I have always been an avid reader. Some of my fondest early memories are from reading series of books like Brian Jaques’ Redwall, or David Edding’s The Belgariad series. I get a lot of joy from a great fictional tale, and I credit a lot of my communication capability to the amount of reading I did in my formative years.
Having almost all of my formative years spent reading purely for pleasure, reading to grow and challenge myself is something, not without irony, that I’ve had to grow in and challenge myself with.
I’ve found there are a couple of things that have challenged me most with reading challenging texts for growth:
1) It can be hard to motivate yourself to read texts that do challenge you and require time and effort to digest and understand
2) Sometimes you need to know when you’re not getting what you want out of a given book, and you need to cut ties with it early and move on
Historically I’ve been terrible with the second problem, with many forms of media - if I’ve started something, I have some sort of irrational need to finish it, regardless of my experience with it.
The second problem also exacerbates the first. You’re half way through a challenging book, and you feel you aren’t getting the value out of it you’d like. It isn’t enjoyable, it is arduous and demotivating. But you’ve gotten this far - you’ve got to finish it, surely the value you’ve been looking for is just around the corner, right?
I’ve found books that I’ve truly gained a lot of value from such as Gerald Weinberg’s excellent Secrets of Consulting, engage me from the start, or very early on. If a book doesn’t engage me, even if the content is exceptional, I’ll struggle to get value from it, and I certainly will not retain much of it after I’ve put it down, as I won’t continue to mull over and embed the topics that were presented.
Engagement is more important than content for me, as that is what will allow me to absorb and embed the knowledge imparted by the book. A book is more likely to engage me when it aligns with my current drives and interests - when its advice is practical and I can reason about how it would apply to initiatives I am currently pursuing.
Wrestling with texts that you are struggling to consume ends up blocking your reading queue for far too long, leading to large opportunity costs being incurred. To solve the above problems, I’ve come up with a solution which I’m going to call Lean Reading.
The idea is simple. I’ll choose a book from my queue, and work through it, and Timebox my investment - each book gets one month. Most books should easily be able to be tackled within this timeframe. If I haven’t managed to, it is a good sign the book hasn’t engaged me enough, and I’m likely not getting a lot more value from pursuing it further.
If I abandon a book, I can pick it back up in a subsequent month if I choose to, but not the one immediately proceding the month it was abandoned in.
By ensuring I have a hard limit on the time I spend with any one book, I:
- Maximise my throughput within the finite time I have for reading
- Limit my opportunity cost from delaying my reading queue
- Reduce waste, and create flow.
And most importantly, I’ll likely get a lot of joy out of reading to grow and challenge myself!