Reading is an activity fraught with choices and distractions. You know how it is when you walk to a book shelf at a library or a book store. Too many books call out to you and you are paralysed. Reading online is more difficult. Apart from millions of articles on a single topic, articles often have a rabbit-hole of hyperlinks leading to other articles or even other topics. In the post, Get more out of your reading, we explained how to avoid distractions and focus on what you are reading. We even suggested that you discard all content that isn’t relevant to your life. We gave you some good habits to follow to keep your reading fun.
What if you can fine-tune your reading even more, so that you get the best results from your sessions? What if you walk into a library and know exactly where to start and how to proceed in your next few visits? What if you set reading goals for your upcoming year? What if you set seasonal topics that you will stick to? What if you are more proactive with your reading, using techniques like note-taking and deliberately practising the skills introduced by your books. This post takes your reading experience to a new level where you will start mastering a few skills that you have always wanted to learn. Continue reading Why have a reading plan
Let’s start with a cliché. Our protagonist, Asha, is usually untidy, leaving her backpack on her bed and throwing her shoes in the middle of the hall after she comes back from work. Usually one of her socks finds its way under the furniture. A few pens spill out of the half open zipper of her backpack and fall on the bed. Asha has a hard time clearing out her bed every night she wants to sleep and an even harder time finding a matching pair of socks when she is in a hurry to leave for work. She is irritable and often harasses her mom to find her things for her.
Bunty wants to shed that extra fat from his tummy. He has enrolled for the gym and goes occasionally. But most of the time, life happens and Bunty either finds himself overeating while celebrating with friends or not going to the gym because he has something else to do. Even at the gym, he ambled around from machine to machine, getting a few reps, but doing anything effective.
On new year’s eve, both Asha and Bunty set resolutions. They vow to get tidy and get trim respectively. For the first week, everything works great. But, just after a week, things are back to what they were. Asha’s shoes are in the hall and Bunty is binging on extra large pizza, not having gone to the gym for two days.
How can we help Asha and Bunty stick to their resolutions? There are many solutions, but some of them work better than the others. My favourite is a method that political parties, engineering standards organisations and committees follow religiously. Writing and referring to a manifesto.
I have talked about how to intentionally schedule your days here and here. The first post talks about chucking a simple to-do list and using a calendar to put a date and time to activities. The second post mentions that the activities in a single day should strictly follow a theme, such as book-writing on Mondays, marketing on Tuesdays, etc.
Grab any magazine, read lifestyle sections of newspapers, go through productivity blogs or read productivity books. Everyone tells you the importance of morning routines, a regular sequence of actions you do every morning to build up to peak performance. Without the rhythm of a morning routine, you may mindlessly fumble through the day.
Most morning routines (including my previous one), fall under two categories: getting physical so that your body grows energetic (jogging, workout, yoga) and getting mindful so that your mind can focus better (meditation, journaling, worship).
Focus is a skill and needs practice too. While it is not possible for to focus throughout our work duration, we can all start small, build on the progress and gain the skill of deep focus.
Do the heavy lifting before you start:
This is something our mothers have always known. The vegetables are cut, the mix has already been marinated, the dough has been rested, masala is ground and handy. Everything is laid out in front of them , ready to use. They exactly know the cooking time required and do supplementary activities.
For a maker, the ability to Focus is one of the most important assets even over their technical skills. Cal Newport in his book ‘Deep Work‘ predicts that Focus will be a competitive advantage for the makers. In this post let us examine some Do’s and Don’ts to achieve better focus and thereby better success.
Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas, suggests things that we can do in our every day life to focus better.
When we multi task, what we are actually doing is switching tasks. As in a production run, even in our head, there is a cost to switching from one task to another. There are certain tasks that are conducive to multitasking, and some that are not.
In his website Smart Passive Income, host Pat Flynn, also the author of Will It Fly, describes how he sets a different theme to every day of the week. This helps him focus on a certain project for the day by pushing everything else to other days with respective themes. Read about it in the “Communication and Calendar” section here.
I have already discussed how I use a calendar to schedule my days. However I soon realised that a calendar has its limitations. In Pat Flynn’s podcast with Mike Vardy, they discuss how a calendar is an example of horizontal scheduling and how it leads to focus being fragmented and on particularly distractive days, how nothing gets done.
The solution is to use a concept called day-wise themes.
After a particularly dull meal at my parents’ home, I went into the kitchen opening tins of chips and biscuits to look for something to excite my taste buds. One moment, my hands were busy, but the next moment, I froze. Something had just occured to me. I had found my main course boring, so I was looking for distracting tidbits. I wasn’t even hungry. What my mom had made was healthy and good for the long term. I was looking for short term gratification. I started reviewing. How often do I look for distractions that are gratifying for the short term, while I should be working on something that moves me towards my long term goals. In fact how often does everyone do it?
At Amritsar, the Golden Temple looks magnificent inside a sparkling lake. The Harmandir Sahib Gurdwara is the most sacred place for the practitioners of Sikhism. Under its golden dome, in the centre of the sanctum sanctorum, lies an artefact that the Sikhs consider their Supreme Being. It is called the Guru Granth. It is a book. It is considered the ultimate Teacher to the Sikhs, prescribing how a Sikh should lead a life of honesty, respect and dignity. For the Sikhs, the Guru Granth is not just a book, it is a living being with a soul.
While other religions do not directly worship a book, they too revere books which teach them the way of life. Christianity swears by the Bible and Muslims look upto the Quran. Hindus do not hold any one book as their chief scripture. While modern Hinduism heaps a lot of praise on the Bhagawat Geeta, there are plenty more such as the Upanishad and the Vedas.
I am agnostic with no belief in religion. However I cannot help praising the fact that every religion revers the ‘written word’. Every religion I am aware of respects the experience of the people bygone and recommends that we read their ‘written word’ and try to make our life better by using that repository of knowledge. It is also what our parents told us during our childhood and what all successful people keep saying time after time. Let me make it short and sweet. “Read Books”! Continue reading Why reading is a unique experience