The Big Book of Happiness

I’m turning into quite a Chris Croft fan. A couple of months ago I watched his time management course on and absolutely loved it. He’s got a very engaging style which made it highly entertaining as well as useful. So, I was very interested to read his “Big Book of Happiness”.

And I wasn’t disappointed. This is a great read, which takes you through various things you can do to help increase your happiness. It’s arranged in such a way that you can pick out one technique and give it a go, and each part ends with an action point for you which helps make it highly practical. And if you choose to read it through from beginning to end there’s a handy summary of his 87 ideas at the end.

What I particularly enjoyed whilst reading the book was looking out for Chris’s personality shining through in his writing, which it did. I do wonder whether I would have completely appreciated this if I hadn’t previously watched his video course – so I would recommend looking out for some of his videos before reading the book to get full enjoyment out of it.

As an example of the material Chris covers, I completely got the part about The Power of Music, where Chris explains how music can help choose your mood. I’m all for this and have a ‘raargh!’ playlist for times when I need an energy boost.

Overall this is a really interesting book which definitely provides food for thought when it comes to increasing your happiness. If this is a subject that you’re interested in, you can’t go wrong by starting here.

Rating: ★★★★½

Buy “The Big Book of Happiness: 87 Practical Ideas” from Amazon >

The Consultant’s Handbook

This book is a breath of fresh air. It’s a book which is exactly what it says it is – a handbook for consultants. It takes you through different elements of offering a consulting service, clearly explaining what’s needed and giving examples to help you fully understand the points made.

What struck me is that the advice in the book is all highly practical – it doesn’t just set out high level theory as to what a consultant is but really gets into the nitty gritty of it. For example there’s a chapter on Managing Client Meetings which takes you through how to plan the meeting and suggesting how to structure the meeting to get the best results. This is a level of detail which I often feel is missing from business books.

Although the examples in the book are from scenarios involving large businesses, I could easily see how I could apply a lot of the techniques and structure to working on small projects. The client meetings section is one that particularly jumped out at me and I will be going through that again to feed into how we run meetings. Another area which really struck a cord with me is the importance of good communication in project work. This is an area which I always feel I need to improve, so I will be dipping back into this as well.

And I really do feel like this is a book which I will be able to ‘dip’ back into to pull out particular information, which is exactly what you need with a handbook. I love the way the chapters are laid out, with regular sub-headings to give each a really strong structure, the examples boxed out to differentiate from the rest of the content, and a summary at the end reiterating the important points. My tidy brain really appreciated the structured approach.

I think you can probably tell by now that I’m a big fan of this book. More of the same please!

Rating: ★★★★★

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Great Brand Blunders

To start with a summary I would say that this book is an interesting read but strangely energy-draining. Looking at the reviews on Amazon, people do seem to love the book so maybe it’s me being overly sensitive.

The premise of the book is to give examples of how businesses have had big marketing disasters so that you can learn from their mistakes and avoid doing the same yourself. Sounds interesting right? And it is but for me it was too bam, bam, bam. The examples are at first entertaining but there is something strangely energy-draining about repeated examples of businesses getting it wrong. The purpose of the book is to give examples of how it can go badly wrong, so you can learn from others’ mistakes and not make the same error. However, instead of feeling educational it felt instead like I was supposed to glory in the blunders. I guess I feel the same way about this that I do about gossip – a bit of gossip can be fun but if all you do is gossip and take pleasure in other people’s troubles it can really bring you down.

There is definitely interest in the tales of woe and you can learn from them, but I think that instead of compiling them together in a book they would be better presented in a blog format. Each example could be treated as a case study – describe what went wrong and then take the time to explain how it could be avoided or handled better. Reading one of these a week could then be an enjoyable and educational experience, instead of what to me actually became a bit of a slog.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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How To Be Really Productive

How To Be Really Productive by Grace Marshall is an in-depth look at what you can do to make sure you are productive. It’s not a step-by-step ‘do this, then do that’ guide, but instead takes you through different areas where you can make changes to how you approach things.

It’s starts off very high level, talking about your values and purpose. Personally, I find that when I’m in the middle of chaos with so much to do that I don’t know where to start, having to think about values etc is pretty impossible. I guess from that point of view I prefer a bottom up approach, rather than top down, but I do completely take on board that you need to know why you’re doing what you’re doing.

