How to Start Reading Less and Doing More

08 Mar 2013

Let's start with something familiar: it's a middle of your usual working day. You just had a good lunch and maybe don't feel like getting back to work straight away. You don't feel like lolcats either, maybe because there's this nagging whisper that you really should go through the pile of stuff that you call your RSS reader, or maybe because you generally hate Facebook and live and breathe Google Reader [Twitter, App.Net, you-name-it] because that's what all cool tech people do.

So you alt tab to a browser and start checking recent tech articles. Soon enough your tab bar is stuffed like a turkey, but hey, you really feel like you've achieved something today - at least half of the new items in your RSS reader have now been marked as "read"! Feels good!

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Then you start going through the tabs, skimming the articles, closing the bad ones, leaving the OK ones, and maybe even reading the good ones. But the feeling that you should really be getting back to work grows, so you quickly add the remaining good articles to your Instapaper/Readability/Pocket and go back to the text editor just that moment when a PM walks past your desk.

If any of that sounds familiar, you are quite likely caught in the endless loop of information consumption. New, exciting information keeps coming in every day. You do your best to stay on top of it, never really managing to catch up. Try to remember what you've read last week and likely you won't be able to recall much.

News is like refined sugar: the same way a sugary drink rises your blood glucose levels, leading to an inevitable release of insuline and a mood crash, news give you that nice kick that ends quickly, leaving you burned out with a dizzy head.

- Damn, what was that stuff I just read? Never mind, there's new stuff coming in, better make sure I stay on top of that!

But there's a way you can get rid of this feeling of emptiness that should always be filled with something. Try this for just one week: take notes on every article you read, every video you watch, every podcast you listen to. Write them down, type them in - doesn't matter. Don't consume a single piece of stuff without taking notes. Just for one week.

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You'll quickly realise that lots of stuff doesn't deserve a single line of text to be written about it. It's just not worth the effort. It's a filler. Something to put ads around or insert affiliate links into. It may sound sensationalist, groundbreaking whatever, but it's empty calories.

And there will be some good stuff too. You'll look at the notes and go like "Damn, I should actually implement this. Learn about this further. Try this trick." It's the actionable stuff. That's what you should be looking for - something that you can convert into actions.

It's so easy to get an instant feel-good kick by mindlessly consuming shit. It's much harder to get real gratification from doing something. But the last one is the wholesome stuff. Full of fiber and nutrients, so to speak.

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