Q&A With Hayanna Kim a.k.a. @herpickings on Instagram

@herpickings is beloved page for book lovers on Instagram. I came across the account in the early days of “bookstagram” (a hashtag that now has over 19 million posts) and have been a fan for around three years. I was happy to meet the person behind it, Hayanna Kim, in Manhattan Beach this spring to talk books and what it means “to live deliberately.” 

Hayanna started working young. Through high school and college at Syracuse she worked with a mentor on start ups in event planning, tech, and food. Then after college, she was planning on going to law school. She was studying for the L-SATs and interning at a firm in downtown Los Angeles. However, life intervened. She got into a fatal car accident. Its trauma and repercussions revealed that she had Lupus, an autoimmune disease. After having to take a break for a couple of years, she is now looking for her next step and working on her own writing. 


How did @herpickings begin? What made you want to share the books you were reading and write about what you’ve read?

I’d just been running since I very young, trying to figure out what I want to do. I was working and then studying and had no time to rest.

I got really sick. I had to quit everything. My symptoms got aggravated after my car accident. My body just crashed. Even though I wanted to work, I couldn’t. If I started something, I would be sick right away. It would be unfair to the employer and to me. I’d have to quit in the middle of it. So I took two years off, maybe even three. I did side stuff, but not a full time job. I took a break. Pretty much didn’t have a choice because I really couldn’t get out of bed for a while. Just being so tired and fatigued and my body was too weak. That’s when I had a lot of time to read.

I was home by myself when I was sick. Then you feel lonely. I couldn’t go out with my friends. Because I got sick in my early 20s, everyone was doing their own thing. I felt isolated. I needed community. I was just looking and found the first book people on Instagram. I was like, ‘that’s fun,’ and we were reading the same books. People ask me, ‘how did you grow it?’ My intention was never to grow the account. It was more for me.

At first, reading would be escapism. And then after a while, reading would be a daily routine. I would have anxiety and panic attacks, and if I didn’t read even a couple of pages a day, I would feel like I couldn’t calm myself down. It was kind of a coping mechanism for me for a couple of years.

It was one thing that kept me going. Waking up every morning early, at the same time. It’s something that helped me heal. Go to a coffee shop, just sit there, read. And do what I love. And it became a routine for me. Which helped me get out of my depression. Because when you’re sick you’re always home, and you get depressed.

That’s why when I did posts, it kind of helped me work through certain things in my life– being able to share and having other people relate to it as well.

A lot of the books I read helped me face my reality.

I’m working on a book of essays now, and that’s one of the reasons I especially like your posts, because they seem to be about books of essays. Did you start reading essays when you got sick?

No I always did read essays, but think I read more. It was easier to read. If I didn’t want to or couldn’t read a whole book, I would dive in, and then I’d dive in and out.

Also, I like essay writing. It’s interesting how it can change over the years, and how personal it can be too. It was the form of writing that I did most. But also sometimes, I want to read books depending on what I’m going through at the time. People ask, how do you pick  the books you want to read? I just pick whatever I feel at that time. It’s more emotional.

What does it mean to you to live deliberately?  Can you share what you’ve found through your readings and from the perspective of your illness? 

Reading helped me heal every day. Whenever I read, there are bits and parts that speak to me. Whether it’s a sentence or a passage. It triggers something in me, and me trying to unlearn what society has taught me.

Unlearn at first and then re-learn that I don’t have to follow what society tells me. Because growing up I thought I have to go to college, get a job right away. I always thought you have to follow A-B-C, but because I got sick on the way, I had to take a break, take a step away, to see what can I do in my life. First of all, how can I stay happy, but also make a living without getting myself to this very sickest point again. Finding balance. Finding what’s my normal, not other people’s normal. Because I have to back off certain things in my live in order to do one thing just because of my energy levels, because I can’t go out every weekend like my friends would, or else I couldn’t work all week because I’d be too tired. There are things I have to sacrifice, like throughout my day, I need to pick and choose what’s important to me to go through the day, get through the day, and then wake up the next day and do that again.


So, I had to figure out, what is my goal? Do I want a lot of money? Is that really worth it for me. Because making money means working like a dog again. For me, it just wasn’t worth it. So I had to let go of my ideal of what I had in the past. I had to rethink everything of what I thought I knew.

So you start with your health and body, and then go from there?

Yes. Becacuse without my health, I can’t do anything else or help anyone else to begin with. Also just job wise, I don’t want to do something just for the money, like of course you need a living, but I want to do something more meaningful in the end. If I think 10 years from now, would I have helped inspire at least one person, instead of just living day-by-day. I want to do something a little more, and I think that changed from before when I was sick.

Even though I got better, there are still things I can’t do. And I’ve accepted that. I have physical limitations. There are people who stay at work until 10pm, and then do their own stuff afterwards. And I know physically I cant do that, or I’ll go back into the cycle of being sick.

Do you look at people and say, if only you know that you need to just work two hours less and take care of yourself?

Yes. And my friends, when they see me, they realize that. And right now there are so many autoimmune diseases, there are so many people I know personally that have it. It’s really interesting to see. I know older people that have been working their whole lives, and they get really sick and they don’t know why. They quit their jobs and stress less, and they’re better.

