Questions from a reader - this one's about sleep amounts, vitamins, and books.
I'd like to thank you for writing the blog posts on your website. I just found your blog today, but I see a lot of stuff I think I can use on there.
Thanks, that's nice of you to say and glad you reached out.
I have a few questions about some routine-optimization that you've done, if you'd like to help me out:
1. What benefits have you noticed from refining your diet? Is most of the expected value coming from increased mental performance or longevity?
More energy and less fading at the end of the day. Also, some foods lead to a general "bad feeling" a couple hours after eating them - heavy dairy, pizza, deep fried stuff, etc. Eating simple carbs early seems to make me fade/crash harder in the afternoon/evening.
2. Aside from more waxing and waning in energy, what effects have you noticed from sleeping less? You said that you had more focus, but what kinds of activities are you using to test this? (I'm worried that if I sleep less, I'll become more effective at easier tasks but less creative/able to catch my mistakes on harder tasks.)
On very low sleep (4 hours or less over 24 hours), I go through strange cycles. I actually feel more awake during the peak parts of the cycle, very alert and aware, but then I crash a lot harder. When I'm running on low sleep, I need to "cycle" my tasks so that I only work on creative/important tasks during the peaks, and then take downtime or work on rote work during the lower times. On more sleep, I can usually do important work even when low energy. Not so on low sleep.
Also, I don't consistently sleep 4 hours a night. I usually average out to 7-9 in any given week, but oftentimes it looks like this, which is last week's review of nine days:
0 + (9.5 + 4.5) + (0 + 4.5) + (8 + 3.5) + 5.5 + 12 + 9.5 + 8 + 8 = 73 /9 = 8.1
Notation: In parenthesis are days I slept twice - usually a main sleep and a nap.
That was kind of a crazy week though. Also, the "12" was when I took an overnight train and had nothing to do for a while it was still dark on the train and my laptop was dead, so I just stayed in bed.
Also, I don't recommend this haphazard sort of schedule. There's probably serious downsides to it. Seriously not recommended, that's just how the week worked out.
3. What benefits have you noticed from taking vitamins?
I load up on Vitamin C when I feel a cold coming on, and it seems to help, but it's hard to measure those things exactly. Fish oil, Vitamin D, Calcium isn't the sort of thing I'd expect to be able to perceive on a day to day basis.
On another note, I was looking for a list of books that you recommend and couldn't find one. If you have any in particular that you'd recommend, I'd appreciate it. I would give you a category, but I'm not sure how well I would manage to communicate the sort of things that I'm looking for -- except that I'm currently looking to make as much money as possible, for realpolitik reasons (I don't yet know how to most effectively save the world, so I mainly want to gather resources that I can throw in most any direction). I think that we have enough interests in common that I'd rather have your general top-tier list instead.
Okay. My favorite book is "Musashi" by Eiji Yoshikawa. I think it's a must read for anyone with high levels of raw, natural talent but who is undisciplined about it. Tons of great lessons in there. It's also a hell of a story.
If you want an obscure nonfiction book, "Winning Through Intimidation" by Robert Ringer. I had two excerpts on it here - "Quick Review of Winning Through Intimidation" and “You have a lot of nerve trying to earn $15,000 on one deal; why, you’re only a broker.”
E-Myth Revisited is the best I've read on general small business. The Ultimate Sales Machine the best book on high dollar sales. Crucial Conversations one of the best on dealing with conflict and negotiating.
Ron Chernow's "Titan" is an excellent biography of John Rockefeller. I just finished "The Rise of House Rothschild" by Corti which is good, though it's from 1928 so some of the language is dated and there's some racism in there. Not enough to make it unreadable, just know about it going in.
As for myself, I highly recommend Robert Greene's 48 Laws of Power -- I think that it has a large number of generally useful strategic insights. One note here, just something to take into account whenever I suggest books -- I find myself prone to false positives on valuable insights. I'm not sure whether this is because my skill in identifying insights is low or because I'm just not yet good at applying these insights.
Ah, that's a great point about false positives. A really important question is, "How can I make this actionable?" If you can't, it doesn't really matter how true something is... well, it's entertaining and maybe there'll be future value for being more informed. But if it's not actionable in a reasonable timeframe, it won't produce real world results.
I've read Greene's 48 Laws - actually, I really disliked it the first time I read it, but I was a lot more naive and idealistic back then. I since re-read it and there's a lot of good points in there.
I think Greene is slightly too adversarial - almost all of the book covers betrayal and combat and adversity, but very little on finding good partners, colleagues, an excellent team, etc. Almost everyone successful in business and statesmanship and everything else had great people on their side, and Greene kind of glosses over that.
