“A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.” -Chinese proverb
On days we’re filled with dread, or even apathy, we need hope, a little bit of a nudge, maybe some comfort, or a dose of courage, to go conquer the world, if only for a day. Pocket one of these short books to read on your commute, or pop in a book-cd to listen on your drive – for some quiet words of wisdom, or a kick in the pants to help you drive in the direction of your dreams.
These are a few of my favorites that helped me on my journeys. They range from spiritual to self-help, fiction to poetry, in no particular order. See how many of these short books (200 pages or less) you read, and I’d love to know what your favorites are in the comments below.
1. Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Wise, soothing, and graceful. Words that every woman (and man) can relate to, contemplate upon, and learn from. One of my favorites of all time.
2. The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
For anyone who ever felt a creative crisis, a writer’s block, or struggles to follow a calling, the author helps us see the power of “Resistance” and how to overcome it.
3. Code Name: God, by Mani Bhaumik
This one is 225 pages but I thought it deserved a chance on this list. An autobiographical rags to riches story of a Bengali boy who became a Bel Air millionaire. When he inevitably crashes into a midlife crisis, he goes back to his spiritual roots that were planted during his barefoot days, and ties them with the scientific knowledge he gained over the years. Fascinating read.
4. Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke
Beautifully written in lyrical prose, by Rilke to a young aspiring poet who asks for his insight. Soulful advice that speaks to the aspiring poet (or writers, painters, anyone who feels a calling) in us all.
5. Gandhi the Man, by Eknath Easwaran
This is a spiritual look into the actions and teachings of Gandhi who inspired a nation to act out of nonviolence and love. Eknath Easwaran, who is himself a spiritual seeker, and teacher, provides the perfect voice. Truly inspirational.
6. The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran
A collection of philosophical and spiritual poems about love and marriage, work and worship, joy and sorrow, pain and passion, religion, and self-knowledge, and many other topics. A masterpiece.
7. The Untethered Soul, by Michael A Singer
Simply written, yet profound. No esoteric words, or confusing concepts. Just practical spirituality. If you haven’t read it, don’t miss it!
8. One Hundred Days of Solitude, by Jane Dobisz
This may not be for everyone, but I loved Zen teacher Jane Dobisz’s solitary meditation retreat into the woods in Upstate New York, for one hundred days of winter. Sitting, walking, chanting, bowing, chopping, Repeat. It’s warm, funny at times, completely candid, and glowing with zen-gems thrown in now and then.
9. The Stranger, by Albert Camus
This is a strange book to put on this list about an “accidental” murderer who remains detached, disengaged and dispassionate throughout the story as the jailers, judges and lawyers are talking around him. The reason I put it on here is because it makes us think and look at ourselves from an outside perspective. Are we strangers to ourselves?
10. 84 Charing Cross Rd, Helene Hanff
I know – I’m a romantic to put this on the list. It’s a true story – a book of letters in fact – of an American writer’s correspondence with a London bookseller. Not exactly life-changing, but sweet, subtle, and a reminder that we all need a touch of romance in our lives.
11. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
This is Aldous Huxley’s description of a future Utopia, where the inhabitants are programmed to be content, conditioned to a class system, and are offered psychedelic drugs to fight off depression. What could possibly be wrong with this Dystopia? I mean Utopia? A classic science fiction that’s completely relevant even today.
12. How to be an Adult, by David Richo
When you read the definition of an Adult according to David Richo, it makes perfect sense. What’s sad is when we realize that most of us are not adults – yet. This is a short book, but full of wisdom and guidance. You won’t regret reading it.
13. Peace Is Every Step, by Thich Nhat Hanh
We know this already: peace is not somewhere out there; we need to create it within ourselves. In our walk, in our talk, in our every choice. Peace is in every step we take and this little book shows you how, subtly, yet simply. It is written by a peace activist who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Don’t miss it.
14. The One Straw Revolution, by Masanobu Fukuoka
This book is fondly referred to as the “Zen and the Art of Farming”, and even though most of us are not farmers in real life, I’m adding it on this list because of Fukioka’s revolutionary approach to food and farming. It’s not a how-to book, but a thoughtful book, and the gardeners at heart may learn something from it.
15. Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
This is another one of my favorite books ever. It’s truly life changing. Read it in small doses so you can savor the depth of Thoreau’s thoughts.Advertising
16. Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse
This is a novel about a boy named Siddhartha (not the story of the Buddha), set in India. It follows Siddhartha on his journey as a seeker of enlightenment. The ending of the story might come as a surprise, but not unwelcome. An enlightening read.
17. Night, by Elie Wiesel
An autobiographical narration of a Nazi death camp survivor. Heart-breakingly poignant. The author agonizes over a God who can allow such horrors, and yet remains hopeful in humanity – to ask the questions, to act when necessary, and to remember so we will never forget. No happy endings, but important questions for all of us. Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
18. Silas Marner, by George Eliot
This is the portrait of a simple weaver who was betrayed and accused of a crime he didn’t commit. He becomes a loner and a recluse, but what’s fascinating to read is the story of how he slowly softens with the arrival of an abandoned child. An old masterpiece, but a touching tale of the human spirit.
19. Meditation and Its Methods, by Swami Vivekananda
This is an introduction to meditation from the famous Swami who brought Vedanta and Yoga to the Western world. This book is born out of a compilation of several writings and speeches, and even though it’s not a manual for meditation, it’s a good read for those of us who want to be inspired. Vivekananda’s voice carries command and common sense.
20. Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom
This is a series of Tuesday conversations – warm, intimate, and sometimes funny – between a dying mentor and his student. And what we get from these conversations is Morrie’s deep wisdom, his faith in life and people, and his dignity even in dying. Morrie touched so many of us with his wisdom, and continues to inspire us to live a life of meaning.
