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2023-12-13 by Nahuel Scotti | 8 min read

Books I read in 2023 and what I learned from them

  • #books
  • #essentialist
  • #minimalism
  • #personal management
  • #productivity
  • #read
  • #work

When I was a kid, I remember reading “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” by Gabriel García Márquez and I was almost crying trying to finish it, I did not enjoy that type of book.

One day my father told me: “You should read about things you enjoy” but it wasn’t until late ‘30s that I found a few subjects that clicked on me: Productivity, Personal knowledge management, and Minimalism.

For the last few years, I’ve trying to read more and more. Although I’m still not an avid reader I set a goal of reading 12 books in 2023 and I achieved it, so I’m happy sharing some thoughts about them.

1. How to take smart notes

Title: “How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers” by Sönke Ahrens

I read this book because I felt I didn’t know how to take good notes. This applied to meetings, reading, or any situation in my case. I was one of those trying to write down every single word and it wasn’t working. While I was reading this book I was taking notes, which felt strange to take notes about how to take notes, but it was a good exercise. Now, reviewing my notes, I feel I did a pretty good job. I can’t say that I’m proficient in doing it, but I am in a much better situation than a year ago.

My rating: ★★★★☆

Lessons I learned from this book:

  1. It is always easier to remember things we understand. If you want to learn or understand something, you have to write it down. Translate it into your own words.
  2. “An idea kept private is as good as one you never had. And a fact no one can reproduce is no fact at all. Making something public always means to write it down so it can be read.”
  3. We must understand what we are reading to take notes.

2. Soulful Simplicity

Title: “Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More” by Courtney Carver

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

When I read this book I was trying to absorb everything about living with less. I had already listened to +100 podcast episodes of The Minimalists and I had read every major article out there, the book felt basic to me. Despite that, for the newcomers, Courtney shares a lot of good tips on how to declutter every room of your house and how to simplify many aspects of your life. I would recommend this book to anyone starting the journey to becoming a minimalist.

Lessons I learned from this book:

  1. Start simplifying your life, no matter when, but before it's too late. (Courtney was working like crazy until she realized that she was sick, and that changed everything).
  2. Start small, simplify, remove.

3. Digital Minimalism

Title: “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World” by Cal Newport

My rating: ★★★★★

Let’s start by saying that I’m a big fan of Cal. I listen to every episode of his podcast “Deep Questions” and I read “Deep Work” in the past and I loved it. The topic was not new to me. A lot of what he wrote had been already shared in some form in his podcast. But I was excited about reading it anyway. And it did not disappoint me. It was what I was hoping for. In fact, at that point in my life, I was hooked on Instagram, and nowadays, after more than 6 months of reading it, I barely skim social media.

Lessons I learned from this book:

  1. Plan your screen time and avoid the compulsive consumerism of social media.
  2. Review your digital life and reassess frequently. “Detox” now and then.
  3. Select apps/tools based on your goals and values, and not based on FOMO.

4. A World Without Email

Title: “A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload” by Cal Newport

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

After reading “Digital Minimalism” I was eager for more from Cal. But this time it did disappoint me. “A world without email” at its core is just a ranting about how bad email is and which alternatives to use, which was nothing new given that I work in software development and all the “solutions” felt naive to me. P.S.: Waiting anxiously for “Slow Productivity” arriving in March 2024.

5. Four Thousand Weeks

Title: “Four Thousand Weeks: Embrace your limits. Change your life. Make your four thousand weeks count.” by Oliver Burkeman

My rating: ★★★★★

This book punches you in your face on the first page. Making you realize that life is short, very short. It's depressing in a way but also pushes you to make it count. You better spend your time doing something meaningful with your life or you’ll regret it. I’m not talking about work, but about nurturing your relationships, spending time doing what you love, and pursuing a path that makes you happy (in the journey).

Lessons I learned from this book:

  1. There is no time in the future to do those things you are waiting for "the right time comes”, that time is now.

6. Goodbye, Things

Title: “Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism” by Fumio Sasaki

My rating: ★★★☆☆

This is a book that I borrowed from my friend Ricardo (who sympathizes with the idea of a simple life too). I enjoyed a lot reading this book, even though that to me, Fumio goes sometimes extreme on how to live as a (true) minimalist, which is something I don’t do. He looks like the stereotypical person anyone (who doesn’t practice minimalism) will think about when they hear the word minimalist: Someone living in a white room with just a few things.

Lessons I learned from this book:

  1. That I’m not a true minimalist. I’m an essentialist.

7. Ikigai

Title: “Ikigai: Los secretos de Japón para una vida larga y feliz”.

by Hector Garcia Puigcerver and Francesc Miralles

My rating: ★★★★★

For everyone who doesn’t know how to name that thing inside you that makes you do something you love every day for the rest of your life… that’s your Ikigai.

8. The minimalist mindset

by Danny Dover

My rating: ★★★☆☆

9. Dog Training Revolution

Title: “Zak George's Dog Training Revolution: The Complete Guide to Raising the Perfect Pet with Love”.

by Zak George and Dina Roth Port

My rating: ★★★★☆

Lessons I learned from this book:

  1. A lot of things, but the most important, is how to treat your dog with love.
  2. That the way to teach your dog is not by pushing him to do what you want, but by having patience and working together on a common goal.
  3. How complex is it to take care of a dog. Probably as much as taking care of a kid, which I have two. This doesn’t stop me thinking about getting one, probably next year.

10. Essentialism

Title: “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”.

by Greg McKeown

My rating: ★★★★★

11. Building a Second Brain

Title: “Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organize Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential”.

by Tiago Forte

My rating: ★★★★☆

Lessons I learned from this book:

  1. Keep notes as evergreen notes, write, rewrite, and enhance continuously.
  2. Be conscious about what you keep as notes, and be essentialist, most stuff can be searched anyway.
  3. Stick to one method, a simple one to keep your notes organized.

12. The PARA method

Title: "The PARA Method: Simplify, Organize, and Master Your Digital Life”.

by Tiago Forte

My rating: ★★★★☆

This is a short book that is great if you want to go deeper into building “your second brain” (the other book by Tiago). It is a practical guide on how to implement the system, something very appreciated by people like me who feel that the theory is good but it doesn’t know exactly how things look on paper.

Lessons I learned from this book:

  1. Don’t overcomplicate how digital organizes your life, four folders are enough.
  2. Be selective on what you save.
  3. Organize by “actionability”.

Bonus: Deep work

Title: “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport

My rating: ★★★★★

The second time I read this book. Deep work is all I need when I feel I am not being focused 100% at work. It inspires me, it teaches me something new every time I read those pages. Deep work as a concept is abstract, and you can’t do it good or bad, and maybe that’s why is a good way for me to keep trying to get better at it.