Are your reading habits actually counter-productive?

One of the reasons I decided to start blogging was to stop being a mindless consumer. I’m not talking about consumption of material goods – I managed to conquer that addiction earlier on. I’m talking about addiction to content.

In this age where most of us carry a mini computer in our hands, we’re constantly consuming content. Some of it adds no value to our lives at all; whether it’s catching up on celebrity gossip, or looking at dog videos on Instagram.

But what about addiction to information that helps us grow and improve our own lives? It could be reading financial independence blogs, the latest book on exploding your productivity, or a podcast on how to start a side hustle.

This type of information is incredibly valuable – if – you decide to take action to implement the advice given. But if you’re anything like me, consuming this type of content might in fact be your favourite way of procrastinating on actually doing something.

Consuming content as a false form of productivity

If I had implemented all the advice I have read over the years about entrepreneurship, investing, and productivity, I would probably be at the head of my own successful social enterprise, have multiple revenue streams, and be writing this from the beach.

As Derek Sivers said, and Tim Ferriss likes to repeat, “if [more] information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.”

I use books, blogs and podcasts as a crutch. They make me feel productive without having to actually be productive at all.

For example, I feel I’m moving towards my goal of starting a side hustle if I’m reading a blog post on the topic instead of watching TV. But instead of taking action on what I just read, I typically just repeat the process. I read more and more blog posts about side hustles without actually taking the time to think about what type of side hustle I could start.

It’s easier to lie on the couch reading, or listen to podcasts about I want to do, instead of picking up a notebook and pen and actually start doing it. It’s pure mental laziness.

I’m not saying that reading informative blog posts and books have been a waste of time. Financial independence blogs have been transformative in how I think about money and manage money. But only so far. I went for low hanging fruit: I ramped up my savings because that was mentally easier than moving out of my comfort zone and think about earning more money.

Over the years I’ve probably read and listened to hundreds of blog posts, books, and podcast episodes about starting a side hustle. And do I have a side hustle? As you can guess, nope. Because I haven’t taken action on what I have read. 

Changing habits – going from consumer to creator

I used to happily spend my evenings devouring whole blogs, or jumping from one blog to another thanks to Rockstar Finance curation. But it didn’t occur to me to actually engage and leave comments.

Why? Because it was easier to go read another blog post instead of trying to process what I had read and leave a well thought out comment.

By starting this blog a few months ago, I aimed to turn that around – to actually be an active member of the blogging community, and engage with bloggers whose writing I’ve been reading for years. To create valuable content, instead of just consuming content.

It was easy right at the beginning; I was eager to write about my journey and put up posts twice a week. But just after just two or three weeks, I realized that even with this relatively modest schedule, I would have to put in a lot of work.

I was soon falling back into my old lazy habits: reading blog posts, but not commenting; mindlessly scrolling through Twitter and Pinterest with no actual purpose; and binge listening to podcasts. Considering I’m a new blogger, I shouldn’t be slacking this much already, right?!

But I came to realize that my habit of consuming without creating is so deeply engrained that I will have to make a bigger effort to break through the mental laziness.

Heading back to the couch and scrolling through Twitter on my phone seems much more appealing than spending hours trying to order my random thoughts and ideas into a logical flow for a decent blog post.

However, if I really want to become a member of the blogging community, I need to create value, and I need to interact meaningfully.

If I want to start a hustle instead of just ‘looking into it’, I need to start planning.

In other words, break the cycle of mindless consumption, and just do something!

8 tactics to optimise your learning

From all of the content I’ve read over the years about productivity and personal development, I know that content addicts like me need to follow some basic house rules. Here are 8 things we should keep in mind when consuming content:

1. Be selective with what you consume

More is not necessarily better. It’s easy to spend a whole day reading a series of blog posts about one topic, when one well-written blog post will do. Speed reading 10 books on productivity might take a month, but reading one slowly and intentionally over two weeks and implementing the tactics will be much more effective. The point is to learn the basic principles of a topic, close the book or laptop, take out a pen and paper, and start brainstorming about how you can apply what you’ve read to your own life.

2. Focus on content that is relevant to your goals right now

If being frugal is second nature to you, but you need to learn how to maximise your income, there’s no point reading lots of blog posts about saving or frugality. Of course it’s good to remind or motivate yourself to be frugal, but if you want to develop a develop a mindset that is conducive to making more money, then focus on content that will help you do that.

For example, since I am leaving my job in three months and need to find an alternative income stream, I should currently focusing my reading on side hustles because that’s where my limited time and attention need to go.

