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How many movies are on your Netflix list right now? Got an Instapaper account that’s becoming the dark place where unread articles go to die? How about your inbox? A few emails lingering in there?  How many?

If you’re like anyone else in the information age your answer might range from “about ten” to “ugh…”. Don’t worry. You’re not failing. You’re just falling into a state of Tsundoku.

This is a Japanese word that describes a pile of unread  books. It’s a compound of “tsumu”, “to pile up” and “doku”, “to read” and it’s a pun on “tsunde oku” – to leave piled up –  but what it really means is that awesome Twain biography on your nightstand that got such a great review on Fresh Air that now sits under Gravity’s Rainbow (that “you’ve just got to read!”) that’s supporting Clean Code (“important!”) that nestles under Infinite Jest (“someday…”) that pops Dhalgren (“waat?”) almost to the top… if… it… just wasn’t for that copy of Leading Geeks  that you promised your boss you’d read…

Every night you fall into bed, gazing jealously at your Tsundoku, vowing that this weekend you’ll take some time for yourself; that you’ll settle cozily in a comfy chair with a cup of tea at your arm and the dog at your feet and you’ll make headway into those books and luxuriate in the words, in the metaphors, in the newfound knowledge. Then the dog is sick and you have to pick some stuff up from the store and the kids want to go to the park and and you’ll just check your email and some friends come over for dinner and it’s the LAST GAME OF THRONES and…damn. It’s Monday morning. Maybe next weekend.

Such is the state of modern life. It affects us all. It’s not just books. The amount of information rampaging around us is so overwhelming that we try to manage by stacking it; piling it up in increasingly perilous towers and tackling a chunk at a time, and of course we see about as much success as a goldfish stacking water.

It’s. Not. Your. Fault.

Part of it is ours. With over 200,000 hours of books, conferences and videos available for you to enjoy and learn from, Tsundoku is a problem that Safari members can’t shake.  40% of individual members have at least the equivalent of twenty books sitting on their nightstand:

Tsundoku: Items queued by Safari members

20% have queued more than 46 titles, and one member is pushing out through her bedroom roof and attempting to hit the stratosphere, queueing well over 2800 titles. That’s a whole library of books and videos piling up, waiting to be read.

Based on a – admittedly, quite pitiful – standard that a title is ‘read’ if more than 10 pages are viewed (or 10 minutes of video are watched), only 12% of our members have ‘read’ close to all of the titles in their queue:

Tsundoku: Distribution of Safari member progress through queued titles

Most users have ‘read’ less than half of their queued titles, and 11% haven’t looked at a single title.

Something must be done. Maybe.

The Tsundoku Support Club is not a place of judgement; this is a safe community that supports all reading habits. Nevertheless, if you feel that Tsundoku is affecting your quality of life, we’re here to help:

If you love it, let it go…

It’s the best “first world problem” there is. “Oh, my inbox is so full,” or, “I just can’t keep up with all the tweets and status updates and emails” are common utterances of the digital elite. Though we constantly complain of it—of all the news, and emails, and status updates, and tweets, and the television shows that we feel compelled to watch—the truth is that information is not requiring you to consume it. The Information Diet

If you’re constantly swamped, making list-upon-list, pile-upon-pile, swimming upstream against a torrent of data and getting absolutely nowhere maybe it’s time to whisper the serenity prayer, do a 180 and just stop trying.

You can’t possibly stay on top of everything, so… don’t. Let those information stacks crumble under their own entropy. Regain control by setting your own terms. Treat information like the flow that it is; dip your toes in when you feel like it.

Switch off notifications. Tell Twitter that you don’t care about tweets that happened ‘while you were gone’. Archive those emails you’ll never respond to. Shuffle your Instapaper list. Trust if something is important enough, you’ll see it amplified through multiple channels. In Safari, treat the queue as a pool of learning you can dip in and out of. Enjoy the liberation of knowing you don’t have to complete everything on your list.

Take the pressure off by only queueing individual chapters or video clips that you know you can consume in a few minutes – you can always go on to read related chapters later – and will allow you to build a quick, daily habit of learning.  Rather than laughing / crying / shouting at Facebook over your morning coffee (delete according to the number of family members on your timeline), spend ten minutes improving your job skills with Safari. Read whatever is at the top of your queue. Or in the middle, or end.

Or don’t even use the queue at all. We have a great recommendation engine that will surface useful learning based on your interests and previously read chapters. Trust that the recommendations will be useful; if they’re not, read a few chapters of a book you know will. Make the algorithm work for you.

Follow your guide…

Some seeking the help of the Tsundoku Support Club will find they can’t let go; the thought of going freeform jazz with information, improvising and reacting to what you see before you is just a step too much. You need structure, a path through the mayhem leading to a definite goal. A trusted friend sorting through the mist of data to highlight what’s really important.

That’s OK too. If you’re into that, try Tutorials.

We’ve asked subject matter experts to create learning paths through our library, chunks of books and videos that they feel get the heart of each problem, and that follow a natural progression – with the goal of making you better at your job. Start a tutorial and be guided through everything you need to know. Stop and start when you like.

If you have solutions to the Tsundoku habit, please let us know below. We can get through this together.


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