Directives and applying what you read

At times I feel like I’m writing the unofficial Tim Ferriss podcast blog. Like old SNES strategy guides where some would have stamps on the cover with “Unofficial” styled like a confidential stamp. To make it seem edgier.

Listening to different podcasts in the same category, you can get a sense of who has a new book or product coming out. They do the rounds. Earlier this year, Cal Newport was appearing on a lot of podcasts to promote Deep Work1. Recently, Ryan Holiday has been on a few different podcasts to talk about The Ego is the Enemy.

In Tim’s latest podcast, he asked Ryan about his reading habits:

If you’re not leaving a book with a… now I’m doing X because of this […] You’re not achieving anything. You just spent a week reading a self improvement book. But tell me what you’re gonna do with this information. That’s what you’ve constantly got to do. Whatever you’re reading whatever your thinking is.

Okay, I’m now going to put this thing into practice. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing, it can be the smallest possible thing. But if you don’t leave with some sort of actionable thing, you’re really just deluding yourself.

You can read a book about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. That doesn’t make you any better at it. It’s only if you try that out on the mat against another human being that’s going to lead to any real improvement.

Derek Sivers writes a lot about the books he reads. When I started adding books to my wish list, a lot of the choices came from recommendations in Derek’s book notes. He’s also started to write about directives. Distilling things he’s learned into summaries answering the request: “Just tell me what to do”.

When I’d tell my friends about a great book I’d just read, they didn’t want to read it. They didn’t want 300 pages of anecdotes, explanations, and supporting arguments. They’d say, “Just tell me what to do.”

I realized that for some things, I also don’t want the full 20-hour explanation. I’d be happier with just the conclusions — the actions — the directives.

I’m happy with my current reading pace, but I’d like to practice digesting books how Ryan and Derek do. Trying this on some books I’ve read this year:

For each book I read from now on, I’ll try thinking of a specific directive that I can apply deliberately.

  1. Which I still need to write book notes for. I was trying to make a one page site and it grew out of scope. It’s still the most influential book I’ve read this year. That project is something I need to simplify and finish.