The rise of reading online (and a brilliant article recommendation)

I read a lot of online essays and blog posts. In fact, I read the equivalent of 24 books last year (estimated by Pocket):

Email sent to me by Pocket in January 2016.

Considering I read 27 books in 2015, that’s close to half of my entire reading done online. It’s all free too, I don’t pay for any content subscriptions.

I would guess that a couple of years ago it would have been about 25% and before that, almost exclusively books. It feels representative of a broader trend towards online reading.

The quality of content available online is just staggering. For me, it’s at least on par with books. I get a much better return for my time when reading online. One of the reasons for this is my obsession with efficient content discovery. It’s very noisy out there. If you’re not careful you can spend more time looking for useful content, than reading it. Twitter and a handful of high quality newsletters surfaces all of my online reading — about a handful of great pieces every day.

Yesterday my friend Nate Green published a fantastic piece — How to write a million words — on a slacker’s schedule. It’s an example of the type of content I read every day.

I think it’s one of his best yet and I got five valuable learnings / reminders from it. Each one will make an immediate impact on my life:

  • focused work blocks — this was a great reminder that a few hours of intense focus can give you an enormous amount of output and quality. Often more than working twice as many hours in an unfocused way. The concept of setting work blocks, being clear about what you will do and avoiding distractions is really smart. I’m going to start doing this.
  • permission to finish early — I thought it was awesome how Nate wraps up mid afternoon and then switches off for the rest of the day. He uses it for exercise, seeing friends and relaxing — with the peace of mind that he has done enough for the day. In fact, probably more than most who work long into the evening (because of the focused work blocks). What an amazing way to juggle work and life balance. After focused periods of doing, I’m going to start giving myself permission to switch off earlier in the day.
  • restricting email and social — Nate only checks email and social after his final work block, restricting it to half an hour. I’ve tried restricting email until after midday, but didn’t stick with it. I also like the concept of checking during a defined period, once per day. Since ditching my smartphone I’ve got a lot better at my email / social addiction. But recently I’ve noticed some of that addiction creeping onto the laptop. To re-take control, I’m going to check email and social in the same way Nate does. Once per day and only after doing important things.
  • send to kindle — I didn’t know you could send web content to a kindle. Amazing! I use pocket to save articles for reading later and it works great. I’ve used it nearly every day for many years and confess to being a pocket fanboy. I sent a few articles to the kindle yesterday and it was surprisingly refreshing to read them away from the laptop. There is far less chance of distraction. I’m going to trial ‘send to kindle’ instead of pocket for a week to see how it feels. I think I will switch over after the week, but we’ll see.
  • daily planning the night before — taking some time out to think through and plan the day is one of my oldest and most useful habits. It’s part of my morning routine. I’ve recently started to think that it might be nicer to shift it to the night before. For a start it’s on my mind as soon as I wake up and I can’t seem to relax until I have the day mapped out. It would be nice to just get up and do non planning things for my first hour. At the moment that’s mobility, gratitude and learning french. I’ve wanted to do an evening routine for a while now, so I will use it as an opportunity to put one into action. I’m going to do some mobility exercises and plan the next day as my new evening routine. Then, hit the sack with the peace of mind I know what tomorrow will look like.

As you can see, five valuable insights. I rarely get that level of insight / learnings from a book. And Nate’s article took 5 mins to read and was free.

I’m not sure I have a conclusion to this post, other than observing the rise of quality online content and the impact it has on ones life. Getting content discovery working for you is an important part of the equation.

P.S — go read go and read Nate’s excellent post :)

P.P.S: I’ve just started using Blinkist. It’s a platform with over a thousand best-selling nonfiction books, each one condensed into a 15 minute read. They have a send to kindle feature too ;-) I haven‘t got into it enough to recommend it yet, but watch this space :).

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