Swallows and Sips, Drops and Skips
Episode #3 of the course How to read and retain more by Abasi Latcham
Yesterday, we emphasized the reading mindset and were blown away by the mathematics of reading. Today, we are going to continue looking at the reading mindset and consider when not to read.
Reading in Sips and Swallows
Okay, you’ve made reading a priority and acknowledged that it only takes ten minutes a day to read 17 books a year. Now we need to find a couple of hours made up of spare minutes by taking some advice from Stephen King:
“The trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows.” — Stephen King
What King is saying is that in addition to reading a book for a significant portion of time (swallows), to read more, you also have to be able to read for shorter but more frequent periods of time (sips).
How can you incorporate this practice? The easiest is to read while waiting. This means carrying a book with you everywhere you go (this is where phone apps that sync reading positions really shine, like Pocket).
Once you start to observe how much time you are idly waiting throughout the day, you’ll notice it’s quite substantial. A Timex survey found that each day, the average American spent five minutes waiting for coffee and 15 minutes waiting for public transport. That’s 20 minutes a day wasted, which could have been put toward reading about 34 books.
There are more opportunities for sipping books. What about reading on your lunch break? While commuting? While waiting for your significant other to get ready? While on hold on the phone? While your tea steeps? Any time you impulsively pull out Facebook and scroll aimlessly? There are hours of minutes just slipping through your fingers.
Another option for taking advantage of these lost minutes is audiobooks or podcasts. These are a great way to get some “reading” done while you are otherwise occupied (such as when you are doing chores, riding to work, or cooking dinner). Don’t let anyone tell you that listening to a book does not “count” as reading—some books are better consumed in audio format.
Skipping and Dropping
The second part of today’s lesson is to acknowledge that it’s okay to stop reading a book, as long as you don’t stop reading altogether. There is no rule that says that once started, a book has to be read in full. You are allowed to stop reading something in order to read something else. Here are a few ideas:
• Skip to the next chapter. If you realize you have accidentally started reading something boring, follow these steps until you’re reading something compelling:
• Read a bit more to make sure.
• Understand that books are not linear and skip to the next chapter.
• Appreciate that books are not all-or-nothing endeavors, put the book down, and pick up a different one.
• Read multiple books at once. I often have three or four books on the go. This lets me fit my book to my mood and not force my mood upon the book.
• Abandon the book. This isn’t high school; there are no assessments, no grades for finishing a book that you don’t like. All you will do is waste your time and discourage yourself. Drop it, but remember: You’re not allowed to succumb to resistance and stop reading altogether. As soon as you put one book down, pick another up.
Tomorrow, we will look how behavioral insights offer ideas on how to establish lasting habits and accomplish your reading goals.
1. You are frittering away hours of spare minutes each day. Learn to read during these windows to find days of hidden time.
2. Don’t torture yourself by reading something you dislike. It’s okay to skip or drop texts, as long as you keep reading in general.
Observe your life. What opportunities do you have to recover lost minutes? You’ll be surprised at how much time you can recover. And once you start to observe these minutes, start reading in them.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
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