The next chapter is all about dealing with the chaos. This was much more up my street and gave some practical techniques to try out – like an excercise for getting everything out of your head so that you can begin to organise it, and the CORD productivity model (Capture and Collect, Organise, Review, Do). This really struck a chord with me (no pun intended), particularly the explanation that when you are suffering from chaos the hardest thing is the feeling of loss of control, and that everything demands your attention at once. That pretty much sums it up for me!

Each chapter takes a different subject with a discussion of how it affects your productivity and what you can do to improve things. As I said it’s not a step-by-step, but you can take the sections that interest you and pick out ideas for what you can implement. I did find that when I got to the end of the book I felt a bit lost in an ‘erm, what do I do now’ kind of way. But this was solved by reading through it again with a pen and notepad handy to pick out the bits I wanted to use. So, for me it’s not a read once and change my life book, but instead a guide which I can dip back into to pick out different bits every now and then.

What I really liked about the style of the book is that you really feel that there is a real person behind it. Grace talks about her own experiences which makes it a very enjoyable read and helps get the message across.

Not my absolute favourite when it comes to productivity, but definitely high on the list of books that I will turn to.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Buy “How to be Really Productive: Achieving Clarity and Getting Results in a World Where Work Never Ends” from Amazon >

HR for Small Business for Dummies

HR for Small Business is a guide to taking on employees. It’s very much written with small business in mind. If you’re thinking of taking on your first employee I would consider this to be essential reading.

The book is written in a very easy-to-read style and goes into an amazingly useful amount of detail. If you need to know exactly how to go about recruiting and looking after employees for your business then this is definitely the book for you.

The book starts with the essentials, describing what is involved in employing someone, how to recruit, how to work with them, managing pay and parting company. It then gradually builds up to more advanced topics, including legal requirements so that you can be confident you’re doing things right.

I’m not currently looking to recruit in my small business, but if I was I would first want to read this book cover to cover to get a good undertanding of what’s involved before venturing into becoming an employer.

Rating: ★★★★★

Buy “HR for Small Business For Dummies” from Amazon >

Emotional Resilience

I’ve been prevaricating over writing a review of this book because I’ve been struggling over how to approach it. I definitely think that it’s an interesting idea that your emotions can affect your work and how you interact with people. I can see that how I feel impacts how I react to things and if I took a moment to review this and adjust my response I would deal with things much better.

However, this book isn’t going to make it to my list of all-time favourites. And I’m slightly ashamed to admit that it’s because it’s just too much hard work. I’ll stress that there is some really good stuff in there but when I start feeling like I’m having to wade through the content is when I start to switch off, and unfortunately that’s what happened with this book. As a result there are big chunks of the book where I quite frankly don’t have a clue what I read.

What it’s all about is how your emotions can impact your effectiveness and how addressing this can help you in work situations. Whether it’s interacting with other people or approaching your workload, paying attention to and adjusting your emotional response will help you day to day. Now, that’s my interpretation of the book and that genuinely interests me.

It’s an indepth book with a lot of detail and exercises for you to do – so if that’s what you’re after this could really be your book. But personally I think it could have been edited down a lot more to give the message in a much more easily digestible way – I’ve read books which get their message across much more snappily without losing their effectiveness so I know it can be done.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Buy ‘Emotional Resilience:Know what it takes to be agile, adaptable and perform at your best: Know What it Takes to be Agile, Adaptable and Perform at Your Best’ from Amazon >

The Automatic Customer

The Automatic Customer is about subscription businesses with a view to showing you how introducing subscriptions to your business could work for you. The author uses examples of businesses that do this so that you can see how it works in practice. The argument is that this is the way that a lot of businesses are going, so it’s something that you should consider as a business owner.

It’s a very interesting book and one which held my attention throughout. However, I was a little put off by it being very America-centric. It is after all an American publication so that’s not the book’s fault, but I did find that:

  1. The tone is a little strong for my British palate. The first part of the book was very strongly arguing the case for subscription businesses and I found this a little too strong. It felt a bit like it was saying “if you don’t do this you will FAIL”. And I got to the point where I wanted to say very politely “Come come, my good man, I’m convinced now. Please continue with some more detail rather than repeating the same argument again”.
  2. The example businesses are on the whole American businesses. Again, nothing wrong with that as such – but a UK version of this would be even more interesting to me.

