When the Less Efficient Method Gets the Job Done Faster

I’ve been rethinking how I read books. My previous method was to buy books, read them one at a time until I finished or decided they weren’t worth my time, and moved to the next one. I’d postpone buying books until I’d finished (or nearly finished) my current batch.

My focus was on quality. Some books are tough reads, but still worthwhile. This method encourages dedication.

But, of course, it naturally leads to a problem. Sometimes I’d recognize that a book is worth reading, but I wouldn’t feel like reading it right now. Perhaps it was too difficult or dry to read casually. My response was to not read anything at all.

Now I’m trying a new strategy: never be afraid to start, stop or buy books. Have as many open book threads as I like. I won’t guilt myself for not finishing an “important” book. I won’t feel bad about buying new books when I have unread books at home.

This does reduce quality. With no commitment device, I’m reducing the chances of getting through some of those denser books I think I probably should read. But it increases smoothness. By lowering the friction between me picking up a book, I’m hoping this new approach will result in more books read and less time browsing online.

Quality or Smoothness?

This is a tradeoff you can see in many areas of life: quality or smoothness.

It’s the difference between showing up to the gym, doing a workout that isn’t optimized for fitness and doesn’t push you very much, versus the intense workout you really should be doing. If the choice is between the two workouts, the intense one will benefit you more.

But that’s rarely the decision. The decision isn’t between the efficient method and the inefficient one. It’s between the inefficient one and nothing.

Learning is another example. I hesitate to recommend some of the tactics I suggest for students to adults learning for pleasure. Why? Because although the studying tactics work well, they also increase intensity. That’s fine if you’re a committed student and need to pass your exam anyways. Why not do it in less time?

Someone learning for pleasure faces a different tradeoff, however. The more intense method may increase friction. That increased friction is going to result in less time spent learning. Even if they are learning 50% faster with each hour spent, the increase in friction might mean they cut their studying time in half, resulting in less being learned, in total.

Optimizing for Smoothness

Look for areas of your life you frequently neglect. These are areas you’re implicitly making a choice between doing an easy thing and doing nothing. For that, I see three options:

  1. Increase your motivation and do the hard thing.
  2. Keep your motivation constant and make it easier to do.
  3. Do nothing.

Sometimes the first choice will be the right one. But it can’t be the right choice at all times and all circumstances. It’s not usually possible to raise your motivation for doing everything permanently. So increasing your intensity for one area of life, generally means becoming a little more dependent on your habits in other areas.

Smoothness is particularly valuable for the many things you feel guilty about not doing, but have no immediate consequences for avoiding. Exercising, reading books, investing, learning and charity are all things that can go slack for months or years before having major consequences.

How to Reduce Friction

There are many ways to reduce friction, but the problem becomes a lot easier once you recognize that reducing friction is often also an admission to reduce quality. If you can be okay with that decision, it becomes a lot easier to find ways to make an area of your life smoother.

Take my own reading experience, as an example. I had a hard time starting or buying new books when I knew that some of my books were unread or unfinished. To me, it felt like laziness having half a dozen books in various states of completion.

But once I realized that the lazier method was probable more effective in the long-run, I accepted it. Now I have more unfinished books, but I also spend more time reading.

Here’s a few concrete ways you can reduce friction:

1. Lower the minimum time required.

Do you believe that there’s no point exercising if you can’t exercise for at least 30 minutes? That may sound silly, as articulated, but there would be a lot of people who wouldn’t bother doing pushups or situps because it wasn’t a “full” workout.

2. Lower your expectations for the task.

Don’t expect to write a masterpiece every time you decide to write. Writing garbage is fine too. Writing garbage can be uncomfortable if it feels like a tradeoff between garbage and good work. In some situations it is, and you need to push yourself to a higher standard. But more often the tradeoff is between writing garbage and writing nothing.

3. Lower barriers to entry.

Buy too many books. The worst thing that can happen isn’t having too many unread books, but not having a book that interests you when you want to read. If buying too many books is a luxury you can’t afford, borrow too many from the library instead.

What are some things you currently don’t do, but should? Could doing a watered-down version of those same tasks, even if the output is worse, be better than what you’re currently doing? Share your thoughts in the comments.

  • Adam

    Fantastic post Scott! I’m facing the same dilemma with reading at the moment as well, I’m definitely reluctant to have multiple books on the go. I’m gonna loosen the guilt-strings (i think I’ve invented a new phrase here!) and see how that goes.

