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Book-talk with Mike Benkovich, Sydney-based web developer & entrepreneur

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LATER UPDATE: don’t miss Mike’s talk with Cristina! After the interview below, they also recorded a podcast episode together.

Mike Benkovich is a web developer based in Sydney, Australia. He’s been employed until 10 years ago, when he read Tim Ferriss’ first book, “The 4-Hour Workweek”. That book had such an impact on him that several months after reading it he decided to quit his job and he’s been making a living online ever since.

I discovered Mike thanks to an interview he gave to IndieHackers, about Anatomonics, the project he launched 7 years ago. Anatomonics is an audio system that helps people memorize the human anatomy and terms, usually purchased by medical students and physical therapists.

Why audio? Because it’s a medium that enables us to learn much faster than we would by reading the same information. Our brains are wired to be on the lookout for sounds that might signal danger, so it’s easy for us to be distracted by a background noise. We can’t turn sounds off completely, so it’s hard for us to concentrate 100% on what we’re reading.

I should also note that Mike’s completely unavailable on social media, so you’ll find no contact links at the end of our interview. However, if you have any kind of questions for him, just leave them in the comments section below.

Grab a mug of coffee (or tea or any other liquor you prefer 🙂 ) and read on. You’ll find out more about the impact that Tim Ferriss’ first book had on Mike 10 years ago, why (and how) he punishes himself if he DOESN’T complete his tasks, and how he turned reading into a daily habit.

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

You’ve started off with a very tough question. It’s so hard to pick favourites. If you don’t mind I’ll list 3. Business, Non-Business Non-Fiction, and Non-Business Fiction. Deal? Good! 😉

Business: The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People
The Best! This book blew me away when I first read it. It was written in 1989 so the ideas won’t seem new or groundbreaking. The author has a particular way of putting things that just makes sense to me. I loved this book so much that I read it again as soon as I finished it. I go back and reread it every couple of years. It’s that good!

Non-Business Non-Fiction: Predictably Irrational
The title does an amazing job of summing up the entire book. Think you make rational decisions based on logic and reason? Think again! A complete eye-opener that everyone should read.

Non-Business Fiction: The Wheel Of Time Series
I’m cheating here (again) because this isn’t a single book but a series. This is a 14 book fantasy epic written over DECADES! It took so long to complete and is so expansive the author died before he finished. The mantle was picked up by another author who finished the series in 2014. It’s a story of massive scale featuring or launching any fantasy trope you can think of. If you think Game Of Thrones is good you will love this.

Honourable Mentions: Four Hour Work Week, The Happiness Hypothesis, Meditations, Catch 22, A Guide To The Good Life.

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

This has happened more times than I can count. I’ll give you recent one from a fairly modern book.

Last year I read the book ‘Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business‘ by Charles Duhigg. Look passed the click-baity title and you’ll find one of the best books on productivity I’ve ever read… And I’ve read a lot of them.

The tip that stood out to me the most was to assign a punishment to myself if I DON’T finish my tasks. I’ve taken that advice on board in earnest.

At the beginning of each week I set out the tasks that need to be completed on a sheet of paper. At the bottom I write down my punishment if I don’t complete them. For me they are always financial punishments (I hate losing money). For example, last week if I did not finish my tasks I had to go to the cash machine, withdraw $500 and give it to the first person I saw. The trick is to make it a real punishment, something you would absolutely hate to have to do.

The easiest promises to break are the ones we make to ourselves. This has completely eliminated that for me. I’ve not had to punish myself once since introducing this technique. Even if it means I’m up late on Friday nights cramming everything in sometimes. I think it’s the combination of physically writing it and signing it that makes me beholden to it.

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What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

Two books come to mind straight away.

Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss – It’s impossible to understate the impact this book had on me. In my opinion it’s a modern classic!

I was working as a web developer when I first read it. The book showed me that it’s possible to make a living outside of the usual trappings. A few months later I quit my job and haven’t had another one since.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – All throughout my 20s I was into self-improvement. While I never turned into a seminar junkie I was a follower of the usual suspects like Tony Robbins et al. I was hyped on the content and would spit out all the quotes and sayings. The truth is that I never really understood any of it on anymore than a superficial level.

Reading 7 Habits crystallized a lot of that stuff for me in a succinct way that actually made sense (without all the fireworks, jumping around and clapping). With gems like ‘The way we see the problem is the problem’ and ‘Each of us tends to think we see things as they are, that we are objective. But this is not the case. We see the world, not as it is, but as we are’. I consider this book a great guide to a successful life.

What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

I’d recommend a sprinkling of business books followed by a heap of productivity and behavioural psychology books. The business books will help you with principles and the psychological books help with everything else in your life. Building your own business can really f!@# you up psychologically.

