George Halachev – Habit Coach

George Halachev is a coach at, and helps people wake up early, study more effectively, and be more productive. His coaching is fueled by hundreds of books and many years of practice, experimentation, and adjustment. These are his good things.

Good things to read. When it comes to personal development and self-help this guy is a genius. I’ve been following his blog for years and I’m constantly amazed by the original content that he comes up with and the personal development experiments he does. Vegan and Raw Food diets, Polyphasic Sleep, Polyamory, D/s play are just a few of the crazy things you can find there. The good news is that it’s all free content. If you’re into self-help there’s are few better places on the web for you.
Since I coach Waking Up Early, I’ll recommend that you start by starting with his article on becoming an early riser.
He also has published a book “Personal Development for Smart People” in which he summarizes the principles of personal growth that he’s learned along the years.

Dresden Files. Everybody has been raving about Game of Thrones for the past few years, but if you’re a fan of fantasy and you’d like something, different I highly recommend that you check out the Dresden Files. It’s urban fiction based in modern day Chicago. The protagonist is Harry Dresden – a broke, wise cracking, private investigator / wizard. The series has everything a fantasy fan might want – magic, dragons, vampires, werewolves (about 150 different types), fairy, ghosts and any other type of magical creature you can think of.
Radical Honesty. Radical Honesty completely changed the way I look at relationships with friends and lovers. The author Brad Blanton explains how the little lies we tell every day create unnecessary stress in our lives, which is the source of all illness and why our bodies start to break down. According to him the most destructive lies are not the ones that are overt and intentional but all the little things that we hide and don’t reveal to other people. If you’re having problem creating intimacy with the opposite sex or having trouble creating authentic friendships, I highly recommend by reading Radical Honesty.

Good things to watch.

Sir Ken Robinson TED Talk. One of the funniest and most educational videos on TED. By far my favorite. He talks about what is creativity how to build and nurture it and why schools kill it.

I also love his book “The Element”. It’s about how to find your passion and how it changes everything when you do. He spend many hours interviewing successful people in the world and trying to find out what made the difference for them. You can read about the stories of many famous people and how they found their passion.

If you haven’t started doing MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) now is a great time! MOOCs are online courses on any subject where you learn about a particular topic with thousands of other people around the world. Right now, one of the most popular courses “Learning How to Learn” is available on demand and you can start it immediately. That’s the most advanced course on how to learn more effectively that I’ve seen and I highly recommend it. The video course is based on Barbara Oakley’s book A Mind For Numbers, who is also the author of the course.

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Since I’m a big fan of comedy in general I highly recommend Jerry Seinfeld’s web series at He invites the best comedians from around the world on a ride along with a fancy car and has breakfast with them. The result is surprisingly hilarious. You’ll get a lot of laughs and also get to know some of the funnies people in the world.

Good things to use.

YNAB (You Need A Budget) is an awesome software/app for keeping track of your money. Since I’ve started using it the stress of handling my finances has decreased immensely. However, YNAB is much more than a simple budget app. The YNAB team has taken the time to come up with an awesome method that covers virtually all financial situation. Regardless of whether you’re broke and in debt, rich, you’re getting regular salary or you get paid a big sum once in a while like a freelancer – YNAB has got you covered. They also have a lot of educational webinars that will teach you how to deal with difficult financial situation and how their software can help you. You can watch their intro video for more information. A very funny blog about punctuation and grammar tips. Besides the blog they also have a great app for intelligently correcting your grammar, punctuation and style. The also offer detailed analytics on your writing and how you can improve + how you compare with the rest of the Grammarly users. They also have a premium feature, where a professional editor will review and edit your content for a price. The prices depend on how urgent you want the editing done.

Earplugs and a sleeping mask. My sleep has been truly transformed since I started using earplugs and a sleeping mask. First of all if you’re not living somewhere in a monastery completely alone chances are there are going to be noises around you when you sleep. Especially if you live in a loud city. Since you can’t turn off your ears and they’re always on even when you’re sleeping, the little noises that you hear create a little extra stress. Your mind can’t completely relax even if you don’t feel it. Just give them a try for a week and see the difference. I’ve tried many different kinds and the best ones for me are the disposable silicone ones. Feel free to experiment with the other kinds if you want.

As for the sleeping mask, if your sleeping environment isn’t completely dark when you go to bed or when you wake up, you need this. The way sleep works is, your body produces a hormone called melatonin, but only when it’s dark around you. Even if your eyes are closed, if there is light around the melatonin production in your body stops. Without melatonin in your system it’s impossible to have deep quality sleep. I’ve been using masks from for more than a year and I’m very happy with the quality.

Connect with George on Twitter, @GeorgeHalachev.


