Since at least 1894, the US Department of Agriculture has created guidelines and models for creating a balanced diet. With each iteration of their recommendations the dietary experts try to give us an easy-to-use guideline for eating in a healthy and well balanced way. This is a useful practice and one worth emulating for other important inputs to a healthy and successful life.
In a similar way, my goal is to propose a model of a balanced reading diet. Like a balanced food diet, which contains portions of fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein each day, your reading diet will have specific components too. Rather than thinking of a reading diet in a daily way, as you will see, I encourage you to think of it in a weekly way. Even so, making time to read at least a little each day is an important component to a successful life, and doing it consistently and daily is a habit shared by most high achievers in any field.
The Parts of a Reading Diet
Goal Reading. These are the materials you are reading to help you reach a major or important life goal. The subject matter of this reading may change over time, but your diet will be most effective if it is consistent and consciously focused on an important topic (or range of topics) for a considerable length of time, as opposed to changing topics with each new book. Consciously reading towards a goal will make the reading more effective and will keep you motivated as well.
Inspirational Reading. Each day make time to read something that inspires or lifts your mind and attitude. This might be poetry, religious reading or other related materials. Feeding your mind these materials will elevate your thinking and attitude more than you likely know.
Professional Reading. This is the reading you need to do for your work or profession to stay up with industry trends and information. This is mostly likely journals, magazines, newsletters and blogs.
Current Reading. This is the news and current events – coming from a newspaper or the web. You likely need just a little of this, yet for many, this area is as over-weighted as sweets are in our diet.
Serendipitous Reading. This is reading from unexpected sources, meant to provide new ideas and creative thought. This could be reading from sources you typically don’t read, following links you receive in email, or semi-purposeful web surfing.
Fun Reading. This is whatever you read for fun! Of course you may read much more here, but don’t do it at the expense of some of the other areas above.
Light Reading. This is the equivalent of snack food in our diet. This might be celebrity news, much of your social media consumption or other light reading that doesn’t provide any nutritional value but fills up our mind (and time) and keeps us from the healthy inputs our brain needs.
Some of these inputs could come from books on tape, high quality podcasts and the like, but my recommendation is that at least some of it is actual reading, as that process stimulates our brain in very specific (and helpful) ways.
Why didn’t I count email reading here? While some of the email you read could fit into the categories above, most of it is task reading and the amount of it we have will vary greatly based on our work – and it shouldn’t count into our healthy reading diet anyway.
How to Balance it
Just as the nutritional diet has specified portions of each of the major food groups, I suggest you have a relative plan for how much of each type of reading you will do each day or week. By having this plan, you will be more effective in managing your reading intake (consider it like calorie counting for the brain). Here is a starting guideline to build your diet. This diet is based on 10 hours of reading a week. 10 hours might be far more than you read now – if so, consider yourself malnourished.
Reading 10 hours per week will in a short time make you among the best informed, most well-read people in your organization and life.
If this amount of time doesn’t seem possible, consider turning off the TV or closing down Facebook one hour a night and most of the time will magically appear. If you can’t reach this amount of time – or if you read more than this – consider your balance as a percentage rather than elapsed time.
Goal Reading – 20 minutes/day (23%)
Inspirational Reading – 10-15 minutes/day (11-18%)
Professional Reading – 15-20 minutes/day (18-23%)
Current Reading – 10 minutes/day (11%)
Serendipitous Reading – 1 hour/week (10%)
Fun Reading – 1 hour/week (10%)
Light Reading – less than 1 hour/week* (10%)
*Preferably much of this time added to another area of your reading diet.
Why Make it Balanced
All of these inputs make for a balanced brain – and collectively they provide ideas, inspiration, connections and creativity to support your growth development and achievement. Just like a diet weighted too much to one food group (or leaving out a food group completely) can cause health problems, too much of one reading source (or the absence of others) can keep your brain from growing and functioning at full capacity.
Now you have a reading diet. I urge you to apply it and watch your success grow.
Photo Credit U.S. Department of Agriculture