Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Put down this book and do something productive

Review of Get Productive! by Magdalena Bak-Maier

Anyone organised enough to do all the exercises in this book probably doesn't need it. Its simplistic tone is epitomised by the use of hideous clip-art-style illustrations on every page, which makes it look like an amateur PowerPoint presentation. Is there any quicker way to destroy your credibility and look unprofessional?

As with all such books, the author is careful not to give away the good stuff, since she makes a living from coaching. The dust jacket is crammed with glowing references from other snake-oil salesmen, who have a vested interest in selling to the lazy, feckless or plain disorganised the belief that they can change their minds and become focused and effective. When this advice comes from someone focused and organised enough to get a degree in neuroscience, set up her own business and get a book published, one wonders whether she has the empathy to help.

For example, her advice on procrastination is to write a list of the things you haven't got round to doing and then do one of them. This is like Usain Bolt telling you that the way to be a six-time Olympic champion is to move your feet quicker than anyone else. Simplistic? Don't forget, this book is illustrated with clip-art.

This low-brow and breathlessly enthusiastic tone pervades the whole book, which is overrun with a stampede of excited exclamation marks. It announces, "Our brains are marvellous at affecting our thoughts and our behaviour." Who knew? I thought it was the pancreas, though in my case you might think it's the spleen. Or how about the advice that, if you've had a problem before, solve it the same way again. "This is key!" Thanks, Sherlock.

There's lots of advice about how to categorise mental states, usually in some infantile way through silly exercises such as "Time Travel", but little in the way of practical advice. Effectively, you're being told to assess your subconscious and then choose to do the right thing, which isn't very helpful at all. Some of the advice is contradictory: on page 95 you're told to use the right emotion, then on page 96 you're told that ignoring your emotions will cause you suffering, so how can you choose which emotion to use?

Sometimes I wonder whether Bak-Maier has thought this through. She tells us that WANTS (her capitals) come from within while "MUSTS tend to come from the outside world". But her only examples of MUSTS are eating and breathing, which are hardly duties that are imposed from outside.

The basic advice is to stop doing things you don't like and start doing things you do. My problem is that I like drinking red wine and writing spiteful reviews on Amazon when I should be furthering my career or feeding my kids. I should be doing less of that, not more.

Still, I've learnt one valuable lesson from Get Productive!. I'm going to stop reading junk-science self-help books and use my time more productively.

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