Aaron Wolfson – Writer, Reader, Coder, Thinker

Aaron Wolfson is a writer, reader, coder, and thinker. He spouts off on books at his blog, Profound Reading, and he is building a better reading list at BookTrackr. These are his good things.

Good things to read.

Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut. My favorite novel by my favorite novelist.

What would happen if all of humanity was destroyed—except for a ragtag tour group on a visit to the Galapagos Islands? What would happen if this group was left to evolve for a million years?

This is Vonnegut’s treatise on how the great big brains we’ve evolved are always getting us in trouble.

Would we be better off if we could have a do-over? Go back to our small-brained existence?

This is not your average post-apocalyptic scenario. Then again, Vonnegut is not your average writer.

Plutarch, Parallel Lives. This is a 2,000+ page book. Of biographies. Of dudes who have been dead for millennia. Written by a guy who’s been dead almost as long.

Why should you read it? Because there’s really nothing new under the sun.

All of the lives described here are pertinent to what you’re doing today. Avoid making the same mistakes that have been made in the past.

You’ll learn how to deal with corruption and favoritism in the workplace (Life of Cato), how to build a team that will follow you anywhere (Life of Alexander, Life of Caesar), how to become an expert in your field (Life of Demosthenes), how to build a culture from scratch (Life of Solon, Life of Lycurgus), and, if you wish, how to terrorize an entire populus (Life of Sulla, Life of Marius).

You’ll learn about the true origins of many ideas, words, and techniques that we still use today.

And it’s just a good time. Plutarch includes plenty of time-tested jokes, and he dishes on all the juicy rumors and debaucheries of some of history’s most ridiculous tyrants, sybarites, and fools.

You’ll also come to understand the fickleness of public adoration, as you see the rise and fall of titans like Themistocles, Pericles, Cicero, Caesar, and Pompey the Great.

The collection may be massive, but you can read one bio every few days, and pick and choose the ones you’re most interested in.

Use Aubrey Stewart and George Long’s translation on Project Gutenberg for maximum effect.

Zero to One, Peter Thiel. An incredibly wide-ranging work on business, entrepreneurship, philosophy, and how to change the world, from a guy who’s been there, done that.

It gets the most notoriety for its controversial ideas about why competition and capitalism are opposites, and how the world is largely at a technological standstill.

But my favorite thread is about how we should strive to create brand new things in the world, instead of making incremental improvements to what already exists. Thus, going from zero to one, instead of from one to N.

This book will change the way you think.

Good things to watch.

Turtles. My wife and I were at a wildlife refuge, and I noticed there were some turtles sunning themselves on some logs near the shore of a lake. I sat down to watch, and found myself transfixed.

It takes the average turtle about 15-30 minutes to actually climb up onto a log. Then they simply sit. Be. Enjoy.

It’s easy to forget how fast we live our lives. Maybe that’s why we all notice time speeding up as we get older. So much to think about.

Next time you feel sped up, go find some turtles and watch how they live.

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. How amazing is it that two cousins became two of the most important and influential world leaders in all of history? This Ken Burns documentary series will show you exactly.

Oh, and that Eleanor was no slouch.

Louis CK. Funniest human alive. Get lost in his brilliance.

Good things to use.

Noise-cancelling headphones and Spotify. If you are ever forced to be in proximity to people who do things that annoy you (cubicles, airports… pretty much any public place), don’t get annoyed. Tune out. Who’s living in your head rent-free?

Your hands. It doesn’t have to be “making things.” Honestly, I don’t do nearly as much of that as I could. But you can try washing dishes by hand, now and then. Touch and hug people. Feel textures—on book covers, wallpaper, carvings. We live most of the day in our minds. Get back in touch with the world.

Nature. It’s, well, nature’s de-stressor. Just take some long walks amidst foliage and everything else will take care of itself.

Connect with Aaron on Twitter, @AWolfson0

Melinda Massie – Professional Organizer, Entrepreneur, and Writer

Melinda owns Organizing with a Side of Fabulous and blogs all things organizing and food at She’s recently published her first e-book: “Fabulous Foothold to Organization: a guide for getting started when you don’t know where to start.”

You can connect with her on Twitter (@melindamassie), Facebook (FabulousOrganization), and Coach. me (Melinda Massie). These are her good things.

Good things to read.

“Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. This book simply, clearly, and brilliantly lays out why we all need to slow down to speed up. Our culture applauds “busy” but what are you really doing? When you outline your priorities, let go of the merely good to allow space for the great, and keep single-minded focus on what is most important you’ll not only get more done, you’ll do it FAR better. Basically – stop half-assing everything and do your most important things fabulously instead.

“Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things” by Randy O. Frost & Gail Steketee. If hoarding has touched your life in any way and you want to try to gain some understanding into a complex disease, you HAVE to read this book. As far as mental illnesses go, hoarding is still very new. They didn’t start studying it until 1993 and it was listed as its own mental illness instead of a form of OCD just the other year. This book is an in-depth look into many studies conducted and outlines the different ways that hoarders acquire their things, the myriad of reasons why they aren’t able to let go, and the feelings behind why they do what they do. When you see how many variables come along with this disease, it’s easy to see why a “one-size-fits-all” approach won’t work in treating hoarding.

Humans of New York” by Brandon Stanton. I look at this almost daily and the Facebook page is one of my very favorite. A few years back the photographer decided to photograph the people of New York City. What started out as just photos evolved into more storytelling. Sometimes beautiful, inspirational, heartbreaking, or funny and always compelling. Whenever I need a break or a creative boost, I open up to any random page in this book.

Good things to watch.

Mad Men. Words truly can’t express how much I love this show. Everything is so beautifully thought out and executed from the cool mid-century modern style of décor and costuming to the writing, acting, and direction. Plus, it’s set in the world of advertising which is what my degree is in. But most importantly, it explores human nature and the question of can we really change. It’s the kind of show that’s a slow burn…you won’t see too many immediate pay-offs but if you stick around, everything comes to a satisfying end. For example, in one episode we see that a character has a poster on his wall and the man in it has an eye patch. An episode or two later a character is shot in the face and spends the rest of the show wearing an eye patch. It’s these teeny details that making watching so delicious. Also, the beauty of it having so many tiny details is that if you’re really detail oriented like myself, you’ll always find something new with each viewing. I shamelessly binge watch this show regularly, and yes I’m heartbroken that the ride is over.

Midnight in Paris. For starters, this movie is gorgeously shot in Paris so it’s hard for it to not be at least beautiful to watch. It explores the notion of believing that a prior era to the one we live in was a better time to live or “golden age thinking.” I don’t want to spoil anything by giving away too much so I’ll just say this: the plot takes quite a bit of suspension of disbelief but if I’m in Paris at midnight and a car full of champagne-fueled revelers appears to sweep me away to party with Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds and many more talented artists of that time, I’m getting in the car.

The Thin Man. I absolutely adore classic movies and this one is my very favorite. It was released in 1934 and based on a book by the same name. This comedic murder mystery was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and kicked off 5 sequel movies. William Powell and Myrna Loy play main characters Nick and Nora Charles. He’s a retired detective and she’s a wealthy heiress. Cocktails flow like water and witty banter abounds. The scenes between these two positively sparkle. All while successfully solving a murder.

Good things to use. This website has given me my email back. This website figures out which emails in your inbox are subscriptions. You then have the option to keep it in your inbox, unsubscribe, or add it to “The RollUp.” The RollUp is an email that you’ll receive once a day that contains all of your subscription emails in one spot. For the first week I used this, I was so confused why I wasn’t inundated with as many emails as I used to be. That’s because they were all in the RollUp.

Songza. Songza is an app and website for streaming music. What I love most about it is their concierge function. It will guide you through music to listen to for anything from cleaning house and cooking brunch to getting ready for a party and even breaking up. I sometimes like to look at it at different parts of the day just to see what it suggests. It will also make suggestions based on the weather in your location so on rainy and snowy days it’s given me special playlists. The options span all genres, time periods, and nationalities. So whether you need a little Bossa Nova for breakfast, 60s French Pop, or the top songs today, you’re covered.

TickTick and Trello. I’m absolutely cheating for my third choice and giving you two because I use these in tandem. They’re both great to-do list/project management apps. I use Trello for projects I need a more visual handle since it’s set up a little more like post-its on a wall – i.e.: creating other products like worksheets, a workshop, and/or an online course all based on my most recent book. Then I use TickTick more as my daily to-do list. It has repeating tasks so it’s super easy to create a checklist of the things you want to do on a daily basis and then check them off each day. You can also set priority of high, medium, low, or none, and order tasks by due date, name, or priority level. Both of these apps has so many more features so definitely play around with them and see if they’ll work to help you be more productive.

Willem Van Zyl – Coach

Willem is a productivity coach at, blogs at, and runs Code Like a Clockwork  – a software agency specializing in custom business and education platform development.

