This series of “When In Doubt” posts will deal specifically with how to get happy when you feel like you’re drowning in more questions than answers. I have frequently been in dips like this, as you can see from many of my posts. Sometimes I work out a problem on the blog here with you, but often it is expressed in activity in another sphere. Here is where I’m showcasing those other activities, and how I deal with uncertainty every day.
Now don’t get confused, I’m not saying write a book a week. That would be crazy. My limit for writing is a book in a month. No, I’m talking about reading.
Being alone, I am free to choose how I spend a lot of my time. And a lot of the time I am reading. I have several reasons for this, and some or all of them may apply to you:
- Nonfiction practical research (e.g. The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published)
- Nonfiction reflective research (e.g. The War of Art)
- Fiction in my genre, example (e.g. India Black, the Mary Russell series, or the Outlander series), for the enjoyment and market research
- Fiction or nonfiction not in my genre (e.g. Sad Desk Salad or Sea Room), which stretches my understanding, or advocates different thinking
Those last two don’t really count toward the reading of a book a week, but they are a significant source of weekly and daily reading time.
Now here’s the rub- I may have a lot of freedom to choose what to do with my time, but with a life full of so many pursuits, how do I find the time for all this reading? How might you, if you so desired?
Part of the answer includes knowing your optimal times for your activities. I, for one, know that I am most productive 15 minutes after I wake up until an hour and a half later. So I do NOT do my reading then; I do what producing I can. Also, for how long? I have a friend who likes to read ALL DAY. Quite beyond my reach, as I get migraines from the focusing. I can read for about an hour and a half before going off a cliff and wrecking subsequent productivity.
The other part of the answer lies in how you schedule your time. Much like vacations, there is a tempo giusto for everyone. You can make a to-do list in the morning or the night before and do whatever you need to work your way through it, or you can pencil in what comes at 9 AM, 11 AM, 1 PM, etc. I tend more toward the former.
And then how do you transition? Do you make sure to give yourself some breathing space (or ‘white space‘) between tasks? If not, do you notice it takes a while for your brain to focus on the new task? Letting it idle for a few minutes between focused tasks may help.
While I do make regular visits to the Twittterverse, I take care NOT to be constantly searching for an outside stimulus to occupy my mind. The long stretches of silent road on my Nova Scotia road trip were extensions of this principle. I think of it as “brain maintenance.” We have so little opportunity, need, or inclination to think for ourselves these days (in order to exist, I mean, not in order to live fully!), that resisting the clarion call of the smartphone in those transitions between tasks may actually give your brain some breathing room to collect itself and recharge before refocusing. It helps build character. For your brain. Does that make sense?
But isn’t reading a detective mystery novel or a Dickens tome just doing the same thing as Twitter, you might ask? And you’d have a good point. But I have a rebuttal! I know when my best time is to read these novels: when my brain no longer has the strength to push through new concepts or problems, and no longer has the inclination to connect with other people about social activities. No, I’m not talking about a retirement home, I’m talking about the last 20-30 minutes before bed. My reading at this time helps calm and soothe my head after the day’s mental exertions. If I caught up with social media at that time (which I sometimes do), my brain will get wound up instead of down and it will be harder to fall asleep.
So, to recap the benefits of being voracious in the reading sense (at least for me):
- ‘brain maintenance’
- general enjoyment
- market research
And to recap the ways to find time for things you’d like to do:
- Know your optimal times for different activities
- Learn how to schedule your own time
- Give yourself transition time
- Resist mindless stimuli
As Levar Burton might say, reading is good for you. If reading books just isn’t your thing, being voracious in other ways is still good for you. It’s just one more way to take a bite out of life! How are you voracious? Do you read a widely? Do you have a guilty-pleasure read? (Mine are terribly predictable romances) Do you listen to TED talks or opera? Share in the comments!