If you haven’t got these and aren’t sure where to start, read Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Crunch) and Allen’s Getting Things Done (Crunch).

For now, review your schedule and to-do list. What’s coming up today, tomorrow and this week?

Calibrate your compass. Remind yourself where you are heading. It will save you a whole lot of time getting lost.


The world is still silent. You’re well rested, well fed, centred and calibrated. You feel stable, powerful and primed. So what’s next?

Next, it’s time to act. It’s time to channel this energy, this power, this focus into a single point – the most important task you currently have before you.

Perhaps it’s a work project, perhaps it’s reading, exercise or planning your wedding. Perhaps it’s spending time with your partner and family.

Whatever it is, make anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to work on it now, before you leave home.

Not sure where to start? Grab your hit list from step 1. The item with a ① next to it is your most important task. If you finish it, or it’s not yet actionable – move to item ②, then item ③ and so on.

Completing just one of these items will give you an enormous feeling of power, progress and momentum. And on a good day, it’s not unrealistic to finish all 6 items before you step out the front door.

So there you have it, the power of a morning routine: a world where you jump out of bed full of energy. A world where you do more in one morning than you used to get done in a week.

A world where you can master your mornings and feel great all day, every day.

And all it took was 8 ways to make mornings magic.


What does a morning routine look like in the wild? For a real-world snapshot, here’s a glimpse at the first four hours of my average day.

05:00 – Up, drink water, do 3 sun salutations (7 minutes)

05:07 – Cold shower, brush teeth, bathroom (5 minutes)

05:12 – List 3 things I’m grateful for, journalling (10 minutes)

05:22 – Meditation (20 minutes)

05:42 – Review mission, focus areas and outcomes (8 minutes)

05:50 – First session of deep work (60 minutes)

06:50 – Breakfast, matcha, change (10 minutes)

07:00 – Second session of deep work (120 minutes)

09:00 – Walk, check emails, messages (15 minutes)

The result? By 09:00 I’m energised, centred and focussed. What’s more, I’ve already made 3 hours of progress on my priority outcomes.

Some disclaimers: I have no kids, no commute and I’ve added personal touches and changes that work well for me. The timings are rough, I keep an eye on the clock but I don’t time every action. My routine also changes based on where I am, who I’m with, how fatigued I am and what my plans looked like the night before.

The goal here is not to share a “gold-standard”, just to show you one way, my way, of putting the principles above into action.

Your job now is to find your way. Whatever that looks like. Start tomorrow. Experiment, adjust and repeat.

Find a morning routine that works for you.

And when you do, be sure to send me an email or leave me a comment.

Because I’d bet the world that doing so won’t just upgrade your mornings, it will totally transform your life.

Book Summary: “The Memory Book”, Harry Lorayne, Jerry Lucas


Book Crunch - The Memory Book, Harry Lorayne, Jerry Lucas

“The Memory Book: The Classic Guide to Improving Your Memory at Work,
at School, and at Play”, Harry Lorayne, Jerry Lucas

202 pages – Paperback | eBook

Perfect for you if:

  • You frequently forget names of people you just met.
  • Getting smart at anything is something you care about.
  • You believe some people just aren’t born with good memories.

All learning is some form of memorisation.

And yet you may think you’re the kind of person who doesn’t have a good memory.

Or worse, you think memorising things is pointless. “Why bother memorising anything?” you rationalise, “Can’t I just look everything up?”

And so you live your life, awkwardly forgetting the name of the person you just met, feeling foolish for not knowing last year’s basic figures when the CEO asks and able to count the number of important dates you remember from high school history on three fingers.

And yet somehow you’ve also memorised tens of thousands of words in your native language, learned a ton of skills vital to everyday life and can still recall the name of your third grade English teacher despite not seeing them in decades.

So here’s an idea: what if I told you that you are the kind of person who could have a near photographic memory?

What if I said that all it would take was a little practice and patience; a few tricks and techniques to get your brain working at a level you never thought possible?

That doing so wouldn’t just improve your memory, it would make you smarter while also bringing more opportunity, colour and meaning to your life?

That is the reality Lorayne and Lucas’s Memory Book will help you find.

If it sounds too good to be true, it isn’t. Let’s dig into their wisdom to learn more.


The brain is very good at filtering and forgetting information.

This keeps memory efficient but makes learning hard.

Fortunately, we know the brain prefers to remember things that are:

  • Sensory (esp. linked to sight and sound);
  • Linked to things we already know; and
  • Trigger strong emotions.

We can use this to design tricks that sneak things past the brain’s bouncers. Once inside, we’ve bought valuable time to review and strengthen them before they’re forgotten.

Though the tricks outlined below might seem like more effort than they’re worth, remember:

  1. They will become effortless with practice; and
  2. A small brain squeeze now saves time re-learning later.

Was learning to drive worth the effort? Or would you rather have walked your whole life?

This is the choice you now face; so with that in mind, let’s begin…


The fundamental trick to sneaking things into memory is The Link Method – a powerful way to memorise long lists of things, fast.

How do we use it? Let’s take the following list of items to illustrate:

  • Tree
  • Dog
  • Helmet
  • Apple
  • Dragon
  • Child
  • Chair
  • Cat
  • Aeroplane
  • Key
  • Sausage
  • Car
  • Knife
  • Flower
  • Shoe

Take 2 minutes to try and memorise this list without any tricks.


Now, without looking, try to recall it. How about backwards? Tricky right?

Let’s try again with The Link Method.

First, imagine a mental picture of a tree and a dog interacting that is:

  • Vivid; and
  • Impossible or ridiculous.

To make your image stand out, play with:

  • Substitution – Have one thing take the place of the other;
  • Size – Picture “gigantic” things;
  • Quantity – Picture “millions” of things; or
  • Action – Have one thing act on the other.

So, for example, for tree + dog you might see:

  • A tree peeing on a dog;
  • An enormous dog chasing a tree that’s been thrown for it;
  • A tree with millions of dogs instead of leaves;
  • A tree chasing a dog that has one of its sticks in its mouth.

Go crazy – in fact, the crazier the better! What would your inner child imagine?

Now, repeat the exercise for dog + helmet, helmet + apple and so on. This should take ~2 minutes.