21. Franny and Zooey, by J. D. Salinger
Franny and Zooey are two of the children in the Glass family, an intellectual, neurotic New York family who rail at the world for not behaving reasonably. The brilliance of this book is in Salinger’s fast paced, unpretentious dialogue, even though the dialogue is about an existential, ethical crisis. This book makes us all think about those profound questions of life and living.
22. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This is a portrait of America in the Twenties, an age when excess and greed was a national obsession. Fitzgerald’s writing is brilliant and poetic, and even though the story was set in the Jazz Age, it is just as relevant in today’s world of excess and greed.
23. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl
Dr. Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived Nazi concentration camps, writes a psychological perspective of the prisoners of Auschwitz. In opposition to Freud’s belief that man’s primary drive is pleasure, Dr Frankl’s theory is that each person thrives to find the meaning of his life, and that’s what keeps him going, especially when hit by a tragedy. This is a must read.
24. The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss
Can you believe this beloved children’s book was once banned? It’s a story of the devastating consequences of consumption when trees are cut down to satisfy a bottomless pit of greed. Written in the seventies, the Lorax is just as relevant now, in the days of global warming and environmental pollution. Read it to your children, but it’s just as whimsical and inspiring reading it to yourself.
25. The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein
Another beloved children’s classic based on friendship between a boy and a tree, not much different than a relationship between a mother and her child. A spiritual reader cannot fail to see the lessons of giving, love, and acceptance. A tender and touching story.
26. Food Rules, by Michael Pollan
A practical “manual” of food rules to help figure out what to eat, what kind of food to eat, and how to eat. A simple, slim volume that includes chapters like “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”
27. American Primitive, by Mary Oliver
An exquisite collection of poems that won Mary Oliver a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Wild and primitive, yet tender and transcendental, you’ll feel alive when you read this book of poems.
28. Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach
This is a little story about a lone seagull who loves to fly (instead of eat), but faces ridicule and rejection by the rest of the seagull community for his love of soaring to great heights. There’s a powerful message in it for anyone who wants to give up, to have faith in themselves.
29. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
This is the story of an unlikely friendship between George and Lennie who plan to buy a little land, grow all their food, build a shack of their own, and live happily ever after. But their American dream goes horribly wrong. Their own fears, insecurities and miseries bind them tighter and tighter until the dream shatters and leads to a strangely satisfying ending.
30. 1984, by George Orwell
We all feel it in the air – Big Brother is not too far away. George Orwell’s last novel is a chilling classic and is still entirely relevant even after 1984 has come and gone.
31. The Great Divorce, by C. S. Lewis
A powerful little book that gets to the core of human beliefs and choices. Anyone who reads it will glean many little and large truths about good and evil, heaven and hell, sin and temptation. The writing is eloquent, imaginative and fantastical, in a way only Lewis can write.
32. Thou art that, by Joseph Campbell
This is a sampling of Campbell’s writings which can serve as a short, introductory book to his other weightier works. As always, thoughtful, thought provoking ideas and interpretations of religions and rituals, myths and metaphors are offered from the man who urged us to “follow your bliss.”Advertising
33. Strengths Finder 2.0, by Tom Rath
This is version 2.0 of what used to be Gallup’s Now Discover Your Strengths. I love the premise of this book to find our strengths and pour our attention into making them work for us, rather than trying to improve upon our weaknesses.
34. The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz
Profound but practical. Four simple agreements with ourselves: to Be Impeccable With Our Words, to Not Take Anything Personally, to Not Make Assumptions, and to Always Do Our Best. This book really prompts us to take a deeper look at our every thought and word. Powerful advice.
35. Practicing the Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle
This is an extension of the original Power of Now for those who are looking for practical guidance on how to practice the Power of Now. Perfect for carrying in your pocket on your commutes. If you haven’t read the original though, I’d recommend reading that first.
36. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
Imaginative characters, unique settings, endless adventures, lots of lessons for the soul, and a happy ending. What more would we want? No wonder this book became the American fairy tale.
37. Who Moved My Cheese, by Spencer Johnson
This is a simple story with a big message. Change is something we all have to deal with, and yet we are not usually comfortable about it. A little over-dramatized but a quick read. Give it a try, especially if you work in a corporate environment.
38. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki
A collection of talks by Shunryu Suzuki who was one of the original Zen teachers in America. I love the depth and intensity of each sentence in the book. I do have to add this warning though: this is not exactly a beginner’s Zen book (if you’re very new to Zen teachings, you should probably start off with a different book).
39. The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
A whimsical, witty, inter-planetary story of a conversation between a pilot and a prince. While they become friends, we learn lessons of love, truth and friendship. Poignant and tender. It is suitable for children and the child in all of us.
40. Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman
This short book gives a great taste of Whitman’s poems. Powerful, profound, panoramic. Even as you’re making your way to your glass buildings you’ll feel the leaves of grass dancing in the wind. An American masterpiece.
Featured photo credit: Saiisha via NestInTheForest.com
Last Updated on July 13, 2020
How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day
Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.
1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind
The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.
Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.
For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.
The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.
2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos
Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.
As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.
Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.
3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law
Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))
This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.
We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.
Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.
When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.
Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.
4. Use the Power of Your Calendar
Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.
For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.
Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.
5. Make Decisions
For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.
If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.
If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.
Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)
I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.
This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:
The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.
6. Take Some Form of Action
Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.
The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.
It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.
Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.
The Bottom Line
Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.
When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.
More Tips for Reducing Work Stress
- How to Eliminate Work Stress When You’re Stressed to the Max
- Want to Feel More Energized Throughout the Day? Start With This
- 8 Important Things to Remember When You Are Feeling Overwhelmed
Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com