The Collector's Fallacy


Do you know what the word tsundoku means? Didn’t think so. It’s a Japanese word and the meaning is profound.

Tsundoku - the condition of acquiring new reading material but letting it pile up without reading it.

In English, we just call that aesthetics.

I’m guilty. You’re guilty. We’re all guilty of doing this. A friend recommends a book that you buy on a whim from Amazon, the saved articles from Medium or Twitter that you tell yourself you’ll read when you get home or, you have a plethora of podcasts waiting in your queue. That’s the Collector’s Fallacy.

The Collector’s Fallacy is the action of collecting new material with the intention to read it, but never actually do. Take, for example, my James Clear articles.

James Clear is a brilliant thinker on habits, productivity, creativity, and lifestyle. Every Thursday, he sends out his 3-2-1 Newsletter. It’s three thoughts from him, two quotes from a book or prolific thinker, and one question to lead you into the next week. What happens every Thursday when I see that in my email inbox? I deliberately stop everything and read the newsletter.

At the end of each email, he links to an article he previously wrote that is on his blog. Each week, I write down on my to-do list, “read James’ article”, and I put the article in my Roam Research.

1 in 5 times do I actually go back and read the article as I intended to. Why? The Collector’s Fallacy. There is this idea I have in my head that because James Clear is a brilliant thinker, and I want to be a brilliant thinker, then I should read all of his articles.

That notion by itself isn’t bad. It’s rather a good motivation to read his articles. The fallacy, then, comes when I start collecting those articles but never process the information inside of them. I have this idea in my head that because I like to read about tech, businesses, and productivity, then anything around those topics I need to save, download, or remember to read. That simply isn’t true. Doing that just adds more on my to-do list.

Imagine if every piece of knowledge you read, you were able to develop your own thoughts out of. So much so, that if you were asked to describe the topic, you would be able to clearly communicate the big idea and how it affects other, related ideas. If you could do that for every book you read, you would be a genius.

Too bad that’s not how the world operates. It’s a natural tendency to collect a lot of information, but never process it. We must form a habit of processing the information we input.

Forming a Paradigm of Processing

So, how do we form a paradigm of processing? Here are four steps. They’re easier than you think.

1. Read

Makes sense? Good, let’s move on.

2. Develop a Knowledge Tree

Spend time researching the topic you read about. My favorite thing to do after I finish a book is take a few days to look at the sources used. Most books give URL’s if they’re academic journals. Doing this helps you see connections left out of the book or article. Which translates in new ways to your brain, helping you develop your own ideas about the topic.

Make a new page in whatever note-taking app you fancy yourself with. Name the page the book or topic it was written on. Jot down the main ideas and thoughts from the book as headings. Take each heading and research it more. Simply typing the heading in Google is sufficient. If you really want to get fancy, look at the footnotes for the source used and read the original source.

Underneath the related heading, write down in your own words what you learned from the other sources. Include under that idea quotes or links to reference upon review.

3. Connect the Ideas

This step is crucial. You don’t have to publish what you write, but try to craft a thought a few paragraphs long that take what you didn’t know before you read, your thoughts as you read, and what you learned through your study. This helps sync your reading, your findings, and your thoughts to form a linear strand of new, developed information.

4. Review

Every now and again, review your work. Look back at your highlights from the book or article and compare them to your own thoughts you had when you researched. Ask yourself some questions.

  • Do you have any new thoughts around the topic after revisiting them?
  • What is going on in your life now that can relate to the topic, but wasn’t going on when you first read?

5. Become a Genius

‘Nough said.

I hope the ideas and resources in this article sparked motivation and action for you. If they did, send me an email! I’d love to hear about it.

Written by
Dalton Mabery