Tag Archives: office

Create a 2m² Study Space at Home

Source: Maroon White, FSU

Choose a space, at least two square metres in area, where you will do nothing but study. It should be located in a bright, warm, comfortable part of your home with very few distractions. It should be a space that faces a wall or a window, and should not be in the middle of a room where other people might continually walk by. When I say “study space”, I’m referring to a high desk (for good posture), a hard chair (to help you concentrate) and the space that immediately surrounds them.

Remove every object from that 2m² space. If the desk has drawers, empty them. Clean the desk and its surroundings and remove all distractions from nearby (such as a TV, a radio or a buzzing light).

Place only study-related objects in your study space. Textbooks, files, notebooks and plain paper should all be on the desk. Stow the computer away while you’re studying, and only get it out when you need to write an assignment. Because the vast majority of your reading should be done from textbooks, your computer should not be a permanent fixture in your study space. Shut it down and keep it away.

By this point, your study space should look something like these:

Notice how libraries provide you with exactly this type of space? This is the ideal study space: clean, quiet, purpose-built and distraction-free. Source: NYU

Many people say they can’t study in their bedroom. Studies have shown that geographical separation between work and play puts people in the right mindset to do both. Therefore, studying at the same desk that you use to play computer games could be a huge hindrance to your studies. The minority of people who can study in their bedroom have made it a “study space” instead of a place to relax and play.

I study best in libraries because being surrounded by other studious people helps to keep me motivated! Libraries in the UK are strictly silent – so even if your friends are there, they can’t distract you. Natural-looking light fixtures in my Cambridge college library also kept me alert late into the evening while I worked. Find a 2m² study space in your home and make it look like a library. Or, of course, study in your nearest library!

Here are those points again, summarised:
1. Choose at least 2m² in your house as a designated “study space”.
2. Add a high desk and a hard chair;
3. Clean the desk, chair and surroundings;
4. Only put study-related items in that space;
5. Never do anything except for study in that space;
6. Keep your study space immaculately clean and tidy.

Book: The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

The ONE Thing

Originally posted at Dark Matter Fanzine

Office-desk fantasy for dullard corporate brainwash victims
240 pages, ★

Admittedly, I usually don’t like self-help books. At worst, they can seem preachy and idiosyncratic. They overuse bolditalics and underlining, which makes the insulting assumption that, like those office workers I mentioned previously, I am incapable of focusing on extended prose. Only a tiny minority of self-help books persist with long-term fame (Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, for example), while the vast majority get thrown out along with each passing fad.

That said, I do like some self-help books. It was an excellent self-help book that encouraged me to start reading back in 2011. I bought David Buzan’s Speed Reading from a market stall and used it (along with a blog) as motivation to read hundreds of books in the two years that followed. I lapped it up because I needed it. By applying the same logic, I conclude that the target audience of The One Thing is a sedentary desk-worker overwhelmed with boring, repetitive filing tasks and whose life has no sense of fulfillment. I didn’t gain anything from this book because thankfully, I’m not one of those people. I want you to read this review with an image of the book’s target audience in mind.

The One Thing is set in a fantasy world where small-minded, burned-out office workers busy themselves with mundane tasks like organising emails into folders or rearranging staples. People’s attention spans have been crushed, creativity has been killed, and people only skim-read because they have no time to pause and reflect. People are cogs in corporate machines and have forgotten how to think for themselves. Their universe is no wider than an office cubicle, and their only ‘window’ is a glaring computer screen.

The book tried to improve these people’s lives with the following mantra: “Focus on one thing at a time”. It then spends 240 pages rephrasing this same message repeatedly with bewildering diagrams. Some of these diagrams are so confusing that they look satirical. (I’ll be respectful and not post them here.)

The book’s biggest downfall is that it lacks ethos, or credibility. There are no historical references (in fact, there are no references at all) and the “exemplary people” mentioned in this book are all either modern-day corporations or billionaires. Predictably, the book mentions how Apple and Bill Gates both succeeded because they focused on their “One Thing”, but the logic of this link is tenuous at best. Where the ‘good’ self-help books make ample references to ancient wisdom and modern-day science and give dozens of inspiring anecdotes and statistics, The One Thing fails to deliver on all those fronts. I have no reason to take anything in The One Thing seriously.

There’s no foreword. There’s no preface. I therefore start reading chapter one without knowing the authors, without knowing why I should read this book and without knowing what I’m going to gain from it. This is a failing of The One Thing, not of the self-help genre in general. Tony Buzan, to name just one example, puts huge emphasis on the successes of his program before we even start reading. He peppers his writing with inspiring stories that are interesting to share with friends. The One Thing’s authors, however, have cut out all the useful parts (including references, which would have made the book somewhat credible) to make room for some more “fat” in the middle chapters. As a result, The One Thing is a book of zero importance.