Good things to read

The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufmann. I do a lot of work with entrepreneurs and startups, and many of them ask me whether they should enroll in an MBA programme. As Josh says in the book (I’m paraphrasing here), if you have the time and drive to complete an MBA, you could just as well avoid a lot of student debt and use that same time & drive to use the knowledge resources easily available to you, start a business, and make a profit (while your business school buddies are still paying off student debt).
Getting Things Done by David Allen. As a productivity coach, “GTD” is a term recognized even by my clients who’ve spent only a little time learning about productivity systems. The collection, processing, and planning methodologies described by Dr Allen are the cornerstones of delivering productive work, and he just recently released an updated version of his classic book.
Letters From A Stoic by Seneca. Stoicism is a philosophy based on taking action instead of having endless discussions and debates, modern-day proponents of which include Tim Ferriss, Ryan Holiday, and Donald Robertson. The letters of Seneca, an ancient Roman, to his friend Lucillus are a personable and to-the-point introduction to the concepts behind this philosophy.

Good things to watch

Merlin Mann – Inbox Zero. If your job involves email, your inbox is probably overloaded. In this video by Google, Merlin Mann explains a simple methodology for dealing with email and ensuring that you go home with an empty inbox every day.
Why Work Doesn’t Happen At Work – Jason Fried. Jason is the founder of 37signals (now “Basecamp”), the company behind the popular Basecamp project management software, and co-wrote several business books including ReWork and Remote. In this video he explains why, ironically, most people do their best work at places other than the office.
Brain Games. This TV show discusses how our brains play tricks with our perception, memory, and abilities on a day to day (and even minute-to-minute) basis in order to create the illusion of what we see and experience in the world.

Good things to use

Todoist. I’ve tried many, many task / project management apps over the years, and so far Todoist is my favourite. It works on all devices, supports sharing amongst teams, has custom filtering to help with your daily and weekly reviews, and has a built-in “Karma Game” to show you how your level of productivity changes over time.
Evernote. I’ve been using the Evernote app and Evernote Moleskine Notebooks for years to keep track of my notes, book highlights, articles I’ve enjoyed, projects I’m working on, meetings I’ve had, and pretty much everything else related to my businesses. Not only do I think that is the best platform for habit building, but I’m also a Productivity Coach on there. Most of’s features are completely free – you select the habits you’d like to build, get daily reminders to “check in” on them, and can ask questions to other people trying to build the same habits. However, if you’d like to push your habit-building to the next level you can subscribe to multi-day courses (called “plans”) ranging in cost from free to a couple of dollars for indefinite access, or you can hire a coach specializing in one of your habits for $14 a week, then interact with the coach over text chat within the app.
Connect with Willem on Twitter, @WillemZyl.

Ruwan Meepagala – Writer, Creativity Coach

Ruwan Meepagala is writer, Creativity Coach, and Orgasmic Meditation instructor. He teaches how to enter highly sensitized states for better communication and creative impulse, often in the realm of sex and relationships. He’s currently working on his first book on how sexual energy fuels creativity. He coaches individuals on Lift specifically around habits to increase creativity.

Good things to read.

If On a Winter’s Night Traveler by Italo Calvino. It starts with a silly premise and structure that quickly becomes profound. It made me laugh out loud while dropping my jaw with the implicit life lesson of the structure of the book. (I can’t explain more without ruining the story.)

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s the only “workbook” I’ve ever recommended. It’s a 12 week program for “creative recovery”—unlocking your creative side. Modeled after the 12 step program, it has a spiritual element to it that offers great insights to creativity even for atheists. I often use it as a teaching tool when my clients want to increase their creative output.
Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse. By far the most profound philosophical text I’ve ever read. The sentences are super simple, yet I had to read and re-read them to have the concepts sink in.

Good things to watch.

 Memento (film). By the Nolan brothers long before the Dark Knight Trilogy and in my opinion their best work. Guy Pearce plays a man with no short term memory trying to solve the mystery of his wife’s murder. A dark comedy thriller with an awesome ending.
Reggie Watt’s TEDx Talk Incredibly funny and amazing showcase of talent.
He embodies the Fool archetype in a magical way. Just try not to think too hard else you’ll miss the point.
Blackwater,” Game of Thrones, season 2, episode 9. One of the best psychological portrayals of war I’ve seen. Gives Saving Private Ryan a run for it’s money. (You may need to watch the rest of the GoT episodes to really enjoy it, so I’ll recommend that too.)

Good things to use.

