I feel somewhat ashamed for not doing a review last year. However, this year I have set aside some time to reflect on the highlights of this year, what I have learned, the habits I have changed, and the habits I have stucked to. The following is my review for 2023, divided into several sections.
This year I’ve finally reactivated my Goodreads profile primarily for getting book recommendations. Although I have my own TODO list for reading, which continues to grow each year, I’m always curious to see what others have read addtionally after finishing one book.
Instead of trying to summarize each book I like Eli Bendersky’s Book reviews here are my 2023 recommendations for you:
I’ve read this book mainly because I wanted to know more about Eastern Europe politics and the on-going war in Ucraine. In his book Synder examines the historical and geopolitical aspects that have shaped the world recently, especially highlighting the actions of Russia and its impact on global politics. The book gives the readers insights into the strategies used by influential figures (philosophers, politicians etc.) to undermine democratic values, manipulate public opinion which all gave birth to authoritarianism and the erosion of democracy.
Although this book offers a deep analysis of the Soviet and Russian politics, I think Snyder focussed to much on Russia’s actions solely which could be interpreted as the primary influences of global authoritarianism, the war in Ucraine and fake-news.
👉 My own notes (in Romanian)
I’ve chosen this book to be in the top list because it somehow opened my eyes for all the gender biases and inequalities that already have existed in our society and in the economic world. The author has plenty of (historical) examples how women’s ideas and contributions often are ignored and undervalues, despite their potential to drive innovation and progress. Also interesting: Job roles nowadays dominated mainly by men were some decades ago preserved for female workers (e.g. computer programming)
As already mentioned by others, this book serves as a call to action, forcing society to address the structural and systemic biases that block women’s participation and idea recognition in the economy.
👉 My own notes (in German)
The issue of loneliness and social disconnection is something I’ve been observing for years. Despite our inter-connected world with instant messaging at our finger tips and a constant influx of events all over the world, I think we (as human beings) are suffering from real human connections. Also this book serves as a wake-up call to address the isolation we’re currently facing and provides strong arguments for building strong, more connected communities.
I have still not processed all thoughts and ideas presented in this book. But if you decide to read this book, be prepared for a captivating journey into different topics such as technology, politics and religion. The book also focusses on the intersection of AI and humanity. Yuval Noah Harari explains the profound implications of AI, raising important questions about its impact on society and our individual lives. He explores the potential disruptions caused by automation and the potential challanges AI poses to human labor and employment. In this context the author emphasizes the importance of protecting human values (and forces) in an increasingly automated world.
After reading this book I was more than determined to find out more about the author’s other publications (e.g. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind).
In this book I’ve learned a lot about the role of exercise in our lives. The author challenges the conventional wisdom on exercise, emphasizing the importance of natural movement over high-effort exercises. He argues that our bodies are designed for normal, seasonal physical activity and that prioritizing activities like walking, running, dancing can have a profound impact on our health and well-being. Lieberman encourages people to rethink their relationship to exercise and fitness and therefore embrace the benefits of moving naturally, sitting less and engaging in full-body movements.
The more books I read, the more I realize my affinity for reading (auto-)biographies. This way I can delve into the lives of remarkable individuals who had a profound impact on our world. It is through their accomplishments (and wisdom!) that I continue to cultivate my understanding of our shared human history. Here’s my recommendation for 2023:
This book kept my mind busy for a while, primarily due to one key reason: The undeniable connection between willpower and motivation. In “Thirst” Scott Harrison shares his personal transformation from a nightclub promoter to the founder of the nonprofit organization “Charity: Water” which aims to provide clean and safe drinking water to communities in need around the world. Along the way, Scott confronts personal challenges and navigates the complexities of the nonprofit world, sharing valuable lessons on resilience, empathy, and the power of collective action.
Once you have finished reading the book, be sure to visit charitywater.org/thirst to access the additional digital content, including videos and pictures, that the author has prepared for you. It is truly remarkable and adds an extra layer of depth to the reading experience.
I usually don’t keep track of productivity tools and workflows, as everyone’s needs are unique with regards to project / time / resources management. However, I’d like to share some “tools” that have changed the way I work and deal with new initiatives/projects.
As a long time listener of Cal Newport’s podcast of course I had the chance to learn more about his productivity hacks and tipps. Even more than his brilliant advice in Deep Work I’ve found Multi-Scale Planning to be a true game changer.
While I cannot cover all details (maybe I’ll do so in a future post), the main idea is to do planning at multiple time scales such as quarterly/monthly, weekly and daily. Each scale has a different level of details as you move from one scale to another.
This approach to time management (because this is what it’s about, right?) allowed me to plan in advance but also be flexible whenever something deviated from the initial plan. This way I was able to come up with some initiatives/projects for the next quarter/month and define small chunks of work I could do on a weekly/daily level.
It is a very visual system that works well in a digital and analog world. No matter which fancy productivity tool you prefer, in the end it’s all about the workflow and processes you implement in order to make consistent progress and contribute to your personal and professional growth.
Track focus time
I’ve found deep work (as a state of mind) to be very dificult to achieve. Initially I thought I could train this skill while meditating. It did help to some degree but the true deep work killer gadget turned out to be … my watch. I used my watch to setup a countdown (e.g. 1 hour) which always reminded I should be focussing whenever I’ve felt I was mind-wandering.
Often I thought I was focussing for at least 30 minutes when in reality it was only 10 minutes. For me it was a strong indicator my mind was trying to fool me into jumping to other tasks, force me to procrastinate.