3. Take copious notes during and after reading

It’s easy to quickly read through a useful book and forget what you’ve read a week later. For example, I‘ve read Essentialism by Greg McKeown about three times in the last four years, but I can’t really remember what’s in the book, because I neglected to take notes. All I know is that it was useful for helping me focus, and that I should probably read it again. But this is just time wasted – I have spent hours reading this book in the past, and I will spend even more reading it again!! While I believe re-reading is great for re-enforcing certain principles, it would be more efficient to just refer to well-written notes.

4. Read as if you need to teach someone else. 

This has to be my favourite learning hack from Darius Foroux. He suggests that we should always try to learn things with the goal of teaching it to someone else. By getting into that teacher mindset when consuming content, you’re more likely to understand the main ideas and concepts. It will probably help you recall the content much more clearly as well.

5. Turn off distractions

Don’t go from reading a book to responding to a Facebook message and back again. Each disruption hinders our cognitive ability to focus on and process information. Give yourself dedicated time and space to learn.

6. Let your mind rest

There are two modes of thinking according to Barbara Oakley: focused and diffuse. Focused thinking is quite self-explanatory. But diffuse thinking is when you’re not thinking about anything in particular at all. You could be taking a shower, walking the dog, or washing the dishes. Even though you’re not concentrating on any particular topic, your mind is still working in the background, helping to make connections, deepen understanding of concepts, and solve problems.

I find I need to be quite deliberate about creating space for diffuse thinking. I usually try to be ‘efficient’ with my time by listening to podcasts on my commute, or while I cook. But jamming more content into my brain is just counter productive – I should minimise the content and just give my brain time to wander and work its magic in the background.

7. Engage

If you’ve just read a great blog article, take some time to write a comment below the post, or share it online with a comment. Not only does that mean you’re not automatically going on to reading the next blog post, it also means you have to use some brain power to formulate a few sentences about what you thought about the article.

8. Follow time spent consuming with time spent doing

If you’ve chosen to read something because you think that the information will be useful to you, then take some action on it, no matter how small. For example, if you’ve just read a good blog article on saving money while grocery shopping, then do something about it! Make a meal plan, check what’s already in your kitchen, or start cooking. Many personal development books come with exercises that help you engage with the content – take time to actually complete these exercises instead of rushing to the next chapter.

These are the key take-aways I’ve learned from all my years of reading. It’s now time to actually take action on it!!

Are you like me and use reading about productivity as a way to procrastinate? Sound off below in the comments below…

Looking back at life via the World Cup

As you get older, and spend more time working in an office day in, day out, it’s harder to remember what you did each summer. When I was in my early twenties, I could probably tell you what I did every summer holiday since I was 12.

Nowadays, I don’t even recall what I did last summer without some deep probing of my memories. ‘Summer’ is no longer six or more glorious weeks away from school or university. In fact, living in Thailand, ‘summer’ doesn’t really register with me all, because of the year-long hot climate.

But there’s something about the World Cup that makes a summer memorable. It’s only every four years, and there’s an atmosphere of excitement and emotional investment in a team. It’s time spent with others over beers, and sharing (often in the case of England) commiserations.

With the World Cup going on right now, it’s prompted me to remember what I was doing during the last tournament, and tournaments before that. The memory of each World Cup summer allows me a little snapshot of my life at a particular moment.

Four years between World Cups is a long time, and it’s been interesting to reflect on how much has changed over time. Here’s are the snapshots of my life over the last five World Cup tournaments, spanning 16 years.

World Cup 2002

I’m done with my first year of university and living independently! I’ve somehow blown through the first installment of my student loan (it must have been all the drinking and new clothes). No worries though, I’m putting in a lot of hours working as a catering waitress in London for £6 an hour.

There are many fancy weddings to work this summer, and some of them happen to have celebrity guests. I also get to get work at state banquets and private parties. There’s plenty of money flying around (just not amongst us wait staff). I head back late at night to my cheap house share in Peckham and watch the World Cup highlights with my housemates. We buy cheap booze and cook up cheap meals. We’re all broke but happy.

World Cup 2006

I’m in Dhaka, Bangladesh doing an internship with an NGO. I graduated from university the year before, and I’m dipping my toes in the world of international development. I’m fascinated by the inner workings of the organisation, and the politics of the country, so I do my best to learn everything I can while I’m there.

My weekends are spent volunteering with street children, and my evenings are spent with privileged expats and local elites. I don’t need to worry about money at all; my host family lend me their driver and car, my dinners are paid for. I’m hugely conflicted about my comfortable life of privilege even though I probably only have £500 in my bank account in total.

My partner is working for the World Cup organizers in Germany and offered me a ticket to go see the final! But I can’t go. Instead I invite friends to watch the Cup Final in the home theatre of the mansion I’m staying in.

World Cup 2010

It’s a glorious London summer. The sun is out, and the nights are long. My partner and I have just moved into our adorable, but expensive flat in Islington and enjoying the afternoons and evenings drinking overpriced pints in our local pubs.

