How my Reading Productivity went through the roof
Apart from the obvious personal benefits of reading more books, for teachers in particular, this can be an incredibly powerful habit to form. Increased subject knowledge, academic prowess, lateral thinking ability, professional development, the list is pretty lengthy.
But where do we get the time? Surely we are all busy enough, right? Well I agree, and I wrestled with how to be more productive in my reading habits for a long time. And then I discovered a great method that propelled my reading habits from the mundane to the mighty. Here’s my story…
As long as I can remember, I’ve always been a bit of a reader; not an avid focused reader, just a haphazard one I suppose, like most folk. Regardless of what I was reading, I had always considered reading one book at a time.
I mean, how can you read two books or more together? It didn’t make sense to me. Nevertheless, the consequences of the one-book-at-a-time method meant that I ended up writing and rewriting long lists of books that formed my ‘to be read list’.
Not only that, I would rearrange these lists, reordering, editing, adding and subtracting from it, as my reading progressed. In fact I think at some point, I spent more time on my list than my current read! Strangely, there’s something that excites me just in considering what I’m going to be reading next or even later in the year; or is that just me?
Anyway, it soon hit me in all its simplicity: what if I read two books concurrently rather than simultaneously? In other words rather than getting stressed about trying to synchronise my reading to equal and exact time parcels for each book, why not just have both books on the go and casually move from one to the other as my interest ebbed and flowed?
Call me a dullard, but this was a eureka moment for me. Rather than having to hang about until I had read a particular book from the genre I was dabbling in, I could hit two genres at once. How cool is that?
You see, I read books and I also read really big books: War and Peace, Les Miserables, Poor Fellow My Country, Atlas Shrugged; you get the picture. The problem with reading books like those, no matter how good they are, is that they take time; months in fact in some cases.
And they are all from the literature genre, meaning those other genres I love: history, religion, fantasy and like, subsequently get neglected. And as good as all of those books are, there are points in them, whether that be plot related or reader related, when your interest will wane and you will find yourself in the literary doldrums.
During these downtime phases of a book, nothing gets read because you are only reading one book. In worst case scenarios, when my reader’s block was at its worst, I have gone weeks and months without pouring over the pages. That’s pretty disastrous for your learning!
So I began to recognise that having another book on the go would solve any lapse periods. It meant if I was struggling with a particular part of a novel, I could leave it there and pick up another book from a different genre and read away until my natural inclination to revisit the novel returned.
The amazing product of this strategy that I discovered was that I was always reading. There was always something from my selected books that would garner my interest and if I found that I had a particular book on the go that I just didn’t get: Underworld by Don DeLillo comes to mind; I could keep reading productively and dump the one that hadn’t been picked up for three weeks.
By the way, it took me a long, long time to learn how to abandon a book: there haven’t been many, but those slow grinds have brought all of my reading to a halt in the past.
So, I started reading two books; usually a literary classic – I love them – like Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley or Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped (which I read every year), and I added another genre.
Naturally enough, choosing the supplementary genre was something of a pleasure to a bibliophile: would it be crime, self-help, religion, popular science, sport, biography? My instincts would normally help me choose something that felt right at the time and my old ‘to be read’ list normally provided for me if I was indecisive.
As soon as this concurrent reading took shape, I knew I would never again go back to mono-reading again. My reading went from stride to stride, or is that from book to book?
And then I had another eureka moment! What if I could pick more than two books to read at the same time, I mean, what if I could actually read across multiple genres?
I was blown away by this possibility: Dickens, à Kempis, Tolkien, Ackroyd, Jaki, Aquinas; this was mouth-watering. I could read books about roads that go ever on and on, tigers in boats, daggers appearing before one’s eyes, Russian overcoats. I could pour over Odysseys and Forest Notes, books about big whales or the mountains of California.
And without really making much of an effort my reading productivity skyrocketed: from reading a book every month, I had discovered a way to read a book every week.
Not small books either. Recent reads have included David Copperfield by Dickens, The Heart of Midlothian by Sir Walter Scott and The Divine Comedy by Dante. I have also found a way to read those lighter novels in the escapism genre, without feeling too guilty about them not being ‘high-brow’.
Therefore I took the plunge and started reading across five different genre types: classic literature, religion, non-fiction, self-help and lighter reading. And those are pretty broad individual genres you might have noticed, meaning there is scope not only to add more as your interests increase, but to split those genres down even further.
This has proved to be a magic formula for me. I can read with pleasure about subjects as diverse as The One Hundred Years War, The Lisbon Lions, Metaphysics, 19th Century English Literature, The History of the Crusades: I mean how interesting is that?
Furthermore you can ensure you are never without that pile of current-reads if you tap into the power of the eBook. Those wasted moments standing bored in queues or on a commute to and from work, can be turned into dazzling reading or listening moments and further turbo-charge your reading productivity.
Once a Luddite in terms of digital technologies, I have now embraced the likes of amazon kindle. In my eyes they are nothing short of amazing and have opened up whole areas of reading to me that is out of paper print. Often these eBooks are ludicrously inexpensive compared to paper books and loads, like the classics, are free.
In terms of Catholic and Spiritual titles a simple google search will open up a treasure trove of resources on free Catholic eBooks, many that are kindle format.
Similarly, I make use of time in the car, if I’m alone, to listen to books that I’m reading. My kindle has a text-to-speech function that makes it a portable audio book player. If you enjoy audio books, a more enhanced product from amazon is audible.
You will find that there is always something of note on your reading pile that will enliven those conversations you might have, whether that be at home, in the staff-room or hopefully in the classroom, when you adopt these strategies.
I have also found that my ability to think laterally; cross-reference information across different subjects, has dramatically improved.
This is not only a result of increased reading input, but of concurrently processing different sorts of information that make diverse demands on the intellect: poetry, history, science, literature, philosophy. My mono-processing reading days are over and I find I am now dealing with both the concrete and the abstract on a regular basis.
One fringe benefit is the tendency to stay open-minded which can help avoid reading non-fiction books that tend to agree exclusively within your current mindset.
Having come this far with this new strategy for reading, I don’t think I could ever go back to the old days. My reading productivity continues to climb as does my desire to read more and more books across ever-expanding areas of interest.
So what are you waiting for? If you want to increase the amount you read, vary your reading, increase your knowledge and be much more interesting in your conversations, give it a go: you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.