walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_Superhuman by Habit_, Tynan

I did not finish the book and I don't expect I will.

I have a ton of notes that I was going to use to write an in-depth review/critique, and then I realized that this just wasn't worth the trouble.

Issue number one: Dude is nuts. There is this bit near the beginning when he talks about establishing a new sleeping habit. This story is told in the context of why it is a good idea to "write yourself a note explaining why you're going to implement the habit". Here is his supporting anecdote:

"Eight years ago I decided that I wanted to switch to a sleep schedule where I slept for fifteen minutes every four hours instead of eight hours at night. The schedule would shave six hours of sleep time off per day, and was reported to leave people completely rested -- after a brutal transition period." *blink*

"On day two I wrote myself a semi-delirious rambling letter about all of the great things that would happen when I switched to the schedule, and all of the bad things that would happen if I didn't. In retrospect the letter is tremendously embarrassing, but at the time it worked.

"Whenever I'd be exhausted and want to quit, I'd read the letter, feel some of the enthusiasm, and one or two of the points would hit home and keep me going. Maybe more than anything, I knew that I could trust my analysis at the time, and would follow my own reasoned guidance."

Other discussion of sleep schedules in the book (going to bed at midnight, waking up without using an alarm after about 8 hours of sleep) would appear to indicate that he didn't stick with this program, which makes this anecdote even weirder. What is it doing in this book? It would appear to counter everything he is using it in support of: the wackadoodle (and dangerous) sleep schedule, the idea of writing oneself a note, the idea of sticking to the note, etc.

Even crazy people can have a few good ideas, however, so I kept going, in part because Leo Babauta recommended it, and in part because it was kinda funny at this point. Some aspects of Tynan's theory-of-habits are decent, too. Is there logrolling in the book? Yup! Tynan speaks favorably of Babauta -- so the recommendation is just that of a friend/you-scratch-my-back variety.

Here are some other problems with this book and probably Tynan in general:

He often talks about being an introvert and being really bad with (attractive) girls (sic). Finding out he is/was a PUA guy is hardly surprising. Why he _still_ refers to adult women as girls and persists in exclusively using he/him/etc. as a generic third person pronoun requires more explanation. At least I _hope_ he was dating adult women and not "girls".

He has a section about taking the blame/assuming the fault is one's own. The underlying idea has some validity: this is a way to encourage oneself to not blame others for one's problems but rather find those elements that are within one's sphere of influence and ... influence them. But the formulation of the strategy is a straightforward exercise in the kind of white male privilege that informs the worst of AA. Women and other marginalized/oppressed groups already blame themselves for everything. They need to be pointed in other directions to reframe their ideas of what is possible and what they can influence -- and what they cannot, but should instead find ways to escape from.

Magical/fantasy/religious thinking pervades the book. I don't mean to suggest he is some kind of Evangelical. I mean he describes a conversion experience from fried/fast food because of reading a book by Kurzweil (seriously? You can't enact a stereotype any more rigorously than Tynan) and he apparently avoided reading stuff that would attack his perspective. Fortunately, he set up a habit to work on that issue, too, but still.

Tynan's advice -- like everyone's advice, really -- assumes a context. The context that Tynan assumes is unusually tiny. Here is a paragraph of evidence for that proposition:

“Chances are that if you don’t have this habit, and you have a mild inclination to hoard, as I do, you have a huge backlog of stuff that you could get rid of. Consider taking a Sunday and spending an hour or two hunting through drawers, closets, boxes, the garage, the attic, and making a huge pile of everything that you have to get rid of. Then spend the rest of the day getting rid of it all.”

I don't think this guy _has_ any immediate family members. I mean, sure, he mentions is parents, but it seems that when he engages in this process it doesn't occur to him to negotiate with anyone else living in the house with him. Either he's alone, or their opinion doesn't matter? Or maybe he has roommates and everything is fully separate? Unclear, but I wouldn't call any backlog "huge" that can be cleared in an afternoon.

I also have to wonder where he lives. I suspect in a large, flat, spread out kind of place where the traffic isn't too bad and there's plenty of free parking everywhere he goes.

