Last week, I listened to a short podcast from Emily P. Freeman and was inspired. In it, she described her “reading rhythms”—the types of books she reads at various times of the day. For her, mornings are for spiritual books, afternoons are for personal and professional development, and evenings are for fiction and memoir.
First, I love this. I love that it sets you up for reading success, I love that it assumes you are reading multiple (different) things at once, and I love that it feels so true. (It totally resonates that reading a professional development book at night feels weird!)
Second, it clicked with another experiment I’ve been playing with over the past few weeks. Inspired by author and podcaster Laura Tremaine, I’ve been testing a 20-minute reading timer to give myself a way to consume more nonfiction.
You see, I am a big-time reader. Our house is (basically) a library, with floor-to-ceiling built-ins filling three rooms. I have a stack of books I want to read that’s a mile high—but I only have so many hours in the day.
Like Emily, I love reading fiction at night, so that tends to be what I prioritize. For whatever reason, I don’t have trouble making time to plow through romance novels or the latest best-seller.
But I also want to read nonfiction. I know that business and psychology and productivity and creativity books have been hugely helpful for me in the past, but I have trouble prioritizing them within the very real limits of my daily schedule.
I also know that I am better at my job when I make time to grow. I have to invest in inputs if I want to continue producing high-quality outputs. If I want to benefit from the riches of being a lifelong learner, I have to prioritize, well, learning!
Every day, I pick up a nonfiction book and set a 20-minute timer on my phone. I put everything else away (my computer, and even the phone itself!) and read. And then my phone buzzes and I go back to work.
I set out to do this first thing in the morning (and that is still my aspiration), but life sometimes gets in the way. No worries. I can use some of my lunch break, or even an afternoon chunk of my timeboxing.
I’m primarily choosing books that fall into Emily’s “personal and professional development” category—books that will spark thoughts on how to be a better marketer, a better manager, or a better human. And after two weeks, I can safely say that I am learning a lot—and loving this practice.
If you want to test your own 20-minute timer, I asked the S+G team for a few recommendations of nonfiction books that have changed the way they think about life or work. A few ideas:
- Atomic Habits by James Clear, the seminal classic on how to get things done (recommended by Lindsey)
- Range by David Epstein, the book that gave me words around why one of my favorite qualities in people (and employees) is curiosity (recommended by me)
- It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the book that guided us to develop our unique (and uniquely non-crazy) culture at Swell+Good (recommended by Ian)
- Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, our go-to guide to creativity (recommended by Lindsey and me!)