52 Weeks : 52 Books πŸ“š

2021: A Year In Books

2021 has drawn to a close. It was a great year for reading, as was 2020. This was despite increasing workload and the continued uncertainty and stress of COVID-19. Reading though was a positive coping strategy and a source of much growth πŸ™‚.

This year, I managed to reach the symbolic target of reading 52 books (one for each week of the year). I can’t say this is a great achievement (I know people who read up to 100 books a year and heard of folks who have touched 200!) or is even the limit of my potential as a reader. Nonetheless, it is a big improvement over the past, and as Ernest Hemingway said,

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

This small achievement warranted a short blog on tactics and strategies that helped me get here because I did do a few things differently this year. Here goes πŸ‘‡πŸ»:

Cell phones are a major source of productivity drain, this much is well-known. Reading is an activity that is more readily impacted by cell phones because unlike work or conversations, there is nothing to stop us from picking up the phone. There are many tactics to reduce cell phone use, but here are 3 that I found useful:

  1. Notifications: Keeping the phone permanently on DND. All notifications are off except for incoming calls. Messages are checked when needed or while working on the laptop. This takes care of the issue where the impulse to check is curbed, but pings distract and compel phone usage
  2. Access: The phone is kept away at a distance (just out of reach such that I’d have to get up from wherever I am sitting to pick it up, but within earshot). I keep a single-ear Bluetooth headset next to me for incoming calls, always connected.
  3. Lock: The Zen Mode on OnePlus phones is great. For the number of minutes you specify, the phone is locked. It cannot be used for anything other than incoming calls (and taking pictures – useful for when you want to take a shot of a book’s page for sharing later). Otherwise, there is no way to unlock the phone until the set time expires – even restarting the phone will not do it πŸ“΅.

And yes, stocking ebooks on your regular phone is a terrible idea. You are not just inviting distractions into your reading time but are celebrating them when they arrive πŸ™„.

2021 was the year I finally overcame my mental block about digital or ebooks. Turns out, it was a silly pretense about the romanticism of a physical book and its feel, smell, and whatever else. I bought a simple, functional 10.1″ tablet on which to read. It does not have any other apps and is kept in airplane mode at all times. 10.1″ is a great size if you want something close to a large hardback’s size and are not fussy about the portability and single-hand use that a Kindle provides. Digital books helped boost reading in 3 ways:

  • Wider variety: access to many titles I was dying to read but ones that were not easily available pumped the motivation to keep reading.
  • Free: several free ebooks were eagerly gobbled up. Saved tons of money πŸ€‘.
  • Tracking reading: Moonreader Pro on my tablet is a great app not just for organizing ebooks but for boosting productivity too. It provides analytics on the day’s reading measuring the actual reading time and more importantly, the reading speed for the day measured in words per minute. This not only kept pushing me to improve on the reading time each day but also kept me focused on making that reading time tight and productive ⏳.

Another first in 2021: audiobooks. These helped improve the books read count by utilizing various blocks of time that would’ve been underutilized or outright wasted. These are blocks in which cognitively undemanding tasks are performed – tasks like eating, shaving, long walks, etc. Additionally, time spent on routine workouts alone could also be used for books!

Tip: get a good set of bluetooth buds for this. I highly recommend either the Jabra Elite Active 75t for its comfort, great sound, robustness, and aptness for a variety of purposes (audiobooks, workouts, calls, music…) or OnePlus Buds Pro for the kickass sound quality.

Everyone knows what bookmarks are for, duh πŸ”–! Here’s a hack though – each time you start a reading session, put the bookmark on your target finish page. Marking it out physically gives you a visible finish line for that reading session, rather than keeping it open-ended, which usually is a recipe for distraction or laziness. Get one of those nifty magnetic ones so you can mark the specific start/finish section on a page.

One of the main challenges to reading as much as you want to is time availability and control over your schedule. Being an early riser helped me – getting an hour of reading done first thing in the morning felt great. No one’s around, it is still, quiet, and cool outside, and I couldn’t reach anyone if I wanted to and no one would bother reaching me at that hour. It could be an hour before bedtime for others. Night owls have even more opportunities to set aside a reading hour(s) than early risers.

This one’s obvious but needs to be said. Don’t go anywhere without a book because invariably there will be blocks of time, however short, when you will be waiting on someone or something. Use that time to read rather than while your time away on the phone.

Another first this year – I took a few hours to list out all the books I wanted to read. This was a pretty long list (about 60-70 prospective books), which was sure to last me at least a year. This served 2 purposes:

  • After I finished a book, I did not have to spend time wondering what I should read next, which is a trap for procrastination and indecison.
  • The long list provided an urgency to my reading effort knowing what a long way I still had to go.

Tip: Try and stick to the list as much as possible. Exceptions could be a new book you come across that you want to read right away. For this, write up your list in pencil so you can make edits when needed. Alternatively, leave some space between each entry so that a new title can be inserted when needed.

In the pursuit of “true nobility” 2022’s targets will be stiffer, that goes without saying. That motivation may lead to more hacks, tactics, strategies, and bibliomania, but less tsundoku 😏.

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