In addition to my work as an educator, teaching Interaction Design at the Belfast School of Art, I work as a writer.

The written word is an important part of my life and it’s something that has shaped my thinking. Recently, however, I’ve found it a challenge to set aside the time to read.

I’ve long held that ‘A Good Writer Is a Good Thinker’ and I explored this idea, writing for The Pastry Box, in 2015. Regardless of who reads your writing (even if you only write for yourself), the act of writing – clarifying your thoughts – rewires your brain. In short: writing acts as a prism for thinking.

But where does the raw material for writing come from? Reading.

A Readerly Life

In 2016, I made a determined effort to read more in an attempt to improve my productivity as a writer. I set myself a goal to read more books, to dig deep and improve my thinking.

I’ll be honest… I struggled.

I found myself constantly distracted by the ever-connected world of the web. Smartphone to hand I found it a struggle to read anything of any real substance. I found my mind constantly wandering, captured in a link-fuelled world, hypertext distracted.

Having read Nicholas Carr’s excellent book The Shallows last year, I begun to worry, asking myself: Had I lost the capacity to read? As Carr puts it:

What the internet seems to be doing is chipping away [our] capacity for concentration and contemplation.

As a child I read voraciously, often losing hours and hours to the written word. Now – to all intents and purposes – I had lost this capability completely. I don’t mind saying that the thought I’d lost the ability to focus, and read, filled me with dread.

A writer unable to read is a writer missing half his skillset.

15 Minutes…

I’m happy to say that I recently found a solution to my problem.

For Christmas I was fortunate enough to receive the gift of time. (15 minutes to be precise.) It might sound ridiculous: How can one give the gift of time? But allow me to explain.

My wife, Cara, always has a good eye for gifts and this year she outshone herself. On Christmas Day I unwrapped, amongst other things, a gift of time.

Courtesy of Alain de Boton’s The School of Life, Cara had secured a 15 Minute Timer designed for making time for what really matters.

As The School of Life put it:

The glass timer doesn’t tell you what exactly to do with its allotted time. It just demarcates a very modest and manageable period – then it creates a floor beneath which it suggests we don’t fall.

Helpfully the glass timer arrived with some suggestions for what it might be used for, but I decided to put it to use reigniting my reading habit.

An Hour or More…

Thanks to my glass timer I regularly set aside time every day to read. The wonder of the timer is that a quarter of an hour soon becomes a half an hour and, before you know it, an hour or more.

As a writer (and as a designer, fuelled by ideas) the hour or more I enjoy daily has fundamentally improved my productivity. My mind, now primed, is spilling over with new ideas… the product of careful collisions driven by the discoveries I’ve made while reading.

I’ve found that 15 minutes away from the ever-connectedness of a smartphone or computer is all it takes to fundamentally alter my day. Even better, I’m suffering a lot less from stress. Win, win.

If you had the git of time, what would you use it for?

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