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.
- My defenses lower enough that I can read the item without a Herculean effort.
- I actually find myself getting involved enough, mentally or even emotionally, that I start to want to read the thing.
- 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.”
- 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.