focused reading

Five Days of Focused Reading

I’ll be the first to admit that I consume a pretty massive amount of media, often in forms that I actively seek out. My days are basically a start to finish smash of articles and interviews and forums and opinions and ideas; from breakfast news time to walking with a podcast in my ears, I keep it pretty constant. And, most of the time, that’s exactly what I want.

focused reading

But life as an information sponge has been tough lately. The news has been particularly difficult to bear, seemingly relentless, and I’ve found it harder and harder to pull myself away. Where I used to carve out time for reading, I’ve found myself trapped in the daily train wreck.

I have no desire to tune things out completely, but late last week I decided I needed to force myself away from the noise for at least a short time each day. I dusted off the Forest app and set a goal of reading for 60 uninterrupted minutes each day. I know! Reading for an hour isn’t something I generally have to push myself to do, but I’ve been swept up, I’m telling you. So, in twenty minute increments, I read while Forest kept track of time and shamed me if I tried to use my phone.

And it worked. Imagine that. I finished four books in five days, which is nearly what I read all last month, and I just feel better. I know that turning off the TV and eliminating distractions mean more reading, but it’s been so easy to justify trying to keep up that I lost all track of time. Now I’m aiming to extend my five days of focus into a regular act of reading (with a little help from virtual trees).

Have you found it difficult to sink into reading lately or is it easier to escape?

  • TheShrinkette

    This. Is. So. Real. I’m on twitter all day everyday to the point that going offline for a couple of hours for self-care purposes definitely has an undertone of anxiety of missing out on whatever is happening out in the world. Cutting off from the world is ridiculously hard, and it is amazing how taking active, relatively simple steps like the one you did can do wonders. I have been trying to leave my phone indoors while I read outside in my backyard, and sometimes an hour can feel like forever and I can get so jittery that it’s completely counter to what I’m aiming to do with that time. I’d completely forgotten about Forest, so thanks for that reminder! Those damn trees are incredibly rewarding. Rooting for you to be able to keep this focused reading :)

    • The trees ARE rewarding! I’m glad I’m not alone with the anxiety about missing things. Tat and knowing it’s a privilege to shut things out when I choose to tend to make me reach out more than I probably should.

  • I’ve had to really try to turn away because it’s such a scary world out there right now, and the news is making me cringe. I went for a while unable to pick up a book because of lack of focus. I finally found that one escape book, and it seemed a little easier after that. I refuse to look at social media or watch/read the news because current events are a succubus, and the negative is so powerful. I like the idea of the Forest app, too. This is the first I’d heard of it.

    • The app is really nice – it lets you decide how long you want to focus for and plants a tree for you to grow over that time. If you decide to exit the app before the time is up, your tree dies :(, otherwise you grow a nice little garden of finished tasks!

  • 100% could not agree more. I’ve had to take a break from some of my favorite podcasts because I just can’t bear the endless noise about Trump & Clinton. I’m trying to keep up with my other news podcasts that aren’t as political in focus, but there’s so much despair that it just brings me down. I’m trying to “escape” by branching out into non-news podcasts in my feed that often get neglected. I love your focused reading time goals – I might need to try the same this weekend!

    • Last week was just so relentless…it was day after day after day without a break in the breaking news. The politics podcasts are my favorite, so letting go is so hard ;((

  • I’m typically the same way, and have found lately that I’m just burned out by information overload. This post is a good reminder that its okay to step back and seek out the things you enjoy (like reading). I’ve never heard of Forest, but I’m going to have to check it out!

    • I think taking that break can help you process things too! It’s a healthy way to give your brain time to absorb the information and make decisions.

    • It can be hard when you’re a person who thrives on all that information, which I totally do. I just want to gobble everything up, but man, sometimes it destroys me!

  • This is so so very true. Particularly in the last few months, I sometimes feel like I’m drowning in the news barrage of pain. When everything seems so overwhelming, I think reading is the perfect kind of escape. Not that we should ignore what’s going on and hide in a book, but that we should give ourselves time to breathe a bit and step back a bit to process and digest in a way that lets us cope.
    I’d love to try a similar experiment with unplugging from media and report on how it goes!