The first 30 minutes after you wake up. Your daily entry into waking life is marked by a period of high suggestibility. The first thoughts you think and the first actions you take will heavily impact you day. I always start the day writing Morning Pages per The Artist’s Way, where I also set intentions and determine my attitude. If possible I take a walk at dawn to keep my mind silent for as long as possible. Whether you’re a creative person or not, you will greatly benefit for finding a mindful activity before you jump into the mechanics of your day.
Moleskine cahiers. Good notetaking habits are critical for creative persons. Despite my sloppy handwriting, I find notes and ideas are better handwritten than electronic (sorry Evernote.) Moleskine is my favorite brand of notebook because their paper feels better than most and they can be found in almost any bookstore. The cahiers are great because they can be stuffed in a rear pants pocket like a wallet. There’s a pocket in the back that can hold cash so you can use it as a wallet (I do.) That way there’s never any reason to be without it.
1 Second Everyday app (1SE). With this iOS app you record one second of video everyday. The app then strings all these seconds together for a 30 second reel every month, and 6 minute five second video every year. I’ve bee doing it since February and it’s amazing having a video recall of daily experience. Definitely beats keeping a diary.
Connect with Ruwan on Twitter, @ruwando.

Jo Thomas – Writer

By day, Jo Thomas is a compliance advisor for a waste resource company – basically an environmentalist hiding in an office. After work, she’s a writer, editor, Hellhound wrangler and Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) hobbyist. Her second novel and second anthology are due out from Fox Spirit Books this year.

Good things to read.

My first nomination for a good read is The Future Fire, a quarterly(ish) online speculative fiction magazine that publishes short stories up to 10,000 words. All of the stories are on individual web pages so, due to the length of them, you should be able to read them one at a time without burning out your retinas if you’re reading on a standard screen. Specifically what I like about TFF is that the material they put out is very… egalitarian. They have a mission statement to be as inclusive as possible. In clumsier hands than their current editor, it could end up preachy. In reality, it just makes the science fiction and fantasy they publish that little bit more welcoming to people who aren’t the “average” (male, white, young, straight, cisgendered, neurotypical, etc, etc). Because full disclosure is necessary, they have picked up a few of my stories and one is due out in the March issue. (Also, I’m not male, I’m edging out of the young and I’m not neurotypical.)

My own reading and writing tends to fall to the fantasy end of the speculative fiction and my favourite book – or the one I go around enthusing about when I get talking – tends to be The Deed Of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon. It’s available as three books or an omnibus. In many ways it’s a standard Tolkien-like fantasy set in a medieval not-quite-Europe with elves and dwarves. But there are minor differences that make it stand out, at least to me. Elizabeth Moon has a military background and an interest in HEMA. She’s also done a lot of research into the historical aspects, including the Roman and Germanic law codes. The result is a very believeable journey along the path from young farm hand to fantasy paladin. If you’re into this kind of fantasy, whether through films, books or games, I recommend Paksenarrion as a good read.

The “environmental” in the mention of the day job up there may have been a hint that I have an interest in things Green. I also like the Hulk, BattleCat and Kermit, but I didn’t mean that kind of green. A book I recommend for getting in to this is one of my readers from university (back in the day) called A Green History Of The World by Clive Ponting. The version I have is the one first published in 1993 but he also reissued it with some changes in 2007. As Clive Ponting seems to be more interested in explaining how resources can become overused – a version of the Tragedy of The Commons – I consider it a history book with a focus on resource use rather than a specifically environmental book. However, it’ll give you a taste of the issues involved in being “an environmentalist”.

Good things to watch.

My first nomination is the 1973/1974 duo The Three Musketeers and the Four Musketeers. I am aware these are two films but the people who made them weren’t until they came out. I understand it caused quite a stir at the time. However, my interest is because I love the novel by Alexandre Dumas, père, but understand that not everyone wants to wade through old fashioned prose. These two films capture the storyline and intent beautifully. They have good actors chewing the scenery, some fun and well choreographed fencing scenes (pay special attention to how each of the Musketeers has their own fighting style!), and much snarking from the background peasantry.

My other two nominations are going to stick with the fencing theme – but not quite as seriously, because films should be fun. Although it looks as good, the fencing is more obviously Flynning in the 1952 Scaramouche. What makes this melodrama impressive is the final fight, which is to date the longest fencing scene ever filmed and was apparently blocked out as one sequence, although what we see is probably several takes. This film being a fifties production, it’s all bright colours and significant glances and highly enjoyable. It is, of course, based on a book and the adaption leaves quite a lot out if you’re interested in picking up the book afterwards.

The last good thing to watch I’m going to recommend is The Court Jester from 1955. I’ll start by explaining that Danny Kaye couldn’t fence. However, he had the esteemed Basil Rathbone (yes, that one) to teach him enough Flynning to get through the film. Basil Rathbone, it ought to be stressed, was a fencer and basically obsessed with smallswords and epees. Danny Kaye, however, was a great performer who could do an extremely physical sequence that involves his character being hypnotised into being a great fencer – and snapping between fantastic Flynning and being a clumsy jester whenever he hears fingers click. It’s a very funny film if you like old movies.

Good things to use.

