I Hope to Read More Books in 2017. Here's How.

Cooking expert Alton Brown has a thing against unitaskers in the kitchen. These are gadgets that exist for one purpose only, and accumulate like crazy and clutter up your kitchen. (Why do you need a special maze-shaped brownie pan that creates brownies with edges on every piece? Just use a muffin tin.) He claims that the only true unitasker you should have in your kitchen is the fire extinguisher. I've been a smartphone user for almost ten years. The beauty of the smartphone is that it's a master multitasker. I don't have to name all of its possible functions here--you get it. Suffice to say that I may use two dozen different apps on any given day. It's made my life better in countless ways.

untitledBut the beauty of the smartphone is also its downfall. Because while kitchen gadgets and smartphones are great multitaskers, the human brain is a terrible one. In fact, people don't actually multitask, but instead switch rapidly between tasks, losing efficiency and effectiveness with each switch. I think about this every time I unlock my phone in order to check my to-do list and end up on Twitter, or go to read a book on Kindle and get sucked into blogs instead.

This year I'm setting the intent to immerse in art, and especially to read more books. I read about 20 last year, which is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering I was writing one. But that number was way down for me. In 2017 I'm diving into Taylor Branch's gargantuan three-volume series on the civil rights era, and I'll be supplementing that with other books for allies, plus plenty of reading for pure pleasure. I don't have a goal other than "more than 20."

More broadly, though, I'm taking to heart what Andrew Sullivan wrote last year in his incredible piece, I Used to Be a Human Being:

The engagement never ends. Not long ago, surfing the web, however addictive, was a stationary activity. At your desk at work, or at home on your laptop, you disappeared down a rabbit hole of links and resurfaced minutes (or hours) later to reencounter the world. But the smartphone then went and made the rabbit hole portable, inviting us to get lost in it anywhere, at any time, whatever else we might be doing. Information soon penetrated every waking moment of our lives.

As Sully points out, the content itself often isn't bad. On Facebook, I'm connected to people I genuinely care about. My daughter communicates with me via text, and at almost 14, it's often the best way to get her to open up (yes, even in the same house). I read blogs and news in order to be an informed citizen--that's deeply important. Many of us are thinking about activism during the next administration, and many of those connections will be made via social media.


Has our enslavement to dopamine — to the instant hits of validation that come with a well-crafted tweet or Snapchat streak — made us happier? I suspect it has simply made us less unhappy, or rather less aware of our unhappiness, and that our phones are merely new and powerful antidepressants of a non-pharmaceutical variety.

In order to accomplish this book goal--and to read and think more deeply in general--I realized I needed a unitasker.

We have an old iPad mini that has gotten way too slow to be useful as an all-purpose tablet. But it's just right for what I need. I wiped the device and installed the barest of apps on it:

  • Kindle
  • iBooks
  • Goodreads--so I can keep track of what I'm reading
  • Washington Post and New York Times apps
  • Music player
  • iMessage--this is the one app that allows for two-way communication. But the idea is to not have my phone with me all the times, and this allows family to reach me in case of emergency.

In the less than 24 hours since getting this set up, I already feel different, and have gotten lots of reading done.

I'm fortunate to have an old but functional gadget lying around that can meet this need. I post this not to suggest that everyone can or should do the same thing. Rather, this is an example of how we get our systems in place in order to accomplish our goals. (Read this article to learn more about the relationship between systems and goals.)

I wonder what hopes or goals you have for 2017, and what processes or tools you might use need to set yourself up for success.

OK... back to the books.