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How I Read 52 Books in 2020.

April 25, 2021

Reading Books / Roque Recommends

After a lengthy break, I am back on my regular weekly blogging schedule. I needed time to sort out a few other obligations and to recalibrate what I do with this blog. For now, I want to focus a lot more on my reading habits and the books I read.

Last year, I read 52 books. I have never read this many books before in that length of time. In every year prior, I would average around 12 to 15 at the most.

So what made the difference?

We can all agree that the Covid-19 global pandemic changed everything. In my case, creative projects and freelance work dissipated, and I was at a loss for what to do. With so much anxiety and fear wreaking havoc upon the world, I decided to turn to the safe haven of a book. Perhaps I needed A LOT of safety because 52 books is no small amount.

As the year progressed, I naturally developed certain habits and strategies that helped me become a more efficient and engaged reader.

  • I read in small chunks of words instead of using an inner head voice

    This is actually something I’ve been working on for a long time, but 2020 gave me the space to focus on it. Especially in grade school and high school, I used to read books by actually sounding out each word in my head. There is nothing wrong with this technique, but it does not allow the human brain to utilize all of its innate talents. We are capable of comprehending information much more efficiently.

    To be clear, I have no desire to be one of those super speed readers who can fly through a book in a couple of hours and can read entire pages of words in one fell swoop. I read in chunks of 4 or 5 words at a steady pace instead. This gives me time to absorb the material and actually enjoy what I’m reading. In some instances, I’ll slow down if I come across a particularly important or poignant passage.

  • I use a dedicated e-reader device to read digital books

    Avid and purist bookworms the world over will scoff at this. Justly so, perhaps, but e-readers work for me. I still love reading actual books, but I am not a fan of being beholden to small text sizes and clunky fonts. I also love to read in bed and a lot of physical books require sufficient lighting. Finding the best balance in this scenario often requires more tinkering than I care to do.

    I use a Kobo e-reader called the Libra H20, and I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT! It comes with a built in light that can be adjusted for brightness and blue light sensitivity. I can change the fonts of any book I read and also adjust their sizes. My preference is to make them bigger to reduce the strain on my eyes. I can save hundreds of books in this device and carry them everywhere. This reader also tells me how much longer I have to go toward finishing a current chapter and the entire book. This helps me figure out how much reading time I might want to utilize in a day if the book is too good to put down.

    This particular e-reader also lets me use an app called Pocket which allows me to save any article from the internet that I want to read for later. I can read them all in one dedicated place.

    Lastly, I can borrow books from my library and, through wifi, get them downloaded into this device. How cool is that?

    With some exceptions, I read digital books exclusively. This is a modern innovation that I fully embrace.

  • I have at least two books lined up to read at any time.

    For me, nothing sucks more than having so many options that you wind up choosing nothing and drowning in indecision. This happens to me often when I am scrolling through Netflix and can’t find something I care to watch. (That’s usually when I turn to a book.)

    I make it a habit every day to scroll through my Libby app on my phone to see what is available to borrow from my library. I have a list of books I want to read that have been recommended by friends or the New York Times. My default is to borrow books from a library. (I only buy a book if it is compelling enough to want to revisit it numerous times.)

    All of this helps to ensure that I am never at a loss for what to read next.

  • I allot at least one hour every day to reading.

    Some days are busier than others, but regardless of what is happening, I get at least one hour in without fail every day. Beyond that, I often sneak in ten to fifteen minutes in between tasks or on a break. I make it a conscious intention to read every day. I’ve done so for long enough that it is simply part of the autopilot rhythm and fabric of my life. I drink water. I read. I sleep. I read. It is now vital and integral to who I am.

  • Do not make binging tv and movies your entertainment default.

    For better or worse, streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are here to stay. We are in a golden age of television in which there is no shortage of quality content to absorb. The problem I have with these forms of entertainment is that they are too passive and easily digestible. There is minimal grappling with concepts and contradictions when everything is tied up into a pretty bow within two hours. You simply sit there like a zombie while the story resolves itself and fills in all the blanks quickly.

    A book is a long-form work of art that fully engages your mind and imagination. There are layers of subtext, inner thoughts and lives of characters, and emotions that flow from every page. The written form forces your brain to make connections that aren’t handed to you on a platter the way watching a film does. Books invite you to grapple and contemplate—to question and doubt, all on your own time, one book at a time.

If any of you out there are looking to up your reading game, then power to you. It is important to remember that it is actually the quality of the books you read that matters the most (the title of this post notwithstanding). The only reason I read so many books is that there actually are SO MANY good books out in the world. I want to read as many as I can.


