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Weekly Brain Tools: The Counter-Intuitive Benefits of Routine Disruption

Feb 15, 2019 | Posted by Cristina in Newsletters

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The text below was sent in December 2018 to our newsletter subscribers. If you enjoy it and want more, join us.

Hello, dear! This is your second brain speaking. Missed me?

I’ve been sending you these freakin’ long emails about all sorts of books that I read, probably making you wonder “When does she have time to read all those? And how many books does she read in a week?

As you probably already know, 10 years ago I didn’t read at all. Nada. Zip. Zero. Not even one book per year. I started reading really late in life, in my mid 20s. And this year, when I’m 30 (well, 31 in three weeks, to be more precise), I read 55+ books.

So, what clicked in my mind that made me start reading books? That’s a story for another day.

Instead, today I want to talk to you about your New Year’s resolution. Yes, it’s that time of the year, and it’s a safe bet to make that you’re going to add “reading more” on your list for 2019.

When that happens, here’s what I recommend: START SMALL. Take baby steps.

Ignore the “set big, audacious goals” advice. You need to be realistic. Don’t make it your next year’s target to read 30 books, if this year you didn’t finish even three books. We both know it’s not going to happen.

Instead, you’ll get frustrated, your confidence in yourself will drop dramatically, and you’ll define yourself as someone who doesn’t read – and it’s only a downward spiral from there (“I’m not going to hit that target anyways, so I might as well just binge on this TV show for the next month…“).

Or worse, you’ll sabotage yourself by reading short, easy books, just to hit your target. That beats the whole purpose.

When you think about this new habit, try to zoom out. As with healthy eating and exercising, reading is one of those meta-habits that will help you over the long term, something you’ll want to do for as long as you live.

You can’t just read 100 books in a short span of time and that’s it, you can cross that off your list, just like you can’t practice 100 hours of sports in a month and think that’s enough for the whole year. It just doesn’t work that way.

Here’s what I suggest instead: for the first 31 days of the year, set as a target to only read two pages per day. That’s it. Two pages. Can you make time for two pages?

Sure, you could read so much more than that, but don’t fall into that trap. Start with just two pages at the beginning, until you build this into a habit – something that you do automatically, every single day, without thinking about it anymore. And you can increase the target after you read those two pages per day, for 31 days in a row.

And one more thing. Find the format that best fits your style & schedule. I have friends who only “read” audiobooks – they’ll purposely go for long walks during the day, so they can listen to those books. Or they’ll take a longer route to home/office (in this case, you can set as a target to “read” for 10 minutes per day). Other friends travel a lot, so Kindle is their best friend. Others read on their phone, using a dedicated app (well, Kindle again), sometimes even setting it on airplane mode, so that nothing else distracts their attention.

I, personally, still prefer paper books – I know this is not the most environmental-friendly option, but I process the ideas better when I can write notes, mark pages, spill coffee on them (oops), and so on.

Ok, enough habits talk for a Monday. I’m guessing by now you’re wondering what’s with the topic mentioned in the subject of this email, the routine disruption. Well, keep on reading and you’ll find out:


1. Derek Sivers is one of my favorite people in this whole wide world. I’ve read and re-read everything he ever wrote, from blog archive to book, and his book-notes have been extremely helpful when I wanted to figure out if a book’s right for me to read or not.

Musician, writer and entrepreneur, Derek also attended Berklee College of Music (different programs though, I studied Music Business, he majored in professional music).

20 years ago, he founded CDBaby, a company that helped independent artists distribute their music and went on to become the largest online seller of music – this was back in the days when record labels were still gatekeepers.

Derek sold the company 10 years later, after he automated or delegated all the processes, so he didn’t need to intervene in day-to-day activities anymore. He donated all $22 mil to charity.

His book “Anything You Want” is a short gem about all the lessons he learned while starting, growing and selling the business.

This year, he focused on writing three new books (“Your Music and People“, “Hell Yeah or No” and “How to Live“), so he didn’t write as much as before on his blog.

