Personal Productivity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people wanting to improve their personal productivity. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I'm a graduate student in computer science, but I have only read 3 academic papers so far this year. The Internet is too fun for me, and I actually have learned a lot from it. The problem is that it's difficult for me to grasp the hard concepts in front of the monitor, since this environment offers me tons of distractions when I want to escape from the plethora of mathematical symbols.

The thing I want to know is: How to cultivate a reading habit, while the Internet is so seductive?

Note: I'm often too lazy to go to the libraries.

share|improve this question
I will suggest you to practice yoga and Pranayama techniques (20-25 mins) early morning everyday. <br/> It will make you more focused for sure and will definitely improve your reading habits. – Atinder Jun 8 '13 at 16:16
Also read from wide screens and large polices. Read good content. – Yves Jun 10 '13 at 20:13

You should print hard-copies of the papers. When reading, you need to be able to make your own comments with a pen, mark important areas and so on. And go somewhere where there will be no distractions from the Internet.

share|improve this answer
+1 for recommending active reading. – abnry Jun 1 '13 at 21:16
I wouldn't recommend to print hard copies, but taking, keeping and re-reading notes is essential. – Yves Jun 10 '13 at 20:11
@Yves, No seriously, print the copies and turn off the computer to read, then you aren't tempted by all the other content out there. – HLGEM Jul 10 '13 at 14:09
It´s a good way to waste paper... I used to do this but always ended up with a mountain of paper I´d never read again. Not to mention that a lot of texts require other sources to be understood (books, papers, wikipedia in the worst cases) which is why it can be more productive to read "on-screen". Taking notes helped me. – Yves Jul 12 '13 at 19:55

Have a note pad and relevant technical dictionaries with you. If you are so inclined, have music on low in the background (personally, i use ear plugs).

Get comfortable, and read from a single topic at a time, master it as much as possible, listing any an all questions and tick them off as you read through the topic's papers.

Give yourself breaks (I do this after 4-5 papers) and have plenty of water.

share|improve this answer

It sounds like the simplest solution would be to print the papers out and read them away from the computer.

You might also consider using a somewhat formal technique for "notes." I usually take a minimum of two passes through a paper:

  1. Print it out and read through relatively quickly, making simple notes and annotations of important things to come back to, etc.

  2. Read more closely and, as I go, take real notes, Cornell Style (or whatever you like) OR create a simple concept/mind map either on paper using simple circles and spokes, or using some kind of mind mapping software if I decide at that point to go to the computer.

You could combine this with some Pomodoro style work-sprints to keep your concentration up. Success using any of these techniques demands focus, attention and motivation!

share|improve this answer

Stepping away from the computer with a hard-copy is my own personal preference. Although, as someone who is easily distracted, I find it best to turn off the computer, leave all my gadgets behind, and (on a nice day) sit outside with nothing to distract me from the documents I have to read. By keeping the distractions out of sight, we are less likely to be constantly tempted by them, and our willpower won't deplete so quickly (I highly recommend Baumeister and Tierney's book on Willpower - a review by Steven Pinker is available here ).

When a hard-copy is not appropriate there are a number of software solutions, for example, which allow you to place limits on the sites you visit. This is particularly useful if you find yourself constantly being distracted by the same sites (e.g., Twitter or a particular news channel). However, when I have tried these services I end up wasting more time as I try to get around them.

Unfortunately - the none-to-helpful answer is - the best way to cultivate the reading habit is to start reading. Reading the first paper may be tiresome, but the second will easier, and the third easier still. Not only because you will develop the reading habit, but the hard concepts will become easier as you see them discussed multiple times in multiple different settings.

share|improve this answer

As people above have said, print it out and read away from the pc. Multiple readthroughs is also a must-have with increasing depth of detail, but I'd also add an extra readthrough where you skim for information contributing to something you don't understand for when you're trying to get the hard concept.

Once you've done the skim, you should hopefully have a list of keyphrases and research points - depending on how I feel at this point I either hit the pc again and start googling the hell out of my keywords looking for easier to understand information or I leave it all alone and let my mind chew on the problem whilst I cook, game or read fiction. The googling should yield supporting information that might illuminate a concept for you and the leaving it alone allows for gestalt - both of which can be very effective for grasping an idea.

share|improve this answer

Here is one suggested technique.

For a given paper, take 30min-45min of focused time, skim the paper and outline the structure of the paper, the key ideas, and the important details. Make some sort of note which aspects of the paper will be difficult to understand.

Then every day take 20min or so, perhaps in the morning, chipping away at one concept in the paper. If you feel you understand it, but a check by it on your outline.

share|improve this answer
IMO, skimming and outlining difficult papers is the way to go. For highly technical papers, make a glossary of difficult terms as well. A lot of your time will be spent looking up those terms, so make sure you can summarize them into one sentence before moving on. Do the same with mathematical formulas. – Muz Jun 10 '13 at 3:10

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.