“The trick to always being on time is to show up everywhere five minutes early and wait around the corner until the exact right time…The five minute buffer allows for a bit of bad estimation, traffic, parking, or other minutiae that people don’t account for. Once you’re maintaining the habit, you can cut that buffer down for routes you know really well.”

He’s right — the way you always arrive on time is by almost always arriving early and allowing that buffer to deal with the times you are late. He’s also right that you get better at estimating (that’s in the following paragraph) when you really work on building this habit. I have a problem with the “five minute” buffer, which is wildly inadequate to, say, dealing with traffic on I-5 in Seattle or Route 2 going into Boston. Where does Tynan live, anyway? Are there always parking spaces where he is going? Is there no chronic but unpredictable congestion? WTF?

He also misunderstood what happened when he went from always 15 minutes late to always on time. He assumes other people became punctual. Possibly — if it is an artifact of friend-turnover. But if it is the same group of people, odds are that they just quit lying to him about the actual arrival time when he started showing up at the time they told him.

Okay, so having established that I could pick at this thing from here until n thousands of words later, what's _really_ wrong with this book? Well, the problem is that Tynan is yet another horrifyingly disorganized person who was a PITA to raise, who figured out comparatively late in life that he needed some kind of System, came up with a System, and then is evangelizing it to everyone. If he'd bothered to contextualize his System, I would have been okay with this. A few scattered sentences along the lines of, "In David Allen's system, this problem is handled by x, but I find that I can get 90% of the value with 10% of the effort by doing y," would have made all the difference in the world to me. Instead, he proposes something with a straight face that anyone who knows anything about time management and personal organization will recognize as hugely problematic.

Tynan has a hammer (habit) and everything is a nail. One of his “habits” is “Plan When Stuck”, which GTD cult members will recognize as identifying the next task on a project and putting it on the “Next Actions" list.

“Another leading cause of procrastination is simply not knowing what to do next…The surest sign this is what’s stopping you is when you ask yourself whether or not you know specifically what you should be doing next, and you can’t quite put your finger on it."

But where Allen advocates creating a set of “management habits” (weekly review, daily review, consulting the next actions list every time you have a few minutes of time that you could do work in, putting items on the next actions list whenever you encounter something you are committed to doing that cannot be done here in 2 minutes or less), Tynan waits until the blowup happens. Here is the associated “Con:”, which GTD cult members would accurately predict. “Can lead to another form of procrastination where you plan a lot, but fail to execute.”

Tynan uses the pomodoro trick to deal with don’t-know-what-to-do to avoid it turning into another form of not-executing: “simply set a clock for thirty minutes, and begin planning”. But then he says this: “It’s often easiest to start with a very long term vision.” Which is _very_ GTD: the 50,000 foot view. But in a half hour? Yikes. I guess if you never plan at all, this would be a step in the right direction? But I feel like this is most useful in a very small life: few people, few projects, few dependents, etc.

In any event, he uses the 50,000 foot view to work backwards from the desired end point, a laudable approach. He has a brainstorming/creativity technique: timeline on a landscape sheet of paper, goals on the right, waypoints in the middle, immediate steps on the left. Spend 20 minutes brain storming; 10 surveying the map and deciding which goal formulation you like and what next steps are plausible for moving you in that direction.

If you are looking for a book that will teach you how to use a single trick (establish a daily habit of X) to accomplish a wide range of goals that you could much more easily attain in any number of other ways (Personal Kanban, GTD, etc.), Tynan might be useful for you. And if you are signed up for Kindle Unlimited, you can get it for free! Hopefully, the relentless white male privilege, I'm-a-nerd-why-isn't-everyone-like-me perspective and general treatment of women as being members of an alternate, prey species won't get in the way of acquiring the information you desire.

And if you're wondering why I'm so irritated with him, I'll tell you in a single sentence. That man's life is working well because of his tea habit, and he still hasn't figured that out. *sigh*

ETA: Want a really great summary of self/time/personal management habits?

Tags: book review
  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.