I came across an interesting article on the Harvard Business Review web site today by Hugh McGuire, a “literary technologist”. Hugh is the founder of LibriVox and Pressbooks, and the co-editor of Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto.
The title of the article was “How Making Time for Books Made Me Feel Less Busy“, and as I was reading I felt like I was reading my own thoughts.
Hugh notes that he loves reading books; books were his passion and his livelihood. But he realized one day that he had only read four books in 2014. Most of his reading time was spent on the internet—things like Wikipedia, Twitter, podcasts, the New Yorker, email, TED Talks, Facebook, Youtube, Buzzfeed occasionally, and yes, even the Harvard Business Review.
As a result of all this Internet-based reading, he felt like he had lost the ability to read a book. Every time he tried to read one, by sentence three or four, he was either checking email or asleep.
Hugh offers some interesting explanations as to why this phenomenon may have happened, focusing on things like dopamine, bad habits, and the energy cost of flitting from one piece of information to another.
So Hugh made a commitment to begin reading books for pleasure again. To accomplish this, he settled on three hard rules that achieve two things: they get him reading books again, and they give his brain a break from constant digital overload. Here are the three rules:
- When he gets home from work, he puts away his laptop and iPhone.
- After dinner during the week, he doesn’t watch Netflix or TV, or mess around on the Internet.
- No glowing screens in the bedroom (Kindle is OK, though).
These changes have made a huge impact on Hugh’s life. He has more time since he is no longer constantly chasing the next byte of information. Reading books again has given him more time to reflect, to think, and has increased both his focus and the creative mental space to solve work problems. His stress levels are much lower, and energy levels up.
That’s an impressive set of results from a relatively simple set of changes.
I too love reading, both for pleasure and for knowledge acquisition, but I feel like I never have enough time to read all the books (or even a fraction of those books) that I want to read. And I admit to having the same type of distractions that Hugh mentions when I sit down in front of my computer.
So I’m going to try and ease into this by starting with rule number 3 – not look at my phone in the bedroom. In its place I will keep a copy of whatever book I am currently reading (hard copy or Kindle version) and turn to the book when I feel a need to read something.
I’ll provide an update in a week to see how this experiment is going; hopefully I’ll have at least finished The Wright Brothers book by then.