Read Better

I love reading. Books, blogs, articles, you name it. But I can’t read everything. It’s just too much. There’s so much information out there and it seems like the “factory” that produces all this great content is just getting bigger and faster.

Even if your full time job was to just read, you couldn’t begin to grasp the surface of what’s being produced at any given time. And that is a problem. Because you don’t want to waste time and you just have a (very) limited amount of time that you can devote to read the articles of the day.

That’s why curated newsletters, aggregators or news apps exist. Because you outsource the hard work of looking for great content and rely on this third party to deliver the best stories based on its criteria (that might or might not align with yours).

But I’ll argue that even though these platforms perform a great job, it’s still too much. You are presented with a huge amount of articles, new sites or products that vie for your attention and end up overwhelming you.

For example, I love Medium posts. I just think this platform has found a sweet balance between delivering great content and presenting it in way that really appeals to the reader. I could spent the entire day reading their posts and never get enough. In order to get control over this I signed up to receive just one email per day with the best stories. I trust they are smart enough to tailor this email based on my previous readings, my network and everything they might know about me (by the way I think they do a pretty decent job with that). They religiously deliver everyday at 07:00am. A fantastic digest that I can’t get enough of it, but it might require like 2 hours to complete if I wanted to read it top to bottom. And that’s just Medium.

  Medium has found a sweet spot between delivering great content and presenting it in way that really appeals to the reader.

Medium has found a sweet spot between delivering great content and presenting it in way that really appeals to the reader.

Now add your news aggregator, your favorite blogs and magazines, Twitter feed, Hacker News… You started at 07:00am with Medium, now it’s lunch time and you haven’t started to work yet.

To me this reading routine is absolutely broken, but on top of that there’s a subtle detail that worries me the most: the quality of the reading. When I’m presented with 15 articles to read and I have like 30 minutes to spare, I can’t enjoy the experience. The whole process of reading looks a lot like getting your inbox to 0, a race to the bottom in order to get “the reading” done. Reading is supposed to be a great experience, not another to do list, and I feel like reading has evolved from that little moment of peace to a constant anxiety to keep up with the latest story.

So, I’m writing this post in order to end this reading slavery and enjoy again an activity that was meant to be pleasant. From now on, I will embrace this set of rules that will provide the ultimate reading experience.

1. Limit your sources: That’s the first and arguably the most important step. Getting your sources of information under control provides a great constrain over the amount of content you are presented with. By sources I mean who is delivering you the information. There are different kind of sources and it’s important to choose them wisely. For example, if you like the Fast Company, that’s fine, although it generates a lot of content everyday, it is digestible. On the other hand, Feedly can be considered a source, too. But the latter is way more dangerous, because it can hide an infinite amount of sources under the hood. In those cases it’s up to you to handle them with caution. Ah! And don’t think sources as a reading-only experiences. Content might be delivered in other mediums, too. I use podcasts all the time because they work great for the regular commuter.

2. Click and read: Don’t go to the source and load the browser with dozens of tabs waiting to be read. That only magnifies that sense of “inbox zero” and you will end up reading for the sake of killing those tabs instead of having a great time. I found that the best tool to manage this rule is a mobile device. It’s full screen by default way to engage with content provides a better way to focus on what you’re reading now. Moreover, the click and read strategy will also help you become more thorough when it comes to choose what’s next to read.

Having a lot of opened tabs magnifies that sense of “inbox zero” and you will end up reading for the sake of killing those tabs instead of having a great time.

3. Less content, more quality: This one is tricky, because when you start reading something you can’t predict for sure the quality of it. You can get a pretty good guess based on who recommends it or who is the source, but never 100%. Because of that, the rule #3 is closely related with #1. If you pick wisely your sources your chances of getting better content improve significantly. But once your are confident with the quality you have to limit the quantity. Read less, but enjoy more. That one might scare a lot of people because it implies the sense of missing out. I have been there. But the experience has told me that if you get #1 right, you’re not missing anything at all. If something is relevant to you, it will inevitably come to your door.

4. Write it down, take notes: That’s the one I’m still refining, but I’m starting to realize the importance of it. I’m forcing myself to write down a few sentences about what I just read. Not a post, just 3 or 4 lines with a summary or thoughts I developed during the reading. Doing it forces you to think deeply and focus on what you just read. That makes a great difference, because each article becomes a purpose by itself instead of being the chunk of text you had to read to get to the next one in the list.

It’s not an easy task, because sometimes the appetite for more and get things done betrays you, but I’m getting better at it. I’m even considering to share regularly all this small thoughts under the Notes sections of my page in order to force myself to do it and also keep some track of the best things I read.