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Why I don’t read at work

Written by Justin on January 4, 2013

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I recently quit reading when I’m at the office.

I used to read blogs and news sites as a part of my daily work routine. Here’s why I decided to quit.

Reading isn’t really work.

This is the truth I didn’t want to admit: reading isn’t work. It’s easy to rationalize reading as work because in both cases, I’m staring at my computer screen. But if I’m reading, I’m not getting anything productive done. Reading is consumption. Work is about creating.

My regular habit was to get to the office and fire up my favourite link aggregator. But the mornings are really the worst time for me to read. Between 7:30am and 11:30am is when I have the most energy to work creatively. Instead of accomplishing something productive, I’ve been wasting precious, high-energy time on consuming content.

Work is exerting effort to achieve a task. Reading blogs doesn’t help me get stuff done.

Reading at the office is a form of procrastination.

Reading at work was a way for me to ignore the things I needed to face. I consumed links like I consume junk food, and I used the web as a way to escape.

Worse yet, reading on the net is like going down a rabbit hole. Too many times I’ve allowed myself a momentary diversion: I click one link, read for a bit, and then click another. The next thing I know, I’ve wasted a substantial amount of time.

There are better places to read.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m trying to keep my workplace purely for working. I do my best reading in places that are free from distraction: a park bench, a coffee shop, or at home after my kids have gone to bed. These are places where I can really focus on the words and reflect on what I’m reading.

I want my reading to be like eating at the best French restaurant. When the French go for lunch, they order only the best: the best wine, the best bread, the best entree. They sit and enjoy every bite. Contrast this with the idea of eating fast food at your desk: it’s rushed and ultimately unsatisfying. Reading at your desk is like eating fast food.

If I’m going to read, I want to read the best stuff at a time and in a place where I can give it my full attention. This makes my reading more enjoyable and more satisfying.

A Satisfying Read

For me, not reading at my desk has been a great decision. There have been some strong benefits: when I’m at my desk, I’m focused on getting things done. I also get to spend less time at my desk because, once my work is done, I go find a nice place to read. This means when I do read, I’m more mindful and get more out of it.

(Special thanks to Jason Rehmus for his help on this post)


Postscript:

One underlying theme in this post is that we simply spend too much time at our desks. We sit in front of computers for extended periods of time because it looks like we’re working. The truth is, we can’t be 100% productive sitting at a desk 9am to 5pm.

This is a topic I cover in my upcoming book: Hack Your Office. If you’re interested in receiving a sample chapter, sign-up here:

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