I think reading business books has become a bit like romance novels to some people. Sure, it’s exciting to know the story of Twitter/Facebook/Amazon/”Insert Rich Entrepreneur Here” but if you spend all your time reading these types of books you’ll never get anything done. In fact, in my experience too much exposure to crazy successful people makes me feel worse. I’ve seen the paralysis of analysis first hand in both myself and my colleagues.

With that in mind here goes…

Four Hour Work Week
The Lean Startup
The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People

The War Of Art
Smarter Faster Better
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Predictably Irrational
The Happiness Hypothesis
A Guide To The Good Life

Lastly, honourable mention for The Alchemist. Because sometimes what you’re searching for is under your nose the whole time 😉

I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?

I read every single day for at least half an hour, usually more. It’s actually a personal rule and I’m so strict about it that ‘Read For 30 minutes‘ gets added to my to-do list everyday. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that it’s been years since I’ve gone a day without reading. It’s one of my true passions and those we should always make time for.

I have one peculiar habit that some people find interesting. I always have 2 books on the go at any given time; one non-fiction and one fiction. I’ve found this to be a good trick in helping me read everyday. Having those available means I’ve always got something to match my mood. Generally non-fiction is for the daytime and fiction is for early morning or just before bed. I don’t like reading non-fiction before I sleep as I find it makes my mind too active.

I’m a Kindle user all the way! I put it off for years and maintained I was one of those people who ‘like real books’. That all changed when I got a Kindle for Christmas in 2013. I’ve never looked back!

How do you make time for reading?

It’s easy to make time for the things you love 🙂

The more pragmatic answer is that I try to fit reading into my life and not the other way around. I use a Kindle for reading so I can have it with me at all times. If I’m waiting for the train, I read. If I’m waiting for a friend, I read. I also set aside some time before bed as my dedicated reading time.

My best trick is to leave the phone at home!!! There’s no reason to be connected all the time. By not having my phone I’m not tempted to use it and therefore have more time to read books. That probably seems crazy or impossible to those reading this. If that’s you my advice is to start small. I began years ago with ‘No Phone Day’ where I’d do this only one day a week. Now, I do it almost all the time I’m out.

Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

I’m an avid journaler and my notebook is never far away. If I’m reading and a quote or idea strikes me I will write it in my journal. I started doing this after I’d heard writing things down helps with retaining information.

Note taking on books is something I really should do more of. I like the way Derek Sivers does it on his books page. A short description of the main ideas would probably serve me well.

There is one useful technique I’ve adopted. I try not to move onto another non fiction book too quickly. For example, if I finish a business related book I’ll stick to reading fiction for the next few days. I find it helps the ideas settle before I move on to the next thing.

Discussing what you’ve read with someone helps too. My partner is caring and attentive and doesn’t mind me blabbing on about the latest book I’ve finished.

How do you choose what books to read next?

That’s rarely a problem because my list always grows faster than I can read them.

For fiction I often read books that are in a series. A good fantasy series can keep you busy for a few months. For non-fiction what I read next will often mirror whats going on in my life. For example, if I’m having trouble focusing I’d prioritize a book that helps with that.

For the most part though I try to stick to a first in – first out policy. Keeps me honest and kills the anxiety of having too much choice.

Do you prioritize those recommended by certain people? Is there anyone that you consider a book-recommendations guru?

I wouldn’t say I prioritize certain people but do get recommendations constantly through other books and podcasts. I have a scratch pad file I add book titles to as I come across them. I’ll read the synopsis and if it sounds worthwhile it gets added to my Kindle.

That being said in the past I’ve found the Tim Ferriss Show a good source of book recommendations. Derek Sivers book page on his website is another great one. Although at this point I’ve read everything on his list that I care to.

Amazon is my book recommendations guru. All you have to do is go to the page of a book you already love and then follow the recommendations down the rabbit hole!

Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

As you remember I always have 2 books on the go. Right now I’m reading:

Non-Fiction: Deep Work by Cal Newport
I am always interested in ways I can improve my productivity and efficiency. I’ve found myself being a bit distracted lately so I’m hoping this will put me on the right path. I’m not expecting to learn anything new but brushing up on some of the skills I already know always helps.

Fiction: The Dark Tower 6 : Song Of Susannah
I’m a huge fan of fantasy novels when I feel like some escapism in my reading. I’ve read most of the major fantasy series over the years (completing The Wheel Of Time was one of my life’s great achievements 😉 ).

However, not being a regular Stephen King reader I always put this one on the back burner. When I saw the movie released a few months ago I figured it was time to cross this one off the list. 5 down and only 2 books to go in the story of Roland The Gunslinger.

Reading fiction is very important to me. I find it makes me more creative, gets my head out of business for a while and helps me relax. That’s all I’m hoping to gain from it.

P.S. If you enjoyed our interview, you should also listen to the podcast episode we did together with Mike!

All books mentioned by Mike Benkovich in our interview:

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