Optimizing the Time You Have Available for Reading

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“On the Platform, Reading”, Image by Mo Riza

There is too much to read every day and the amount of it never seems to stop growing! We are swamped with such a multitude of bits and atoms in the forms books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, websites and apps that no one can possibly get through everything that he or she intends to read. Nonetheless, we live in an age where information is a ubiquitous and a uniquely valuable form of currency.

While there have been countless presentations and publications on how to tame “information overload“, many of them worthwhile, the need for some new methods is always welcome. There are no absolutely right or wrong ways to increase your consumption of text on paper and on-screen, but rather, a growing choice of methods that meets your individual preference and capabilities.

Surely, no one has figured out how to increase the amount of time in each day. It is finite and that’s that. Nonetheless, there are many active and motivated readers out there who have learned to make better use of the time they can allocate for reading. These benefits are found both in terms of the quantity of material they can cover, their comprehension of it, and their retention for subsequent recall, application and synthesis.

Sue Shellenbarger, the writer for The Wall Street Journal who write the (always excellent, imho) Work and Family column, published a very helpful and insightful piece entitled Get Down to Magazine Zero: Reading Faster and Smarter, in the March 11, 2015 edition of the paper. (The article appears on WSJ.com under the different title of How to Declutter Your Magazine Pile.) I will first summarize, list and add some comments to the methods described in this article and then add a series of my own suggestions in this never-ending quest to stay up-to-date.

According to Shellenbarger’s own research and the people and experts she interviewed, the following alternatives can help to optimize your reading time:

  • Confining your Facebook usage to a weekly stop limited to industry news. Likewise, reduce the time you spend watching TV and use the time for reading.
  • Passing up Wi-Fi availability on plane flight and instead dedicating that time for reading.
  • Listening to audio-books while on public transportation, walking or exercise.
  • Employing a strategy called “Always be reading” or ABR. That is, to always have reading material with you during any activity where you might have some time to yourself such as commuting or waiting in line. I have always followed ABR to the, well, letter. I never leave home or even go to the laundry room (which, btw, can be quite conducive to reading soap operas), without something to read.
  • Printout or email yourself important articles for later access and review.
  • Trying out one or more of the seven downloadable apps for mobile devices listed in an accompanying sidebar to this article. They provide convenient support for users to “compile, organize and prioritize” items you have selected for later viewing. Of these, I have used Flipboard and found it to be quite helpful. Another hugely popular app in this space and for other useful online gathering and drafting function is Evernote.
  • Meeting with friends on a regular basis who have some expertise in particular area of interest to you and, in turn, you know about a field of interest to them.
  • Setting the timer on your smartphone for a fixed period each day devoted exclusively to reading and use it to maintain your reading schedule.
  • Prioritize your reading material on a continual basis in order to elevate or eliminate each item accordingly.
  • Consider taking a speed reading course.
  • Other interesting sites mentioned include Summary.com which offers executive summaries of books, and NextIssue.com is a subscription site gateway to¬† unlimited access 140 magazines.

Here are some of my own suggestions:

  • Make good use of the Bookmarks in Firefox or the Favorites in Internet Explorer to mark and save the sites your frequently visit. This provides ready one-click access to all of them. Moreover, you can easily organize them into lists, folders and sub-folders according to your browsing needs.
  • Try your browser’s RSS function to “push” content of interest out to you as soon as it is posted online.
  • For scanning through a concise and self-vetted series of sites and blogs of interest to you, I find that using the browser bookmarks on my tablet and smartphone to be a very expedient means of staying current. (See the sixth bullet-point above again for apps that can assist with this.)
  • Set up an additional Twitter feeds to dedicate entirely as your own newsreader. Rather than using this for any interactive or communications purposes, limit this for personally curated content only.
  • Try setting up a few Google Alerts with its fine-grained filters to deliver news to your Google account.
  • Keep current on newly published books by regularly reading book reviews. The book sections of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are great places to begin.
  • Use Amazon.com to research books, authors and topics of interest to you. Likewise, follow some of the links to the books recommended on the pages you are perusing. For a more retro version of this, I highly recommend wandering around a bookstore and seeing where it takes you in terms of discovering new titles and writers. (If you are in or near New York, there is no better place anywhere to do this than The Strand Bookstore.) I also recommend visiting GoodReads.com as an endless virtual well of book recommendations.
  • Set up self-imposed deadlines and goals to try to get through everything you deem important. For example, I will finish this book by X date; I will finish 25 books this year; I will finish all of my online or on paper subscriptions before the next issues are posted and/or mailed; and so on.