Stop reading that book Apr 8, 2017

Not all books, but that book. The book you've been telling yourself you really should read. The one that you look at and immediately find something else to do. Stop reading that book.

I have a tendency to view reading as a race of sorts. I like keeping track of what I'm reading, how far I am, and how many books I've read so far this year. This can make it difficult to stop reading a book, particularly if you're already 50 or 100 pages into it. You've gotten this far, it doesn't make sense to stop now.

Except it really, really does. First, this is the sunk cost fallacy at play. You've invested time into reading this book, and to stop now would mean all that time and effort has gone to waste! The sunk cost fallacy is hard to escape, particularly if you're a sucker for efficiency and productivity. But in my experience, your big picture return is far greater the earlier you let go of these sunk costs. 

Think about it. A book you're not enjoying may take a month to read. In one month, that's all you get and if you really find it challenging, much of the knowledge won't sink in. Compare that with the experience of reading a book that speaks to you. If you're like me, you can fly through it in a week or so. That opens you up to so many more opportunities! You could read two or three times as much if you just let go.

Second, books find you at the right time. This sounds cliche, but I've found it to be true. The book that didn't speak to me eight months ago is now relevant and engaging because the circumstances I find myself in are different. Dropping a book doesn't mean you'll never get to it. In fact, you may be better prepared to return to it at the right time since you know what it's about. 

This year, I've put aside:

  • Letters From A Stoic
  • The First 90 Days
  • Shooting an Elephant
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • A Farewell to Arms
  • Daring Greatly

Some of these I don't plan on returning to. They're regarded as great books, but they're not for me. That's OK. Others, I felt myself losing interest after getting some key insights I needed. The First 90 Days is a great book, and one I recommend often. But I got about 80-90% through and stopped because where I was at the time didn't match up. Daring Greatly is absolutely one I'll return to, but it wasn't right at the time.

I'm writing this as advice for others, but also to convince myself. The mentality around completing a book is one we're taught from an early age in school, and there are many voices out there preaching hyper-productivity and self-optimization. Add the psychology of sunk costs on top, and it can be difficult to leave something incomplete. But sometimes that's exactly what you need to do. Stop reading that book.