Books and the importance of timing

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One of the principles that I try to follow is to be constantly learning and developing. Both as a human-being and professionally my craft.

It can be challenging to choose what to invest your time on in terms of areas to develop further. Of course there are endless interesting books and articles out there that your would like to learn. But which one should you pick now?

Books per lifetime

As an engineer I like to have data to backup my thinking. So I asked myself, how many books on average can I possibly read in my lifetime. Lets do the math quickly:

  • books per month = 1 - 2 books
  • books per year = 12 - 24 books
  • years that I will hopefully be reading for = 40 - 50

That would leave me with an average of 480 to 1200 books in my lifetime!

When you think about it, that is actually not that many books. That bring us to the conclusion that we should be thoughtful about which books to read that would give us the highest return on investment (my time)

Timing

I had a discussion with a friend about how to apply learnings from books to real life. While this is a longer discussion, I find a key element here is timing

If you give me an amazing book about parenting and how to be a great father but I don't have kids, I won't really learn much from it.

Good timing increases the odds of you actually applying things you read.

How-to vs principles books

I personally generally like to read non-fiction books. I find that these kind of books can generally be divided into two categories:

  • Principles books
  • How-to books

Of course it is not that black and white and there are many shades of grey in between.

Principles books

If you would like to learn about a topic, I think its a good approach to first with the books that cover the high level timeless principles. This offers you the big picture and typically these books tackle the why side of things.

However, there are thousands of such books published every year. How on earth would you know which one is better?

Try to follow a general rule.

Start with the books that stood the test of time.

An extreme example of these is something like Letters from a stoic that is around 2000 year old stoic philosophy and still very relevant today. In general though, if a book has been published 5-15 years ago and still recommended it is a probably good book.

Just in time knowledge

After you are done with learning some of the high level principles and got some answers for your why questions. It would be time for books that focus more on the how side of things.

When it come to how-to books. I generally try to save these until there is a real need for them. By real need I mean, right now or in near future.

Just in case knowledge is not really an effective strategy for picking your how-to books.

Remember that a yes to that just in case book means a no to another book that might be more relevant to you right now.

For example, I would avoid reading a book about how to invest in the stock market if I am not planning to do so very soon.

Just in time knowledge is the most efficient approach to learn practical skills to implement a specific task.

The key here is to practice the art of learning efficiently and quickly. I think this in particular useful in web development field. In software development things change fast, like really fast.

There are so many interesting books on how to use the latest technologies but a balance is needed. A good approach could be to read more books that focus on principles that tend to not go old with time and read the technical how-to books only when you are about to use that particular tool in your project.

Constantly learn

The world around us is changing in a fast pace. In his book Deep work, Cal Newport presents the following hypothesis.

In the future there will be generally three types of people who will prosper and be successful:

  1. Owners of financial capital, or those with access to it
  2. Anyone who quickly can master how to work with intelligent machines and technology
  3. Superstars who are very talented in their field of work

To some extend I agree with this hypothesis. If you would like to be the person who learn relatively quickly and master new technologies/skills or becoming a world class performer in your field. I strongly recommend keeping following an efficient learning strategy.