Productivity and the need to speedread

Amongst the many things which the internet has brought me are productivity blogs.

I’m sure I have written those lines before but I can’t find them. Possibly I meant youtube videos but I still can’t find the post I thought I wrote about them either. So I’m guessing I deleted it from the drafts at some point and said “meh, I never did finish that post and now it’s like six months old; what’s the point

Clearly I hadn’t Dealt With My Issues there.

One of the saddest things I saw on multiple productivity blogs – and I mean multiple – like lots of – many tens of – many minutes of my life I won’t get back – was how to read efficiently.

How to read books really fast. How to get the gist of a book efficiently.

I remember thinking then; you know, they’ve lost sight of what reading is all about. It’s not something you do efficiently (and anyway if you try to, you’ll just forget the content). There’s no glory in being able to read 100 books a week, particularly all the ones by famous entrepreneurs, about entrepreneurs, about how to be get rich, be rich, be productive, etc etc etc. I got the feeling these people would have some difficulty with Pride and Prejudice.

When I say I saw many sites pushing the how to read books really quickly, I mean, I saw lots. It saddened me. There were a couple of problems with this approach, I felt.

  • you’re not going to remember much
  • you’re not going to be a better or worse person for it
  • you sound like you’re trying to impress someone.

I’m not sure how you can impress someone by speedreading a load of books. This, however, is a side issue. My personal view is that you’re better off reading fewer books, and choosing judiciously, than you are reading a load of books. I’m not against reading loads of books. I’m against the idea that you can efficiently do it as fast as you can and actually get any benefit from it other than misplaced bragging rights.

(yes, I’ll come to the Alex Stubb stuff in a bit).

The issue as I see it is that we’ve produced a narrative that Every Minute Has to Count As Productive. If you’re starting from that point of view, the more pages you read in an hour, the more productive your reading is. After all, no one is testing you on the contents of a Steve Jobs biography; what matters is that you can claim to have read it and not look completely out of it when your peer group is swapping notes on getting up at 4am.

I have issues with that narrative.  Mostly because I think it matters what and why you read, and not how much. For this reason, I think the world would be better off if more people read Pride and Prejudice and not, for example, Steve Jobs autobiography.  But that’s by way of an aside. There’s an additional problem and it’s this: sometimes there’s a focus on what people should be reading. This leads to lists of Books That Famous Rich People Think You Should Read or more to the point books that a journalist would like you to think that Bill Gates thinks you should read. Amongst others.

One of the things I liked about Alex Stubb’s reading program (and he has it on his own site here by the way) is that he made no comment about what books he was going to read, or appears to even have suggested that he’d do so over the course of the year while he’s doing this. I think this matters. Books are a journey, and reading is exploration. I think we need to recognise that. I recognise reading lists are good door openers but they should be guidance rather than instruction. The downside is that Alex is also talking about how many books he will get throughas well  and I sometimes wonder how good that is as a goal.

One of the very best books I have read is SIlk Roads by Peter Frankopan which is a tour de force of history. I strongly recommend it. I also admit it took me about 18 months to finish it because sometimes I read it, and sometimes I went on holidays from it. It doesn’t make it any less a book and since the last couple of books I read, I polished off in 3 or 4 hours, nor is it because I read at a particularly glacial speed.

The point I’m trying to make is your reading will not be any better if you are trying to fly through it just to move on to the next one. Plus, the speed at which I fly through books varies. Some things are binge read, like a back of Pringles, other things are savoured, like a box of Fazer chocolate (try getting that in Ireland). There is no productivity solution to reading other than to sit down and switch off twitter.

In the meantime, I’m putting a page on this site to cover the books I am reading, or, rereading since the start of September. I have to be honest and say the whole hour every day hasn’t been working out for the last 2 weeks despite the fact that there’s time set aside on my alarms to remind me to switch of and travel elsewhere in my mind so there is not a huge amount to report as of yet.

 

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