Twelve books later

How many books are you guilty of reading at one time?

Every year, I set a new reading challenge for myself. I figured I would set a low goal in hopes that I’d exceed it by a long shot.

For 2018, I set myself a lofty goal of … one book.

Four months and twelve books into the year, I’m juggling a number of reads I’ve lost count.

A worn copy of On Writing by Stephen King picked up from the local book exchange. The latest edition of Müller-Brockmann’s Grid Systems in Graphic Design. An e-book of Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design by Michael Bierut for reading on the go. A hardcover of True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership lent by a close friend.

To be honest, the latter intimidated me too much to keep reading past Chapter Two. Grid Systems I lugged around my home from my bedside table to my desk and back, reading a page or two a day.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” — Stephen King

I’m training myself to enjoy reading again. To savour every page I read, and to take down passages I want to reread over and over. And to read whatever I feel like reading.

Most of the time it’s non-fiction. Sometimes it’s a sci-fi novella.

Off the top of my head, I think I started on … three, four other books as well?Of course, I’d get a lot more reading done if I wasn’t leaping from book to book. But where’s the fun in that?

Combating mental overwhelm

Doing a brain dump is helpful for when you’re feeling overwhelmed. It shifts your mindset from “don’t know what to do” to “this is what I know”. When all your thoughts are on paper, you know exactly what you’re dealing with.

You can schedule a brain dump once a week, or use it as an emergency tool when you hit mental overwhelm.

Write anywhere you please, whether it’s on your phone or a blank piece of paper. I write in a password-protected document on OneNote. I can write without hesitation when I know no one can access it but me.

Set a timer and write for at least five minutes. Use point form or longhand, whichever flows easier. Setting a timer gets you started, but feel free to write for as long as you like. The point is to write down every single thing that’s on your mind.

Take a step back and process your brain dump. View every problem as an individual issue, separate from the others. Tackling each problem one by one will help your situation seem manageable.

  • What is most urgent? What problems need to be solved before you can proceed with others? Brainstorm some solutions.
  • Are you missing some information? Make a list of things to research.
  • What can you work on right now? If it’s fast and easy to accomplish, do them first.

Even if you don’t come to an immediate solution, this simple exercise can trigger ideas that may help you get there.

Goodbye Monday blues

More often than not, positivity comes out of negative things. That includes Monday blues. Instead of ignoring it, I use it as an opportunity to address what is bothering me and how I can tackle it over the next week.

On Sunday, write down all the tasks you need to get done. Then, prioritise the ones you need done urgently. For example, you could mark it with a star. Also, mark the tasks that can be done in under five minutes. Note all your daily tasks — this will also be included. Set deadlines for all your tasks. Once you have a list of all the tasks you need to complete, you can start distributing them.

Start every day with your morning routine. While it is tempting to get started immediately, taking time to look after yourself in the morning can help keep you from feeling overwhelmed. If you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum and tend to procrastinate, you can take advantage of this. Start the day with meditation — essentially “doing nothing” — and you’ll feel motivated to tackle those tasks you need to get done.

Group tasks that take less than five minutes together. You might discover that they will take less time to complete. If a task is urgent and takes under five minutes to complete, do it first thing in the morning. Plus, crossing out a bunch of tasks in quick succession can give you a slight focus boost.

Get started on the difficult tasks early. These might take time so set a deadline. If it will take more than one day or week, break them down into smaller tasks. This way, you’ll always have some progress on it.

Don’t rely on motivation. While motivation can help you work with more enthusiasm, it’s not going to be there all the time. Enjoy it while it lasts. It’s when you’re unmotivated that you need to keep going.

Allocate time to rest. Take a day off so you have something to look forward to. Decide when to stop working — either when you’re done with all your tasks, or at a certain time. Since you’ve completed your most important task early in the day, it is okay to stop for the day.

At the end of your week, reflect on what you can do better. Take note of when you’re most productive. It’s probably in the mornings — even for night owls.

Come Sunday, start again.

February links

Interesting links on habits and creativity I’ve come across this month.

Video: It’s not you. Phones are designed to be addicting.

Everything from the refresh feature down to the colour of the icons on your phone was designed to be addicting. Understanding why you’re is the first step to regaining control. Read my post on stepping back from social media.