You do not have to ascribe to any of the practices I have mentioned here. All of these techniques are simply how I do what I do when it comes to reading.

I have a rich and boundless life as a reader. This informs my creative work and my imagination. Reading books enriches everything else that I do whether I only read one for fifty-two of them.

After I finish reading a book, I look out into the world with an even broader perspective. Colors come alive, and I am more free.

The Value of Time-Blocking Your To-Do List

August 3, 2020

Creativity / Culture and Society

As far as modern productivity goes, the standard to-do list has become a primary tool that allows all of us to get several tasks accomplished. Its simplicity is as perfect as its functionality. Not only does it declutter our minds, but it also helps us to remember important tasks that can get lost during a hectic day. Once an item on this list is sufficiently addressed, it can be crossed off with a satisfying slash of a pen. It is practically a work of art in and of itself.

I do not wish to take any glory away from the marvelous to-do list, but I have found that the addition of time-blocking to any to-do list increases its effectiveness exponentially. As an independent filmmaker who makes short films every week, reads lots of books, actively plays three musical instruments, and cares for an entire household of plants, animals, and furnishings, I need the effectiveness that this provides. Time-blocking gives my creative life the space to flourish every day.

Take for example the simple act of meeting up with a friend for coffee. It would never be enough to simply say “Yes!! Let’s have coffee some day!”. A mutual agreement that the meeting is desired does not in any way fully guarantee that it will ever happen. Now, if you commit to a specific time and place for the coffee meet-up to occur, then the value of the commitment and the likelihood of it materializing virtually quadruples.

When you assign a specific time of day and timeframe for a task to be accomplished, you are time-blocking.

To give you a real world example, let’s compare a (highly fictionalized) simple to-do list with one that incorporates time blocking:

Saturday Morning To-Do List:

  • Call Bubba about “The Party”
  • Order pink leggings
  • Dig a hole 4’X6′ in the back yard
  • Buy formaldehyde at corner store
  • Look up Lemon tart recipe
  • Eat vinegar

On the one hand, it is beneficial that all of this written down. A person can simply choose any task at random and just do it. What this simple list does not do is prioritize the more valuable tasks, and it does not take into account how long each task will take. (Digging a hole of that size without a big machine will take a while.)

Here’s the same list with time-blocking added in:

Saturday Morning To-Do List

8:00am-10:00am—Dig 4’X6′ hole in the back yard

10:00am-10:30am—Look up Lemon tart recipe

10:30am-10:45am—Order pink leggings

11:00am-12:00noon—Go to the corner store to buy formaldehyde and call Bubba about “The Party” on the way there

12Noon—eat vinegar for lunch

Notice how the most difficult and time-consuming task of digging that hole takes top billing. Prioritization is a key element here. What I also like about time-blocking is that it formalizes the task into more of a commitment. It also gives you a sense of what you can realistically do given the amount of time you have.

In my experience, there is one caveat that I need to explain. Time-blocking can be difficult to implement if you’re not used to it and can take a lot of trial and error to tweak.

Here are some helpful tips that I have learned as I have worked toward implementing time-blocking in my workflow:

  • Instead of trying to time-block an entire day or workday, do it within smaller chunks of tine. For example, I generally divide my day into two time-blocked ranges. One chunk extends from around 8am to 12noon, and the second chunk extends from 12noon to 5pm. I do not plan out the second chunk until noon. I do this because events can happen during the day that can derail your well laid plans. Priorities can shift, and surprises happen. By delaying the planning of the afternoon, I allow for some flexibility and spontaneity.
  • I use a digital calendar for my time-blocking. I tried using a physical notebook at first, but it got a little too messy when I have had to shift tasks and timeframes around throughout the day. The digital calendar that I use lets me move items up and down along the day’s schedule as well as color code different groups of tasks such as “house chores” and “client work”.
  • Exercise the freedom to be as specific or generalized as you want. For example, you can allot small chunks of time to micro-tasks that would not take an entire half-hour. For example, from 5:10pm to 5:15pm, you can send that text file you’ve been meaning to get out to your co-worker, and then, from 5:15pm to 5:30pm write out your shopping list for your stop at the grocery store on the way home from work. Otherwise, you can just say “house cleaning’ from 9am to 11am and group all related tasks together under that heading without being so specific. I actually do both of these depending on the tasks at hand. If I have a lot of small but important tasks, time-blocking down to the minute has helped to keep my momentum going and to be more detailed and methodical in my approach; however, this is generally not necessary all of the time.
  • Give yourself plenty of buffers. Each big task I assign almost always has at least a half hour of extra time already built in. I might give an hour to a task that only needs a half hour. This gives me more time to finish the task with less pressure and allows space for interruptions. Time-blocking does not have to be rigid at all if that’s what you prefer.
  • Think about incorporating tasks that have more of a long-term significance in your life. If you have a huge project that will take months to finish, time-blocking small parts of your day to work on it will progressively get you closer to finishing.
  • Do not time-block every minute of your life. You can make your evenings and weekends completely schedule-free for example. Make time to decompress without a detailed schedule that incorporates doing nothing, chillaxing with a good book, or anything fun you like to do. Your mind and body will always need a break from being on your “A” game.
  • Think about time-blocking across an entire week or a month. This practice is not restricted to a daily schedule and can be adapted toward long-term goals and dreams.
  • Lastly, be gentle with yourself. I have had mornings that were completely derailed by an unexpected event or with meandering on Etsy trying to find a birthday gift for a friend. Don’t beat yourself up. Simply review your to-do list and re-do the schedule. It’s all good. You’ll still have the satisfaction of getting through your work in a systematic and organized fashion eventually.