As a writer, I hear and read plenty of recommendations for software for writing. Programs that will allow you to set goals or keep track of multiple story lines or track your submissions or put sticky notes all over your desktop. However, the best thing to start with if you’re interested in giving it a go is the basics. So here are some basics:

If you think old style might be the way forward, get yourself a notebook and pen or pencil – this may also work for drawing but I can’t answer for that. I barely even doodle these days. They don’t even have to be wonderful notepads or amazing pens. I find that I like writing this way on train journeys but can’t seem to sit down to it in other circumstances. On the other hand, pen and paper will work when computers run out of electricity.

I like to pretend I’m a rebel so I haven’t allowed Microsoft near my PC for years. As a result, I don’t use the standard Microsoft Office. What I use is the freely available LibreOffice suite – although donations are appreciated by the team and if you’re going to use them on a commercial basis (i.e. as a company) you may need to pay. It’s worth noting that LibreOffice is just one of several similar packages, it’s just the one I have. So, if you want to try writing (or spreadsheets, or presentations, or basic databases) on your home computer without paying for the full Microsoft licence, look up “OpenOffice” and try out a variant or two.

Get yourself a large mug, for whatever your choice of poison is. Something that holds about twice as much as your average cuppa. If you get into this writing lark, you’re going to need it. Not all shops will sell the bigger cups, so you may need to do some hunting to find them – and then you need to find one you can put up with staring at when your mind’s gone blank!

Connect with Jo on Twitter, @Journeymouse.

Cheryl Morgan – Writer and Editor

Cheryl has won four Hugo awards for writing and editing. She is also the owner of Wizard’s Tower Press. She blogs regularly at Cheryl’s Mewsings, and can be found on Twitter as @CherylMorgan.

Good things to read

As I science fiction critic and editor I have read an awful lot of fiction. Choosing three favorite books is hard, but I’ve made it even harder for myself by restricting myself to one novel. If you were to ask me again tomorrow, I might well choose something different, but today I am going for Light by M. John Harrison. He has been one of my favorite writers for years, and is easily good enough to win mainstream literary prizes should he choose to write the sort of books that wins them. Instead he writes brilliant science fiction and fantasy novels which are not escapist, but are very much about escapism. Light is both beautifully written and fabulously inventive. You should read it with Roxy Music’s song, “Street Life, as the sound track.

Science fiction is also notable for its thriving short fiction market. Clarkesworld, a magazine I had the honor to work at for several years, is one of the best venues. Most people think that producing a short story must be easy compared to a novel. It is only a fraction of the number of words, after all. But those words need to be very carefully chosen. The acknowledged master of the art is Ted Chiang. He only produces one story every year or two, but the work that goes into those stories is incredible. Check out Stories of Your Life and Others for some of his best work.

Lots of people want to be writers, but very few people get to be really good. If you are interested in making a career in science fiction or fantasy one of the things you should do is get a copy of Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook. Not only is it full of fabulous advice from many of the top writers in the field (of whom Jeff is one), it is also a beautiful artefact in its own right.

Good things to watch.

There’s any number of fun, trashy science fiction movies that I could recommend, but choosing between them is hard and anyway I am trying to be a bit serious here. So I am going with Cloud Atlas. To start with it is based on a really good book. Of course that’s not necessarily a good thing. It is axiomatic that the best SF movie adaptations are based on short stories, not novels, because you can’t collapse a whole novel into a 2 or 3 hour movie. That’s why there are so many good films of Phil Dick stories. But Cloud Atlas is also a long and very complicated novel. It was madness to even try to make a movie of it, let alone get into the marvellous conceit of having the same group of actors portray different characters in the different story strands. Watch it, then watch all of the extras. It may be flawed, but given the difficulty of the task the Wachowskis took on it is an extraordinary achievement.

Back in 1966 the BBC and Kenneth Clark undertook to shoot a documentary series chronicling the history of Western civilization. Clark (later made Sir Kenneth and eventually Lord Clark) was an art historian, and certainly knew his stuff. Civilization took 3 years to film, and runs to 13 hour-long episodes. Because it was shot on 35mm film rather than the cheaper 16mm format normally used for television at the time it still looks gorgeous on a modern HD television. Clark obviously has an agenda, and freely admits his ignorance of the civilizations of India, China and so on, but he is no Little Englander. He takes us on a Grand Tour and shows us some of the very best of Western art, thought and literature. There’s even a cameo appearance by a very young Patrick Stewart in the section on Shakespeare. They don’t make documentaries like this anymore.

