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…

One Reply to “Are your reading habits actually counter-productive?”

  1. Yes! I definitely do this as a form of procrastination! The digital environment in which we consume content isn’t helpful either as it was designed for distraction and shallow engagements.

    For diffuse thinking, I have a daydreaming hour every day. It’s when I plug in music and go for a long walk in a park. It’s had an amazing affect on my wellbeing, although I find it a source of distraction in-itself sometimes. 😉

    I highly recommend you try http://www.digitalcooldown. It frees up so much time, keeps you focused on your goals and you have to think more carefully about what you’re consuming online.

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