  • AlexB

    You’re hitting one of the most important points that I think is missed a lot of the time by most advice givers / how-to’s / etc. Whenever one reads advice on how to do something we often seek the most efficient way of doing something, but that is rarely the most EFFECTIVE way of getting it done. Perhaps that’s the thing you are trying to convey with smoothness versus friction: efficiency versus effectiveness. If we aim at efficiency without being effective then we get nowhere fast.

    The thing is we forget that very quickly, which in my mind is a sign that effectiveness isn’t intuitive. Rather we try and seek efficiency. Why? Perhaps because that’s the sort of culture we’ve grown up in. Or maybe it is a mechanism which serves to cope with our innate sense of discomfort at the beginning (knowing that you suck at first, so you compensate by looking for “the best plan out there”). It isn’t intuitive that a series of small steps will get you to your destination far faster / or better than a complex plan with no steps at all.

  • JJ

    I’ve underestimated the power of momentum for over 20 years in my life.. especially the motivation that comes from momentum. I found that the best time for me to get more things done is when I already have a lot on my plate. I’ll do an 80/20 analysis of my to-do list and knock the big wins off. Once I’m all caught up, I have a hard time stopping myself (unless I feel very exhausted.) So I have to keep going.

    I found that the best use for this excess “momentum” is to always keep a list of tasks from the “Important but not Urgent quadrant” (from the 7 Habits book) and tackle something there. I can’t always count on having this massive momentum on a regular basis so I wouldn’t rely on it to accomplish the “Urgent AND Important tasks” but when it’s there, it’s extremely powerful.

    I found I read more books during the busiest times of my life in recent years because of it. I also tend to check books out from the library since I’m pretty frugal and the library system in my county is one of the largest in the US. So due dates (after I’ve exhausted my renewals) provide a natural deadline for my reading. If I’m in a time crunch, I’ll just read the 1st and last chapters of the book plus the 1st and last pages of each chapter in between to get a gist and see if I want to buy or recheck that book.

    Btw, I use the Pomodoro Technique and my method for “Reducing Friction” is to use a 5 minute Pomodoro instead of the standard 25 if I know I should be doing something but really don’t feel like it (i.e. exercise, shower, writing blog posts, doing my taxes, etc.) 5 minutes of intense work followed by a 5 minute break. Yes, it sounds lazy but it’s still better than doing nothing. Sometimes (but not always), the 5-min Pomo is just enough to get me the motivation to get started at full speed.

  • F

    Great tips. It made me think how I often opt for doing nothing, like when I don’t any exercise at all, because I think that I wouldn’t have enough time, or something like that. It does make a lot of sense to have one priority and opt for no. 2 approach for several other areas – many of which I don’t much care for.

  • Tony

    Reading simultaneously several books is equivalent to taking several disciplines during the semester … We don’t take one discipline at a time … So, reading several books at the same time should not be a difficult tasks as we are used to studying several disciplines simultaneously …
    Have a good time …

  • Egor

    Okay, nice article.
    But I suppose that in large amount of reading there is one problem. How to use new information on practice? Or do you think that the quality of understanding isn’t so important as an amount of started or finished books?
    As for me not long ago I’ve read some works of russian classic writer Gogol. I’ve liked his style and the idea, but also I’ve understood that he managed to write about obvious things even for our daily life. And after that I’ve lost any interest to russian classics, because I’m afraid that all the stories would describe the modern situation or I would find some connections, which are realy unpleasant. From the other point of view such works are worth reading, because they were written well enough.
    All this I’ve written to say that don’t you think that books could be like food? Some books could be read in big amounts, because they are just like some kind of fast food, the other had to be tasted for some time.
    Anyway thanks for article.

  • Gemma Hudson

    Good article. My mum said to me the other day “dont give 100% to one thing, instead give 1% to 100 tthings.” I thought that was great as it encourages me to start a big task even if I can’t get it all done in one go. I have taken the same from your article.

  • Ying

    The writing advice is really helpful. I recently lowered the expectation of my writing in order to get more work done. Thanks Scott!

  • Enno

    I just came back from buying two books today with a lot of unread ones still on my shelves. So reading the opening lines of your email only increased my guilt at first, but then I was happy to see your post offering a different perspective!

