March 28, 2017
Commitments are easy to accumulate and much harder to extricate from. One of the reasons why I’ve felt this week to be particularly appropriate for a reading diet is that while unsubscribing from newsletters and mailing lists, I noticed that the emails that I was most attached to were also the biggest time commitments. They were a combination of pieces written by the sender and a mixed bag of links from around the web with a line or two of commentary.
In terms of commitments, the emails full of links are harder. I subscribe(d) to newsletters because I believe in the authors and their perspectives. Not that I always agreed, but at least that they’re worth listening to. That means that if they’re sharing an article, I’m more likely going to at least click on it to see what it’s about. In one email in particular, I opened 7 of the 8 links included. The problem was that I had four or five more emails just like it to get to later, and I didn’t have three hours to read it all. So, I did what I always do: saved them for later.
Saving for later is the ultimate cop-out. It’s like saying you accomplished a goal. Your brain feels the reward even though you haven’t done anything yet. It turns out that I do this a lot. In just the past two years, I have saved nearly 1,000 articles which I have never read.¹ While saving the articles is relatively easy and can be done in under a minute, making the time to actually read the articles is significantly more difficult. In fact, the few instances I can recall where I have read an article I had previously saved was due to my stumbling back across it at a time more conducive to reading.
My reading list has become a graveyard of the best intentions. It is visual evidence of agreements I made with my future self and then neglected. The problem, if that is the right word, is not that I did not revisit them, but that I have spent a significant amount of time and energy maintaining the lists.
Experience indicates that not having these lists won’t affect me much. When I look for something to read now, I can find it with relative ease and maybe the time I free up from cataloging will allow me to spend more time actually absorbing what I’m learning. Getting my mind in a place to actually receive those ideas requires that I don’t tax it to think about lists that are not providing value. Unsubscribing from newsletters was a nice reminder of the importance to review your commitments periodically to make sure they’re serving you - not the other way around.
¹ As of this writing, the exact figure is actually 962 spread across Pocket, Evernote, and Trello.
Written by Stephen Weiss who lives in Chicago with his wife, Kate, and dog, Finn. Follow him on Twitter!