Finding time for self-improvement

Every once in a while, we struggle with certain obstacles. I found some tips that have helped me to get past them and perhaps you can find them useful as well.

One of my favorite ways of learning at work is reading books. It is a perfect way to learn things you didn’t know that you didn’t know. This is why I always have a book on my table. Often, the book is directly related to my field of work. Other times, the connection is a bit more indirect. For example, books about human nature and user interface design are my favorite. These help me understand the processes connected to my work, and therefore, improve my work in general.

Regardless of my love of books, I used to find it really hard to regularly commit to actually reading them. I would start a book when I was less busy, reading a few chapters at a time. But then work would intensify and I would find it harder and harder to pick up the book. This problem became especially apparent at times when I had some larger ongoing development task in progress. It was really tempting to continue with the task right away and not split my attention between my work and the book.

“I’ll read the book later,” I kept saying to myself. Sometimes, this resulted in my book laying on the table untouched for months.

Finally, I felt really bad about it and started looking for ways to fix my process. I managed to find three simple tricks that helped me improve.

Firstly, the biggest factor that helped to improve the situation was timing. I noticed that in the times when I read my book in the morning I went through more of it. One part of the reason is that I am a morning person and I find it easier to concentrate early in the day. Another part is that during morning hours there are fewer interruptions overall — people are not as active with communication in our chats and at the office. Noticing this I committed to reading my book in the morning.

Secondly, I accidentally created an action trigger for myself with the first step by scheduling my book reading to the morning hours. I would come to work, update my daily task list, and right after that, I would pick up my book. This kind of behavior, I would later find out, is called creating an action trigger. It is when you use an existing regular activity or habit to remind yourself do to something else after that. This turns out to be an easy way to create new habits. It works as you start associating the two activities and as the first one is regular then it also builds a habit to regularly do the new activity.

Thirdly, I set myself a specific goal — read at least two chapters of the book every morning. Reading two chapters is intentionally a really low effort to commit to. It made the task hard to skip. Which turned out to be a good strategy. I just could never convince myself that I didn’t have the time for it. Even if things were metaphorically “on fire” I still could find the time for just two chapters. Because depending on the book this can take less than drinking a cup of coffee.

With these three changes, I improved the regularity of my book reading to the point that it has become a habit which is part of my every workday morning.

How do you make sure that self-improvement is part of your productive day? Let me know in the comments.

I work as an Android Engineer at Mobi Lab. Mobi Lab is a product design and development company. We run our product development in-house but also work in joint teams with clients in Europe and the US. Mobi Lab is one of the few Google Certified Agencies for Android technology.