When You’ve Got To Read It – But You Don’t Want To

read me

Compliments of Guest Blogger, Richard Shandross

I would venture a guess that, like me, you have a lot of things going on in your life and work. A lot of things.

Sometimes our obligations involve reading things that – just right now – we don’t really want to read. For me, it can be a report, a submission that came back highly edited, the text of a government regulation – the list goes on – which would be welcome at another time. But at this moment there are too many other things on my mind, other things I have to get done. Let’s face it: it can be a pain to switch gears on a dime from, say, writing a proposal to reading a marketing analysis.

We can always just put it off until the last minute – after all, when do-or-die time comes around we can tap our fear to overcome pretty much any obstacle. But that is hardly healthy or enjoyable, nor is it good planning.

Naturally, I haven’t found anything that works 100% of the time, and I’ve been trying different solutions for quite some time. But recently, as I was dealing with this very situation, I realized that I’ve made a lot of progress.

The key for me is this: get it done without getting it done.

No, no Taoism or Zen is involved here – I just mean that I refrain from trying to steamroll over my internal resistance. I drop the intention of reading … at least in any normal way … and treat whatever it is as though I am window-shopping it:

“Oh, it’s 12 pages. That’s nice. Look at all the grammar mistakes … ha! How the heck is this darn thing organized, anyway? I can’t make heads or tails of this from just looking!”

“I think I’ll just see what the last paragraph or two says. Maybe they summarize everything so well that I don’t have to read any more than that. Oh, I guess it’s not quite that good, but I did learn a thing or two about what’s inside.”

“Say, there are a few graphics. I can get some info from those. Egads, this table is weird.”

Actually, the piece I am avoiding might be a great document. But whether it’s good or less-than-stellar, here is what is happening at this point: I find myself developing some interest and connection with the document in spite of myself.

Ok, sometimes I put the piece down at this point, happy just to have gotten that far. Wandering attention happens. Roadblocks happen. Fear of what is in the item (say a critical response from a client) happens.

But here’s what happens as I spend more time with the document, even if I am not reading it per se: my brain starts taking in and interpreting the contents anyway. The edges of the wall between me and the document start softening, even crumbling.

cranky man readingMost frequently, one of these four things will happen:

  1. My defenses lower enough that I can read the item without a Herculean effort.
  2. I actually find myself getting involved enough, mentally or even emotionally, that I start to want to read the thing.
  3. I keep “studying” and exploring without getting much traction, until I run across a section of the piece that I find interesting. After finishing that section – it could be a sentence, a paragraph, a page, or more – I may find myself back in difficult straits, in which case I just go back to “non-reading.”
  4. I do not make a whole lot of progress and need to ratchet things up a bit.

If the going is just too tough, I will try using a timer (I like the free Pomodoro software tool at Sourceforge) and chew into the document (or whatever it is) one bite at a time. No more Mr. Non-reader Guy!

There have been times when I literally chop up a reading task (or editing, for that matter), into dozens of 5-minute intervals. It can be torture. But, almost always, I find it possible to extend the time chunks to 10, 15, 25 minutes at a time. And it is not uncommon for me to finally get into a flow and just sail through the rest of it.

Of course if all of the above fails, and if the task involving reading or editing is really important – well, sometimes I just end up procrastinating until I have to ride the panic like a wave. After all, isn’t that why God invented coffee?


Rich is a professional reader, writer, and arithmeticker who occasionally suffers reader’s block. He is an energy consultant for Navigant Consulting, and I’m pleased to say, my brother. 

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