If the process feels difficult, don’t worry – it will get easier. Right now we’re just dusting off your imagination.


Now, start with tree and use your mental images to help recall the list in order. Easy, right?

Now, start with shoe and try it backwards. My bet is you may just surprise yourself.

There is almost no limit to the power of the link method. Use it to memorise lists of 10 or 10 thousand items.


The Link Method is powerful for two reasons.

First, it forces you to become aware of, observe, focus on and effortfully associate two things.

That’s vital because a main cause of forgetting isn’t forgetting, it’s not really trying to remember.

Second, the vivid, surprising and/or humorous image you created fulfils all three criteria for entry to memory – it’s sensory, familiar and emotional.

But The Link Method has two crucial weaknesses. It works well only for:

  • Things you can visualise; and
  • Things in a specific order.

What about names, vocabulary, to-do lists and speeches?

What of long-numbers, playing cards, dates, locations, sports or things stored and used out of sequence?

I’m glad that you asked. Because now that we’ve mastered The Link Method, it’s time for substitution and encoding.


Substitution and encoding upgrade The Link Method by solving both of its limitations.

With a little thought, each system (or a combination of both) will let you apply The Link Method to anything.

Let’s explore them in theory below and then run through some practical use-cases.


The goal of substitution is to turn something abstract (something that can’t be visualised) into something concrete (something that can).

Doing so, lets us use concrete things as placeholders for abstract things in The Link Method – extending your new found abilities.

Country names are a good example of things that are abstract. To remember them alphabetically, use Substitution. For example:

  • Germany → “germ” + “knee” or a “stein of beer”;
  • Ghana → a “gunner”; and
  • Greece → a “can of grease” or an “olive tree”.

As you can see, substitution can be auditory (sounds like) or conceptual (reminds me of).

The only important conditions are that your substitution is concrete and reminds you of the original concept.

Hopefully, it’s obvious how easy it would be to now apply The Link Method to the names and order of these (and many more) countries.


Encoding is really just substitution but without a direct auditory or conceptual link.

There are three encoding systems at the heart of this upgrade:

  • The Phonetic Alphabet System – Numerals (1 – 9 + 0) → Phonetic sounds
  • The Peg System – Numbers (1 – ∞) → Things
  • The Alphabet-Word System – Letters → Things

Let’s look at each one in turn.

The Phonetic Alphabet System

We use The Phonetic Alphabet System to encode the 10 numerals as 10 different consonant sounds.

The coding below (with some hints to help remember them) never changes.

Why is this useful? Because this system lets you encode abstract numerals as concrete things. And concrete is just what we need for The Link Method.

  • 1 = t / d / th – a typewritten t has one downstroke
  • 2 = n – a typewritten n has two downstrokes
  • 3 = m – a typewritten m has three downstrokes
  • 4 = rfour ends with an r
  • 5 = L – spread five fingers of one hand, thumb straight out, the thumb and forefinger form L
  • 6 = j / sh / ch / soft g – the digit 6 and capital j (J) are almost mirror images
  • 7 = k / g / hard cK can be formed by two 7’s, one right side up, the other upside down
  • 8 = f / v / ph – an 8 and a handwritten f are both made with two loops, one above the other
  • 9 = p / b – 9 and p and almost exact mirror images
  • 0 = z / s / soft c – the first sound in “zero” is z

Let’s use some numbers to illustrate:

  • 1 → ttoe
  • 41 → r, troot
  • 14,279,420 → t, r, n, k, b, r, n, strunk + brains

A few more rules, just to clarify:

  • Remember: you’re encoding for sounds, not letters.
  • a / e / i / o / u and y don’t encode anything;
  • x‘s encoding depends on how it’s pronounced (ks or z);
  • h is only important when it changes the sound;
  • Double letters with one sound count just once (apple → 95); and
  • Silent letters are disregarded (knee → 2).

With these rules in mind we can work the system the other way too!

Let’s try it with the first four items from our 15-item Link Method list:

  • Tree → 14
  • Dog → 17
  • Helmet → 531
  • Apple → 95

Exploiting this system takes patience and practice improving two skills:

  1. Encoding and decoding between numerals and phonetic sounds; and
  2. Coming up with words or phrases that let you apply The Link Method.

To practice, try playing with the system in everyday life. Make a game of changing numbers you see into their phonetic equivalents. Change the objects around you into numbers. When you find a tricky combination, treat it like a puzzle – have fun finding a memorable solution that fits.

That may seem a lot of effort just to memorise long numbers but as we’ll see later, if phone numbers, dates, measurements, statistics or any other numerical data is an important part of your day, then the effort will be worth the reward.

There’s also one more reason to master The Phonetic Alphabet System – and that’s because it’s at the heart of…

The Peg System

The Peg System is a pre-made collection of concrete things that code for numbers 1 to 100 (and beyond).

Here’s an example for numbers 1 to 10 from The Memory Book:

  • 1 = tie (see a necktie)
  • 2 = Noah (see a bearded man with a staff)
  • 3 = Ma
  • 4 = rye (see a loaf of bread)
  • 5 = law (see a policeman or judge)
  • 6 = shoe
  • 7 = cow
  • 8 = ivy
  • 9 = bee
  • 10 = toes

N.B., Using The Phonetic Alphabet System as the base for your pegs makes learning them much easier.

You’ll find plenty of suggestions for longer Peg lists online (as well as suggestions for 1 – 100 in The Memory Book).

Personal, however, is always more memorable. That’s why the best Peg list will always use pegs that you choose on your own.

Once memorised, The Peg System upgrades The Link Method by letting you:

  • Learn things out of order;
  • Reorder and recall them; and
  • Recall the position of any item.

How? Simply link what you want to memorise to the relevant thing on your peg list and voila!

Recalling the relevant peg item (in or out of order) will remind you of the relevant entry on your list.

Meanwhile, recalling your item will remind you of your peg which will tell you it’s position.

The Alphabet-Word System

The final encoding system to look at is The Alphabet-Word System.

To picture letters, create an association with something that sounds like the letter, for example:

  • A = ape
  • B = bean
  • C = sea
  • D = dean
  • and so on…

Once again, you’ll find plenty of examples online to do this for both letter sounds and letter shapes (as well as suggestions for A through Z in The Memory Book).

