Ethan Banks On productivity.

Reading Tech Books Via The All-At-Once Method


I was recently asked by a friend to read and review a book his publisher had just released. This was a technical book on a topic I was keenly interested in, so I was happy to oblige.

I tackled the book in the way that I normally tackle technical books — a chapter a day, or maybe two chapters in a day. Technical books aren’t recreational fiction for me. I want to grasp the contents of technical books to best make use of the information. This often leads to slow reading. I mull over paragraphs and digest.

This time, I broke that habit. I wanted to get this book done quickly. I wanted the information immediately. I didn’t want to take a few weeks to get through it. Thus, I tried reading the book all at once.

Surprisingly, this worked out well. I ended up getting through the book in four sittings, which perhaps doesn’t sound like “all at once.” Bear with me. The first sitting was a single chapter. The second sitting was a single chapter. Then came the holidays and a complete disruption to my workflow. And then came the epiphany as I stared at the book post-holidays. It stared back at me.

Not this time. Not this book. No. This is happening. I’m reading this book right now. ALL OF IT.

The third sitting took me through several chapters. On the following day, the fourth sitting allowed me to complete the book.

I got as much if not more out of the book as I would have gotten spreading the book out over weeks. There was a distinct advantage in maintaining mental continuity across the chapters. Concepts I had read just a few hours or a day before were brought more readily to mind. I did much less flipping back to reference earlier sections of the book. The flow was more linear than my normal technical book consumption process has been.

What about my inbox, social media, other projects, and all the rest? Didn’t I pay some horrible penalty for mostly ignoring them for two days? Not really. I saved an hour at the end of the day as my mind was fatiguing for messaging tasks. And my other projects were, for the most part, okay to be ignored for a little while.

The payoff was enormous. The book is read and understood. While I don’t know the contents of the book at the “I could pass a detailed exam” level, I know enough to be literate on the content and perform related lab work. I also know what I don’t know, which goes a long way towards removing the shroud of mystery obscuring unexplored technology.

Consuming the book all at once was definitely worthwhile and oddly addictive. Despite having read a technical book in this manner only once, I find myself eyeing other tech tomes with the intent of additional “all at once” sessions soon.

By Ethan Banks
Ethan Banks On productivity.

You probably know Ethan Banks because he writes & podcasts about IT. For example, he co-authored "Computer Networks Problems & Solutions" with Russ White.

This site is Ethan on productivity--not tech so much.

Find out more on his about page.