Reading Productively

At the end of last year and for the first couple of weeks of this year I seem to have been reading a lot of books that could broadly be classed as “productivity self-help”. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Mason Currey’s “Daily Rituals
Cal Newport’s “Digital Minimalism” & “Deep Work“,
Oliver Burkeman’s “Four Thousand Weeks” (as an audiobook),
James Clear’s “Atomic Habits

All of these have been recommended to me via a variety of difference sources; friends, podcasts, etc, and some of these books reference each other. All of them were worth reading in their own way, just after I’d decided to take a break from social media I read Digital Minimalism. Interestingly most of what the author was suggesting in terms of reducing digital consumption were steps that I’d already been taking. In fact in most cases you could make the argument that most of what was being suggested anyone could probably come up with by themselves with enough thought and time. I would say however that these books save you that time but only work if you are prepared to put the thought in about how you might implement things for yourself.

Accepting that we are all unique and our personal circumstances are different there is no one-size fits all approach, did I learn anything? Yes, I did. I’d say that I’ve tweaked some of my work patterns to better fit me. For example I know that mornings work best for me to really get things done. So I’m blocking my mornings much more for writing and thinking and trying wherever I can to push admin type work e.g. raising client invoices, to afternoons. That doesn’t mean that I won’t do other things in my mornings, because I also need to be responsive to clients needs, but my preference is to try and keep them for when I really need to focus on things.

I’m still on a bit of a social media break, but I have allowed it to creep back into my life a bit more than it was. However this is much more on a set of “rules” that mean that I don’t end up doom scrolling or wasting time. I am now spending more time reading which is one of my aims for this year (not necessarily more self-help books though). I enjoy this lower level of interaction, although it isn’t the perfect balance yet so will need a bit more refinement.

Do I recommend any of the above books? Well that depends on whether this is something that you want to read about. All are good, but I’ve had a couple of them languishing on my kindle for quite some time (purchased when they were 99p specials), so I’m not sure I’d have bought them (at full price) if I weren’t already thinking about this sort of thing. I don’t think they’re the sort of book you’d read without a reason to.

2020 Take 3

A couple of different people have mentioned that this seems like the third attempt at 2020 after 2021 turned out to be the rerun. I’m not sure yet whether 2022 will fare any better but so far it’s starting out a little similar to 2021 with Covid-19 on the rise, a government that is focussed on its internal party politics rather than the betterment of the country, work being cancelled or changed as a result and life not being quite what anyone would wish for. It probably doesn’t help that the days are shorter and there’s not a great deal of sunlight at the best of times.

I’ve been taking a break from writing here and just about everywhere on social media for a few weeks. I needed the break, especially from Twitter and to a lesser extent YouTube and Instagram, and to be honest I’m not planning on going back anytime soon, and when I do it won’t be to the same extent. Inevitably I use social media a little by default, with things autoposting e.g. GoodReads and this blog, but that’s likely to be my limit of interaction for the time being at least.

One of my aims for this year is to read more and in doing so read more widely. The less time I spend doom scrolling the more time I’ll have for other things like that. I took the approach of looking at things I should: ‘stop doing, start doing, & keep doing’ the logic being that to start doing one thing you have to stop doing something else.

I ended up spending quite a bit of time reading at the end of December, partly in a conscious choice to have a break at the end of the year and also as ideas emerged about less social media and more reading to see what that felt like. Overall I read 83 books last year and so far this year I’ve read 4 (including one audiobook), like last year I have no target I just want to see where I go, no pressure and reading more doesn’t necessarily mean more books.


We finally watched the most recent Bond film over Christmas. I enjoyed it and it was worth the wait. Would I have liked to have seen it in the cinema? Yes, but then I still think that was just too great a risk at the time. Other than that Christmas television was pretty disappointing and there hasn’t been much better so far this year. We’re watching quite a few repeats or just not bothering.


We had a quiet Christmas, restrictions on care homes meant that I saw my Mum before Christmas and spoke to her on the phone on the day itself. Her Alzheimer’s meant that she didn’t actually know that it was Christmas as such. We don’t have what I would consider to be family Christmases anymore.


