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…

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.

May 2018 savings and goals update

May just seemed like the looongest month. It went on forever!  I think it’s because there was a lot of learning and hard work involved this past month. Between my full-time job, starting my sewing course, mentoring, and figuring out this whole blogging thing, I certainly had my hands full. To think I complained about being busy before I had all these side projects going on!

The weather was also quite dreadful in May (a different type of dreadful to UK weather). It was either super hot, or a thunderstorm would appear out of nowhere. That meant a lot more time spent indoors unfortunately.

One of the nicer days in BKK this May

May highlights and goals update

Our three-month travel adventure (mini-retirement?) around Asia later this year is shaping up. We booked super cheap flights from Bangkok to Shanghai, and Shanghai to Tokyo. All for 11,750 THB (about £260 together). Both of these flights are in the middle of the night though, so our future selves may not be so happy…

I had some nice low-key meetups with friends, just cooking, hanging out in the park, and grabbing brunch. No major drunken nights out, which kept the spending nice and low. My partner and I spent a few date nights eating at our favourite places: Din Tai Fung, Pala Pizza, the pub, amongst others.

I went to see some amazing films this month too. A Fantastic Woman – a Chilean movie which is possibly my favourite movie of the year so far, and a couple of films at the Silent Film Festival. The film festival was held at one of my favourite cinemas – Lido – which sadly closed at the end of May after 50 years. The cinema had such a retro vibe: neon lights, ushers with yellow blazers and bow-ties, and old-school tickets. I’ll miss it.

Last days at Lido
One of the last evenings at Lido

I’m a bit behind on my goal to read a book a week this year, but I did manage two this month: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, and Crazy Rich Asians. The Power of Habit is less of a how-to book than an interesting exploration of how habits are formed. Crazy Rich Asians was just trashy fun – I look forward to seeing the film this summer!

What I need to work on

Work and the Saturday sewing class has meant that diet and fitness have gone a bit by the wayside. I had ice-cream and crisps for dinner at least twice. I managed a bit of relaxing yoga, but nothing more intensive. I’ve also been feeling a bit poorly since end of May, so I need to re-focus on my health. After all, there’s no point striving towards other goals if your health suffers!

I also need to work on time management. In the evenings I find myself sitting in front of my laptop doing stuff, but not really focusing on the task at hand. I know that if I could schedule my time better, I could make more time for cooking, exercising, and reading.

May 2018 numbers

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

Income: 74,926 THB / £1,665.02

My income is basically 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. Unless I find a side hustle in the meantime, my income is going to be looking pretty much the same until I leave my full-time job in September.

Expenses: 30,381 THB / £677.14

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 out2,454 THB / £54.53Regular 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 treats2,331 THB / £51.80This includes special meals on date nights or with friends, and little sweet treats I tend to indulge in most days.
Drinking435 THB / £9.67I include both alcoholic and other drinks like bubble teas and coffees in here. I clearly didn’t drink much this month!
Entertainment380 THB / £8.44This usually includes cinema tickets, and other entertainment costs
Transport: Commute1,473 THB / £32.73I use the BTS and MRT systems to get to and from work
Transport: Non-Commute580 THB / £12.89I might grab taxis or motorbikes from time to time
Utilities / phone1,352 THB / £30.04Internet, electricity, water, and phone
Toiletries / personal care313 THB / £6.96Toiletries and some make-up
Health / fitness89 THB / £1.98Have no idea what this was for
Gifts / Donations670 THB / £14.89Treating loved ones
Holiday5,630 THB / £125.11These are our flights to Shanghai in October, which came straight out of my bank account
Learning2,209 THB / £51.08Most of this is material for my sewing course. It also includes a Kindle copy of the book Doughnut Economics.
Blog1,115 THB / £24.79I bought a course on Pinterest, but haven’t really started implementing the strategy

Savings rate:

59% (January – September 2018 goal = 60%)

Doh! I just missed the goal. I was so sure May was going to be a stellar month for savings given how much I had my nose to the grindstone and was pretty much a hermit. But I guess buying the Shanghai flights sent me over. With my poor 37% savings rate from last month, I’m definitely on track to missing my overall goal of 60%. I’m not going to beat myself up about it though. I know I’m doing my best to balance saving with living a comfortable lifestyle.

Net Worth:

Up 14.8% from December 2017 (2018 Goal = 20%)

My pension and ISA continued to grow steadily, and I’m still making my monthly payments to my student loan. I’ll hopefully grow my net worth by at least 20% by September, but from then on it will decline, as I’ll no longer be earning (eek!)

How did May go for you? Have you been making progress towards your goals? Sound off in the comments below!

*Note on THB to GBP exchange rate: since living in Thailand, the exchange rate has ranged from a high of about 55 THB per GBP, to a low of about 42 THB (after Brexit). I’m not too fussed about using an accurate rate each month, as long I use the same rate for income and expenses. I’m using a rate of 45 THB/GBP.