That said, there's lots of works that cover more cooperative-style building, and very few that cover the darker side of things, so I do enjoy Greene for that. For another very pragmatic book, check out Winning Through Intimidation. Very no-nonsense about it.
Machiavelli's original "The Prince" is also worth a read, I think, I got a lot out of it. If you're a big fan of general strategy and military operations, I'd strongly recommend Carl von Clauswitz's "On War" - it teaches you how to think. But, it might fall into that category of things that aren't immediately actionable. I feel like I became a much clearer thinker after reading it, but it doesn't necessarily translate to the day to day business of coming up in the world.
Anyways, I'd like to keep in touch with you, if you'd like -- you seem like an interesting person. If I had more time, I would tell some more about myself, but I need to get some sleep.
Definitely, I'm glad you reached out. Excellent questions here - I'll put my replies up on the blog in the next couple days, so there might be some other book recommendations by readers. (That's today, so let's hear your recommendations too) Sure, I'd love to hear what you're working on and your general thoughts - being able to ask good questions is a hallmark of good thinkers, so I'd enjoy learning more about what you're doing and what you have to say.
Just realized this was an older piece..
I've been reading Mastery by Robert Greene and enjoying it greatly.
I've never been able to get Vit C to work for me as a cold preventer. The only thing I can get to work is drinking lots and lots of water and getting lots of sleep. I'm now very sensitive to the feeling of a cold coming on, and can often beat one in two or three days.
I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.
Think and Grow Rich: A marvelous book, but I was having a hard time finishing it. Then I realized - the last three chapters are pretty much fluff that repeat points already covered. I skimmed the last three chapters... it starts very strong, ends weak, but I'm happy it's finally done.
The Alchemist: What a masterpiece by Paolo Cuehlo. Read it in one day, couldn't put it down. Got me thinking a lot... lots of great quick ways to think, quick heuristics and mantras in there. Really wonderful short little book with some great lessons.
If I Did It: I read OJ Simpson's autobiography on a whim when I saw a copy. It's a weird book. It's about a guy trying to be a decent husband and having his marriage fall apart. Then he kills his wife. Oh, and it's OJ Simpson, and the most famous trial/legal story of the last 20 years. Weird to read the guy's perspective... it's weird in how surreal and normal it is. A famous guy marries a beautiful 18 year old girl but they don't have a really deep or mature connection. She doesn't take well to money and stability, gets unhappy, starts acting kind of crazy in the marriage. OJ acts crazy in response. They divorce. Then he keeps hearing her partying around town and doing drugs, flips out, and kills her. Weird reading it in his own words - I lived in Los Angeles for awhile, and the first part read like a fairly normal L.A. story with a rich, famous guy making a bad choice in a young beautiful woman without much depth or character. Then it gets kind of crazy at the end. It wasn't sad so much as weird. It's sureally normal in parts, and then ends with... well, you know. I wouldn't recommend you go out of your way to read it, but it's interesting for a few hours if you get a chance.
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: Eliezer Yudkowsky's fanfiction is exceptionally good. If you're a reader of LessWrong at all, you'll love it. If not, you still might like it. He wrote it in "serialized" format where each chapter is a mostly self-contained adventure with plot arc, and then a cohesive whole. It works well, reads well, lots of good insights. He didn't really hit his stride and tone until chapter 15 to 20... if you like Yudkowsky's normal writing, give it until chapter 20. Trust me on this - Eliezer sets up a lot of backstory and forces some humor in the early chapters, and the tone isn't quite smooth... still good, but then wow, it kicks into overdrive around chapter 20 and it's just a page-turning must-read. It's free online at fanfiction.com and you can also find pdf compilations with some googling.
I think that some might be surprised to hear how much I sleep and how important it is to me. I average right around eight hours per day (tracked for a few months), and prioritize sleep very strongly, even over most work.
Once ten pm comes around, I have four options for things I'm allowed to do: I can play violin, read a book, work, or sleep. Computer is off at midnight every day, at which point I usually read for an hour or two, and then go to sleep.
The other night I was tired at ten, but I was really excited about my work so I tried to push through and keep at it. I was stuck trying to fix something, but I managed to try five or ten solutions out before getting in bed. At the time, it felt like a good choice.
I woke up the next morning, took one look at the code, and spotted the solution instantly. Within five minutes it was fixed. Once is a fluke, but I've noticed this pattern over and over again with work when I'm tired-- it feels like I'm working, but often I'm just spinning my wheels.