Reading and Managing your Time

Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s right-hand man at Berkshire Hathaway, says about reading:

In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn’t read all the time – none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren(Buffett) reads – at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out"1

Reading takes time. If reading is important for you –it should be, reading and learning are closely related–, you need to allocate specific time for it. More, you need to develop the habit of reading, and nurture it. Even if you find excellent reading material, if reading is not part of your routine, you will end up with a nice, ever-growing list of unread books and articles.

Different kind of readings deserve different reading strategies

Not all readings require the same kind of attention. What you expect to learn from what you are reading also affects the equation. Are you reading for information, or are you reading for knowledge? Different kinds of reading call for different reading strategies. (A more interesting question is what kind of readings take most of our time.)

Casual reading is informative. It may ignite some ideas, but it does not require a great deal of concentration or reasoning. Most of the time, it doesn’t require taking notes. Informative reading material can be consumed almost anywhere, whenever a small amount of time is available. Interruptions while reading casual stuff may be annoying, but don’t do great harm. What is critical is to have this kind of reading material at hand, so you can take advantage of unplanned free time slots.

In-depth, analytical reading, however, is another kind of beast. Reading something above your level of knowledge requires patiently trained reading skills. Taking notes becomes a necessity, at least for me. (If you haven’t do so, you should read this excellent article by Shane Parrish, How to Read A Book, where he explains how to improve your reading skills.)

Reading for knowledge also requires finding interruption-free time, time without distractions that could kill your concentration and reading flow. Learning to say no –deciding what not to read– is also important. Your hard-earned time for reading is limited. You need to focus on what’s important, and finding quality sources of reading material.

Useful tips

Improving your reading skills and finding time to read is essential, but some tactics for managing your reads can help you get the most of your time. Some things I do:

  • When I find an online article or post that I want to read, chances are I can’t read it at that moment. I use Instapaper, a read-it-later application that lets me save articles and posts for later consumption2, be it from my desktop, tablet or smartphone.

  • For keeping up with blogs, I use an _aggregator_3 for following interesting blogs. Keep the list of blogs you follow short, and prune it frequently.

  • Books receive a different handling. When I find a book worth considering (usually by recommendation from friends, or colleagues, or from people I follow online), I search it on Amazon’s website and inspect its table of contents. I also research about the author, his background, and what other people think about the book. If the results are positive, I buy the book right away, usually as an ebook, and it gets added to my reading queue.

  • For in-depth reading, I use Evernote to take notes. (Check Best Note-Taking Apps for an in-depth comparison between Evernote and One Note.)

A reading plan

What books did you read last year? Are you satisfied with the list? Which topics do you plan to read about in the next months? It’s not difficult to see the importance of choosing carefully where you invest your reading time.

  1. Quote from Charles T. Munger, Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger

  2. Instapaper is great. However, it does not save videos. Other read-it-later apps, like Pocket, handle text and videos. 

  3. I use ReadKit on my Mac and Reeder on my smartphone and tablet. Feedly is also a good web based alternative. 

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