Once again, the best Alphabet-Word list will use your own words – just avoid overlaps with your Peg System or things get confusing.

There are two main benefits to learning the Alphabet-Word system – it lets you memorise :

  1. Alphanumeric serial numbers – Like passwords or number plates e.g., 784 PAJ
  2. Grid references on a table or map – e.g., the treasure is buried in grid G8

We’ll recap these in the section on Putting It All Into Practice.


Adjectives play a very important role in classifying information you’ve learned.

For example, German nouns have one of three genders – male, female, neuter. Normally a noun’s gender can be guessed with simple rules, but there are exceptions.

According to these rules, Käse (Cheese) should be feminine (because of its e ending) but it’s actually masculine.

To remember things like this, first associate a visual adjective with each class of information – in this case, gender:

  • Male → burning;
  • Female → freezing; and
  • Neuter → exploding.

Then, when using Substitution and The Link Method to learn the word, add an intense version of the adjective to your link.

So for der (masculine) Käse (cheese) I might picture “a huge case o‘ (Käse) cheese (meaning)” and then set the whole thing on fire.

This memorable image not only tells me the pronunciation and meaning of the word, it also lets me know it’s a masculine exception!

You can apply The Adjective Idea to any information that needs tagging or grouping – from sports or financial statistics to people, anniversaries or art.

As we’ll see later, it’s especially useful for counting playing cards where on-the-fly “mutilation” lets players track which cards are drawn or discarded.


The techniques above will help you sneak information quickly into memory. But how do you keep it there?

The answer is Spaced Repetition – reviewing information at increasingly long intervals to make sure you don’t forget it.

In its most basic form, all you need to do is review any chains you want to keep 1 day after you’ve made them. If you remember the whole chain, review it again 3 days later, then a week later and so on, roughly doubling the time between reviews. If at any point you forget all or part of the chain, restrengthen it and start the process again from 1 day.

These days, digital Spaced Repetition Systems can help you schedule thousands of refreshes exactly when needed to maximise staying power.

Read this article on The Art of Memorisation and the Power of Spaced Repetition to learn more.


So there you have it. The building blocks of an exceptional memory:

  • The Link Method is a powerful way to remember an unlimited list of tangible things;
  • Substitution reifies abstract things like names or words;
  • Encoding reifies numerals, numbers and letters via:
    • The Phonetic Alphabet System (Numerals);
    • The Peg System (Numbers);
    • The Alphabet-Word System (Letters);
  • The Adjective Idea adds information and classes; and
  • Spaced Repetition refreshes your links as long as you need them.

At first, the skills of linking, substitution and encoding may feel tricky to master.

And memorising the Phonetic, Peg and Alphabet-Word systems will take some time and effort.

But, with practice, the few seconds each step needs at first will become second-nature. And, once internalised, there is almost nothing these systems won’t let you better remember.

Having a prodigious memory isn’t a super-power, it’s a skill – one that’s easier to learn than you think.


The ways to make practical use of the systems above are limited only by your opportunity and imagination.

For now, though, here are some ideas and quick explanations (organised alphabetically) from The Memory Book to help get you started:

ABSENTMINDEDNESS – Use The Link Method to connect an object with its location whenever you put something down. The benefits here come more from forcing awareness and observation than using an actual memory trick.

ALPHANUMERIC CODES – Combine The Phonetic Alphabet System with The Alphabet-Word System to memorise alphanumeric codes (passwords, number plates, style numbers etc…) of any length, fast.

ANNIVERSARIES – First, encode the date in 6 (YYMMDD) or 4 (MMDD) digits using The Phonetic Alphabet System. Now use The Link Method to connect it to the person it relates to. For extra points, use Substitution or The Adjective Idea to remind you of what type of anniversary it is.

APPOINTMENTS – First encode days of the week in the numbers 1 – 7 and the hours of the day as 1 – 12 (Wednesday @ 11:00 → 311). Now link the appointment using The Phonetic Alphabet System (day and time) and Substitution (appointment content).

AM and PM are mostly obvious from context (dentist @ 3 AM?) Use The Adjective Idea (e.g., light for AM vs. dark for PM) if you need to classify.

Finally, for appointments not on-the-hour, round to the earlier quarter and include an object that reminds you of timing in your link, e.g…

  • :15 → a quarter-cent piece;
  • :30 → a half grapefruit; or
  • :45 → a pie with one large slice gone.

The worst that can happen is that you turn up a little early.

(N.B., Personally, I wouldn’t recommend using your memory for personal productivity. Though it’s nice to know you could keep everything in your head, it uses more mental resources than necessary – especially if you have a system-based alternative. For more, read this crunch of David Allen’s Getting Things Done.)

ART – There are many different types of information you could learn about artists, art movements and artworks. Connect dates, artists, dimensions, styles, locations and more using all the systems available. If you’re curious about Art History, you might enjoy these 8,000 free flashcards from Phaidon’s 10,000 Years of Art.

ERRANDS – Use The Link Method to connect objects to locations (or visual reminders, like knots in a piece of string). Before you leave the house, run through your intended destinations in your head to bring your links (and your errands) back into mind.

FINANCIAL FIGURES – Use Substitution, The Phonetic Alphabet System to remember anything from stock tickers and prices to line items from a company’s financial statements. Use The Adjective Idea to help distinguish between types of information (e.g., revenue, operating profit and EBIT).

HISTORICAL DATES – as per Anniversaries.

LONG WORDS – Break them down and use Substitution.

LONG-DIGIT NUMBERS – Use The Phonetic Alphabet System.

MUSIC – Use The Alphabet-Word System or Substitution to remember basics like chord progressions.

Replace notes with numbers on the keyboard or musical staff, then use The Phonetic Alphabet to remember long sequences as you would long-digit numbers.

NAMES AND FACES – Use Substitution to make names familiar (e.g., Baldwin → bald one). Next, link them to an extreme image of a prominent feature on someone’s face (e.g., a very long nose, high cheekbones etc.).

Like absentmindedness, the main benefit of this process is making you more aware, observant and conscious about remembering people’s names. We most often forget simply because we never tried to remember.