I’m also in the middle of finishing my Masters thesis, while working a four-day week for a non-profit that makes me want to bash my head in. I’ve been working there for 2 years and hating it from day one, but I force myself to stay there for the stable income. A possible move to Singapore is on the cards, but this isn’t final yet.

Money worries are on the periphery of my mind, but I push them further out. After all, it’s the summer, it’s the World Cup, and I need to try out all the fancy restaurants and pubs in my area, right?

World Cup 2014

I’m enjoying a mini retirement in northern Thailand. I quit my high-stress and low paid (but highly rewarding job) earlier in May. I have no idea what/where my next job will be, and I don’t care. Money doesn’t worry me very much because I started taking saving and investing seriously the year before. Instead, I’m taking the time to do things I’ve wanted to do for a while, but couldn’t due to being tied to full-time work. So I go on a ten-day silent meditation retreat, take a course on sustainable living at an organic farm, and go to a music festival in Borneo.

Meanwhile, Thailand has just undergone a military coup and declared martial law. I wonder how a 10pm national curfew is going to work when the World Cup matches are on late. Thankfully the self-appointed National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) relax the curfew just in time. I watch the Germany-Argentina final on an outdoor screen through a curtain of rain (it’s rainy season).

World Cup 2018

I’m living in Bangkok, my home for the last three and a half years. I found my perfect job, but I realize it’s time to leave it behind. So I’m in transition, getting ready for a three-month travel adventure around Asia, before finally making the big move back to Europe. I’ve been steadily building up my savings over the last few years to give myself the time to figure out the next step in life. But I’m also slightly stressed about not having income coming in after September.

I’m not particularly fussed about watching the World Cup this year due to the time difference, plus I might have developed a gluten intolerance which means I can’t drink beer! (But England making it to the quarter-finals has got me excited).

World Cup 2022??

It’s hard for me to project four years ahead. I have never been great at life-planning – I tend to let life happen to me. During each of the World Cup summers just described, I could never have imagined where I would be four years later. Back in 2002, I certainly wouldn’t have imagined I would be writing this post in Bangkok 16 years later. Perhaps the lack of life-planning has enabled me to make such crazy career and location moves.

But money has also become more important to me over these years; especially as I’ve realised that financial independence can help me continue living a life untethered from traditional work. I also know that as I get older, it will be harder to follow my passions without that financial security.

So while I don’t know where I will be, or what I will be doing in 2022, I do know how I want to feel in four years time. I want to feel more financially secure and independent, closer to family, passionate about whatever I’m doing, and perhaps settled somewhere longer-term. It’s now up to me to try break down these vague feelings into actual SMART goals and taking action…

Over to you! What were you up to in the last World Cup? Where do you want to be in 2022?


June 2018 Update – reluctantly going gluten free…

Can you believe we’re halfway through 2018?! Knowing that we’re entering into the second half of the year has me both excited and nervous. Excited that I’ll be soon leaving work and embarking on a three-month tour of Asia, but also nervous that I won’t be generating any income for the foreseeable future.

I’ll be eating into my net worth and savings, so I need to start mentally preparing myself now to see my net worth go down, after five years of tracking and working hard for it to go up each month.

A perfect evening of cocktails and sunset in June

An Enforced Health Break

I’ve been feeling quite poorly since the end of May, dealing with what’s likely a flare-up of a chronic condition. I’ve had to make some lifestyle changes to see if that has any effect on my symptoms.

The main change has been related to diet. I’ve been making an effort to cut out gluten, dairy, and coffee to see if it makes any difference. As a lover of cheese, cake and chocolate, this has been a major challenge, especially as my partner just came back with a suitcase full of the stuff from Germany!!

It also turns out that wheat/gluten is present in a whole lot of things I wasn’t aware of, so I’ve also accidentally ingested it several times over the month. No wheat also means no beer, so I haven’t been down the pub watching the football as I usually would during the World Cup.

Cutting down on gluten and dairy seems to be working to some extent, but I’m hoping I only need abstain this temporarily until I feel in tip top shape again. In addition to these dietary restrictions, I’ve also made an effort to do more exercise, and I’ve started taking time to meditate before bed.

Since I’ve been prioritizing my health in June, not as much energy and focus has gone into my work, blogging or progress on other goals, but I’ve tried to keep things ticking along.

June Highlights

June was a fairly low-key month for me. My partner was away in Europe for half of it, and I spent a lot of time at home. That said, there were still some nice relaxing days and evenings out with friends.

