Atomic Habits: A book review

After being less than impressed with The Power of Habit, I decided to give Atomic Habits (amazon link=> we get a cut) by James Clear a spin.

tl:dr Although this book is much better than The Power of Habit, it is ultimately still an imperfect book.  Definitely worth giving a read, maybe not worth purchasing unless you have a specific easy-to-define-and-implement habit you want to focus on.

Unlike The Power of Habit, most of the book (until the last section) is made up of examples that make sense and are not taken out of context. It also goes much more into depth with more nuance than the previous book (which it does cite extensively).

Each chapter ends with bullets and potentially actionable items.  There are habits cheat sheets with “laws” explaining how to create a good habit and how to break a bad habit.  These laws are broken into easy to remember subheaders:  Make it obvious, Make it attractive, Make it easy, Make it satisfying.  Make it invisible, Make it unattractive, Make it difficult, Make it unsatisfying.  This is helpful– I hope that the podcasters at By the Book pick this one up sometime.

The “Advanced Tactics” section that the book ends with is problematic, relying almost entirely on anecdote and contradicting most of the rest of the book, leaving the reader with a particularly confusing “it’s complicated” message, along with additional bizarre messages like you should only try to do what you do well (I should really be a grocery bagger, I thought to myself, though that is not where my comparative advantage lies) but you should also only chase your passion (because people do more when they enjoy the work) but you should also do the boring bits (because the most successful people do the parts they don’t enjoy).  Examples from this section are very correlation is causation.  After reading it, I felt a sense of hopelessness, like maybe I should just early retire and forget my career, which I hope was not intentional.

For me– most of the stuff discussed in the book I already do or have done.  But I also have been struggling with bad work habits for the past couple of years.  I used to have very good work habits, but somehow they’ve been broken.  I need to fix that, but I’m not sure how.  It seems to be more complicated than say, getting into the habit of taking a walk every day or calling about politics.  (And… when I start focusing on one area of life, something starts slipping in another, which is not what any of the online lifestyle bloggers ever mention… it’s always exercise more and everything else will get better too.)

I’m not sure if this book will help with that, but I’m going to think really hard about the systematic problems I’ve been having with my work and give these checklists a spin.  I also want to get a book on habits by an actual academic to see if that has any useful advice.

And, of course, I will blog about all of this in a future post.

Getting more advanced at stata

One of my goals this summer is to get better at Stata programming.  I’m mostly self-taught, as are most economists, and I’ve worked with different people who have different styles and I’ve definitely noticed there are things that are helpful in writing code and things that are not so helpful.  I’ve also been picking up tricks that I should have learned years ago.

My goals are two-fold.  I want to be more organized and I want to be more efficient with my programming.

Two books I recommend: 1. A Gentle Introduction to Stata.  This is actually a great intro-to-programming book that mainly only goes over basic stuff.  (#2 likes it, and has it from the library.)  But I’ve managed to pick up some good tricks from it (numlabel _all, add  FTW).   2. The Workflow of Data Analysis Using Stata— this is a really great book for thinking about how to organize, comment, label, etc. etc. etc. your, um, Stata workflow.  It says a lot of stuff I already knew, but haven’t been acting on, and puts it all together in a way that I hope to be able to act on.

So what does this mean specifically?  First, I’m being much better about commenting my code, particularly the part at the top that says what the purpose of the .do file is.  I’m also getting better at consistent names– my previous system would have, for example, multiple “Table 2″s every time the tables in the paper would change (#2 is shocked).  Now I’m better about saying things like, Table_2_SOLE, which would be the version of Table 2 back when the paper was presented at SOLE, and I have better more informative table names for things that aren’t official paper tables.

I’m also trying to do a better job of keeping my current files in one folder and moving out the older versions so I don’t accidentally use an older version after I’ve fixed a mistake.  Recently that has caused me some embarrassment that a referee noticed.  I’m getting a bit better about dating files as well.  #2 tends to change the name of the files to something like “data analysis project X OLD DO NOT USE” and “revised data set USE THIS ONE”.  Also #2 uses dates, but I don’t find them as useful as they should be.

In terms of programming itself, two of my big goals are to start using loops automatically instead of cut/paste/replace automatically.  I need to get more practiced at them so I don’t have to look up the code each time.  (I’m proud of myself for finally figuring out which `’ to use when in the loops!)  I also want to start using locals more, which is again something I tend to cut/paste/replace for when I really should have shorter and cleaner code that just changes the local.

It’s a bit embarrassing that I’m just making these changes now, but as always, I remind myself that lesson I learned in graduate school– later will be even more embarrassing, so given that before is sunk, now is the best time to figure out something I should have figured out a long time ago.  #2 adds, it’s never too late to improve your workflow and versioning.  I’m trying to make mine better all the time.

Do you have any self-improvement things going on in your life?