For extra points, find a moment to write people’s names down with a few words of description next to their name. Chances are you will never need to refer to this list. Just the act of recalling a person’s name and some memorable feature of their face or your conversation will be enough to keep it in mind.

And the worst case? You have a cheat sheet to go back to if you need it.

(N.B., about 12% of The Memory Book‘s pages are filled with substitute ideas for the six-hundred most common names in America.)

PLAYING CARDS – If you want to apply your new memory skills to cards, you’ll first need to create and memorise a Card-Word System.

Like The Peg System, the Card-Word System links each of a deck’s 52 cards to concrete things that can be easily pictured.

So, the 3 of clubs, for example → c3 → cm (Phonetic Alphabet conversion) → comb (remember, the silent b doesn’t count)

You can either use an existing Card Word System (you’ll find plenty online, as well as in The Memory Book) or make your own.

If you do make your own, read a few tips online about handling face cards first and be careful not to overlap with your Peg and Alphabet-Word systems.

In any case, once your 52 card system is second nature, use the basic Link Method or Peg System to remember long sequences of playing cards both in and out of order.

Tracking (or counting) cards is as simple as applying The Adjective Idea to “mutilate” cards as they surface. When you run through your list, you should find it easy to identify cards that are still in the wild.

To count cards over several rounds simply rotate the form of mutilation to avoid getting confused (e.g., burning → freezing → exploding → cutting → back to burning).

To remember cards that have been picked up by other players, use The Link Method to associate the card with a part of their body (e.g., their nose). This should let you keep track.

POLITICS – From voting numbers and election outcomes to the names and jurisdictions of local representatives – there isn’t much that can’t be easily memorised with some combination of Substitution, The Phonetic Alphabet System or The Peg System.

READING – See the sections here on different types of data (from names to dates and figures) to quickly memorise facts from any book.

To memorise its entire structure and flow, first be sure to understand the point each paragraph is making. Now, pick one word (using Substitution if necessary) that will remind you of the whole idea. Finally, link this reminder to the one from the previous paragraph using The Link Method.

Though this approach may slow you down initially, these techniques will become instinctual. With practice, your reading speed will bounce back. What’s more, you’ll now have the closest thing to a photographic memory you can get.

SHOPPING LISTS – Use either the basic Link Method or The Peg System to remember long shopping lists both in or out of order.

SPATIAL LOCATIONS – Combine your Peg System and Alphabet-Word systems to quickly and easily memorise approximate spatial locations using grid references.

No grid on your map? Draw one. Label the horizontal x-axis with letters and the vertical y-axis with numbers.

When you bury your treasure in grid A5, link an image of it to an ape (A) and a policeman (peg-5) and the safety of your booty is assured.

SPEECHES – The best way to give a speech is never to memorise it word for word; it’s to talk fluidly in your own words from point to point. Once you’ve grasped this, memorising speeches is easy.

For each point, pick one word (using Substitution if necessary) that will remind you of the whole idea. Now use either the basic Link Method or The Peg System to memorise your speech.

You’ll have heard of the famous “Memory Palace” or “Method of Loci” used by the ancient Greeks to remember long speeches. To do so, they would link the points in their speeches to a place or a journey they knew well.

This is exactly the same system. The only difference? We’ve dispatched with the need for Loci entirely. Each point (or Peg) becomes its own reminder for the next point in the sequence – no need for loci, no limitations on what you can memorise.

SPORTS – See financial figures and politics. You can also memorise complex plays in sports like basketball, football and hockey by coding the play as a sequence of numbers and letters. To remember the right play at the right time, link it to the number, letter or codeword that triggers it.

TELEPHONE NUMBERS – See long-digit numbers.

THE ZODIAC – See anniversaries and historical dates.

VOCABULARY – As with long words, the best way to memorise vocabulary is to break words into chunks. Next, use Substitution and The Link Method to connect pronunciation and meaning.

This works as well for French as it does for Chinese. In fact, it works even better for languages like Chinese where symbols are made of collections of pictograms.


So there you have it, the secrets to mastering memory – as used and perfected for millennia.

If there’s one thing I hope you’ve taken away from today it’s this – anyone can vastly improve their memory with time, effort, patience and practice.

So make your memory a priority, pick one part of your life that would benefit from a memory upgrade and get to work.

Just remember: unless you suffer from a genuine medical condition, there is no biological excuse for having a bad memory.

Memory champions aren’t born, they are made.

You are enough, just as you are.


“Real love is accepting other people the way they are without trying to change them. If we try to change them it means we don’t really like them.”Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

This wonderful quote says something I think we all know deep down. And yet it has an implication that is profound. One that I’ve struggled with most of my life and that I’d like to reflect on with you today.

The most important person this quote applies to is you – it’s yourself.

We live in a world where we constantly feel we don’t live up to expectations. And the highest bar often isn’t the expectations others set for us. It’s the expectations we set for ourselves.

And so we beat ourselves up, we feel unworthy, we think “I’m not enough.” We constantly strive to improve, to “self-actualise”.

But when we need to change ourselves all it means is we don’t really like ourselves. And if we don’t really like ourselves it’s impossible to love and accept ourselves the way we are.

That is why real love must begin on the inside. You cannot give to others what you don’t yet have. You cannot love others without loving yourself. And if you feel constantly like you’re never enough, you will always feel like others are never enough too. You will constantly look for more, for better.

This belief will manifest itself in thousands of little actions and attitudes, slowly poisoning you and the people around you. Your disappointment in yourself will be reflected in your disappointment with others. Your judgements will make others feel unworthy, not good enough, and before long they may come to believe it. Their own belief reinforces your assumptions and reflects back on you. Until a deep, throbbing frenzy of self-loathing and striving becomes the norm.

Escaping this vortex is simple, but it is not easy. All it takes is for you to acknowledge that you don’t need to change yourself. That you’re only human. That you are enough, just as you are.

Now, before you get anxious at the thought of giving up your journey of self-improvement (I know this feeling, I’m there with you right now) let me tell you one thing: this decision doesn’t mean you can’t change; it doesn’t mean you can’t improve and become a better person.

But it will fundamentally change the whole fabric of that journey.