We spent a lovely Sunday afternoon in the old part of Bangkok, going to Museum Siam to see an exhibition on gender and sexual identity. The exhibition gave visitors a quick overview of the rights of LGBTQi people in Thailand (summary: there’s a long way to go), and the activist groups pushing for change. The best part of the exhibition was the collection of personal objects that gives some insight into the lives of Thais who have struggled to assert their true identities. The exhibition is on til end of September, so I’d highly recommend it to those in town.

Gender Illumination exhibition at Museum Siam

On my birthday we went to a vegan restaurant to celebrate. Since the weather has cooled down a little, I also exercised in the park a bit more, often with friends. I think working out with friends is my favourite frugal hack: you get fit, catch up friends, and it doesn’t cost a penny! At this point, I’d way rather spend my time with friends doing this instead of binge-drinking in the pub.

I also went to a three-day work conference near my home. It was a good opportunity to reflect on the sector I’m working in, and figure out if I want to continue working in it or not. The conference was held in the Marriott, and it took quite a feat of self-discipline to not eat all of the cakes and cookies on offer throughout the day.

My sewing course also wrapped up this month. I’m not sure I’ll be whipping up beautiful dresses any time soon (let alone something vaguely wearable), but I look forward to getting my hands on a sewing machine when back in the UK, and trying things out. It does make me want to continue making stuff with my hands, but arts and crafts courses tend to cost quite a lot of money in BKK. Now that I have my full weekends back, I will try to channel that time, energy and concentration into exploring Bangkok, and looking into side hustles.

I made a pair of trousers!

June 2018 numbers

Reported in Thai Baht (THB) and UK Pounds (£)*

Income: 74,926 THB / £1,665.02

My income is my monthly salary from my full-time job (after taxes and a 3% contribution to a provident fund), plus some modest allowances for housing and phone/internet costs.

Expenses: 25,769 THB / £572.63

CategoryCost (THB / £)Explanation
Rent11,000 THB / £244This is my half of a fairly small one-bedroom condo unit in a central location.
Groceries and regular meals out3,654 THB / £81.20Regular meals out are cheap meals I eat in canteens, food courts, or street food stalls. These tend to cost between 30-50 THB (67p – £1.10), and make up most of my usual meals in addition to what I cook at home.
Eating out and treats1,545 THB / £34.33This includes special meals on date nights or with friends, and little sweet treats
Drinking195 THB / £4.33I include both alcoholic and other drinks like bubble teas and coffees in here. I couldn't really drink much this month.
Entertainment270 THB / £6.00This usually includes cinema tickets, and other entertainment costs
Transport: Commute948 THB / £21.07I use the BTS and MRT systems to get to and from work
Transport: Non-Commute879 THB / £19.53I might grab taxis or motorbikes from time to time
Utilities / phone174 THB / £3.87Internet, electricity, water, and phone
Toiletries / personal care234 THB / £5.20Toiletries and some make-up
Health / fitness5838 THB / £129.73Medical consultations, tests, and medication
Gifts / Donations0Guess I wasn't feeling generous this month!
Holiday0No travel plans made this month
Learning432 THB / £.59Kindle books

Savings rate:

66% (January – September 2018 goal = 60%)

June was a cheaper month for basic costs than usual because I couldn’t indulge much in beer, coffee, or pastries. But two trips to the doctors upped my expenses. My insurance covers 2,000 THB per outpatient visit, but with the consultation and tests, it came to over 4,500 THB each time I went. I could have gone to a cheaper hospital, but I needed a specialist.

I’m averaging a 56% savings rate from January to June, so I’m close to my overall target. But I know there’ll be some big costs coming up in the next couple of months, including flights for later in the year.

My hospital is quite fancy

Net Worth:

Up 17.7% from December 2017 (2018 Goal = 20%)

Barring any major disasters in the markets, I should hit my goal by September before my net worth starts to decline again.

July plans

Even though I feel like I’ve got my current life on frugal autopilot, I realize I haven’t been actively trying to save as money as I can. I only have two whole paychecks left before I leave my job, and I keep going back and forth about whether to save the most of it as possible, or to use it to make the most of Bangkok in my remaining time here.

But I’ve also just come to the realisation that making the most of Bangkok doesn’t necessarily mean spending a fortune. For me, it means exploring new neighbourhoods, rather than checking out the latest trendy restaurant. I’ve just signed up for the Uber Frugal Month with Mrs Frugalwoods (for the second time), so I look forward to embracing the challenge of making the most of Bangkok in July on the smallest amount of money.

I also need to start thinking about making the big move. Deciding what needs to be donated, what should be sold, and what’s coming back with us. Thankfully work covers my relocation costs, so I’ll have to start talking to them about booking my flight back to the UK in December and looking into freight charges.

Ok that wraps up the monthly update! How was your June?

*I’m not too fussed about using an accurate exchange rate each month, as long I use the same rate for income and expenses. I’m using a rate of 45 THB/GBP.