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How To Make Reading a Conscious Decision

Too often we read unconsciously or impulsively. We read because we think we need to know something, but we really don’t. Headlines tantalize us and makes us curious. We feel compelled to stay well-informed.

Reading can also be a form of hedging. There might be something useful in that article on the 5 Secrets to Becoming a Millionaire, so you better read it just in case.

Making a conscious decision on whether to consume content each time we encounter it can take too much effort, especially in today’s world of information overload.

Instead of relying on defaults or impulses, decide in advance your “reading rules”, and use those to ease the decision process.

Reading rules should cover three reading decisions:

  1. Should I read it?
  2. When should I read it?
  3. How should I read it?

Should I Read It?

Make sure what you read provides value to you. Decide in advance what you want to read.

My rules ask if the content will:

  • Give me actionable information
  • Teach me a valuable skill
  • Stimulate a discussion with a friend

Your rules may differ.

Consider negative rules too.

For instance, I aim to avoid reading progress reports for outcomes I can’t control. I wait until the outcome becomes actionable. I now waste almost no time reading about the rumored features on the new iPhone or Android phone.

When Should I Read It?

Just because you decide to read it, doesn’t mean you should read it now.

Ask yourself when you need the value the content provides. If the content provides actionable information, when do you expect to take action? If the content teaches a skill, when will you need that skill?

I personally recommend delaying reading until just before you need to take an action related to the content.

My options for when to read content include:

  • Read It Now
    For content I plan to take action on in the next couple days.
  • Read It Later
    For content I plan to take action on in the next couple months.
  • Read It When (If) Needed
    For content I might need, but don’t have any specific action for. I file this content into folders based on what I information or skill I expect to learn from the content.

I often combine this question with the first question and add a “Don’t Read It At All” option.

How Should I Read It?

After deciding whether to read a piece of content, you should decide how to read it.  Not all content justifies an in-depth word-for-word reading.

Some ways I read content include:

  • Scan
    Scan the headlines and bullet points. When you see a valuable point, read the surrounding paragraph for additional details.
  • Search
    Use the search function to search for keywords in the text and read the text around the keyword. Useful when searching for solutions on a discussion forum or when monitoring keywords in news feeds.
  • In Depth
    Read the entire content word-for-word. I reserve this for when reading for pleasure or for highly recommended content where I expect to learn valuable skills or knowledge.
  • Notes
    Take notes while reading. I use this for training content to identify the actionable knowledge and create an action list from the content.

I try to decide upfront how I plan to read a piece of content. But if the content dictates it, I’ll switch after I’ve started reading between these styles.

Consciously Decide What To Read

Each person has their own criteria on what to read. Too often we rely on defaults.

Make it a practice to establish (and write down!) rules to help you decide what to read. Then review these rules periodically to make sure they continue to serve you well.

But most importantly, make reading a conscious decision, rather than an unconscious habit.

What are your rules for deciding what to read? How do you choose when to read and how to read content?

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