During school, I rarely read. In fact, I only read because I had to throughout school. Then I continued that in university. I am living proof of marginal gains for reading. To start with, I was encouraged to read the news. Then that developed into interests that I actively sought out and books to read. Now, for work, I focus on reading 20 pages a day. I might miss a day. But I try to never miss twice. As a result, I end up reading a lot of books, and articles in a year. As a researcher (student or professor, and everything in between), focus on reading a small amount of research work every day. That could be anything. It’ll probably be the latest research – there’s more produced each year than we could hope to read. But, if for some reason you reach the end of all worthy research in your niche, think about other areas that could add value. Management. Leadership. Budgeting. Social Media. Programming. Read those.
James Clear suggests starting your reading habit by doing a page a day. As you get used to that, as you do that several days or weeks in a row, progress to two pages, and so on. I’m now aiming for 20 pages a day. That’s enough for me. I hit often enough that I get through the books, and journals I want to. I miss every now and again, letting me know that’s probably close to my limit.
Want to read more? Spend
less time selecting something
to read. Queue your reading.
So, rather than binge reading – unless you’re starting out in your PhD or in a new project – read daily. Wendy1 cites studies in the US that indicate academics there read 21 articles per month. With each taking just over 30 minutes to read. So, if you’re not hitting that figure, maybe consider adjusting how you read. An article a workday will get you to at least 20 articles per month.
A bit of background
Slow progress is still progress.
One percent better is still better.
The story of the tortoise, and the hare.
It took someone ten years to become an overnight success.
Death by 1,000 cuts.
The straw that broke the camel’s back.
These all allude to the same thing. That marginal gains, and losses are important to success and failure. Perhaps even essential.
James Clear talks about marginal gains in his book – Atomic Habits.
And Wendy Belcher doesn’t talk about marginal gains but applies the principle in her advice on Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks. She even goes as far as to berate people who don’t adopt this approach. Defining binge writing, and the associated stress that causes it and that it causes. A marginal gain is a small improvement to what you currently do. And the opposite, a small decline, is a marginal loss. The process of applying marginal gains is about looking at everything you do and trying to improve – even if it is just a 1% improvement. Because, through the power of compounding, that 1% could be worth 30 times as much in a year (1.01365 = 37.78).
Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He has helped more than 200 PhD students, early career researchers, and established academics build their careers. He has provided strategic advice on partnering with industry, growing a career building new centres and institutes as well as establishing new programs. Richard is driven by the challenge of helping researchers be commercially smart. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality.
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