The book is also bland. Take this quote as an example of its banality:

I ask, “How much money do you want to earn?” I get all kinds of answers, but usually the number is quite high. When I ask, “How did you pick this number?” I frequently get the familiar answer: “Don’t know”. I then ask, “Can you tell me your definition of a financially wealthy person?” Invariably, I get numbers that start at a million dollars and go up from there. When I ask how they arrived at this, they often say, “It sounds like a lot.” My response is, “It is, and it isn’t. It all depends on what you’d do with it”.

Most of the book is written in this nonsensical language. It hasn’t even been proofread properly and grammatical errors are surprisingly regular. Lacks humour throughout. I wish it didn’t take itself so seriously!

The One Thing doesn’t stand up to the competition. It tells you how to improve your life, but doesn’t do nearly as well as Buddhist books like Happiness or Tiny Buddha, which are also classed as ‘self-help’. It’s so bland that it’s not quite bad enough to be cleverly satirical (like Fight Club); and it lacks the depth of science and history that Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers brought to the table in 2008.

As far as “how to improve your life” goes, it’s nothing compared with Lin Yutang’s The Importance of Living, who wrote at length in beautiful language about the placement of objects on your desk, the height of your chair, what to eat and how to sit, and how to clear your mind before working. Lin Yutang even told us at what times of day we are most productive.

The One Thing is a failed attempt at enlightenment for people in very boring lines of work. Take chapter 12 for example, which is titled “The Path to Great Questions”. After walking us through a brainstorming technique designed to formulate such “great questions”, the authors give us these four lame examples:

  1. What can I do to increase sales?
  2. What can I do to double sales?
  3. What can I do to double sales in six months?
  4. What can I do to increase my sales by 5 per cent this year?

WHAT? Is that all that’s on the author’s mind? So dull…

My criticisms aren’t all subjective, either. I also found this book internally-contradictory in places. There’s a whole chapter on “don’t be self-disciplined” (which is controversial purely for its own sake). Just ten pages later, the author says we should all be self-disciplined again, and spends three pages describing an experiment that suggested toddlers with more willpower would grow up to be happier, smarter, richer, healthier adults. So should we be self-disciplined or not? Confusing.

Here’s another contradiction: on page 73, he writes, underlined, “A balanced life is a myth”. We then wade through nine pages of jargon and idiosyncratic diagrams before finding the author’s proposed alternative on page 82: “Counterbalance your personal life bucket” (sic). This is another contradiction at worst, or just jargon-juggling at best. He’s certainly not giving useful advice.

I laughed when I reached page 114. Here, “One Thing” theory collapses when the authors explain that life is full of “One Things” and then asks us to do all of them in balance. (It therefore looks like the “One Thing” theory has been disproven!)

In conclusion, The One Thing is an idiosyncratic, pointlessly antagonistic and self-contradictory book written for people with no time (or for search engines!). It has tiny chapters, is highly visual, and makes heavy use of capitals, italics and underlining. Actually, this book is so repetitive and confusing that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it’s been written for search engines rather than people. This might just be the world’s first “search-engine optimised” book! Such poor-quality conveyance of such poor-quality ideas only deserves to be condensed into a one-page article and posted onto LinkedIn so we can all skim past it. It should never have been made into a book.

As a metaphor, this book is like a non-dry hand wash. I walk past it, I press it and I use it just because it’s there. It feels cold and flavourless and drips off my skin rather than sinking in. Even though it has a short-lived positive impact, I will never feel any long term benefits from having picked it up.

Reading this book is like eating plain tofu straight from the fridge. It’s not unhealthy, it’s just very, very bland—and around half-way through, you’ll realise it’s so pointless and tasteless that you’ll be mocking yourself for ever having read it. Aimed at Fight Club’s protagonist. Not recommended for anyone. 

Book: Instant Turnaround

He wanted to write Fight Club but started too late.
151 pages, ★

The same office boredom that spawned such classics as Fight Club (and, even, The Office), has been wasted on Instant Turnaround. Its authors were presented with the time and space to let their imaginations run wild… and all we got was a description of their immediate surroundings.

I already wrote this book in middle school. On a rainy afternoon in Ysgol Gyfun Aberaeron, we had to write a spontaneous story to test our imagination and creative skills in an assessed English assignment. Being me, I wrote exactly that: that I was in middle school on a rainy afternoon trying to think of a topic for my English assignment. The teacher was less than impressed, and said, “This has been done at least once before, and I’m no more impressed this time than I was the last.” And I feel about this book how my teacher felt about that test: bored, disappointed, appalled.

Who would read this? Nobody, because the authors have nothing to share except for the fact that they have nothing to share. Instant Turnaround has reinforced my detest for 12-hour days in a stuffy office, for fear that I’ll turn into author and run out of stories to tell my grandchildren before they’re even born.

One of these authors, in his cornflower-blue tie, felt so weak as to need to write ‘PhD’ after his family name. Technically, I have a PhD credential, too. I just keep it secret.