But there’s no denying that it is an interesting read crammed full of real-life examples. It didn’t give me a lightbulb moment of ‘Aha, this is what we can do with our business’ but I am definitely interested in the idea of subscriptions – it would just take more thought on my part to come up with how to apply it.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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The Strengths-Focused Guide to Leadership

The Strengths-Focused Guide to Leadership is all about how you can focus on strengths (your own and your team’s) to get better results. What I found very interesting was the definintion of a strength – it’s something you’re good at and something that you enjoy and energises you. This sparked my interest because I tend to think of a strength as something that you’re good at, not necessarily the enjoyment bit. In fact the authors argue that it’s not a strength if you’re good at it but you don’t enjoy it. And what’s more, a weakness could be a strength that you overuse. Interesting stuff.

I found the book well-structured with lots of detail making it clear how to put it into practice. And it’s equally applicable to small and large businesses. There are sections which apply the system to working with teams and recruiting employees etc, which might lead you to think that it’s more suited to working in a larger business with a team of people. However you could focus on the section about identifying your own strengths. Just that one section is worth getting the book for – I felt that I learnt a lot from that. And I can see how I could apply it to my very small team of two – I don’t need a whole department of people to make it applicable.

What did bring the book down for me was that it wasn’t the easiest read. There are two things I noted:

  1. The size of the print was uncomfortably small for me – I should probably have gone for an ebook rather than hard copy so that I could control the size of the font. This of course is down to the publisher and not the authors, but did contribute to the experience of reading the book.
  2. In some ways I appreciated the amount of detail as it helped reinforce the message, however it could have gone too far and at times with the result that it felt quite repetitive. Maybe if the book was edited down more its overall readability would have been improved (and maybe would have allowed for larger print).

But having said that, my feeling about the book is on the whole positive. The premise is very interesting and definitely made me think differently about how I approach things. Even if I don’t end up following their system to the letter, I’m sure that I will put some of it into practise.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Buy “The Strengths-Focused Guide to Leadership” from Amazon >

HBR Guide to Getting The Right Work Done

I wouldn’t normally go for a book made up articles written by different authors, which is what this is. I’m usually put off because I would expect it to be a bit ‘bitty’ and not hold together as one piece of work. But I’m glad I picked this one up. Getting the Right Work Done is a Harvard Business Review guide, bringing together a series of articles on the subject of productivity and time management – as I’m sure you will have noticed by now, one of my favourite subjects (or shall we say obsessions?).

It’s true that the book doesn’t give you one system to follow. But instead each article gives a tip on a particular subject such as procrastination, to-do lists, and delegation. What I like about it is that I can dip into it, read a short article and come away with a technique that I can immediately use. Brilliant if I need a quick boost to get myself back on track. You don’t have to read the whole thing to benefit from it. Or you could work through the whole thing article by article and build up a toolset of techniques.

One to keep close to hand and grab if I’m struggling with my productivity.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Buy “HBR Guide to Getting the Right Work Done (HBR Guides)” from Amazon >

The Communication Book

The Communication Book by Emma Ledden describes itself as “your straightforward, practical and expert guide to the secrets of great communication for all the important scenarios you face in business today”. It is just that – straightforward, practical and I had confidence in the expertise of the author.

She takes you through a three-step process which can be applied to many scenarios and gives practical examples of it in use. I say ‘many scenarios’ rather an ‘all scenarios’ as I can only really see it being used for situations that you can prepare for (preparation being key to the process) – it’s not something that you apply to completely unexpected situations. I can for example seeing myself using the process for networking (one of examples used in the book) and for business meetings.

The Communication Book is exactly what I look for in a business book:

It was an easy, enjoyable read – I didn’t feel like I already needed to be an expert in the subject to understand it. However, that doesn’t mean that it was dumbing down, I definitely felt like I learnt something from the book. I liked the way that the same three-step process was applied throughout the book, which reinforced it and showed how it could be used in different situations. The author’s personality came through, which made me feel like she was advising me directly and helped me engage in the subject.

A great book, which gives you instantly usable techniques without being a drain on time.

Rating: ★★★★★

Buy “The Communication Book: How to Say it, Mean it, and Make it Matter” from Amazon >

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