Related to reading I’ve been cataloguing my kindle highlights using my.clippings.io and my Evernote account. I’ve wanted to be able to make better use of my kindle highlights for writing and making them more searchable has been my aim. They’re now all uploaded to Evernote and I’m working my way through adding tags to each one. I have a couple of hundred books left to do this for so I’m doing them in batches.

I already add my handwritten notes on real books into Evernote when I finish a book so finally all my reading notes will be together in one database.


I’m not sure where I’m going with this blog at the moment. I want to write, but I think I’ll be posting on a more ad-hoc basis than a regular timetable.

Whatever you’re up to, stay safe and take care.

Mid Way

I’ve reached the mid-point of my post a day in December experiment and decided to stop.

I’m going to have a social media detox for the rest of the year and have decided to include blogging in that. A complete switch from what I had planned.

If you want me, you can contact me in the usual ways (telephone, email), if you’re not sure of the details then please ask and if I know you well enough I’ll supply the details.

My Best TV of 2021

Unlike my films of 2021 post yesterday, there’s a bit more to this, even if looking back some of what I’ve enjoyed most this year are things that were made some time ago, so case in point:

Maigret (Michael Gambon) and Inspector Morse were both made back in the 1980’s and 1990’s but still stand up really well today, obviously the latter has had spin-offs (Lewis and Endeavour) and the former a more recent incarnation with Rowan Atkinson as the French detective, but we watched all of both of these series from start to finish when they were repeated this year and enjoyed them all.

More up-to-date but set back in 1970’s was Adam Dalgliesh based on the books by PD James, I liked that they kept the ’70’s setting (unlike the Martin Shaw adaptations) and a series that I hope we’ll see more of.

Shetland made a welcome return and ended on a bit of a cliffhanger. I felt that this season wasn’t maybe as strong as previous ones but we still enjoyed it and I believe there’s another series to come so hopefully that will be resolved.

The excellent Ghosts was back for a third season and I believe that there’s a Christmas special to come. This season started to tell more about the ghost’s backstories and how they ended up as ghosts, I wanted a bit more about some of them, but maybe that will come.

And finally All Creatures Great and Small had a second season which continued the excellent retelling of the James Herriot books and is a worthy successor to the original BBC adaptations, and also has a Christmas special to come.

My Best Films of 2021

This is going to be a really short list for two reasons. Firstly Covid has meant that I haven’t been to a cinema in over two years and secondly I haven’t watched much that I’ve really enjoyed. There’s been more TV that I’ve watched which has been better. So a couple of honourable mentions:

Greyhound – made for Apple TV, with Tom Hanks as an escort destroyer Captain during the Atlantic convoys in the Second World War and adapted from C S Foresters book The Good Shepherd. Okay the book is better but they did a pretty good job of transferring it to the screen. It loses a bit by trying to hype up certain aspects and add things that never happened but it’s a pretty good film.

The Guilty – This is the original Swedish version and not the more recent Jake Gyllenhaal one (which I’m told isn’t as good. The films premise revolves around a single emergency service operator and there are no other major actors seen, most of the other characters are voices on the other end of the phone. Brilliantly suspenseful.

And that’s it, it seems everything else has been eminently forgettable. I would have liked to have watched Black Widow and No Time to Die, but haven’t yet, but I’m hoping I get a chance over Christmas / New Year.

My Best Books of 2021

At the time of writing GoodReads says that I’ve read 75 books this year. I suspect I’ll get at least a couple more in before the end of the year but I’m not sure whether I’ll read something that would displace a book from this list so I feel fairly safe posting this now. Here are my top 5 that I’ve read this year. Only two of them were actually published this year and three of them are second world war military history – but although this is an interest of mine, they are there on merit of being very good books and I would recommend them even if this is something that isn’t of a particular interest to you.