Train your visual focus
This is nothing new but still an advice ignored by many. We all know multi-tasking is bad for our attention (and therefore productivity) and to many context switches (switching between different tasks, jump to different windows on your PC) can significantly diminish your ability to focus on one thing.
Some months ago I was listening to Andrew Huberman’s podcast on How to Focus to Change Your Brain where, simply put, he linked our ability to focus to visual focus.
He emphasizes that mental focus is closely tied to where and how we focus our eyes. Our visual system can either be unfocused or laser-focused, and this directly impacts our mental focus.
What’s interesting and vitally important to understanding how to access neuroplasticity is that you can use your visual focus, and you can increase your visual focus as a way of increasing your mental focus focus abilities more broadly.
So, Huberman suggests that by sharpening visual focus, we can directly influence neuroplasticity which is our ability (or the brain’s one) to adapt and learn new information. What’s even more important is what exactly you focus on:
And the behavioral practices that are anchored in visual focus are going to be the ones that are going to allow you to develop great depth, and duration of focus. So let’s think about visual focus for a second. When we focus on something visually, we have two options, we can either look at a very small region of space, with a lot of detail, and a lot of precision. Or we can dilate our gaze, and we can see big pieces of visual space with very little detail. It’s a trade off, we can’t look at everything at high resolution. This is why we have these the pupil more or less relates to the phobia of the eye, which is the area in which we have the most receptors, the highest density of receptors that perceive light. And so our acuity is much better in the center of our visual field than our periphery.
In a practical way Huberman advises practicing visual focus at the specific distance of one hand, like reading a book or looking at a screen. This means that reading books and therefore engaging your brain into cognitive tasks Opposed to reading short articles on the web. Or just skimming the titles. will definitely have an impact on your capacity to focus on a certain thing for longer periods of time.
At the same time (and this is my own interpretation) I think that keeping your eyes focused on a small region on the screen without further distractions (cat pics, gifs, 10 browser tabs opened) will have the same efect. Obviously I would not have writen this without making my own observations before.
What happened: The more I stick to one window on my laptop without having to switch between apps (e.g. open browser, open mail client) the more focussed I feel. Even if I have to do shallow work I try to remain in the same context/window. Just to give some There are way more to be explored and discussed. examples:
- I need to add more tasks to a project
- I just call my capturing system (
org-capturein Emacs) to quickly write down a note
- I just call my capturing system (
- I need to lookup sth on the web
- From within Emacs I have multiple options:
- Fire up Google search (using
- I can use built-in lookup mechanisms for searching
- Fire up Google search (using
- From within Emacs I have multiple options:
- I need to check my mails
- I just open
- I just open
- I need to ask the AI lords
- I open
- I open
Some other screenshots:
This is where I track important activities in order to achieve personal goals but also to keep me motivated. I still use the Loop Habit Tracker on my smartphone.
2 years ago I’ve felt somehow embarassed about my sports related activities. That’s why my overall goal was to do more sports, no matter what:
I not only increased my sport activities noticeably, but I also managed to workout regularly (notice the line on Fridays where I usually go for bouldering).
Also this year I’ve surfed for the very first time.
Overall I think this year I’ve read a lot, sometimes multiple books per month. Instead of buying books, I’ve extensively used the Libby App where you can also rent audio books from your local library. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve also re-activated my Goodreads account where I usually keep track of books I’m currently reading.
💡: Don’t forget to check out my full bookshelf for 2023.
First of all a quick recap of my goals for 2022:
2 years ago I wrote I’d like to deep-dive more into TypeScript. I still didn’t do anything complex in TS but from time to time I still use it (in combination with AWS CDK, like I did for the AWS custom resources project). I also don’t expect this to change as for backend I’d still go for Golang (and work-wise I’m “forced” to use Python for small things).
Besides TypeScript I wanted to learn some Vue.JS. Back then I wrote:
I did do some frontend but using different technologies: For implementing gocial I’ve mainly used Alpine.js and Tailwind CSS. I still have a course to do on Udemy (regarding Vue.JS) but I also need to find time to do it 🙈.
Among frontend stuff, I was more than motivated to finally learn more about Web3 (especially Ethereum). I did some coding in Solidity and also read Mastering Ethereum: Building Smart Contracts and DApps. Additionally I also learned more about Smart Contract Security (I hope to release my notes next year).
My reading list for 2022 was:
The rest is still on my TODO list.
Of course there were some ideas and projects I wanted to work on:
Well, I did some clean-up on brainfck.org but this happens on a regular basis. access-key-rotator hasn’t been changed since a while and I also did not manage to start working on the book about Golang and Security.
For the up-coming year I’d like to focuss on several things. Continuing in the same scheme I did for my past goals:
Besides playing the Djembe this year I’ve started learning how to play the Bongos. With the help of ChatGPT I was able to read notes again and therefore play some easy to more advanced rhythms on the Bongos. Next year I’d like to keep practicing and get more insights into Latin rhythms (Salsa, Bachata, Merengue, Mambo, Rumba etc.)
I have played an acoustic guitar for a while, although not with the same proficiency as I have with hand drums. For motivation, I would like to learn to play the electric guitar and make progress in live looping.
I’d definitely love to do something front-end related and therefore I’d like to play a little bit with htmx. But first I need an idea for a small application. This way I plan to code again in Golang (this year I didn’t manage to code anything useful).
Security of Github repositories
While dealing with Github and the security settings of repositories, I wanted to have a small tool at hand which will check for different settings (for each repository in an organization) and report (via Slack, E-Mail) if some settings are not compliant. Obviously there needs to be a list of settings which the tool should check against.
Finish “Documentation as Code” series