How to Tame Your Reading List to Support Your Goals

Posted on September 2, 2020 by Riccardo.

This is what happens when completionism, obsession for learning, and fear of missing out meet for a party. Welcome to my life.

Problem is the amount of content produced surpasses whatever anybody can go through. But somehow we all want to check for ourselves. And, while busy trying to fit all that content in our heads, maybe with some techniques like speed reading, we forget that it’s not enough. Reading is just the easy part. It’s how we fool ourselves that we are doing hard work.

Let me break the (old) news, it’s practice that counts. So let’s see how to keep things in check.

If you want to regain control of your reading list (and life), first of all you need to ask yourself why. What’s the goal of your reading list? Maybe you want to be on top of the news, or go deep on specific topics, or identifying trends. Maybe it’s about enjoying good stories. But you need to know what are the objectives because the list is not about reading more it’s about reading better.

If you want to succeed you need to embrace the joy of missing out. Content platforms are fighting over your attention. You need to set up boundaries, or else you will be their victim. Either you timebox your technical reading or it will monopolize your time. This is not a bold statement, it’s the Parkinson’s law:

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion

Trust me, the good stuff will find a way to you, there’s no need to scrape the entire internet. And no, there is no silver bullet. No article will give you the final answer to life. However, focusing on better instead of more will remove the noise enabling activities that support your goal.

Even if it doesn’t solve the mystery of the universe, there’s still good stuff that deserves to be read. So let’s see how to lower the noise to signal ratio.

Knowledge comes in two flavors: temporary and permanent. The former is specific, expires, and is not easily recycled. The latter is abstract, doesn’t get old, and can be brought over to other disciplines. To do our jobs we need both, but, given a choice, I would bet my chips on permanent knowledge.

Depending on the goals, you may want to stay shallow or go deep. Sometimes you are better off knowing that some stuff exists instead of obsessing over learning the details of a thing you will use once or twice. In some cases, at first, you may want to skim through a new technology, and only after it proves not to be a passing fancy consider going deeper.

You need to develop a sense of quality to cherry-pick the right articles. Notice that it should align with your objectives, values, and taste. Once you have your own threshold, then default skip everything that does not meet it: it’s either hell yeah! or no.

Over time, you will start building trust in specific authors, treasure it. Do they have a newsletter? Great, you can delegate the job of finding stuff that resonates with you. And, if they keep hitting the target, get in touch. Content gets more depth when you have a relationship with the author. Sending or receiving a thank you makes your and their day better, give it a try!

From time to time, make sure to groom your sources. Jobs and goals change, this is true for both you and your authors of choice. Thus, when things get misaligned, it’s time to look for better material.

There’s already enough people scrolling down seeking the bottom of their favorite social network. Be mindful of how you spend cognitive energies. Step up, don’t do the easy thing, do the right thing.

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