How Reading Books Helps Your Brain Recharge

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Imagine being the founder of not one but of them companies dedicated to books and not finding the time to read them. This is the situation in which Hugh McGuire, founder of LibriVox and Pressbooks, found himself a few years ago. Like many of us, he was struggling with an onslaught of digital information and his beloved paperbacks were gathering dust. After a while, however, he realized that he was sorely missing the quiet time he used to spend with a book in his hand. He also realized that he was tired all the time and had trouble concentrating in all areas of life.

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“I was distracted at work, distracted with my family and friends, constantly tired, irritable and always swimming against an undercurrent of ambient stress induced by my constant itch for digital information. My stress felt electronic, as if it was made up of the same bits and bytes on my screens.

He discovered that a slower form of information, books, was the antidote to his information overload. So he reintroduced them into his routine. According to McGuire, “Reading books again gave me more time to think, to reflect, and increased both my focus and creative mental space to solve work problems.”

As any entrepreneur will tell you, problem solving is essential to starting or running a business. But so does resting our busy brains, and books help with that, too. According to the neuroscientist Daniel Levitinfocused reading uses about 42 calories per hour, while absorbing new information (eg, scrolling through Twitter or headlines) burns about 65 calories per hour.

Research discovered that reading novels improves our brain functions on several levels, including the ability to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and to exercise their imagination. It also strengthens our innovative thinking skills. Take it from Elon Musk, arguably one of the most innovative minds of our time. He said that growing up, he spent more than 10 hours a day browsing science fiction novels. In today’s rapidly changing world, innovation is necessary for any business to remain competitive.

Reading is the best, not to mention the easiest, way to boost our creative thinking and give our brains a break from digital overload – which, according to a 2019 Workplace Productivity Report, more than half of the workforce experiences. With that in mind, here are some strategies for making quality reading time part of your daily routine.

1. Put away your devices

It sounds simple, but detaching from our phones and tablets is often easier said than done. New Information — like pinging a new DM or refreshing our Twitter feed — triggers the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in our brains.

In addition, our devices are designed addictive: Just ask a bunch of former Silicon Valley bigwigs, like Google’s former in-house ethicist, Tristan Harris, who have become whistleblowers of the addictive and unhealthy nature of our phones. Even the guy who literally wrote the book on how to get people addicted – Nir Eyal, author of “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” – has taken a massive turn. More recently, he wrote a book with the opposite sentiment of its former title: “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.” It is a guide to freeing people from the pull of their devices.

Say what you will about Eyal’s flip-flop, his book includes smart tips for keeping your focus: like don’t slack off on Slack, limit meetings to just one laptop, and keep your phone on silent. I like to take it a step further by putting my phone completely out of sight – in a drawer or even in another room – when I need uninterrupted focus time.

It’s impossible to concentrate and fully immerse yourself in a book when you’re constantly checking your posts. So heed the old adage: out of sight, out of mind.

Related: Low productivity? You might need a digital detox.

2. If you don’t have hours, read at short intervals

As CEO of my online forms company, I don’t have uninterrupted hours each day to spend on reading. But like Wharton professor Adam Grant writing“Leaders who don’t have time to read are leaders who don’t take time to learn.”

If the most successful entrepreneurs can find the time, so can I. Sometimes that means being a little frugal: like reading in short bursts throughout the day – on the way to work or waiting in line at the coffee shop. Or, instead of zoning out with Netflix before bed, try squeezing in a few chapters.

What else, research found that we retain more information when we learn in short, spaced intervals, rather than trying to cram it all in at once.

If you have trouble concentrating or just have the day off, the Pomodoro technique can be very effective. It involves setting a timer for 25 minutes, committing to focus for that time, and then giving yourself five minutes to do anything — grab a snack, go for a brisk walk, or something else unrelated to work. Once you’ve completed four pomodoros, you can give yourself a longer break.

Even if you only make one or two pomodoros, you’ll be surprised how quickly time flies.

Related: Reading a book a week won’t make you successful

3. Choose your material carefully

It’s no surprise that if you pick something you really enjoy, you’ll be more likely to follow it. Plus, fully immersing yourself in a captivating book will give you so much more than flipping through a dozen books while your mind wanders elsewhere. Only when we are fully absorbed can we reach that priceless state of to flow: “the optimal state of consciousness where we feel the best and give the best of ourselves.”

My colleagues often tell me that it is too difficult or too long to find good books. It is true that there are thousands of titles to choose from. This is why I recommend delegating the steps. See who reads your favorite authors or experts. You can use Adam Grant’s favorite leadership books or author Steven Pinker ten tracks that he would take to a desert island. I also like to use What should I read nexta website that uses a huge database to offer recommendations based on books you’ve already enjoyed.

Simply put: for productive, smart leaders, reading books is literally the oldest trick in the book. It gives your brain a chance to recharge and absorb new information, and there’s no hacking out of it.

Related: How your reading habits compare to those of Elon Musk, Mark…

About Marcia G. Hussain

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