Because once you accept yourself for who you are; once you love yourself unconditionally, for all of your failings and mistakes. Well, then the reason for changing fundamentally shifts.

You could change, or you could not, sure. But shifting your attention from the agony of your own inadequacy will allow you to look up and around you. And when you decide to step forward into self-improvement, it won’t be to salve the wounds of your own self-hatred. It will be because you want to make the lives of the people around you better. Starting with the person right next to you – wherever you are – and growing in ever wider concentric circles.

There is no other way. You cannot trick yourself by re-framing and rationalising your motives. Simply waking up one day and trying to force yourself to believe “I’m doing this for other people” is like gold-plating a turd. It will just be another act to maintain, to others and to yourself.

The only way to get here is through the surprisingly difficult realisation that you are ok. In fact, you’re more than ok, you are awesome.

You are the incredible result of hundreds of millions of years of entropy; the sum of the sacrifices of billions of animals and human beings and moments.

You are enough, whoever you are, just as you are.

You are enough.

Stop Procrastinating: 21 Powerful Ways To Find Clarity, Beat Anxiety And Start Getting Things Done


You want to be as successful as your idols – the kind of person that gets stuff done; that always moves forward, progressing.

And yet there you are, checking the fridge for the fourth time in an hour, lost in a Wikipedia black hole, making another coffee or clicking through the Facebook photos of someone you haven’t spoken to since high school.

The truth? That’s a HUGE problem – because unless you can beat procrastination there’s no way in hell you’ll have that kind of success (or even much success at all).

Of course, nobody likes to procrastinate. It fills us with anxiety, frustration and guilt. It follows us everywhere, gnawing at us, building and building till the stress becomes suffocating; till panic arrives and all that we value gets sidelined.

So what causes it? And how can we beat procrastination for good? Great questions. Because procrastination is a problem that can be solved.

All it takes are some tips and some tools to get started.


There are two main emotions and four root causes of procrastination.

The first familiar sensation is feeling overwhelmed. It’s that tight, sick knot in your chest. That feeling of knowing you must act but unable to even acknowledge, let alone tackle the task that’s at hand.

The two root causes of feeling overwhelmed are (1) lack of clarity and (2) lack of courage. Lack of clarity is inaction through not knowing how to start. Lack of courage is paralysis through fear of how things might end.

The second familiar sensation is feeling uninspired. You know what to do to make progress. The problem? You just can’t make yourself do it.

The two root causes of feeling uninspired are (3) lack of motivation and (4) lack of energy. Lack of motivation comes from not having a good reason “Why?”. Lack of energy is a lack of strength to get what must be done, done.

The good news? With those four root causes defined, there’s a whole heap of tricks we can use to address them.


Lack of clarity kills productivity before it even begins. Here are three ways to tackle it:

1. CLEAR YOUR HEAD – Our working memory is limited. That means we quickly run out of resources to process life’s open tabs.

The solution? Get everything out of your head. Doing so will profoundly unstick you. And all it takes is three simple steps:

  1. Grab a pen and paper;
  2. Set a timer for 15 minutes; and
  3. Write non-stop – write anything that comes to your mind.

Write the big things and the small things. Write the bad ideas and the good ones. Write about the tasks you’re procrastinating on. Write about the sensations, emotions and thoughts that are weighing you down.

Don’t filter. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling or legibility. Don’t stop until the timer runs out. Take longer if you need it.

Your thoughts may start as a trickle, but they’ll soon be a torrent and then eventually burn back to a trickle.

Congratulations! You’ve reached simplicity on the other side of complexity – and, with luck, found a new sense of space and of clarity.

Record any ideas or actions you want to take with you on a new piece of paper. Now destroy your original writing. Now act.

Further reading: The Art of Journal Meditation (Article)“Getting Things Done”, David Allen (Crunch)

2. BREAK THINGS DOWN – Every task is made up of:

  • An outcome – What does success look like?;
  • Milestones – Mini-outcomes that break the task down; and
  • Next actions – The very next thing you can do to move forward.

If you’re struggling to eat a frog in one bite, a great procrastination killer is to take manageable mouthfuls.

First, be sure you’re clear on the desired outcome. What do you actually want from this project? What would make it complete?

Next, break the outcome into milestones. It’s easier to tackle seven back-to-back milestones with a 50% chance of success than a 1% leap in the dark. It’s simpler to grapple with outcomes 3 months or less in the future than to try and work 2 years ahead.

Finally, ask yourself: “What’s the very next thing I can do to move forward?” Imagine asking someone else to take over. If it’s not simple enough to do without clarifying, it’s not the next action.

Break it down until the next action is mindless and easy. Now do it.

Further reading: “Eat That Frog!”, Brian Tracy (Crunch)

3. START FIRST, THINK LATER – “Do not wait”, said Napoleon Hill, “the time will never be ‘just right.’ Start where you stand. Work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go.”

And he’s right. The best way to get started is often just to get started.

Why? Because getting started lets us gather data. And a few weeks of data isn’t just useful for clarity, goal setting and planning, it’s essential.

How? If your first session involves others, book it now. If it’s solo, just get started. Need more structure? Use the Pomodoro technique to focus on process while your outcomes are hazy. Rack up the first few sessions, then come back to planning.

Do what you can, with what you have, from where you are – the rest will take care of itself.

Further reading: 10 Steps To Learn Any Skill (And Why They Will Change Your Life) (Article)


A lack of courage is the biggest single cause of procrastination. It’s almost always linked to fear of failure. Sound familiar? Here are eleven ways to be braver:

4. MONITOR ANXIETY – Keeping an eye on anxiety is the best way to diffuse it before it escalates. To do so:

  1. Set a recurring timer on your phone to go off once per hour.
  2. When the timer goes off, ask “How anxious am I feeling right now?”
  3. To help, make a note of where and how tense you feel in your body.
  4. Give yourself an anxiety score of 1 – 10, where 1 is chilled and 10 is apocalypse.
  5. If you’re a 5 or above, call a timeout.

