A Lesson In Essentialism
Time is limited, and time spent learning can be a significant part of our daily lives. One principle that could be used to save time is to not dwell on things that are only worth reading once. Unless our business is related to information that suffers from rapid obsolescence (e.g. news etc.), there is no need to consume ideas that are not worth returning to.
Success is about applying basic principles and trying to embody them in our daily actions. The flaw that people often make is to try to find the trick that will allow them to be ahead of their competitors without doing the preliminary work to acquire the essential principles. This mentality of looking for shortcuts leads us to neglect our fundamentals (see article on reviewing your fundamentals) and ultimately to go in circles in search of the best idea without ever delving into it.
A book is the expression of a thought, but not all thoughts have undergone the same decantation (cf. the 4 levels of discussion). Thoughts that are entertainment should not constitute an important part of our readings, ideally we should reduce to a minimum the contents that are only entertaining, or at least have a critical eye on what we consume by distinguishing between valuable contents and those that are not.
The Difficulty Of Identifying Content That Is Worth Reading Several Times
In the pyramid of discussion levels, the level that really deserves a re-read is the concepts. The rest can be neglected.
This effort of essentialism allows us to save time and energy and to focus on what will really bring us value in a sustainable way.
Of course, here we should not understand that we should only read theoretical books. Rather, it is about reading books that have conceptual content in the background even if they are in the form of stories, narratives or descriptions. So when you read a biography, you get to the first three levels of the discussion and often you get to the meat of it, the concepts. Of course, sometimes biographies are inconsistent and you waste your time reading them.
To know if a book has something to teach you beyond appearances can be quite quick. First, are you hooked on the story? Even if the book isn’t very deep, it probably has some narrative hooks that you can build on. If it is not captivating, have you had to stop several times during your reading, to meditate for a few seconds or even minutes on the ideas you have discovered? If you realize that in the first 30 pages of the book you have not once looked up to think about what you have read, it is very likely that the book is not worth reading twice. Of course, you will tell me that there are exceptions, in which case you can increase the tolerance gauge as you see fit. However, this rule is quite reliable, if you haven’t pondered an idea in the first 30 pages, chances are that this book is not worth reading again.
By applying this principle, you will reduce the number of books you need to read by 90% and this will free up as much time in your daily life.
Of course, we can’t afford to buy every book we want to read and then realize after reading the first thirty pages that they are not worth reading. But we must not make the mistake of sunk costs*, which forces us to continue reading something that will not bring us anything and that only wastes our time. [According to Wikipedia: “In behavioral economics and decision analysis, sunk costs are costs that have already been paid definitively; they are neither refundable nor recoverable in any other way. Our judgment should not be impaired by poor investment choices; unfortunately, this is a common bias.
To alleviate the problem of having to buy the book before realizing its worthlessness, there are several solutions:
read one or more summaries of the book before buying it
- ask for advice from reliable people whose taste in books we appreciate
- read the book beforehand on the Internet (it is often possible to have an excerpt of the book before buying it) or in a bookstore
- subscribe to a digital book subscription that allows you to read an unlimited number of books (most often the choice is limited)
You can also set up a system that combines several of these criteria. For example, you can ask more trusted friends (or people you follow on social networks) for the list of books they prefer, having read the summaries beforehand. You can decide to read in priority the books that are in common among those proposed while applying a form of skepticism on the first 30 or 50 pages. This will greatly reduce the amount of time you spend reading books that won’t do anything for you.
Having said that, I have three arguments against the general idea of this article, here they are:
- There is no point in saving reading time if you are going to spend it watching movies or any other unproductive activity
- Sometimes a book does not reveal its secrets because we are simply not mature enough to discover them, in which case the problem is not with the book but with ourselves.
- Very often the value of a book lies in a single idea that we will discover in the middle or at the end (or even after reading and meditating on the book), in which case the 30-page rule is detrimental.