    • You’re so right about processing time, which is something I know I’ve been short on lately. Last week, especially, it just seemed like event after event after event without a moment to breathe in between.

  • The news lately has definitely made it hard to focus on reading. It’s so difficult to pull myself away, but last week I also kind of decided I needed to tune out and take care of myself. I’m glad you’re finding a way to carve out some time for reading!

    • Last week was just brutal. I’m glad it gave me the push I needed, but I wish I didn’t have to get to that point!

  • I’m glad you found a system that works for you! I’ve definitely found more of a reading groove lately, but I think it’s more a combination of some lighter books and my kids being in camp (calmer days and less to do items). I’m not in front of a computer for much of the day or able to really scroll through my phone, so I feel like I get my news/Internet in specific blocks of time throughout the day. Mostly while I eat breakfast, same for lunch, and a bit while watching TV after dinner….and I’m not really online other than that. I kind of like that balance.

    • Having easy access is definitely part of it – both because I have more free time this summer and my days are much less structured than they were at one point. Maybe it will be a bonus to be super busy ;)

  • So much yes to this post. It’s been SO HARD to focus lately. I want to keep up, to know what’s happening but when I do I just feel angry and sad and hopeless and then I get distracted doing things I actually want to do. More and more I think the world is just a pile of flaming garbage and I don’t even know where to begin.
    I haven’t used the Forest app…but this is the second time today I’ve heard of it! Going to look into it.

    • I wish I wasn’t so fascinated by the garbage! I think it’s the history/political nerd in me…I can’t help but wonder how other people see it all. But really, I need to bury my head in the sand sometimes.
      The app is awesome – definitely check it out!

  • This has been a significant problem for me lately…with the news, and exacerbated by leaving my job. The loss of that imposed schedule really messed with my sense of time. Of course now I’ve downloaded Forest, and spent the last 25 minutes doing “meaningful work” that I needed to get done today. So yay for that. I’ve also downloaded Habitica to see what it’s all about, but I haven’t done enough with it to get the hang of it yet. For now I’m off to comment on blogs for 25 minutes. I could get addicted to this focus thing. :)

    • Schedules are a HUGE thing for me, too, and I’m still not adjusted to having free time outside the classroom (two years later!). Maybe that’s why I binge on everything during the day, because I used to not be able to? It can be so hard to get used to time in places you didn’t have it before/shuffling things around.

      • Anticipating this exact thing happening to me in a few weeks, eek! You’ll both have to give me adjustment tips. ;)

  • Lisa Almeda Sumner

    The ability to focus for extended periods of time: that’s the Holy Grail! It is increasingly hard to do. I have to put all my devices away, and then I find it’s not that hard to sink into a good book. Once I do that I remember how wonderful it feels to focus 100% on reading really good text.

    • The devices are killing me lately! It’s one of the major reasons I have such a hard time reading digitally – both strain from regular use and the itch to jump over to some other app.

  • The noise is getting to be a bit much indeed. My husband tends to watch more actual news than I do, but I check in with twitter and facebook often during the day. At some point yesterday, it just got to be too much. It felt like every time I logged in, there was a new tragedy or outrage. I think I’m going to limit my media time for a while and see what happens to my reading (or maybe my house will get crazy clean…maybe).

    • That’s how my husband and I are, too – I think by the time he’s home watching the news, I’m already at overload and it piles on. I definitely hit that limit last week and it was nice to take at least a LITTLE time away ;)

  • Amanda

    I can focus – when I’m focusing on totally light material. I’m glad the app is helping you manage time. I’m onto rereading favorites, YA fantasy or basically smut. I just downloaded Just Mercy from the library and I’m a bit afraid of how my efforts are going to go.

    • I wish there were more light books that grabbed me – I need another Royal We!

      • Amanda

        For real! I have high hopes for Sarong Party Girls – I think that’s going to be my next read.