Subtract” is one of those few blog posts that he did publish Here’s a quote from it:

The most successful people I know have a narrow focus, protect against time-wasters, say no to almost everything, and have let go of old limiting beliefs.

This hits close to home. This year, I repeatedly made the mistake of spreading myself too thin, said yes to all sorts of shiny objects, and shamefully ghosted when I didn’t have the mental bandwidth needed to handle all those.

I never seem to learn the lesson the first timet. Not even cloning myself will help me, my clones would probably repeat the same mistakes. Maybe re-re-re-reading Derek’s articles will save me.

2. I first read “Fewer resolutions, more goals” when it was published, at the beginning of 2018, and re-read it last week. Written by Alex Mazer, it’s about why we should give up setting vague new year’s resolutions, and instead focus on personal goal setting.

Alex shares his personal planning process, that he created and improved over three years. Read it and perhaps schedule this for your holiday break (it takes him about 10 to 15 hours). And yes, this is another message I’m sending myself. 😛

3. During a run I managed to squeeze in last week, I was telling a friend how my daily routine got disrupted recently.

Because of some complex circumstances, I temporary took over all the marketing and client support for my better half’s streetwear brand. This change overlapped with the busiest campaigns of the year, Black Friday and new winter gear launch.

The timing turned it a superhuman mission, with days passing by like a blur. Things will surely cool down after Christmas, but, for now, I feel like I’ve been thrown in a washing machine and spilled out.

Counter-intuitive, this disruption in my routine only increased my efficiency. I had to rethink every minute of my day, rebuild my routine from scratch, and eliminate all activities that didn’t prove valuable, once again concluding that the obstacle truly is the way.

Here’s Ryan Holiday, in an article about how his daily routine can turn into your biggest enemy, and how his life changed after his son was born:

Depending on circumstances, I have strategic flexibility. I’m not winging it, but I am not such a creature of habit that I am flustered when disrupted (or can I really even be disrupted since I am indifferent to Plan A, B, C, D, E). Think about musical scales—the notes themselves are fixed but they can be played in a limitless amount of combination. This allows the musician to improvise while still maintaining a base they can return to and derive confidence and comfort in. That’s how you want to be with your routine. Not so rigid that you can’t respond to the moment, not so free that you can do everything in the moment.

4. While doing research on digital marketing campaigns, I read this interview with the co-founder of the biggest influencer agency in the world. At some point, he talks about how he feels like he lives in a fake world, where nothing’s tangible, and what he does for self-care is limiting social media – he’s not on Facebook.

It’s funny how those who work closest with technology are the ones who are most wary of it. Another article I read recently talked about how Silicon Valley executives are keeping themselves and their kids away from screens.

5. In the past weeks, I’ve also helped a handful of entrepreneurs, managers and HR folks to choose winter holiday gifts (books, obviously) for their teams.

Cal Newport’s “Deep Work” has been on the top of all my lists. Cal writes about how new technology affects our ability to focus and produce quality work, exposes all the modern workplace sources of distraction, and he also comes with multiple ways to tackle the problem. If you haven’t read it, it’s a great book to offer yourself as a gift for the new year.

Cal just announced his upcoming book, “Digital Minimalism“, which will be out in February. The digital minimalism philosophy is about how to radically reduce the time we spend staring at screens, focus on the activities that support what we do and value, and happily ignore the rest (JOMO).

I can’t wait to read it. In the past year I’ve been writing a lot on the topic of the distraction economy, digital decluttering and mindfulness, and how to take control over social media. I interviewed professionals who aren’t active on social media, despite running successful digital businesses, I even started (and abandoned) writing a book on the subject, and instead turned those ideas into a 40-minute presentation I held in October in front of a few hundreds of… social media professionals.


As an ending note, check out another beautiful photo of our learners notebook, taken by Gabriela Deleanu. ?

Everyone who supports our work through Patreon receives one of these notebooks from us (blank pages, baby!).

As you know, Patreon is (for now) our main and only source of income, so any dollar that comes this way is highly appreciated – thank you in advance! 🙂


– Cristina

The text above was sent in December 2018 to our newsletter subscribers. If you enjoyed it and want more, join us.

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