  • Omar

    Thanks for the advise 🙂

  • Sumedha

    Interesting post, Scott! I have an example, and a few thoughts popped up . I am a huge bibliophile. I read easily and fast, and often ended up with a near perfect memory of the books I read. Sadly, that only happens with the books I read for pleasure. The books I used for academic study, I could never retain complete memory of. I was often told by peers and parents to read academic books for pleasure, to see if I could retain memory that way, sadly, it didn’t happen, so I had to resort to other methods of learning.

    Now that I read your article, I feel, maybe, if we were to do things to make them a habit, we begin with a low expectation threshold, and allow the pleasure of the activity to come through, and achieve higher standards without sweating it.

    Learning is a different matter,especially in an academic context. There are expectations, and the quality of learning is actually measured.Progress that is minutely measured does not feel like progress. Like the watched pot never boiling?

    If we consider reading as a habit in general, authors make every effort to focus on the way they communicate things to their readers, and that determines how much a reader absorbs. It is rare for textbook makers to put in equal effort to communicate to the students they are trying to educate. The reliance on a teacher becomes heavier. Maybe that’s why.learning, in addition to having achievement yardsticks every step of the way, also can demand an external facilitator.

    A lot of things can be done easily, simultaneously, and not be watered down. One precious resource we have is time. Trying to get everything done in a day, makes us get to activities faster, and in time, doing things becomes more efficient, provided we do them one at a time.

    A tree that grows in a laboratory and the same tree growing in a garden, will grow differently. The first tree will be measured at every inch, the second, in seasons when it blooms. The first is a clinical tree, the second, a healthy one .

    What I am trying to say is that progress not tracked does not mean progress not made. While checking off milestones on a run feels good, the goal becomes the milestone and not the run. The run itself, for pleasure, can go on probably for much longer, having run marathons without having realised it.

    Maybe , the focus could be the act of doing things, instead of the race to getting things done. The quality happens, and the crossing milestones are a natural consequence of going on your own steam. Like maybe your MIT challenge? Had you done the challenge attending MIT’s formal in -class course, you would’ve had to adjust your steam to their prolonged milestones, but you managed to achieve it in a year in your own steam! I suppose I’m rambling. Just a thought.

  • Dr X

    Yep, completely agree. It’s better to run once per week than to *think about* running three times per week. I, too, am changing a lot of things around in my life at the moment and I’m using similar techniques. For instance, a New Year’s Resolution (which I’m one of those few people who actually keeps them more than 2 weeks – crazy, huh?) was to do exercise. I’ve started point blank by doing 5 push-ups per day and 10 star jumps (aka jumping jacks). I’ve now built it up over the past month and I’m doing 53 star jumps and 3×30 push-ups and still increasing. As Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit recommends, “If you want to start the habit of flossing, just promise yourself to do one tooth.”

  • MattC

    Very well thought out post, Scott.

    It’s definitely exercise for me – it’s either a 20/30 minute workout at the gym, or nothing at all. On the days I can’t go to they gym, I could easily do, say, 10 push ups, 10 sit ups and 10 squats at home – it would take literally 2 minutes – but I irrationally think it’s not worth it if I don’t do a full workout, and I end up doing nothing.

    I’ve had a similar thing with languages recently too. For a few weeks last year I had a well structured routine of Spanish practice for 30 mins/day. I fell out of it in the new year, but I’ve just decided not to be hard on myself and to just do 5 minutes a day and accept that as good enough for now. In your terms, I’ve kept the smoothness going, if not the same quality, but I think the momentum I’m keeping by just doing 5 mins/day will make it easier to get the quality 30 mins/day study routine back whenever I decide to start it again.

  • Matt C

    This made me think of a recurring problem in my life — perfectionism. It feels right to “do your best” every time you do something. It’s what we’re trained and rewarded for at school. But with this mindset, when it comes to writing a paper or coding a program, there’s so much resistance to getting something produced when you feel that it MUST be “correct” or nearly flawless. The counterintuitive but helpful advice is that in most cases in life, intentionally shooting for “good enough” is the optimal strategy. It’s a challenge for me, though, to let go a bit and give up quality for the ultimately more important goal of just getting something out there. I could use better psychological tricks here.

