If you’re only going to read one page on my site, this should be it. I have spent years reading material on personal development as the idea relates to most areas of life. When I come across people I usually want to share some of this information, and accompanying resources, with them. However, I usually have limited time with them, so this leads to the problem of how do I make the best use of this time. This site, and particularly this page, is how I want to accomplish this.
Without further ado…
Cal Newport – The blog of Cal Newport was the first student centric (at the time) blog I had come across. Essentially, when he started his blog he interviewed star students from around the world, figured out how they did what they were doing without being a “grind”, and posted the information for free on his blog. I binged this information before I went back to university for the second time, and it made a world of difference in how I did.
James Clear – As James Clear says on his home page “My writing is focused on how we can create better habits, make better decisions, and live better lives. I combine ideas from a wide range of disciplines including biology, neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, and more.” His blog is full of material that is immediately actionable. Using the ideas he shares you can notice improvements in your life in a short period of time. A few great topics to explore on his site are deliberate practice, goal setting (his material isn’t the same stuff you see everywhere, usually), and habit creation. His new book Atomic Habits is well worth a read, and if you look around on his site you can even get the first chapter of his book for free. I’ll let you explore and figure out how though. 😉
Steve Pavlina – It has been so many years, but Steve Pavlina may have been the first blogger related to personal development I ever came across. He covers a wide range of topics, and some of them might not be… typical, but many are nuggets of gold that I refresh myself on at least a couple times a year. One of them is on calibration, which he wrote in December of 2008. So he’s been writing for a long time. His article Do It Now relates his experience of getting two Bachelours of Science (mathematics and computer science) in three semesters. He followed this up with 10 Tips for College Students. Most articles aren’t related to college/university, but given my current daily environment I thought I would highlight those couple.
Scott H Young – What James Clear is to habits, Scott Young is to learning. He started his blog when he was a business student at the University of Manitoba, and has transformed it into a resource that is quite comprehensive on methods for learning. If you go to his articles archive and filter posts by learning, there are, as of this writing, about 400 posts on that topic alone. He also completed something called the MIT Challenge where he completed MIT’s 4-year computer science degree in one year (with a few modifications). This included doing all of the assignments, and passing the exams. If you poke around on his website you’ll come across articles describing the techniques he used to do such a thing.
Steve Kamb – Steve Kamb runs a blog called Nerd Fitness. I suppose I could stop there and you would get the picture, but just in case… Steve applies science, psychology, habits, Lord of the Rings lore, and I’m also convinced you’ll find picures of Lego figures in 3/10 posts. Some good places to start on his blog could be here for info on bodyweight workouts, here for an awesome motivational story, or here for a nerdy discussion on mental heath (Simpsons and Lego included).
Cold Turkey Blocker – This is not free software, but it’s not unreasonably expensive either. Before I was recommending Freedom as a website blocker, but now that I’ve tried this one out I would say this has more functionality than Freedom does (at least for the desktop version), with the exception of having no mobile option at the moment, which Freedom does have. So I would recommend you take a look at this. There’s also a free version, but the paid one does have some useful features.
Freedom – This is not free software, but I would tell people to skip a few takeout meals to pay for the lifetime membership price. I came across this piece of software in Cal Newports book Digital Minimalism, tried it for a day, and immediately bought the lifetime membership. It essentially allows you to block certain sites, software, and apps during pre-specified times. If you’re reading this and have ever been on Reddit, you know the black hole that it can be. I used Freedom to limit the hours I let myself be on that site for. For starters, I made it so I could only use it on the weekends. This probably saved me 2 hours per day during the week. So I gave myself ten hours during my week that I was able to repurpose. Well I started spending those ten hours on other sites that weren’t much better. So I added those to Freedom. After about three weeks of doing this, I started to get bored. Not the “I’ll mindlessly surf because there’s nothing else to do” kind of bored, but the “I haven’t been with my own thoughts in so long I don’t know what to do with myself now” kind of bored. At this point I started reading books again. I used to be an avid reader, but over the last few years I haven’t finished a single full book. Since I started using Freedom, I’ve read several books in under each month for the last couple months. I could go on about this topic, but I’ll save that for another time.
Cold Turkey Writer – A productive way to hold your computer hostage, Cold Turkey Writer is a program with a simple goal: to make you write. It works my creating a blank page in a full screen setting with a catch… You are unable to use your computer for anything else until you reach either the prespecified amount of writing time, or word count. The nice thing about this program is that it’s free, and available for both Windows and Mac. You can pay for a pro version, but all the essential features are in the free version. I use this program to write 1000 words every day. I start the day with 500 words, and end the day with another 500. It takes me less than 15 minutes to reach 500 words, so it’s a good warm up for the day. There are no advanced text editing features for this program. So once I’m done I copy the content into…
The Journal – The journal is, well, journalling software. It can be used for so much more though. There are a lot of features in this program, and I’d encourage you to check the website out to see if it might be of use to you. A nice thing about the program is you get a 45-day free trial. So, you have ample time to see if it’s “write” for you. Above I mentioned the blogger Steve Pavlina. He has an arrangement where if you get the program through his site you’ll also be given a variety of pre-installed templates. Some of them are useful.
Quality Time – Quality Time is the same thing as Freedom, but strictly for mobile. Freedom does have a mobile app, but it’s not nearly as good as it is on the desktop, so this is a great app to use. The free version has some great features, though I would say the full version is worth the price. Again, skip a couple afternoon cups of coffee. It’s worth it. To give you an idea, it will track every second you spend on your apps, and give you a detailed report throughout the day of where you’re spending time on your phone. After the first week of using it (without using the blocking feature to see just how much I usually used my phone), the app showed me that I was on my phone for over 20 hours during the week. What would you do with an extra 5 hours? 10 hours? 20 hours? Your time is valuable. Get it back.
There are a number of books I would like to recommend, and I’ll continue to add more to this as time goes on, but I’d like to give a few of the most valuable ones.
How to Win Friends and Influence People & How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie – These are the two books that started it all for me. I found copies of these books in a dusty box of books under the stairs at my mom’s place (Yes, this sounds like the beginning of a fantasy novel, bear with me). When I first found them I read them several times each, and I still refresh myself with these books a couple of times a year. The ideas in these two have changed my life in a number of ways and they’re always the first two I recommend to people looking to get into the personal development literature.
The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz – A synopsis of this book would be taking the actionable material from 20 of the best personal development books, and putting it into a single volume. That’s this book. There’s very little fluff in here, though there are stories. The stories help share the applications of the material, so they’re not just in there for filler. It’s a book that if you picked a random starting point in the book at a book store you would come away with three ideas in two pages.
Becoming an Academic Writer: 50 Exercises for Paced, Productive, and Powerful Writing by Patricia Goodson – I came into my Masters program with very weak writing skills. I spent months trying to find ways to improve my writing, and no one was able to direct me to ways to practice daily writing in an academic fashion. Finding this book has been a life saver. It has a vast number of exercises that can be used every day to improve your writing as an academic, and even if you aren’t an academic there are some in here that will prove useful. I’ve used some exercises in here to develop daily writing habits and to solve a number of my problems in grad school. So if you’re a grad student, get it. Period.