I need to reiterate that this might be quite difficult to implement depending on your work style and environment. If you work in an office space that requires constant email exchanges and phone interruptions, this would be extremely tough to carry out. However, it is a worthwhile pursuit to try incorporating this into your day. For myself, it has VASTLY improved my workflow and helps me keep my time and priorities in perspective. Play around with different time chunks, or use time blocking to fine-tune a daily ritual that addresses short and long-term goals.

All of this might feel like extra work, but remember that this is all up to you. You can do this in any way that works for you.

Be creative, but most of all, give yourself the benefit of at least giving time-blocking a try. This is what I have done, and it has given me more control over everything and the life-affirming satisfaction of having a plan for getting my life together in a way that suits all of my needs and desires.

How to Recycle Different Materials

January 19, 2020

Culture and Society

First of all, if you live in an area that has a curbside recycling program, then lucky you. There are parts of this post that will not be relevant to your situation.

However, if you do not live in an area that prioritizes that kind of initiative (like I do), then you take your recyclable materials to your local recycling centers as regularly as possible. In my household, this involves putting paper, cardboard, plastic, and aluminum cans in different bags instead of in the trash. I load up my car every week to do this. Otherwise, it all starts to pile up.

Despite all of the effort it takes for me to make this happen, I am thankful for the simplicity of the process. I take all of these items to the recycling centers and put them in their corresponding large metal bins. After that, I’m done, and then I probably treat myself for my time and effort.

There are, however, some other tricky household items that may or may not be recyclable. If not, they may otherwise be hazardous and need to be disposed of properly.

Here is a short list of links I have pulled together as a resource in case you might have any of these materials and do not know of a good way to get rid of them. Each link takes you to an article that describes how each item can be safely and properly disposed:

Here are some tips that I follow to make my weekly recycling trips easier:

  • Use Reusable shopping bags to give them an added function.
    Yes, I am one of those people who brings his own bags to the grocery store instead of using all of those plastic bags that they have handy. I also use them to carry paper, small (broken-down) cardboard, and plastic bottles/containers for recycling. I also have quite a few of them in various sizes and colors. They all fit more easily in the back of my car than a bunch of boxes would.
  • Write down the hours of operation for 2 to 3 recycling centers in your area.
    In my case, I have a small handful of places where I can take my recycling, but some of their hours and days closed can vary greatly. Save yourself some grief by knowing when you can and cannot deliver your goods. It’s not fun when you make a trip only to find out that it is closed. If you happen to know of another one that is open, then that would make it all better.
  • Ideally, prepare all recyclables the day before driving it all out.
    I find that the work of gathering all of the materials (particularly if there is a lot) and loading it all up in the car on top taking it to a recycling center and unloading each bag is an awful lot of work for one day. When possible, I like to gather everything and load it all into my car the day before. This breaks up all of the labor into more manageable chunks.
  • Use those large leftover dog food, cat food, or potting soil bags for recyclable items.
    We reuse them every month for our aluminum cans since we don’t recycle those until we know we can make a decent sum of money from a scrap metal recycling plant that pays by the pound. It can take a long while to accumulate a whole lot.

If recycling is a big part of your life, then I hope this post was helpful. Almost every other day, I hear more know about how climate change is affecting our planet, and the news seems to get progressively worse. Recycling is one thing I can do, among many other acttivities, to help undo the massive pollution we humans create every day everywhere.

I want to be more of a steward of the earth than a destroyer.

If you don’t already recycle, please consider making it a part of your weekly schedule and life, and if you do recycle, thank you very much for your efforts, compassion for our planet, and diligence.