Brothers in Arms – James Holland

This is the story of the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry and their journey from D-Day to VE-Day in the second world war. As a regiment they’ve been in the war from the start, originally as a mounted – on horses – cavalry regiment before moving into tanks. It’s incredibly well written and as well as the “back story” of what is going on generally it focuses on a handful of the men of the regiment. It shows the true horror of war and the sheer loss of life and attrition that happens, even to what is ultimately being the “victorious” side. It will make you stop and think and question what you think you already know about the second world war.

Diary of a War Artist – Edward Ardizzone

This is exactly what it says it is, and follows the artist through the invasion of Sicily and onto D-Day and towards the end of the European war during 1943 to 1945. You might think that you’ve never heard of Edward Ardizzone, but after the war he was a very well known illustrator and in particular of children’s books. If you’ve ever read Stig of the Dump you’ve probably seen his illustrations.

These are illustrated notebooks/diaries and again show what is going on generally as well as to the individual.

Brave Men – Ernie Pyle

My final second world war pick and again covering the war from 1943 to 1945 from Sicily to Normandy, Ernie Pyle was an American war correspondent who reported from the front line (and was ultimately killed in the Pacific towards the end of the war). These are in effect another diary type reportage, although not written explicitly at such and providing a day to day account of the progression and the individual units and men concerned. Pyle would attach himself to different units; Naval, engineers, artillery, infantry and report from being alongside them. As above it shows what the war was truly like and not the version that we have perhaps taught ourselves over the intervening period.

Together – Luke Adam Hawker

This is an illustrated tale of the artist author’s Grandfather and his dog. It’s set through the first lockdown period of 2020 and tells a tale that is both human and encapsulating what many of us went through in one way or another. It’s both heartwarming and heart pulling, but it is beautifully illustrated and well worth a look.

The Small Heart of Things – Julian Hoffman

I read this relatively recently and it’s a collection of essays, primarily about or linked to the natural world. It’s beautifully written and covers quite a wide range of topics from a natural point of view.

Robin Song

When I got up this morning at about 05.30 there was a robin singing in the garden, I could hear another in the far distance singing in response. I nipped back indoors and got my recorder, clipped the mic to a twig in a nearby tree, put the recorder on top of a waterbutt and pressed record. Here’s the results (best listened to with headphones):

Robin Song (with occasional car and plane)
Not the robin singing

Allotment by Headlamp

Headlamp – Thrunite TH10

It was still dark when I went to the allotment this morning. We stopped in there on our morning dog walk to see how wet the ground was and whether it was feasible to do anything practical there today. The result was a negative, the ground is still too wet to do any digging, and walking on the beds would do more harm than good. So instead I settled for digging a few leeks – I am thinking about a leek and brussels sprout cheese sauce over some pasta for supper tonight. This was all done by torchlight or rather the light from my headlamp, much better for the allotment as it leaves your hands free to work the tools. I forget now how long I’ve had this one but I’m pretty sure they don’t make this particular model anymore, although it still works pretty well.

Back home before the sun is up.

Car Service Part 2

The car service didn’t go quite as planned yesterday. When I collected the car I could tell straight away it wasn’t running right. So I took it straight back. They’d changed the spark plugs as part of the service and turns out one of the new plugs was cracked. They probably should have spotted it when they fitted it but they didn’t. Anyway new faulty spark plugs replaced and back on the road again.

Car Service

My car is at the garage for its annual service and MOT today. It’s passed without any issues and I’ll be picking it up soon. I’ve had a loan car today, which was an all electric Renault Zoe. It’s about five years or so since I last drove a fully electric car and it’s interesting to see how the technology has changed in that time. I’m pleased to say all for the better, not that it was bad before but if we are all to make the shift sooner or later to fully electric cars then this is certainly the way forward. The only remaining stumbling block, at least for me, remains the price. Even with the annual saving on the cost of fuel etc. I still couldn’t afford one. It’s likely that they’ll hit price parity with ICE cars in around 2025, but even then I’d still only be looking at being able to afford a secondhand one (assuming that the price differential is about the same). But who knows what will be happening by then.