Take yourself for a walk, listen to a song you love or reflect on a few things you’re grateful for. One excellent option is to…

5. BREATHE – One of the best ways to conquer fear is with breathing. Try this one-minute exercise now:

  1. Breathe in for 4 seconds – focus on your chest expanding
  2. Hold it for 2 seconds.
  3. Breathe out for 6 – focus on your body relaxing.
  4. Repeat 5 times.

Feeling more confident? This simple breathing routine shifts your body from “fight-or-flight” to “pause-and-plan”.

It’s a powerful way to find a place from which things can get done.

Further reading: “Optimal Living 101”, Brian Johnson (Crunch)

6. FORGIVE YOURSELF – So you’ve just binge-watched a whole season of Friends, or lost a few hours to Angry Birds. Blissful, mindless escape.

But now, the real world swims back into focus.

And the stuff that you still need to do? It’s still there. Except now it’s more pressing than ever.

You feel guilty, anxious and stressed. And that sick knot in your stomach isn’t helping.

Well, guess what? Now is exactly the time to be kind to yourself. Kicking yourself while you’re down achieves nothing.

To do so, use the Platinum Rule – learn to treat yourself as you would treat others. Here’s a quick three-step thought exercise to get started:

  1. First, picture a close friend or family member that you love and want nothing but the best for.
  2. Now, imagine this person has come to you for advice. They’ve done exactly as you’ve done and feel just how you’re feeling.
  3. Think: How would you treat this person? What advice would you give?

My bet is you might say, “Hey, don’t worry about it! We’re all human, and being human is complicated. You’re awesome and your stuff will be fine. Tell me, what’s the most important thing you need to get done? How can I help you get started?”

So next time you make a mistake: be your own best friend. Take a moment to acknowledge you’re only human. Give yourself some good advice and be kind.

7. REALISE, YOU ARE NOT ALONE – One great way to protect yourself against fear is to remind yourself that everyone else struggles too.

My personal weaknesses? iPhone games and street-magic videos on YouTube. I don’t know why they’re like crack, but they are. I’ve wasted countless hours on them when I know I should have been focussing on something else.

Leonardo da Vinci was such a chronic procrastinator that it took threats of bankruptcy to get him to finish most of his works. Carol Joyce Oates described producing the first draft of her writing as like, “pushing a peanut with your nose across a very dirty floor.”

Want some more? Google “I feel like an idiot” – 25,700,000 results in 0.34 seconds. Wonderful.

Not convinced? Read Cheryl Strayed’s “Tiny Beautiful Things” (Crunch) for a powerful dose of perspective (and some wonderful advice to go with it).

A little reminder that we all struggle – that you’re not alone – is all it can take to remind you how lucky you are and to jolt you right out of your rut.

8. BUT REMEMBER, YOUR ONLY CONTEST IS WITH YOURSELF – Comparing constantly to others is the quickest way to dispirit yourself and sabotage progress.

Your best shot at becoming the best person you can be is to not get distracted. Instead, focus all of your energy and attention on the task that’s directly in front of you.

One great habit to put this in action is to make time at the end of each day to think about how you can be better tomorrow. To do so:

  1. Grab a pen and paper at the end of each day
  2. Set a timer for 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Ask yourself:
    • What went well today?
    • What lessons did you learn?
    • What opportunities do you have to improve?

If you’re even 0.1% more effective each day for 365 days and you’ll be 45% better than you were at the start of the year. Do it for 5 years and you’ll be 6 times the person you were when you started. Do it for 20 and you’ll achieve more than you ever could have imagined.

Further reading: “The Compound Effect”, Darren Hardy (Amazon)

9. CHALLENGE YOUR BELIEFS – “I can’t do this.”, “Everyone will think I’m an idiot.”, “There’s no way I’m ready yet!” Limiting beliefs are a major driver of fear-based procrastination.

The solution? Challenge them. To do so, grab a pen and paper. Now, whenever you catch a thought that says you’re anything less than a super-hero, answer the following four questions:

  1. Is this belief true? You might just discover you don’t actually believe it. If you think the answer is yes, that’s also OK.
  2. Can I know that it’s true? Perhaps more importantly, what evidence is there to indicate that it’s false?
  3. How do I react when I think that thought? What sensations and emotions do you feel? Try to observe without judging.
  4. Who would I be without that thought? If you could wave a magic wand and eliminate it, what could you achieve?

The trick here is to set up bouncers and lawyers in your mind. Bouncers, to keep out thoughts you know don’t belong. Lawyers, to challenge the ones that gain entry.

Cross-examine the beliefs that are holding you back. You’ll find surprisingly few stand the test.

10. BE OK WITH STARTING SOMEWHERE – Everyone who is good at something was once bad at it.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Tiger Woods was once bad at golf. Beethoven was once bad at piano. Einstein was once bad at Physics. This rule applies to everyone. Even you.

When was the last time you laughed in the face of somebody trying hard to learn your language? Hopefully never. Instead, their vulnerability probably softened you. You almost certainly spoke louder, more clearly and repeated yourself patiently to help them.

So don’t be afraid to start somewhere. “The first draft of anything”, said Hemingway, “is shit.” And the only way to the second draft is through the first.

Further reading: “Bounce”, Matthew Syed (Crunch)

11. BE AN OPTIMALIST – Perfection is the enemy or progress. And one of the best ways to overcome it is simply by shifting perspective.

Do visualise “wild success”, but don’t think of it as some “distant shore” you must land on, says Tal Ben-Shahar. Instead, think of your visualisation as a “guiding star”, an end that can be steered towards but not reached.

Releasing unrealistic expectations will help you move from “Perfectionism” to “Optimalism”. And when you miss that guiding star? Well, “even if you fail at your ambitious thing, it’s very hard to fail completely,” explains Larry Page, co-founder of Google. “That’s the thing that people don’t get.”

So remember, cut yourself some slack and alter your perspective. What’s important isn’t perfect, it’s practice.

Further reading: “The Pursuit of Perfect”, Tal Ben-Shahar (Amazon)

12. PLAN FOR THE WORST, HOPE FOR THE BEST – Let’s say you really do fail completely. What’s the very worst that can happen? Think it through:

  1. First, grab a pen and paper.
  2. Now, make a list every possible thing that could go wrong – don’t hold back.
  3. Finally, think of at least one way to soften or avoid each outcome on your list.

