Several years ago I read Tim Sanders’ book Love is the Killer App. In it, he argued that “Books are the complete thought-meal”. His point was that in a book, you get a complete argument, well-balanced and considered. Email, blogs, newspapers and even magazines are usually less complete and thus less helpful to read. Sanders recommends that you spend 80% of your learning time on books, and just 20% on magazines/web/tv/etc.

Of course, this sounds similar to the advice we’re given to eat our vegetables, do our homework, and mow the lawn–they’re all requirements to do things that we otherwise wouldn’t want to. What might we do to increase our desire to do the right thing?

Time might be an important factor. I’ve noticed that when I’m stressed or tired, I’m more attracted to eating unhealthy things–ice cream, pizza, and yes, candy. Similarly, I tend to read blogs, and reject books, mostly when I’m fatigued, especially late at night or when I’ve been working too hard. Changing my reading habits may require changing my lifestyle, and recognizing when I’m too distracted or tired to handle a big chunk of learning.

Even shifting certain activities to different times of day can help. My favorite William Blake quote alludes to this: “Think in the morning; act in the noon; read in the evening; and sleep at night”. When I follow this schedule, I’m more productive, less stressed, and tend to plan ahead and fill my “reading” time with books and longer thought experiences. In fact, I’m writing this now only because I set it aside “thought” time this morning. Morning works best for me because (once I’m out of bed) it tends to be my most energetic, clear-headed part of the day.

Focusing on big, long-term projects is a luxury that’s new to our culture–for most of history people have been forced to scramble from one small thing to another just to survive. It’s not surprising that small things then hold such appeal to us, but it’s exciting to think about what we might do with the opportunity to think bigger.