Update: Goal Achieved!
Want an even cooler version of this spreadsheet to use for your own reading? Check out /u/Sycab’s version in the CIG community – it’s delightfully geeky.
Here’s the thing: I don’t read enough. I was skiing in Colorado recently with my friend Matt and my new friend Ben, and I had to look on while both of them recounted all these books they’d read recently.
As a busy guy, I usually feel like I don’t have time to read. There are videos to make, podcasts to record, scripts to write, emails to send. Hair to pull out, if it was long enough. And yes… reading should be an integral part of my job. How else am I going to continue to make useful videos? What goes in influences what comes out, and I need to be intaking more and better information.
So I asked Matt how he reads so many books, and his answer was simple:
“I just read 25 pages a day.”
No yearly book goals on Goodreads, no weird systems, no “reading binge weeks”, no nothin’. Just a simple, daily goal. And that’s what I’m going to do now.
This page is where I’ll track my progress on that goal. Now, good goals have a few defining features that make them good – remember the SMART framework? Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. I’m not sure if recent research has debunked or bolstered this framework (I’ve heard arguments on both sides), but I don’t really care. I’m going to use it. So here we go:
- Specific: I’m focusing on reading non-fiction, specifically to gain the knowledge I need to do my job well.
- Measurable: I will read 25 pages a day. The spreadsheet below will report my progress daily.
- Attainable: If I read in a quiet place without distractions, I should be able to accomplish this goal in 30 minutes each day. Very attainable if I’m deliberate about prioritizing it.
- Relevant: My job involves communicating information, so this is very relevant to my life.
- Time-bound: I won’t delude myself into thinking I can do this forever without any proof. I’m shooting for 3 perfect months.
The timeframe for this goal is 3/28/16 to 6/30/16 – a little over three months, actually, because I wanted to go until the end of June even though I started a little before April.
If I’m successful, by the end of June I will have read at least 2,375 pages of non-fiction – far more than I think I’ve ever read in this small of a time period.
Letting the Goal Structure My Life
I’m not going to get over-ambitious here and try to commit to a bunch of goals. The lessons on success spirals from Nick Winter’s The Motivation Hacker have stuck well in my brain; I know that I’ve already got a lot on my plate with work, exercise, relationships, etc – so for now I’m only committing to this one goal of daily input (at least in my personal life).
However, my hypothesis is that this one goal will have some influence on the rest of my life. The main reason for this is that I’m going to have to structure my life in order to set myself up for success. I know a few things going in:
- The later in the day it gets, the less likely I am to read non-fiction.
- According to what I’m learning in Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, my brain is primed to pay attention at peak levels right after exercising. My skating practice sessions almost always have to happen at 6:30am, and for the sake of consistency, I work out around the same time on non-skating days.
Taken together, these facts indicate that I should read in the morning – and that’s just what I’m going to do. Regardless of business, my intention is to wake up, exercise (skating or lifting), and then get my butt into a coffee shop to read my 25 pages.
Motivation Sources, Rules, and Consequences
I’m doing everything I can in order to set myself up for success here – while the disciplined practice is the most important part, I think the preparation is incredibly important as well. Right up front, I’m structuring the goal with the Procrastination Equation in mind:
I’m increasing expectancy by setting a simple, daily page goal. This means the lengths of the books I choose can’t increase the difficulty too much, which would be the case if I was aiming to read a certain number of books instead. I’ve chosen to increase value by making the process more enjoyable – I’m reading while enjoying a latte, and I’m choosing books I’m interested in. Additionally, each day’s reading holds the potential for giving me new video and podcast ideas, which makes my job easier and more enjoyable.
Impulsiveness is decreased by choosing a good location, reading right after exercise (when my brain’s inhibitory functions are at their peak), and keeping my laptop and phone off the table. The phone goes into Do Not Disturb mode while I’m reading as well. Going off of what I learned when interviewing Cal Newport on deep work, I anticipate that I will be somewhat susceptible to distractions at first; as the days go by, though, I should get better and better and remaining focused the entire time. This practice should also translate into better focused work habits as well – ancillary benefit!
Delay is managed by structuring the goal as a series of 95 mini-goals; yes, the overall goal can’t be achieved until June 30, but every day brings progress. Every day must bring progress.
I’m also increasing the probability of success by removing barriers and making myself accountable.
I’m removing barriers to success by putting myself in a place where I’m primed to read (a coffee shop), making sure my book is always in my bag before bed each night, and also making sure I have things like books flags for marking passages and headphones in case the environment distracts me.
As for accountability: I’ve told Martin that if I skip even one day during this challenge, I’ll give him $100. Additionally, this page acts as a method of keeping myself publicly accountable.