Feeling better? Following these steps is like taking the roof off a haunted house. It’s amazing how ghosts disappear in the light.

Still anxious? Consider this: the physical sensations of fear and excitement are the same – the difference is psychological. It lies in our expectations.

To shift from negative to positive, ask yourself: what’s the best possible outcome you could experience?

Now, spend at least as much time thinking about this answer as your worst-case scenario.

You’ll be amazed at the difference this makes.

Further reading: “The 4-Hour Work Week”, Tim Ferriss (Crunch)

13. SNAP BACK TO REALITY – In addition to the planning for the worst, and hoping for the best – it’s important to be ready for reality.

Why? Because the shock of unexpected reversals can knock you sideways. Which means you’ll need to battle once more for momentum.

How can you avoid it? With mental contrasting – the process of listing and preparing for challenges ahead. To do it:

  1. First, grab a pen and paper.
  2. Next, imagine yourself in the future. You’re looking back on the task at hand but things didn’t work out as hoped. You’re trying to understand why.
  3. Now, list all of the possible false-assumptions, challenges and setbacks that might have caused your efforts to fail.
  4. Finally, try to think of at least one way to soften or avoid each obstacle on your list.

No matter how smart you are, some obstacles are inevitable.

Difficult conversations may need to happen. Sacrifices may be called for. Sometimes a task demands blood, sweat and tears.

The power of mental contrasting is in shedding the shock from the sting. A realistic view of the challenges ahead will help you broaden your stance, grit your teeth and push through. Even if the obstacles you meet aren’t the ones you expected.

14. EMBRACE FAILURE – “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson.

But how? There are many good ways to face failure. For a nice rundown, check out step 8 (Find Courage) in Brian Johnson’s Optimal Living 101 (Crunch).

My favourite? Fail at something every single day. Try making it from your front door to your car in one jump. Smile at the grumpiest stranger on the street. Go to your first ever pilates class. Apologise for something you messed up.

Your choice can be utterly profound or incredibly silly, just do whatever it takes to remind yourself that failure isn’t a big deal.

This is especially true if you’re used to being “one of the best”. Many high-performers out there are so used to being experts that the idea of failing, even in a totally unrelated field, can be paralysing.

This is a tragic and suffocating way to live.

Make a habit of enjoying small failures and remember, no books are written in one draft, no films are made in one take and “only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” – T.S. Eliot

Further reading: “Mindset”, Carol Dweck (Amazon)


If you’re feeling clear and confident but just can’t make yourself care – you might need a spoonful of motivation. Here are three quick tricks to help:

15. ASK “WHY? WHY? WHY?” – Motivation requires motive and the best form of motive is a good solid “Why”.

Why is the task you’re working on important? How does solving this problem relate to your life? What will it help you understand about the world around you?

“I need to study for this test because the test determines my grade, my grade determines my college, my college determines my job, my job determines my ability to ever pay off my loans and maybe even still have time for friends, hobbies and travel.”

If you can make a problem relevant and engaging to your life – if you can offer a strong why – your procrastination will dissolve by itself.

Further reading: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Stephen Covey (Crunch)

16. DO IT FOR SOMEBODY ELSE – If you can’t find a reason to make the task valuable for you, try reflecting on why it may be valuable to somebody else.

How will this result make your parents proud? How will this job support your partner’s dreams? Or pay for your children’s opportunities? It can be easy to find the strength to act when it benefits people we love.

Finding it hard to generate the same drive for a stranger?

Consider this: when you flick a switch, it’s not just energy that flows through the wire, it’s the sacrifices of millions, past and present. The same goes for your schooling, healthcare and freedom.

So, next time you can’t find a reason to care, do it for somebody else. Because if one thing is certain, it’s that somebody did it for you.

Further reading: The REAP Model: A Brief Theory of Meaning (Article)

17. DO IT WHILE DOING SOMETHING YOU LOVE – Why do pharmaceutical companies coat medications in sugar? Because it’s a simple and effective way to make bitter pills easy to swallow.

The same principle applies to the mind. To get started:

  1. Think of something you often procrastinate on.
  2. Think of something you love doing.
  3. Make a vow never to do (2) except while or after doing (1).

For example, decide:

  • I will only listen to my favourite band while I do chores;
  • I will only eat chocolate as a reward for completing 2 hours of deep work;
  • I will only listen to audiobooks while I run.

Power through procrastination by combining what you resist with what you love.

It won’t just incentivise progress, it might even make it a pleasure.


It doesn’t matter how clear, confident and motivated you feel if you don’t have the energy to start. Here are four final tips to help boost you back into action:

18. SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS – the same obstacles will look and feel 10x harder without enough food, rest and movement in your life.

The solution? Eat healthily, sleep till you’re rested and exercise at least 5 hours per week.

Feeling suddenly low? Have a snack, take a nap or go walking.

Sometimes beating a bout of procrastination is as simple as topping up the basics.

19. START SLOWLY – If your goal is to do deep-work for five hours a day, don’t try for five hours right away. Start with 15 minutes. Then increase it each day in 15-minute increments.

If you’re trying to wake up early, don’t set your alarm instantly for 5 AM. Start 15 minutes earlier and ease yourself into your new routine.

Biting off more than you can chew is a quick way to exhaust and demotivate yourself. So don’t do it.

20. DON’T BURN OUT – As any athlete knows, the secret to being the best has more to do with not getting injured than it does with superior training.

Why? Because making transformative gains relies on compounding, and compounding relies on steady and consistent improvements, day-in-day-out.

The same principle applies to everything in life. Whether you’re studying for a test, building life-long friendships or working on your career.

Success, real success, comes from not burning out – so take it easy, and remember, the main goal of every training session is to make it to the end of the next one.

21. COUNT TO 5 AND GO! – Finally, when all else fails, “Just do it”, and, when you do, do it fast.

“If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill it.”, explains Mel Robbins, author of The 5 Second Rule.

The solution? “Just start counting backwards to yourself: 5-4-3-2-1.

The counting will focus you on the goal or commitment and distract you from the worries, thoughts, and excuses in your mind.

As soon as you reach ‘1’ – push yourself to move.

