The art of reading
Have you ever been overwhelmed with how much there is to read? If you are a voracious reader like me, you’ve probably struggled with how best to optimize your reading. Reading well like anything else requires thought. Most people, I find, don’t themselves grok why they are reading something. In this quick note I try to frame a thought process around reading. If you are reading this to figure out what specifically (article, website, book etc) you should read this article is not for you. This note however will help you adopt a thought process around HOW to consume written media without any emphasis on other forms of media (podcasts, tv shows, Netflix).
I was inspired to write this article after I read this article on Medium (You are the media you eat) This article breaks down media (all types) by if it's good for you or bad for you with a focus on how much time you should spend on these. It is definitely a good starting point and it is indeed important to keep a balance.
While this is great, I’m going to focus on how one should think about reading. We know that there is a lot of content out there and let’s face it, a lot of it is indeed crap. We also now that we have limited number of hours in a day to consume all forms of media so the question(s) to ask yourself before reading a book or article or any form of written media is the below:
Why am I reading this piece of content?
If I didn’t know this piece of information would it make a difference to me?
What do I expect to get out of this? (article, book, blog)?
What is the shelf life of this content?; How long will it be applicable. Do you care about it now? Tomorrow? Never?
Is this a reliable source to read from?
Can this piece teach me about a subject I am interested in but know little (and some of this may translate to knowledge that you may not be able to apply to work)?
Can I learn something interesting from this article/piece/book?
You might be thinking that this seems like a lot of work to do just in order to read an article or a book, but trust me, asking yourself these questions will unquestionably allow you to save time AND read more and over time. Like all other things this will become a habit. In order to answer these questions it is important to think about Media’s (in this case written form) specific jobs to be done. Warren Buffet asks this question : What IS not going to change as a thesis for investment but I think that framework is also useful for understanding what to read and what is the shelf life of that information.
Written media’s jobs to be done:
Inform me (local and world) -
Examples : News content websites (BBC, CNN, stock prices, a tweet from …)
Shelf life : Few seconds to a few hours
Educate me (text books, language books)
Shelf life : few years to no expiry
Entertain me (generally fiction) :
Examples : Any fiction book
Shelf life : A few days? In some cases a few years
Stimulate my thinking (blogs, non fiction) :
Examples : Blogs, Non-fiction books
Shelf life : Forever
Help me (do my job better)
Examples : How to build a roadmap (for a Product Manager, anyway)
Shelf life : Entire working life
I think a good mix of these (like the content pyramid) are important. For me I like to break up my reading into:
Inform me (local and world) : 10% of time ( news outlets such as CNN, BBC, WSJ, FT, NY Times)
Educate me (text books, language books) : 30% of time (Books such as Born to Run, How music got free, Predictably Irrational etc fit into this category)
Entertain me (generally fiction) 5% of time
Stimulate my mind : 35% of time. For me most of my reading is around areas of domain and functional interest (Technology, Growth, Product, AI, Blockchain, Strategy, Medical, Non-profit, Venture Capital, Dozen Worthy Reads - see what I did there?)
Help me (do my job better) : 20% - Techcrunch, Wired, Blogs such as andrewchen.co, stratechery.com, reforge.com, sachinrekhi.com, Ben Thompson (stratechery.com), Ben Evans, a16z monthly newsletter, intercom's weekly newsletter, and so many more
There are a few key things to optimize your reading:
Figuring out if the content will do the “job to be done”? (skim the article to see if the key points you want to learn is presented at all, it's easier to do than you think)
Skip parts of the content that are extraneous (An article on why Lyft’s stock price tanked will contain references to Uber which you can and should ignore, they are extraneous)
At the end of the article think back to the original reason you read it. Did you achieve that goal? If not what stopped that from happening?
Drop it; it's totally fine to skim through an article and realize that it's “not for you” and stop reading. Tone, content, language, simplicity/complexity all matter at the end
Use hacks (companies like audm allow you to ‘listen’ to an article (you can use this for material where you don’t need to focus) or you can also user a product like blinkist (for book summaries - i'm not a user, just know the app)
Use an app like Pocket, Pocket removes all the “noise” from an article (annoying popups, ads’, weird text formats) and makes it so easy to read (see below and I am an avid user)
In the end would you prefer to be beholden to what you read or be the master of what you read. Choose the latter; you wont regret it.