Much of my TV watching, however, is sport. In particular I am a big cricket fan. (What can I say? It is the only sport we are good at in the part of England where I was born). Now of course most of you will associate cricket with games that last forever. Actually it is only five days, but it seems like forever. (England and South Africa did once decide to keep playing until someone won, but they had to stop after 9 days because this was 1939 and the English team had to catch the boat home.) However, the sport is not deaf to the demands of the short-attention-span public and a new form of the game called Twenty20 (T20 for short) is gaining popularity. It lasts about 3 hours — roughly the same time as a standard baseball game — and it is all action. In an average baseball game, 9 runs are scored. In a T20 game scores of 150-a-side are not unusual. That’s more than a run a ball. Games between top teams can be incredibly close. In the last season of Australia’s Big Bash tournament there was some amazing drama. If you enjoy fast-paced, all-action sport, give it a try. The rules are not that difficult, honest. Cricket has nothing near the complexity of the Infield Fly Rule.

Good things to use

Make-up is all very well, but dear Goddess the amount of faffing around with moisturiser, concealer, foundation, powder, sunblock and goodness knows what else is enough to give a girl nightmares. And then you have to take the whole lot off in the evening when you get home. Not anymore. Now we have BB Creams. One tube, it goes on like moisturiser, and it comes off easily. For someone as useless in the morning as I am these things are just perfect. The one I use is by Garnier, but I haven’t done exhaustive testing and anyway your skin may differ.

I love to cook, but I very rarely have the time so I often end up taking home prepared meals. Microwave food is all very well, but there are some things that just don’t work well in a microwave, pizza being an obvious example. My apartment does have an oven, but it always seems such a terrible waste to turn it on, heat it up, and then use all of that heat to cook something like an individual portion of moussaka. Then my mother showed me her halogen oven. I bought one, and my life was changed. It is basically an oven about the size of a pressure cooker, and it is just perfect for a 10” pizza or aoven-cooked meal for one. It will even do a small chicken, and at Christmas I cook a turkey breast joint in it. Sadly it is not really good for cake, but I can cope with that.

I live close to the small city of Bath in England  once a Roman town, then home to Jane Austen, and now a tourist attraction. One of the best things about it is that it still has a lot of small, independently-owned shops. In these days of mammoth shopping malls full of cookie-cutter chain stores staffed by bored check-out operators who know nothing about the products they sell, this is breath of fresh air. There is nothing quite like going into a small, specialist shop staffed by people who are passionate and knowledgeable about the things they are selling. I’d like to make special mention of Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, Independent Spirit, and The Fine Cheese Company. Obviously the chances of your being able to visit them are not high, but if you have a good independent store near you please do use it. If they have good staff you will soon find that they become friends.

Maria Busque – Musical Coach

Maria Busqué is a musical performance coach who works with musicians to find ease and flow in their performance. She is reaching musicians internationally through workshops and individual sessions on the instrument while being an active musician herself. She also writes for the online classical music community HelloStage. These are her good things. 

Good things to read.

The Second Circle by Patsy Rodenburg. Also known as “Presence”, it is one of the best books I have read on this subject so far. Rodenburg describes presence and all the elements related to it, such as body, breath, voice, words, etc. She further gives exercises and guidelines on how to implement this work not only on stage, but in everyday life.

The Potent Self. A Guide to Spontaneity by Moshé Feldenkrais. Feldenkrais writes here about one of his main concepts of his work: spontaneous action. In his own words: “the idea behind it being not that spontaneity is enacting any wild urges that happens to exist, but that all action is spontaneous when it is not compulsive”. This book made an impact not only on my own work, but on my personal life. It’s inspiring and thought-provoking. And it’s not only important for performers on stage. When everyday actions are free and filled with spontaneity, they are alive and that is what touches our fellow humans.

Marie Antoinette by Stefan Zweig. The most beautiful language in the world, paired with great sense of humor, humbleness, a love for research and deep understanding of the human nature. A delight from beginning to the end.

Good things to watch.

Fazil Say perform Beethoven’s 3rd concerto. I like Fazil Say because his sound is so vibrant and he’s so alive in his performances. One little gem at the end: the encore at minute 36:40.

Evelyn Glennie’s TED talk about how to truly listen. To be moved by her sound, and to be moved by a speaker who can’t hear. I have so much admiration for this incredible musician.

Pianomania. Or, in search of the perfect sound. This is a documentary feature. Stefan Knüpfer is a piano technician in Vienna whose journey it is to provide first-class piano players with the sound they are looking for. Though this is a very specialized field, the filmmakers found a narrative with a humorous touch, supported by Knüpfer’s natural charisma. It is highly entertaining to watch and you get an interesting view behind the scenes of a very specialised area.

Good things to use.

