how to read more and waste less time

Do you want to read more?

Do you have a smartphone?

Do you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, habitually checking Twitter, or scanning Google News with no recollection of how you got there?

Yeah, me too.

I think I’ve found a solution.

The Problem

You and me, see, we’ve got this bad habit: When we’re bored, our brains send our thumbs in search of a little dopamine snack.

Brain: “Hey thumb, see what’s new on the smartphone.” Thumb: “Sure thing, boss.” Brain: “Ooh, a friend request! Dopamine time!

In just a few seconds, we’re scrolling through other people’s vacation photos as our lives tick away.

The Solution

Habits can’t be broken; they can only be replaced. Here’s how I’ve replaced my “mindless surfing” habit with a reading habit:

  1. Identify the problem app. Where does your thumb go first when you pick up your phone out of boredom? For me, it’s Safari.
  2. Download an e-reader app. I decided on Amazon’s Kindle app. I don’t have an e-reader, but I use Amazon all the time. Seemed like a safe bet.
  3. Purchase or download a book. Make sure it’s one you want to read, not one you feel like you should read. We’re trying to establish a new habit here, so let’s take baby steps. I found a free public domain PDF of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, which I’ve been meaning to read for years. Plus, it’s short.
  4. Move the problem app. If you need it, put it somewhere else on your home screen. If it has no redeeming qualities whatsoever (I’m looking at you, Yik Yak), just delete it.
  5. Move the e-reader app. Put the e-reader app where the problem app used to be.

The Aftermath

There are two stages to this solution.

For a day or so, your thumb will open the new e-reader app before your brain can stop it. Success! Read a page, and pat yourself on the back for developing this new habit.

Soon, your brain will catch on and start sending your thumb to the problem app’s new location. You’ll notice this happening, though, and you’ll get to make a conscious choice about which app to open. You’ll now associate a little guilt with the problem app and a little pride with the reading app. Reading it is!

It’s not a perfect solution. I still sometimes find myself browsing Google News after opening Safari for a perfectly legitimate reason, like looking up who hit the most home runs in 1987 (Mark McGwire and Andre Dawson tied with 49).

But overall, this little trick has me reading more and loafing less.

I think it can do the same for you. If you try it, leave a comment with your results!