Article & Podcast: Five Habit Tracker

What are the five habits that will have the greatest impact on your life? Sean McCabe and Ben Toalson discuss a developing impactful habits and coming up with metrics for measuring those habits.

Article: Iceland’s Population Is Staggeringly Creative. Why?

One in four people in Icelanders work in a creative field. A recent study explores the driving forces behind the creative community.

Article: 13 Things That Will Happen When You “Level-Up” As A Person

“Leveling up” as a person should feel good, but it doesn’t. In fact, you may feel more discouraged than ever. Enjoy the lessons you learn.


Stepping back from social media

Every morning at 7.30 am, my phone alarm would ring. I’d reach over and grab my phone, dismiss my alarm and swipe through the laundry list of notifications on the screen. Half an hour later I’d find myself envying over my friends’ holidays on Instagram.

I wouldn’t even know how I got there. I just ended up starting the day with a raging wanderlust and guilt over my envy. It had become second nature to wake up this way.

Alcoholics have the urge to drink first thing in the morning. The obsession for alcohol haunts them from the moment they wake up until they return to bed. While I didn’t consider myself obsessed with social media, it was the first thing I’d consume when I woke up and the last thing I looked at before falling asleep.

Allergic to boredom, I became addicted to scrolling endlessly through social media, despite being able to point out exactly why they were so addictive.

Endless scrolling. Push notifications. Social validation. I fell for it all.

I was unwilling to entirely remove social media from my phone as I still needed them for work. I did the next best thing. I turned off push notifications and set Instagram, Twitter and Facebook icons as hidden. It’d take me the extra steps of toggling hidden apps for me to access them.

The slight inconvenience bought me a few vital seconds to decide whether I wanted to get up, or be enraged by some troll on Twitter who wasn’t even trolling me even before taking my first step of the day.

I chose to get up almost every time.

Next, I downloaded an app called Forest. You “plant” virtual trees in your phone. If you use a blacklisted app, your tree dies. It’s exactly as adorable as it sounds. It’s mainly a productivity tool that teaches you to focus but I also use it to improve my sleep. I plant a tree right before I sleep so I resist the urge to play with my phone before sleeping.

Forest collaborates with Trees for the Future. As you earn credits by not using your phone, you can eventually plant real trees. To date, Forest has planted over 200,000 trees.

I also started wearing a watch after a few years of relying on my phone for the time. Most watches caused my CTS to flare up but my secondhand smart watch was light enough to be unobtrusive. I steadily grew more comfortable being away from my phone.

I still browse social media on my phone, but it is no longer unconscious. With my newfound free time, I’ve become more productive. I even got more reading done despite setting the low, low goal of reading one book in 2018.

What are your social media habits like? Do you need to take a step back, or are you doing great right where you are?

How to start reading again

With distractions constantly available at our fingertips, it’s getting more difficult to concentrate on good old-fashioned reading. Here are several ways to get through the stack of books on your nightstand.

Know your purpose. Are you reading for leisure, or are you reading to learn? Are you enjoying this novel or are you dragging yourself through the pages? If you’re not getting anything from a book, drop it. Knowing why you read helps you decide whether or not to move on to your next book.

Set a yearly goal of books to read. Set a low goal and exceed it by a mile, or set a high goal to strive for. I’m being cheeky this year by setting my 2018 reading goal to just one book. I completed it in January with Deep Work by Cal Newport.

Buy less books. Ironically, you don’t need more books to read more books. Look around you — you probably have too many. Go through your bookshelf and pick two or three books you never found the time for.

Refresh your library for free. Go to the local library or book exchange. Donate or exchange the books you’re not reading anymore — they deserve to be loved by someone else. It’ll be exciting to have new books to read.

Replace social media with books. Keep e-books and audiobooks on your phone so you can read on the go. Develop the habit of reading whenever you have a few minutes to spare. Many purists say digital books aren’t real books. However, if they still require effort and concentration, how can they not be real books?

Try a book summary app. If you really don’t have time to read, Blinkist sums up popular non-fiction into ten pages or so. If a summary resonates with you, make time to read the full book.

Set aside time to read. You can read on your commute to work or in bed at night. Reading is a great way to wind down before falling asleep. Audiobooks come in handy if you want to read while getting things done.

Don’t read too many books at once. You could limit yourself to a physical novel and an e-book you can read on the go. If that’s impossible for you, that’s okay too. I’m reading five books at the moment.