No-cost improvements in productivity

I keep track of how many hours I spend reading on each day. Normally this is a pretty formal affair. I sit down for reading time. When I sit down, I glance at the clock. When I get up, reading time is over, and I keep a mental tally of how long it was.

However, like everyone else on the net, I also do plenty of informal reading–articles on slate, NYT, salon, buzzfeed, etc. I do not log this reading, because it is not productive. It’s useless fluff, mostly, and I think some of it is actually making me dumber.

Recently, though, my girlfriend gave me the password to her New Yorker subscription and I’ve been reading it on the iPhone app. I will not say that reading the New Yorker is immensely productive. It’s the definition of middlebrow: stuff that’s marketed to a mass audience on the premise that it’ll be somehow ‘improving’. But it’s also not as bad as Salon or Slate. I am satisfied with my New Yorker reading.

I always thought that having a subscription like this would be an awful imposition. The magazines just flood in–fifty thousand words in each issue–and you can either read a half-novel’s worth of semi-randomly-selected words or you can let them pile up, unread, on top of your toilet tank.

But it’s not like that at all.

Instead I read in checkout lines or when I’m on the train or while I’m waiting for my frozen pizza to get done. It’s light and accessible and easy and by the end of the week I have (so far) always found that I’ve finished the issue. In fact, I’ve actually starting going backwards. I got the subscription four weeks ago, but I’ve already read back into the beginning of august.

It feels good. Normally in order to squeeze more out of the day, I have to try. But in this case I turned waste time–interstitial time–into something useful.