    I think another way to see the idea you’re presenting is that we’re looking at correctly identifying the “problem” we actually need to solve in a particular area of life. Striving for near 100% quality or near maximum time efficiency might be a good idea in some situations, but as you’re pointing out, we might be trying to solve the wrong problem when we apply these standards to things like exercise, reading, studying, or any personal goal. We’d all love to live 100% productive lives, but that’s naive and idealistic. Better to go with reality, which means deciding to be ok with just a little bit of progress sometimes, and deciding to tolerate mistakes — all for the sake of SOMETHING rather than the “all or nothing”.

  • Lisa

    Excellent post. Felt compelled to comment because concepts you bring up here are similarly addressed in a book I read a while back called “One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way.” http://www.amazon.com/Small-St….

    It’s full of interesting anecdotes and is an easy read; it would make a good addition to your to-read, half-read, or finished book piles. 😉

  • Liz

    Hey, very interesting post!

    I never feel guilty buying a book and not reading it right away. I have a lot of books at home, so that when I want to read I have access to a lot of different choices. Also a month ago I bought a kindle, so now my home ‘library’ is even bigger. But if I start to read a book I usually don’t pick up another until I’m finished with the one I started, because usually it means that I will never finish the first one. I believe that it’s better to buy books whenever you feel you want one. (because, to be honest, I just can’t stop myself).

    As for Quality or Smoothness I think that it’s ok to focus on smoothness when you starting to do something new, because its difficult to start and if you pressure yourself do spend a lot of time and energy on something, than it’s harder to start and easier to drop out. It’s better to do something regularly, than not doing it at all or doing a lot at once (and only once). Plus if there are many things you want to learn you can’t put all your energy on everything at once. So its better to prioritize and do one thing more efficiently and others less. And after some time to change focus.

  • Paul Keohane

    Sumedha’s comment caught my attention… “progress not tracked does not mean progress not made.” The casual approach to learning difficult subjects, by limiting intensity, makes sense.

  • Ron

    You always pick an interesting topic and cover it well. There is something that has been bothering me and I hope you don’t mind if I venture off the subject.

    I have recently been exposed to people involved with brain training and neuroscience. They refer to right and left brain and all sorts of weird things about the brain as well as brain fitness and exercises.

    Something good I find about you is that you don’t go into all that nonsense. Rather you give practical advise and cover things more thoroughly. What is your take on what people sell as fact in neuroscience? I find it quite odd that some of them contradict each other. I did some of my own research and discovered flaws in what some of them were promoting as scientific facts.

    Keep up the excellent work you are doing.

  • Chander

    Scott, Your post is vety interesting !

    For me this choice between Nothing, at least Something & the Right thing- is usually dependent on just one thing.

    There is a voice in my head that’s sometimes strong & pulls me towards ‘Nothing’. But if I ignore it & move to ‘at least Something’ then the journey is smooth from there on.

    From there onwards, Like you said, No guilt feelings !!

  • Duncan Smith

    I agree that it’s good to distinguish between tasks that deserve a perfectionist approach and those that probably won’t get done if they’re held to that standard.

    I also want to stand up for option 3, do nothing. Some tasks aren’t even worth a halfhearted effort. To quote Cal Newport paraphrasing Warren Buffett, “If It’s Not The Most Important Thing, Avoid It At All Costs” (http://calnewport.com/blog/201…. That’s a bit extreme (it’s a blog headline), but we all have tasks that deserve to be ignored completely.

  • Farrukh Shahzad

    When ever our eye will open for improving our selves, i think one should not jump for high or higher standards but to start. No matter how much it looks lower productive but start with some thing good even it may slower start.

  • Mickey

    I think the post title should be “Efficiency vs superlative-ness” (although I’m sure you can think of a much better term for the latter 😛 ). The biggest hindrance to being efficient is the desire to do it right. Analysis paralysis. The all or nothing mindset. We’re not machines, and we must realize that most of the time we’re not going to “do it right”. It’s much better to keep taking consistent small steps towards our goals, and when motivation permits, bigger leaps. Putting off things results in losing momentum.

    Like chasing a deer, jogging most of the time with little sprints in between, covers more ground than sitting around waiting to regain your breath.