Can you recommend two books you think people should read to live deliberate lives?

I like reading journal, diary entries, like Sylvia Plath, Susan Sontag, Franz Kafka, Albert Camus.


Those journals I always go back to because, it’s about their struggles with writing, and they write about their struggles getting through their days. For me, I like reading journal entries that aren’t too edited. And it shows that you’re not alone. When I don’t feel like reading anything else, I go back to journal entries.

If anything I would recommend Rebecca Solnit’s, The Field Guide to Getting Lost. That’s something I feel that, everyone, no matter what they’re going through, can pick up that book when they’re feeling lost and know that being lost is OK. Because no one really knows. I talk to people older, younger, way older, and no one really figures it out. We’re just living trying to figure it out who we are. It’s really interesting to know that you don’t have to know everything now. And you might not find everything ever, either. It’s the search.

3 Reasons to Put Away All Electronic Devices While Working

Productivity Writing Tip White Desk

Lately, I’ve noticed that there is a great distinction between the illusion of work and actually doing work. The illusion of work is when you’re sitting in front of your computer, tablet or smartphone. You might check social media, respond to emails, check the news, do relevant “research” online related to your work… But you’re often not actually doing meaningful work.

This is especially the case for me, as a writer. My main goal is to write a story I really want to share. And it’s very clear at the end of the day when I’ve advanced towards my goal of completing my writing project or not. There is no gray area.

Over the summer, I realized that for some reason, these days work is now equivalent to diligently staring at a screen. And that feels really wrong to me. To be sure, we need our devices as tools: I need my lap top to type. I love connecting and sharing on social media. And we have to communicate via email. But they are simply tools. Why has being in front of a lap top now become the symbol for someone hard at work?

After my 3-week trip to Europe, I returned determine to change this pattern. Now, I spend 1-2 hours per day in front of my lap top to do the tasks that need to be done on it. This allows me to check social media and respond to emails in “batches” rather than looking at my inbox all day. Indeed, I’m always surprised when I get an instant response from someone I email. I assume people are busy working and there will be a several hour delay (if not a day or 2) before I get response.

Unsubscribe Email Anxiety Jocelyn Glei We need to establish new standards and boundaries when it comes to email.

This is especially true because “scientists have established a clear link between spending time on email and stress: The more frequently we check our email, the more frazzled we feel,” according to Jocelyn Glei, author of Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done, who shares her productivity tips in The Guardian.

Since the beginning of October, I’ve been trying to create the habit of consistently putting my lap top away for most of the day (and not checking my phone as a substitute). I’ve been doing my writing with a pen, on a notepad. That removes the “illusion of work,” and helps me to actually do my work. It removes the distraction, multitasking, and unimportant things with which we often fill our work days. And it has increased my efficiency and productivity.

I think most professions would seriously benefit from a similar strategy, and for those that absolutely do require a computer, I would recommend switching off the Internet and creating whole chunks of the workday that are focused on actual work.

And this isn’t just my opinion.

Research out of Stanford described in the widely read The New York Times article from earlier this year clearly shows that:

“By doing more you’re getting less done.”

Multitaskers–especially the kind of multitasking involved with doing many things on your devices at the same time and toggling back and forth between them–make double the errors.

That’s because they are paying less attention to what they are actually doing. I’ve found that by simply putting away my devices and working with a pen and paper, meeting with people to brainstorm, or even going for a walk in nature if I need a break (rather than surf the Internet, which feels productive somehow but actually ends up being a waste of time usually), I get a lot more done.

The New York Times article goes further, showing that doing one thing at a time, or monotasking, “can also make work itself more enjoyable. Almost any experience is improved by paying full attention to it.”

Being focused and doing one thing at a time also has long-term effects on our productivity:

The more we allow ourselves to be distracted from a particular activity, the more we feel the need to be distracted. Paying attention pays dividends.

A new book delves deeper into why our brains can’t multitask, and how multitasking makes The Distracted Mind Adam Gazzaley Larry Rosenus inefficient. The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World, by neuroscientist Dr. Adam Gazzaley and research psychologist Larry Rosen shows “how the digital age zaps productivity.

“We think the mind can juggle two or three activities successfully at once, but in truth, we simply can not.”

Dr. Gazzaley told NPR Health that:

“When a focused stream of thought is interrupted, it needs to be reset. You can’t just press a button and switch back to it. You have to re-engage those thought processes, and re-create all the elements of what you were engaged in. That takes time, and frequently one interruption leads to another.”

Based on his research, Gazzaley clears his desk, turns off his phone and focuses on one screen when he is working on a project.

I’ve taken it a stem further: no screens at all for a large chunk of the day. I’m in the midst of writing first drafts by hand. I can type it up and edit it on my lap top (with the Internet turned off) at a later stage. There’s nothing like a clear, focused mind for writing well.

Click here to read more of Dr. Gazzaley’s tips for turning off distractions and focusing on a high-level writing project, business plan, or any other work you need to focus on. (It’s in the sidebar by the article).

As Jocelyn Glei writes in The Guardian:

“Productivity is no longer about keeping up, or keeping busy, or having it all. It’s about being deliberate and being focused… It’s about getting really clear on what matters to you and letting the rest go.”