  • fortunately i have not got into Twitter in any big way so i don’t feel bombarded but even then just keeping up with news feeds from my blog reader can feel overwhelming

  • I relate to so much of this and love the idea of setting aside an hour each day to devote yourself to reading. I haven’t been reading much lately either (just two short and/or light reads this month, eek!), and my brain has been way more focused on the news cycle than anything else. I may just have to dust off Forest, too. ;)

    Are you going to keep the trend going? I imagine it might be hard to find an hour every single day!

    • I’m hoping to keep it going as long as I can! (it’s a Habitica task that’s working so far, we’ll seeeeee…)

      • YAY. So glad that Habitica is helping you read more! I might need to set a reading task for myself too (something I thought I’d never have to say, sigh).

  • This is so great! I love that you were able to self reflect and find a method that works for you.

  • I’m with you on getting distracted by the news. I’m on social media a lot during the day at work… not the best use of time… and then I tend to cycle through it in the evenings when I’m letting myself be distracted. I like the suggestion of the Forest app, I’ll have to try that!

  • I think overall, the news has been making it hard for me to settle into reading. :( Love the Forest app, I like to use it during readathons especially (when the temptation to check social media is especially strong!)

  • I’ve been having a rough go of it lately. The news has, of course, been making it difficult. My house is currently a dump as we are undergoing renovations that seem to only go backwards as experts find more and more wrong with the house. I am basically living in the kitchen and there is no end in sight. I have to “safe and quiet” place to go anymore and the strain is real. I want to be able to read and escape for awhile but I kind of don’t know how right now. Sorry to be a bummer.

    • Ugh, I can’t imagine – just moving put me in a reading funk for months, a renovation would be so difficult. I hope things wrap up quickly and you get your space back soon!

  • Bryan G. Robinson

    I have found it difficult to sink into reading lately, mostly because of those distractions, especially Twitter. That’s why for the next two weeks, I’m going off Twitter and also joining the 24 in 48 readathon this weekend. I think that should help my focus. However, I like your idea of using the Forest app. The only problem is that I sometimes read books on my phone. I guess I’ll just have to use my Kindle more or print books. :)

    • I think (though I haven’t tried it!) that you may be able to create a whitelist of apps you can use without being penalized in Forest so you could read on your phone.

  • Maureen Wanket

    I’ve taken on reading in the same way you have. Everyone should read more when the news is bad because reading makes us more thoughtful citizens. More thoughtful responders, anyway. Great post, thank you.

    • Yes, exactly!! I usually end up reading some heavy books in times like these because I tend to reach for something that gives me more insight.

  • We have not had TV in our house for almost 15 years. I cannot adequately express how much I love it. So peaceful and quiet. Really, much different. I find it quite easy to simply get a bit of news here and there rather than listening only to the “U.S.” mainstream media. Research has proven repeatedly that the more TV watching you do, the more fearful you are overall…of everything. That is scary. So glad you got your reading mojo back on, Shannon! That almost never happens to me. My husband and I are both avid readers, so our house is super quiet, except for the kitties romping through periodically!

  • This is so me right now. Maybe I need to try one of the apps mentioned in addition to really putting aside time for reading. My biggest time suck (in addition to the crap news) is taking summer school classes. Only three weeks until home free!

  • I’ve found it a little hard lately, to be honest. In part that’s because nothing I’ve been reading has been entirely grabbing me, and partly — like you — it’s just that the news has been so absorbing I’ve had a hard time carving out space to read. I’ve been really glad to have my bus ride as a dedicated reading time every day.

    • I actually really miss having a (slightly) longer commute. Most days it’s great being a few minutes from work, but I really wish I had just a bit more of that dedicated time.

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  • I am also finding it hard lately. The news is relentless and discouraging and I find it tough to handle. Reading might actually be a good escape, if I could manage to read more than 5 pages at a time!

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  • I totally understand what you’re saying! It’s incredibly difficult to just let go and read, especially at times like these. And the longer you wait, the harder it becomes. Congrats on the four books! I really need to do this myself. XD
    -Amy