  • Isa

    Thanks for the great post, Scott!
    Most of my decisions are between doing something inefficiently or doing nothing. For example, when I have the motivation and time, I go workout for more than an hour. But when my motivation is low or time is short, I don’t exercise at all even the exercise bike is only in the next room. I feel guilty about not exercising, but as you said, I have no immediate consequences for that.
    By lowering the minimum time required (spend 5 to 10 minutes every other day rather than more than half an hour once a week or two weeks) and my expectations, I will actually devote more time exercising on a monthly/yearly basis. I do realize the importance of physical exercise to good health and it takes time and determination to stay healthy. Sadly, I think people (including me) usually just go slack. I think good health enables you to do what you want and contributes to the efficiency of doing almost everything. Simply put, if you don’t have good health or your physical condition is not good, you don’t do things as efficiently as when you are in good shape.
    You have made a good point comparing doing something inefficiently versus doing nothing. I can benefit from your practical and useful advice.

  • Peter

    so “slowing down” helps so that you can regain focus in other part of your life that needs attention or smoothness?

  • Adhithya

    You got to the root of the problem. It finally boils down to energy management. A higher number of smoother tasks increases motivation. This is a great strategy for optimal energy management. Way to go!

  • Jesus Garcia-Parrado

    I’m completely agree with you! I’m doing the same and feel better, because I prefer slow down a book reading instead of the feeling I would be missing to learn something that I really need.

    I use two strategies:

    1# buy kindle books to reduce the cost, no kindle no buy.
    2# download the books preview helps me to decide buy or not, and also have another side effect, that is keep a list of books you want to read easy to access and manage.

    Cheers!

    Jesús

  • Russell

    Great post; now I don’t feel as guilty about all these stacks of books! I do a lot of my “reading” by audio books while doing mindless tasks. In fact, I own several books where I have a hard copy to mark up, and the audio version. Anyone else?

  • hello!

    I didn’t used to like running, because I’d go out and run my absolute fastest, and be in so much pain at the end that the thought of doing it again was too much of a barrier. Now I smooth things out by forcing myself to take it easy on a run sometimes, to enjoy the experience instead of fixating on the goal. I permit my times to stagnate or get worse. But still the overall trend is improvement. Then some days I really feel like going for it, so I do. The next day is the important day when I have to cajole myself into going again by saying there’s no way I’ll improve, not every day can be a PB, but I should just go out for fun. It’s resulted in more regular running than I’ve managed in a long time!

  • Camila

    This is also called the “Ready, Aim, Fire” vs “Ready, Fire, Aim” approach. More often than not, it is best to fire as soon as possible to your target, and fix your aim later.

    From personal experience, it really is a question of long term vs short term. In the long run, the best you can do is to have the discipline to do the small things constantly…even if it means neglecting the URGENT!! IMPORTANT!!! things that need to get done TODAY!!. In the end when you always live by immediate deadlines what happens is that you end up not making small progresses or building habits at all. Whilist when you realize that there are very few things that are *actual* emergencies, and that you can put them off until the small tasks get done first, then that’s the only way you can actually get both things done.

    In my case, one of the self-learning projects I’m taking is learning Portuguese, but inbetween that I’m taking an Architecture degree.

    Architecture schools love to pride themeselves on how much they suck the life and time out of students, by giving them time consuming projects that force them to be incapable of doing anything else. And even though I knew this was ridiculous, I had subconsciously led them fool me into this by putting the deadlines for those time-consuming projects *before*the 30 or 15 minutes reviews that I was supposed to do for Portuguese.

    The result was that not only I lost momentum with the lenguage learning, but also that I worked on the school projects much less efficiently because I’d feel guilty about not working on my portuguese… which in turn lead me to procrastination… and which in turn mean nothing at all got done.

    Excercise is a more evident example: you *could* focus on trying to kill a specific work out for a race or competition, but the reality is that your body relies on habit. If your body gets used to “sweating everyday”, no matter how *much*, then that’s already a HUGE win that will get results.

    All that being said, it’s also true that when we take it easy, we aren’t *forced* to innovate as much or to improve our learning (sometimes “cramming” is the only push that actually gets someone). For book goals, we only ever start to think about better methods when we have “too much to read”. So, if we are to take the easy way and stop considering the quality of reading, we need to still find ways to put some difficulty and preassure there in the quantity aspect of it.

