I admit it. I haven’t totally fixed it yet, but I’m here to admit my problem, tell you about it, and tell you what I’m doing to improve it.
Over the past few years I’ve become addicted to learning. You’re probably thinking “That doesn’t sound like a problem, learning is good!” Every article or book you read, or podcast you listen to about being or becoming successful includes a component of continually learning, reading every day, and trying new things.
Warren Buffett is a known voracious reader, often stating that he reads 5–6 hours per day. Tony Robbins invented the term CANI, which means Constant And Never-ending Improvement. Bill Gates reads 50 books per year. Oprah Winfrey, Mark Cuban, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk…people who are the most successful in the world, all avid readers.
I agree with them. I think learning and reading are extremely important in life. My love for constant self-improvement is partially why I’m successful in my career and life in general.
But, for me, it has gotten out of hand. I’ve been spending so much time reading and “learning” that I never actually do anything with the information. How could I? I’m too busy consuming even MORE information. Books, magazines, apps, e-books, e-magazines (is that even what they’re called?), Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, podcasts, email newsletters, snail mail newsletters, etc. etc. etc. What percentage could I possibly be retaining? I’m not sure, but it’s low.
I love books. I love the feeling, the smell, the sound they make when you first open them and the glue in the binding crackles a bit as the pages open. Ahhh, one of my favorite experiences. A fresh new magazine offers up a similar experience. The shiny pages, the bright pictures, the smell of the cologne samples. I also love opening my email in the morning to see the Medium Daily Digest. Or new suggestions from Blinkist, which if you’re not familiar, is a book summary service that shrinks entire books into a 15 min read or less (you can also listen to the audio version of the blinks). 12Min is another similar service that I just signed up for which offers up a daily pick, trending books and new releases, in many different categories. Not to mention all of the social media feeds with unlimited articles being posted, all just begging to be consumed. “20 Ways to Ensure Success” and “Top 10 Things All Business Leaders Need to Know” or “Gain 15 Pounds of Muscle with this Workout”. I need to know that stuff!
As I’m currently writing this I have 3 books on my desk. Principles by Ray Dalio, Talking to Strangers by Malcom Gladwell, and a book specific to my career industry. I also have the last 3 months of Inc. magazine that I haven’t read yet. I have The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and The Maxwell Daily Reader by John Maxwell on my window sill, and an entire shelf of books behind me that I haven’t even opened yet. I also have the Kindle Cloud Reader tab open on my browser. And that’s just in my office, I have a similar situation at home. I listen to podcasts and Audible books while I’m driving.
It’s all great, but there’s too much of it. So I’ve decided to learn how to slow my learning, so I can actually learn. If you find yourself in a similar situation as me, I hope these steps help you as much as they help me.
1. Schedule time for not learning.
It sounds funny, but it’s necessary for people like us. Schedule time for your workout, meditation, and spending time with your friends and family. Schedule an hour or 2 for your favorite hobby, or one you haven’t enjoyed in a while because you were too busy consuming information. Pick a TV series on Netflix and watch an episode (Don’t get sucked into a weekend binge though, we’re looking for balance here, not extremes).
No matter what it is, make sure it’s non-learning, non-reading, non-information consumption time.
2. Schedule time for learning.
We still need to keep learning. We just need to be smarter about it so hopefully we end up retaining and using what we’ve learned. If you use a calendar app, or paper and pen system (my preference), tell yourself when you’re allowed to read and learn. Actually put it in there, give yourself a time block and stick to it. I allow myself morning devotions and journaling, and a few time slots throughout my work day to read articles or a few chapters of a book. Then some time in the evening if it permits to wind down before bed, or while my kids are playing with friends, etc. I also listen to audiobooks and podcasts during my commute, and while I’m mowing the grass.
This keeps me from mindlessly scrolling through articles, “listening” to podcasts and audiobooks without really retaining anything, and jamming my face in my phone or a book when my daughter is trying to show me what she learned at gymnastics or show me the picture she just drew for me.
3. Decide what you actually want to learn, and learn it!
The problem with trying to learn everything is that you end up learning nothing. We’re so busy trying to improve ourselves and be more effective that we become less effective. Choosing 2 or 3 things that you want to learn, or improve upon, and really focusing on them is far more beneficial than trying to take in everything you can get your eyes and ears on. I prefer to choose something related to my career, something to improve my personal life, and something fitness related. For example, I’m trying to get better at strategic planning in my career. I have a few books on the subject and have read and bookmarked several good articles about it.
4. Go out and do the things you’ve learned or improved upon.
You picked a topic. You educated yourself. Now it’s time for the payoff. My strategic planning example? I actually need to CREATE a strategic plan for our company using my new found skill. That’s the only way to truly get better. If I never create a strategic plan, and follow it, then why did I learn about it? And if I never DO it, I’ll never truly be good at it. Say you wanted to learn how to get started lifting weights. You found a good program for a beginner, watched videos on proper form, and found a decent gym. Now it’s time to go lift weights! All the reading in the world isn’t going to make that booty pop.
5. Review, re-evaluate, and repeat the process.
You’ve learned a few things you didn’t know before. You’ve improved yourself. Congrats! Now it’s time to reflect and pick some new goals. Maybe you need to focus on getting better at one of your previous goals and you decide to keep working on that. Or maybe you feel like you have a good handle on them and you’re ready for something new. It doesn’t matter, just don’t fall back into your old habits of ever consuming and never producing.
As I said, I hope this helps you break your information addiction. I have a long way to go, but reminding myself of these steps has certainly helped.