Convenience, however, often comes at the expense of understanding. The less time you spend examining things, the less you know about them. When it comes to understanding how you spend your life, it’s important to slow down and take the time. - The Bullet Journal Method
In 2018 I launched a new podcast called Should I Read It. My thinking was that I was doing book reviews regularly anyway. I had a large backlog of books that I had reviewed. Why wouldn’t I use the content a second time as a podcast?
It was a quick jump from there to looking at the over 70 books I had reviewed and realizing that I average more than a book a week and thinking that I could do a twice weekly podcast on books. I dove into this with relish, because I love reading.
I started to look for ways to optimize what I was doing. How could I make my notes faster? How could I link topics together better? Could I maybe do three books a week?
Unfortunately my quest for optimization cost me something.
For years I had been taking notes in a paper notebook. I had even said many times that if the quote wasn’t worth the effort writing it down on paper, then it wasn’t a worthwhile quote. The constraint of handwriting forced me to be picky.
The constraint of taking the notes from a book and then typing them out in full so that I could write a review meant after a few weeks of space, I got my head back around the ideas of the book. My typing would mean I added more notes and thoughts with each entry I moved across from paper to digital. Notes for some books would end up over 6,000 words.
In my quest to optimize, I started reading on my iPad Pro using split view with Scrivener to take my notes and the Kindle app to read. My thought was that if I wanted to keep up the break neck speed of book reviews I needed to get my notes into a form I could use for a written review faster. What actually happened was I focused on the note taking instead of the reading.
Where I used to read books and work on synthesizing their information for later writing and thoughts of my own, by moving to a digital medium I was making simply typing notes the point of my reading. I found that I’d finish a reading session and look at my notes, but have no idea what the book was really trying to teach me in a chapter. I was loosing the thread of the book.
At first, I figured that It was simply an artefact of using a notebook for my book notes for so long. That I’d adapt to the new format soon enough and be off to the races. That’s not what happened though. What happened was that I went to write about a book and had no clue what it was about in any fashion.
Where a “regular” book review took me 60 - 90 minutes to write, a review with the new note format took me 2 - 3 hours to write. Much of this time was spent flipping back through the book filling in holes in my own understanding. Even worse, it took five written book reviews for me to realize what was happening by that time I had ten books in the bank of digital notes. Instead of saving myself time, I had added at least 10 hours to a job.
You can see this gap in my podcast production, with at least two long intervals between episodes. I see the results of this in the “audience” numbers that I get in my Transistor account. According to them, I halved my listeners by trying to speed up.
Probably the biggest cost is not in some external metric of popularity like podcast listeners. The biggest cost is to myself. Despite spending extra hours flipping back through books, I don’t feel like I understand them. Despite still hitting my goal of reading 52 books this year, by changing my reading routine from sitting in my comfy chair first thing in the morning to reading on my iPad at my desk I broke the reading habit.
In Atomic Habits, James Clear, recommends that we record the habits we want to build. He brings up habit trackers like a Seinfeld Calendar. Recently Matt Raglan talked about how he tracks his habits on paper.
I’ve never been much of a habit tracker, but trying to dive back into reading has been a hard thing. I keep looking up from my desk to realize that it’s 8am and I went directly to work on a device without starting my day with reading. I know from building my routines in the first place that this is a bad thing.
I find that after not reading, I don’t end up writing for my site. Then the days spiral into an unproductive mess.
So, it’s time to start tracking my reading. Stay tuned to see the habits I’ll be tracking in my Bullet Journal. If you have a copy of Analogue Productivity, watch for an update coming in the next few months as I add how I’m tracking my habits once I’ve worked out a good system.
At this point, I’ve started again. I was up this morning and had The Bullet Journal Method sitting at the kitchen table with my notebook and a pen. I made coffee had breakfast and then went to the office and sat in my chair with Atomic Habits to read for an hour.
I moved directly into proofing my next book The Freelancer’s Guide to Getting Started and then writing this. I’ve proofed the book and written 1000 words. I have 2.5 hours of productive time under my belt by 8:14 am, which is exactly how a productive day starts for me.
That productive day started with one small habit, sitting in my chair to read that book as soon as I got into my office this morning.
What’s the single habit that will help you build your productive day? What’s the single thing you can do that takes less than a few minutes that will set the day up for success?
If you don’t know, it’s time to stop and figure it out.
Photo by: legofenris