The 15-Minute Resolution of an Article Addict

The easy productivity hack that’s changing my life.

You already realized this, but the cracked screen is a metaphor. “iPad” byTzuhsun Hsu is licensed under CC-by-SA-2.0

Everyone has one. The “I’m exhausted and don’t want to do anything of significance but I don’t want to stare at the wall so I’m going to do this instead” activity (the “IEADWTDAOSBIDWTSATWSIGTDTI,” as I call it for short). For some people, it’s bad television — I remember back to when Sportscenter was pre-taped, and I somehow would watch it three or four times on a weekend morning. For some people it’s trashy magazines. For some it’s social media, or video games, or eating.

For me, it’s reading web articles. I have a problem.

I get home from work and take my tie off. I’m exhausted. It’s 4:15, too early to start making dinner. I lie down, not yet even undressed from the work clothes, and pull out my iPad. My mind: “We’ll just check in on the world for a few minutes, catch our breath, and then start the evening routine.”

It starts out innocently enough: a quick link on Twitter about a cool new teaching practice, a think-piece on Universal Basic Income, an announcement of a new camera. But how quickly it spirals… in each of those articles I’m clicking on three links, which lead to three more links. And then I sign up for the mailing lists. Oh the mailing lists. Six tips to make you less anxious. Three secrets to a good night’s sleep. Ten books you should read. Five mailing lists you need to be signed up for.

Soon, I’ve been browsing web articles for two hours, still in my work clothes, now behind on getting dinner ready.

And then it happens before bed too. My mind: “Just a quick 8 PM check on the world before our nightly West Wing, Celtics basketball, and maybe a chapter of Queen Bees & Wannabees.” Three click-bait headlines, two long-form Medium articles, and a partridge in a pear tree later and it’s midnight.

I read articles when I eat. I read them when I wake up. I read them on the toilet. It’s a problem.

And so here’s my resolution:

I, Rob Taylor, vow to read articles for no more than fifteen minutes a day.

Please, please. Hold your applause.

I’ve been doing the resolution for a week and a half now, and as you surely know, that is not a surefire sign of a resolution that will stick. I don’t want to be hyperbolic and say this has changed the world, or that I’m now getting everything I ever wanted done and am working on my novel and am donating blood every other day. But it’s been a pretty good week and a half.

Before I start reading articles, I set the Timer app on my iPad to fifteen minutes. When the clock stops, I finish my article and move on to a new activity.

It has changed me. Here’s how.

Article-Reading Has Gone From an Act of Self-Loathing to a Treat

I now have structured my day around when I want to read the articles — it’s become a reward. I’ll save the article time for later and go for a run instead. Or jump right into the show or book, rather than mindlessly scrolling through my Pocket Hits. Or write this blog.

Then, when I give myself the fifteen minutes, I enjoy the articles more. This is me-time. This is earned relaxation. I deserve this Deadspin football article, or FiveThirtyEight poll. I achieved this.

I Prioritize What to Read

I spend my first minute or two pulling together the articles. I check my favorite sites, pull up the email newsletters, and open up all the interesting articles I want to read in separate tabs. And then, I have to triage. There’s only thirteen minutes left, damn it, I’m not going to waste my time on “How Twitter Got Super Mario to Run for the Ohio Legislature.”

When it’s good, I read it! When it’s not so good… I skim it. And when the fifteen minutes are up, it can always wait until tomorrow.

I’m More Present

I’d often multitask when reading articles. I’d be scrolling mindlessly while watching football with friends, or eating dinner, or listening to music, or sometimes all of these at the same times. Now, I’m paying more attention to the game and conversation, the taste of the food, the sound of the music.

I can feel the whirring of my brain slowing down, and it’s such a nice feeling. I think a full thought, rather than a dozen fleeting micro-thoughts. I’m appreciating friends more. Life more.

I’m Doing Tasks I Like Having Done More

The infamous quote: “I don’t like writing. I like having written.”

I feel so good after I read a chapter of a book, or write a blog, or listen to a podcast, or exercise. I do not feel so good when I’ve read articles on the “Mandela Effect” for ninety minutes.

When my fifteen minutes are up, I pick up the book without reservation. I open up Microsoft Word as soon as I open the laptop. I always enjoy doing these activities, but I hate starting these activities. When the easier alternative — the articles — is gone, the barrier to entry is so much lower. Then I’m enjoying the task at hand, and I’m feeling better about myself afterward.

Try It!

Pick whatever your guilty pleasure activity of choice is, and set the timer — perhaps it’s thirty minutes for your social media, or twenty for your Candy Crush. And then go, and see what happens.

And if you’re an article-addict like me, you’ve got eleven more minutes left. Don’t linger here — enjoy them! This is YOU time!