Public library. For avid readers like me, this is a way to read more without spending more money. There are so many excellent books to be found even in a small library. Since new books are usually difficult to get hold on, I refer to for recommendations.

Public transport. I’m lucky to live in a city where public transport is excellent. No car means to me no other costs like insurance, parking, gas, repair, and, subsequently, more time.

Notebooks. The best way to collect thoughts, ideas and journaling. Even though I use mostly digital calendars and to-do lists, nothing beats what actually writing things down with a pen does to my brain.

Connect with Maria on Twitter, @Maria_Busque.

Niklas Goeke – Entrepreneur and Author

Niklas Goeke is a 23 year old German student, aspiring marketing entrepreneur and author of the book How to google – the Ultimate Guide to finding everything! Every day he tries to take a step out of his comfort zone  which in his eyes is always a step towards happiness. He uses this mentality to help others in his work as a personal coach  These are his good things.

Good things to read

Managing Oneself. Peter F. Drucker is often called the founder of modern management. I’m not surprised. I don’t think I have ever learned more about myself from 60 tiny pages than when reading this book. Drucker suggests you ask yourself a few simple questions, in order to determine how you perform best. He also encourages you to share the insight you gain with anyone whom you choose to cooperate with. Some people, for example, might be readers, not listeners, thus rendering it useless talking to them for 2 hours, when all they really need to understand you, is a piece of paper with 10 bullet points. This book changed the way I learn and work dramatically. I highly recommend the audiobook (if you happen to be a listener). It is just 45 minutes long and I have listened to it multiple times on longer drives in the car.
Rich Dad Poor Dad. I got this book as a gift. I didn’t know the author, Robert T. Kiyosaki, before, but someone very successful recommended this book to me, so I thought I’d give it a try. I didn’t read this book, I ate it. I read it cover to cover within less than 5 days. This is the best book to get you started on personal finance. It uses storytelling to show the difference between having an investor mentality of acquiring assets and having a consumer mentality of spending all your income. Robert uses simple graphics to explain income statements and balance sheets and shows you the beginnings of having your money work for you instead of working for money yourself.
On the shortness of life. Whenever I read a page in this book, I marvel at Seneca. It takes a lot to write something that is just as relevant in 2000 years, as it was at the time you wrote it. He argues that life is actually quite long and a substantial amount has been given to all of us – we just waste most of it. Why are you stingy with money you can always make back, but let everyone take up your time most willingly? Often so little of life is truly lived, the rest is merely time. A clear lesson: Don’t keep yourself busy with things you will not remember, but make the most of each day!

Good things to watch

Fed Up. A great movie about the food industry from 2014. I like how it doesn’t promote any singular lifestyle, such as veganism or paleo, but focuses more on the root of a lot of problems: processed sugar. It shows you how you have been manipulated and how hard it is to escape a lot of the common misconceptions about what food is healthy and what isn’t. In the end you are also proposed with a simple solution that you can start implementing today.
How to get things done and stop sucking your thumb. A great video by one of my favorite guys online, Tai Lopez. Take the challenge of not procrastinating on small things for a week. Look at all outside requests like small bullets shot at you, which you must deflect instantly, either by getting things done right away, or delegating/not doing them at all.
Ocean’s Eleven. I can watch this movie 100 times over and still love it. I always learn something about the balance between being a gentleman and a badass, how to talk more eloquently and I sure as hell always laugh my ass off.

Good things to use

Dropbox. Originally I was going to put my macbook here. But after thinking about it, it’s really more Dropbox, that holds my entire life in a folder. Of course I use my macbook for web, writing and recreation, but if it broke today, I could just get any other laptop, and be set up again within minutes. I have it fairly neatly organized and save all my writing and projects there, so I can access them from anywhere. Bump up your space by doing some of the things suggested here.
My feet. I really like to walk. I don’t own a bicycle. I take the car or public transport for long distances, but everything that’s within 30 minutes of walking, I walk to. Every step counts. I also often choose to stand while working, because my shoulders and arms start to hurt if I sit down typing for too long.
Cold showers. It’s amazing how hardwired comfort has become into our brains. It’s time to toughen up! Not only do cold showers come with great health benefits (testosterone for guys, it closes your pores after cleaning and makes your skin less vulnerable, makes you more resistant, boosts your immune functions, and can even be used to accelerate weight loss), but also do they boost confidence beyond anything else I have seen. Go in as a wimp, come out as a winner. This transforms my entire day. Forget coffee, this will wake you up. After you’ve done this, no matter what the day brings, you’ll feel confident, prepared and already have a small win in the bank, which no one can take away from you. If I can do it, so can you!
Connect with Niklas on Twitter, @niklasgoeke, if you want to talk about learning and self-improvement, marketing, or just say hello!