Your 3 Smart Filters for Choosing What to Read

How do you decide whether something is worth reading?

We are bombarded with content. We can’t read it all. If we choose poorly we’re wasting our time. Even worse we lose our chance to spend time on the best articles and books.

Let me show you 3 easy checks to decide if something is worth your time.

TLDR; You can skip the details in blue in a first read.

1. Does it answer one of your burning questions?

Ignore the title. Read the first paragraph, and the last. Are they coherent? Do they address one of your open problems or questions?

Often the conclusion of the piece derails from its initial promise. Checking both the beginning and the end helps you to avoid this trap. It also gives you a chance to skim the piece quickly.

Write down the questions somewhere. It sets your expectations. It will help you stay objective and not change your questions as you read to find excuses for the time spent.

Relate what you find while reading with your initial question. Comparing a posteriori what you gained with your expectations will help you further fine-tune your judgment.

2. What is the return on investment?

Estimate the time it will take to read the piece and process it. Compare with your expectations to learn something new and valuable. Judge if it’s a waste, a “one day maybe”, or a must-read.

Don’t forget to include the time spent to process mentally and by writing what you acquired. Roughly, it doubles the reading tile.

The length, the language, and the layout of the piece are indicators of the effort required.

The authority of the author, a brilliant explanation, or the illustrations can be worth an extra effort.

3. Does it connects to your prior knowledge?

Imagine the piece like a fly-over between what you know and what you wish to learn. You want to have a good part of the piece sitting on your prior knowledge, a fair part hovering over the knowledge you try to consolidate, and the third part landing on totally new knowledge. That makes the reading valuable, yet not too hard. The learning process is eased.

We all have a knowledge frontier that extends as we learn and become familiar with new concepts. That’s where the learning takes place. It stays between the known and the unknown in a fuzzy area I call the “knowledge frontier.” We want each new read to fall across those three areas.

It’s for books also

The same filter applies to books. If you decide to read a book, apply quickly the filter again at each chapter. It’s always possible to return to the first chapters if the reading proved to deliver value. Like many productive readers, I rarely read non-fiction from cover to cover, and in the order it is presented. I tailor the process to my needs using the above filters.

That’s it.

It takes longer to explain than to do it.

Each step should fit in a minute.

Try it and let me know how it works for you.