This is how you push yourself to do the hard stuff – the work that you don’t feel like doing, or you’re scared of doing, or you’re avoiding.”

Further reading: “The 5 Second Rule”, Mel Robbins (Amazon), “The Five Elements of the Five Second Rule”, Mel Robbins (Article)


So there you have it, 21 powerful ways to find clarity, beat anxiety and start getting things done.

Can you remember the last time when doing felt easy? A time when your mind was like water; when everything flowed; when you looked back and thought, “Wow, I can’t believe I just did that!”

That feeling isn’t once or twice in a lifetime. It’s not even once or twice in a year. That feeling is available to you now, every moment of every day, the moment you reach out to take it.

The only thing between you and your best-self is action; definite, purposeful, persistent action – taken relentlessly – today, and tomorrow, and the day after.

But what of procrastination? Well, it turns out that all you’ve been missing till now are the tools; the tricks that put today in the place of tomorrow.

And now you have them, so pick one thing on this list and get to it.

Because even if the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is still now.

Faster to Master: 7 Secret Steps To Unlock The Awesome Power Of Learning Through Teaching


We’ve all been there.

“I hate this topic! I don’t understand it and I’m never going to! And even if I did, how am I supposed to remember this anyway, huh?”

Learning is hard work at the best of times and crushingly frustrating at the worst. It’s easy to feel stupid or embarrassed when tackling new topics or skills. Before long you’ve convinced yourself you’re “just bad at this kind of stuff”. Or worse, you grow to fear or hate learning entirely.

But what if I told you there was a simpler and faster way to learn anything? A technique used by geniuses like Richard Feynman, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to master tricky topics quickly and easily?

Perhaps you’d feel sceptical. But I bet you’d also be curious. Maybe even excited. Wouldn’t it feel great to finally say, “Aha! I get it! Not only is this not so bad, it might even be something I’m good at!”

So what’s the trick to mastering things faster? It turns out the secret to good learning is good teaching. But not just as something to find. And not even as something to do after you’ve learned everything. The secret to learning is to teach while you learn, no matter what level you’re at.

Feeling curious? Let’s find out more…


Perhaps you’re a student preparing for a test. Perhaps you’re learning a new professional skill. Or maybe you’ve found a new hobby. Whoever you are, whatever you’re learning – learning through teaching is a valuable skill you should master.

In fact, the value of teaching as a learning technique has been known for some time. “When we teach, we learn”, said Seneca the Younger 2,000 years ago. And he was right.

Here are just some of the rewards learning through teaching can offer:

  • It tests recall and improves memory;
  • It forces you to organise and synthesise your knowledge;
  • It helps you identify specific gaps you can work on; and
  • It makes learning practical, rewarding and meaningful.

But the best part is you don’t need to even teach a real person to benefit.

In fact, you can start right here, right now with only your mind, a pen and some paper.


But how? I’m glad you asked. Let’s look at the 7 simple steps to unlock this powerful learning technique:

1. Pick a topic and list everything you don’t know about it.

Break the topic down into concepts – like the parts of a giant machine.

The goal is to identify parts you can take out and examine till you see how they all fit together.

Keep adding parts to your list as you discover more things you don’t know!

2. Pick one concept from your list and write it at the top of a blank page.

We’ll pull it apart shortly.

To warm up, take a second sheet of paper and quickly mind map everything you know about it. Use only your memory at first. This will challenge your recall and delay forgetting.

Once your head is empty, use your notes to complete any obvious blanks.

3. Imagine teaching what you know about the concept as quickly and simply as possible.

For this exercise, it often helps to think of a specific person you actually know.

(Fun fact: I write every article and crunch on Faster To Master to my sister.)

It could be a cousin, a niece, a classmate, a colleague or friend. Visualise talking to them as you write your explanation. What questions would they ask? When would you lose their attention? How does this concept relate to their world and their lives?

For an extra challenge, bring the topic to life for a room full of imaginary students.

If you can, actually find a room with an empty whiteboard to practice in. Would you find your own explanation engaging, understandable and interesting?

4. Identify clearly and specifically the ideas you have trouble explaining.

As you go through step 3 the gaps in your knowledge should be clear.

Where did you struggle? What did you forget? Where did detail bog you down? Make a note of everything that feels hard as you go through your explanation. Then…

5. Relearn those ideas, explore other ways of explaining them and repeat step 2 and step 3.

With your hit list in hand, revisit the specific ideas you struggled with.

Go back to your textbooks. Turn to Google. Ask a teacher, mentor or colleague to explain the specific idea from a different angle in their own words.

Feeling more confident? Head back to step 2 and step 3.

6. Simplify your explanation even further using simple words and analogies.

By step 6, you should feel pretty good about your explanation.

Congratulations! Now challenge yourself to make it even simpler.

Imagine a classroom filled with non-native speakers. Use fewer words. Make those left shorter and simpler.

Ask yourself, “What is this like?” to find engaging and visual analogies.

This process will embed the concept deeply in your mind and take your understanding from good to awesome.

7. Actually teach the concept to others.

If you haven’t already, why not share your new found clarity with the world?

Become a coach or a mentor. Write an article. Find a chance to present to your peers. This is the ultimate test of steps 1 through 6.

There’s also little more rewarding than being the catalyst for that, “Aha!” moment and watching someone’s anxiety and frustration melt away as you make a chewy topic easy to digest.


The truth about learning is that feeling lost and confused doesn’t mean you’re stupid. It means you’re making progress.

Everyone gets held up in places. Einstein was a slow talker. But that didn’t hold him back. In fact, his lack of language helped him master the ability to see things in pictures. A skill that was pivotal to the world-changing findings he made.

What were Einstein’s thoughts on learning through teaching?

“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein

So what are you waiting for?

Pick a topic you’re struggling with, or a topic you think you know well. Imagine teaching it clearly, quickly and simply. Be honest and specific about your gaps. Find new perspectives on the ideas you struggle with. Try again. Celebrate! Pass your insight on to someone else.

Before you know it, the things you found hard will feel easy.

And then? And then it’s time to find a new challenge, to keep learning and to “live your life in crescendo“.

Just remember: your ideas are only as effective as your ability to pass them on and you cannot give to others what you do not yet have yourself.