I have noticed in myself a tendency for the last several months to read a book with the goal of getting it done.
Of course everyone that starts a book intends to finish it, so it should not be that much of a surprise that I read with this intention. However, what I have been noticing is not my commitment to finish, but rather my impatience to get there.
To wit, whenever I am reading a book I am constantly monitoring page numbers, pages read, and how many pages left to finish. I even sit calculating after each session how many pages I would need to read each day to finish the book by a certain date.
And, the problem is that it’s a big distraction. I struggle to concentrate on what I am reading and hence have been missing what it is that author is trying to say. I am not enjoying my reading as much as I used to, never getting lost in a book, hardly drawn in by its beauty or the force of its argument.
And, it’s not just a fixation on page count that’s got me. I sit down and immediately feel anxiety about time. It’s like I have somewhere to be and I feel rushed. I read for a few minutes and then feel like I need to quit and move on to something else. What else, I don’t know, but the impulse to move on is strong.
I was never this way before. I have always loved reading and never approached a book as if it were something to get over with as quickly as possible.
I’m wondering if I’ve created this problem for myself. Here’s why.
- Each year for the last two or three I have been setting reading goals for myself. E.g., “Read 12 books this year.” I did this because I had a spell a few years back where I hardly read anything and I wanted to get myself back into reading. It’s possible that what started out as a good motivator has now become a sword hanging over my head, driving me to meet quota.
- I have allowed my workday to become a series of actions and reactions, starting first thing and carrying through to dinner. During this time I am flitting from email to phone calls to social media to text messages to digital distractions to drinks to administrative tasks to snacks to housekeeping, and so on. There is no structure to my day and certainly when I do have some free time to do as I see fit I often fritter it away on YouTube. That’s not to say I am not getting my work done. I do a great deal of work throughout my day. But, the nature of how I work has become so unstructured and so fractured that I think I have become either addicted to the constant movement or less capable of focus and deep work. So, when I sit down to read, a lonely and focused activity, my mind and body revolt.
- In addition to the way in which I have been working, the scope of my work is a problem. If I strip out the nonsense and list the work that’s important I have client projects, producing The Currency, producing YouTube videos, writing emails for my list, writing Broadside, writing articles for my website. Of course, I would need to include the work of finding new clients and the effort that goes into further developing and promoting Broadside. It’s a lot and I never feel like I am doing any one of these very well. So, when I sit down to read I have all these other things in the back of my mind demanding I give them attention instead. I never feel like I can just sit and read for an hour and if I do I feel more than a little guilty, like I am being irresponsible.
Combine all three and it’s clear to me why I can’t seem to just sit and read without feeling like I am in a rush to get it over with.
Regardless, I need to read. It’s probably the most fundamental aspect of all the work I do and all the work I want to do. Reading feeds my mind, provides the building blocks for my creative endeavors, and fuels my thinking and, ultimately, my insights and synthesis.
Here’s what I should probably do to fix the problem.
- Stop setting goals. I don’t need them anymore, anyway. I read plenty. And, since I typically read every morning while drinking my coffee, there’s no fear that I won’t get enough books in. Maybe just dive in and see where the year takes me. It might be a pleasant surprise. And, lifting the quota will reframe reading away from a goal to reach and back into an activity I love.
- I have got to get a handle on how I engage my day. There are some easy wins I could go for. Cut the social media distractions, work in blocks of time, schedule deep work sessions, maybe eliminate client work that tends to be more chaotic or transactional and replace it with more strategic work. Essentially, if I impose more structure on my day and cut out the fat, I can easily shift my mind into a more thought-oriented mode, which would make it easier to focus come time to read.
- This one is hard. I think I need to make some tough choices here. I’m spread across too many different kinds of work and probably need to narrow down my projects. But, what should I cut? For example, should I cut out making YouTube videos? That would free up time and head space, but I would be giving up something valuable and important. I need to think about this one more before I can know what, if anything, I should do here.
I do think that by simply eliminating my book-count quota and by imposing some structure on my work day, I’ll be able to reset my approach to reading and escape this counter-productive mindset. I’ll try to do a follow up in a few weeks to share results.