For my entire life I’ve struggled with reading. In high school doctors and counselors would chalk my painfully slow reading to a hearing deficiency, without so much as a prescriptive solution. Later in life it seems like my struggle might be more easily described by some of the symptoms experienced by those diagnosed with ADD. Nevertheless reading has continued to be a difficult exercise for me.
Staying informed beyond the headlines was tough, concentrating through a 10,000 word think-piece has been painful, and attempting to read Game of Thrones (aren’t the books always better?) a near-impossibility. It’s probably unsurprising then that I co-founded a news company that was defined by its to-the-point coverage and quick reading.
In light of the recent election I’ve found myself in a likely similar position to many others—one of dismay, confusion, and voraciously seeking information. But once again I struggled to stay focused throughout my consumption.
Open a link and begin readin…NOTIFICATION
Respond to text, swipe next notification away, start reading again
Ooooo a link to some other, likely informative but tangential, article
No matter how hard I tried, no amount of Do Not Disturb could relax my distracted mind. The iPhone, the iPad, the Mac would always win the battle for my attention.
Yet there it was the whole time, the salvation that I was so desperately seeking, sitting with a dusty veneer on my couch’s side table: my Kindle. I had vaguely remembered an otherwise under utilized feature of the save-for-later service Instapaper that could deliver articles directly via Amazon’s Whispersync service. Opening the device again tipped me off to another long-forgotten discovery: a series of Newsweek issues way back in the virtual shelves of my e-reader.
Instapaper & Kindle to the rescue
Armed with curiosity and a recharged device I hopped over to my Instapaper Settings and configured it to deliver daily digests directly to my Kindle. If you’ve got a Kindle, you can find its delivery settings on this page under “Personal Document Settings.”
Now that this was all set up, next I had to change my habits when seeing links during my typical phone and web usage. Rather than immediately reading, after which I would likely get distracted 30 seconds later, I would simply send the link to Instapaper, trusting that it would show up in my daily Kindle delivery. A few weeks into of reading in this manner, it’s hard to imagine going back to just staring at my phone for the same amount of time. After all, I wasn’t even really reading when using my phone—just scanning and letting the pandora’s box that is the iPhone whip my attention around.
Note: while I haven’t used it, if you’re a fan of Pocket there seems to be a similar service called P2K.
A new routine has set in for my mornings—breakfast, make coffee, pick up my Kindle and sit down to read all of the links I’ve saved in the last day or so. By leaving my phone on the charging dock and away from my reach, despite my still unfortunately slow reading, I’ve found myself very focused and desperate to read more. Links that would have otherwise been skimmed and fogotten are now getting the attention they deserve—reading has become dramatically more enjoyable.
While sharing links directly from the Kindle isn’t possible, the Instapaper Kindle edition does have options on the saved links to Archive and Like. If sharing to Twitter really matters to you, Instapaper does have a way to post links directly to Twitter that have been liked within the service.
Beyond being distracted by notifications, another issue with my phone-based reading was that I could peruse a rabbit hole of links and open tabs ad nauseam. While the Kindle can indeed open websites with a decent black-and-white approximation, it’s far from ideal. The only thing beyond reading the page at hand that I do on a regular basis is tap-and-hold on some words to reveal a Wikipedia search. That helps with terms that I may not be familiar with.
It seemed that I was easily getting through my saved links without any problems. Where my queue of unread links would gradually build, grow in irrelevence, and acquire some digital dust over time, I’m now clearing it out on a daily basis—what a feeling! But that left me hungry for more…what else can I read? How can I continue my path towards a more informed me?
Newspapers. …yep, Newspapers
Since Circa’s demise, much like my struggle with distraction, I’ve struggled with staying informed on all the happenings of the world, of the country, of my city. Furthermore I’ve grown more and more allergic to purely ad-driven monetization models of publishers, fearing that they’re just adding to the state of misinformation driving today’s media landscape. My earlier re-discovery of some old Newsweek issues deep in the recesses of my Kindle led to an exploration of Amazon’s store.
Then I found Kindle Newspapers.
It turns out that some of the best journalism money can buy, like the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Economist, all had special Kindle editions. For the first time ever, I’ve started paying for journalism by way of my newfound Kindle subscription of the NYTimes. Added bonus—it comes with access to the website and its tablet apps in case I discover links while browsing! And because local news is also pretty important to me, a subscription to the San Francisco Chronicle was also started.
Now every morning, alongside my Instapaper digest I’m getting two newspapers—more than enough to keep my newfound reading habit satiated.
While I recognize that this post probably looks like one big Kindle advertisement, that’s simply because I’ve found it to be the best way that I personally am able to crank through articles without getting distracted all of the time. If you’re someone that can just turn on Do Not Disturb and read in peace, bless you. Man, do I wish I could do that.
Kindles are relatively cheap these days. They start at $79 and go up to the rather indulgent but near-perfect Kindle Oasis. No matter your price point they’re one hell of a good investment.
With this change my time spent reading has gone up 10x+ from before, and it’s easily more valuable time as I retain the information better. To an addict like me, any amount of time away from my phone is considered well spent. The Kindle is just one tool in my fight against distraction, but so far I’ve found it to be a trusty one.
How do you read?
I’m also curious if anyone else has tips/tricks for distration-free reading. By all means leave a response!