  • Reece

    Yep, I completely get your reading analogy. I often go backwards and forwards on what I *should* be reading as opposed to what I *feel* like reading.
    In the end I gave up arguing with myself, and decided that I’d have a few books on the go at once. That way, no matter what mood I was in, I’d have something to read. At first it felt like quitting, but actually now it’s started to become much more effective- because I actually finish loads more books!
    I’m glad it’s not just me that’s gone through this emotional trauma!
    Thanks for the great post.
    Reece

  • Some Dude

    “What I am trying to say is that progress not tracked does not mean progress not made. While checking off milestones on a run feels good, the goal becomes the milestone and not the run. The run itself, for pleasure, can go on probably for much longer, having run marathons without having realised it.” ~ Sumidha from comments

    I agree and disagree. Suppose you are trying to take your meditation to a deeper place. If you don’t have regularity – same time, same duration – then it would be far harder to measure progress. Furthermore, you will always need to exert effort to do meditation if it is not on a fixed time, because your mind will make excuses. However, if you turn the same practice into a habit, you will exert less effort on the task and you will also be able to judge what in your day has been hindering your progress – which is often not obvious. Now you can put effort to improve.

    I’ve found that I do more other things – like reading, exercising, and charity when I have pressure from homework and deadlines. This is my way of avoiding the work, which does cause problems, but the risk is low as I already have a job lined up.

    The cool part about taking more courses than I think I can handle and auditing on top of that is that I get to deal with the feeling of impending doom and I get to see my character in rough situations. I can think what a better response would be and take steps to mold my response. This is making progress!

    One additional note, by building in exercise (taking a couple courses in dance, for example) you can notice the impact it has. Right after I’m doing physics for 2 hours, going to dance relaxes my mind and allows me to not get so heated over the work I left to do.

    Physically touching others and being touched (not in a sexual way) activates a different part of my brain and enhances life. I learn how to breath properly, and give weight, and express fluidity. I can experience harmony. It’s great!

  • L

    Excellent article–I think everybody can relate to it in some way. In my experience, habit is many, many times more important than intensity and all of the other factors, especially in the beginning stages. When you add all of this friction in the beginning, it can become overwhelming because at the start is when you’re least capable of dealing with it. I had this when I was younger and I started getting wildly good at piano. Ever since I was young, I’d listened at my brother’s piano lessons while doing other stuff, never touching a key as years went by. At age 7, I decided that I might be interested, and, touching keys for the first time ever, I played one of my brother’s entire pieces by ear. I have perfect pitch. As a result, my teachers added a TON of friction because they were excited by the possibilities; I went on for about a year before burning out and quitting.

    I believe, that as things you’ve already done become easier and easier, you can then, carefully, add on new layers of friction–and over time you get used to adding on this friction and pushing yourself to new heights. But doing so in the beginning just doesn’t work and causes you to burn out or miss sessions (which is the worst thing you can do for muscle memory in something like piano).

  • dr sohail

    Thanks mr scott.its important for me to share with you and the people around here. I am a medical doctor resident in internal medicine. At each and every minute of my life I have to study something new. I don’t say that I am a dull fellow but the point I want to make is that my medicine txt book is composed of around 15000 pages, in many volumes.i ll have to finish it from cover to cover with in the next 3 years and then to take these series of exams after 3 years to finish with specialization in the respective field.i can help and treat my patients only after having a full command on this txt book. I don’t know how to study these mega books coz it contains thousands and thousands of diseases and my brain overwhelms and get bored after studying even few pages of it . I study and I forget , study and forget. I am in the middle of nowhere. The more I study the more I forget, the more I forget the less I know. It sucks you know. Recently I read your ebook on holistic reading. I liked the idea of construct, model,metaphor so on and so forth. I request you specifically mr scott kindly help me out on how to apply holistic approach on medicine. I request other members as well to kindly help me on the issue.

  • Rohi Shetty

    My two biggest takeaways:

    Something is better than nothing. Get started.

    In difficult times, make it easy to start – for example, it’s okay to exercise for five minutes. Usually once you start, it’s easier to keep going.

  • David

    Thank you, Scott.

    I feel the same way, that I want to do things in a quality way. I will also experiment along with you, setting a lower standard for doing things. The last months I have done very little exercise and read few non-school books.

    I will pick up some quick runs with a friend after school/work.

    I will read more frequently, sometimes just for a chapter.

    I will also journal everyday; things that I have learned, and the ongoing thoughts of the day.

  • Scott Welch

    Thanks for putting into words the tension I’ve been feeling. I’m a 1/3 of the way through a great book on facilitation. It’s packed with examples, meticulous in its explanations, and seemingly comprehensive on the subject. Yet more often than not it’s hard to pick up and keep going.

    I’m going to try what you did: having more unfinished books. I only allow myself two right now; maybe double the “unfinished” rule will bring more smoothness.

