How to read without slipping into “check the box” mode

When I come across interesting-sounding long-form articles, blog posts etc., I save them to read later. When I am ready to read, I usually just pick the one that looks the most interesting from the lot and start reading it.

But I have noticed that this often puts me in a frame of mind where I find myself reading impatiently. I want to get to the end of the article fast so that I can “check it off” as done and move to the next one.

This is not only unpleasant but it also defeats the whole point of reading the article. I want to savor it and extract from it things that are useful or insightful or whatever.

Why does this happen?

My theory is that when I see the long list of unread articles, my brain gets very uncomfortable and shifts into “let’s crush that list” mode. It forces me to read faster. It tries to maximize articles read rather than insights gained.

If this theory is true, how to solve this problem?

This is my current solution: I select the next article to read without looking at the list. I literally randomly click on an article link without looking at the screen*.

I am happy to report that this “one weird trick” 🙂 works. It has been quite effective in keeping my brain in the right mode.

It is a bit strange that it even helps since I obviously know that there are lots of unread articles in my stack. But, somehow, not seeing the long list of unreads when picking the next thing seems to make a difference.

Perhaps it reminds my brain that there are an effectively infinite number of articles out there and trying to read everything is futile anyway? Who knows.

All this said, my brain isn’t 100% happy with this approach. It keeps reminding me that a randomly chosen article is very unlikely to be the best one in the pile so I am not maximizing value gained per unit of reading time.

Fair enough, but if I am reading the best article badly, am I really maximizing value? Also, I can’t easily** pick the best article without looking at the list which will put me back into “check the box” mode.

Anyway, it has only been a few weeks and who knows if this will continue to work. Still, I am happy with the results so far. Fingers crossed.

Do you have the same problem? How have you tried to solve it? Please share in the comments.

*The Reading List 2 chrome extension has a convenient ‘pick a random item’ feature but I wish the native Chrome Reading List side-tab – which I use heavily across all my devices – had it.

**a personalized next-best-article recommendation feature in the Chrome Reading List side-tab would be nice.