  • Mitko

    Scot, I love the phrase ‘friction reducing’. This single one thing for me is an art. Blocking out time to be in the zone in your most productive hours is another thing I accept as an art.

    But at the end it’s not about getting more done in less time.

    “It’s about getting only the right things done. It is not a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.” Greg McKeown

    That’s my personal goal: discern what is absolutely essential and eleminate everyting that’s not, so I can hit strong where it really matters.

  • Ela

    Until now I have never realized that I sometimes get caught in the trap of completing a “full-time” exercise routine or “doing nothing.” Being aware of the fact that I can actually spend more time exercising if I incorporate those “short workouts” into my daily routine when I do not have enough time to exercise for an hour or so, will definitely help me improve my stamina. Thank you for advice.

  • Divesh

    Just like everyone else this particular subject of not wanting to start another book till I finish my current one weighs on me. Sometimes to the point of anxiety!

    I often might buy a book on Kindle and really want to read it but then I remember I have two others that I am supposed to finish first.

    I think it all boils down to if you need that sense of accomplishment for actually finishing a book or if you are happy to just be reading.

    I also feel really guilty if I start a book before having finished the one I am busy with. Also if I start reading a book and put it down for a while when I return to it then the parts I have read already are not fresh and it almost feels like I need to start over.

    Again, great post Scott, hit the nail on the head as usual.

  • Salman

    Hi Scott,
    After reading your thoughtful and brilliant piece, the Nike punchline comes to mind. “Just do it!” .
    For sophisticated people who have the self-awareness to check and tweak their approach to tasks this is a brilliant piece of advice. For most, however, just starting a task would be enough to be on their way. The subsequent tweaks could be made along the route.
    I have been trying a multitude of approaches during reading and my work assignments, and I think there’s too much emphasis on efficiency or effectiveness, or both. This does not need to be the case for every task to be performed.
    I think the best way to go about choosing an approach is the result you intend to get from it. As Stephen Covey said, “Begin with the end in mind”.
    I’d like to hear some thoughts from you on “minimum effective dosage” theory, i.e. what would be the minimum amount of effort and / or time required to do certain tasks and get acceptable results. You have shed some light on it when you wrote on accelerated learning. What interests me as adopting it as a lifestyle/ adopting certain tactics that would get you ahead in a lot of areas when most others would be just beginning.
    Keep up the great work!

  • Minh

    I agree. I read somewhere that says “when you read matters” or something along that line, and realise from past experience that a book I don’t feel like reading yesterday seems so tempting today. So I buy book (1-2 max/week) and leave them next to my pillows or on my working table and pick the one I want to read anytime I feel like reading. This has got me far more book read than finish one/buy new one strategy.

  • Patricia

    There’s a big advantage to reading without guilt or intention. It’s just my own experience, but I think it leads to creative inquiry. If you’re a writer or an academic or an artist of any kind, having all those random bits of information rubbing together in your head is really productive. And the things you just remember because they caught your interest are just as powerful as the things you sat down and learned on purpose; maybe more so.

  • Sayutining

    I do agree with your method Scott.
    Just do whatever come to our interest now. When we get overthink about something, we will just stuck in our current place and will not move to a place we dream of.
    This world comes with their imperfection, and so do us. And that imperfection make this world just perfect for us.

  • rakgadi

    interesting article;

    i have been struggling with spending 15min a day practicing a new language; because i think i need at least an hour to do something worthwhile. this has resulted in me doing nothing at all. so for the coming weeks i have committed to doing 15 min a day. even if its learning on word or sentence and to be okay with that.

    thanks for an insightful article.

  • rakgadi

    interesting article;

    i have been struggling with spending 15min a day practicing a new language; because i think i need at least an hour to do something worthwhile. this has resulted in me doing nothing at all. so for the coming weeks i have committed to doing 15 min a day. even if its learning on word or sentence and to be okay with that.

    thanks for an insightful article.

  • Dipanjan Pal

    Many of your articles resonate what with what i think about on a daily basis – i often develop a system go on fir a few days and then quit it . going through articles has been a great pleasure , it has a niche space , so thank you and keep it going !

  • Dipanjan Pal

    Many of your articles resonate what with what i think about on a daily basis – i often develop a system go on fir a few days and then quit it . going through articles has been a great pleasure , it has a niche space , so thank you and keep it going !

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