I read 60 books last year and am on pace to do about the same this year.
Most people wish they could read more, probably because we’re reading less each year. In a 1978 survey, 42% of adults had read 11 books or more in the past year, and 13% said they had read more than 50. In a 2014 study, Pew found that just 28% hit the 11 book mark and only 1% had read more than 50.
I find that first thing in the morning and last thing at night are the best times for me to read. I block out the first hour of everyday and before I go to bed as designated reading times when I’m not feeling “the press of the day” on me.
I also make travel time synonymous with reading time. I find I never get any really productive work done while in airports or on planes, so I just assign travel time to reading books.
It also makes travel a lot more fun. I couldn’t wait for the three hour layover I have in Chicago on Wednesday. I almost finished Midnight’s Children! I hope they never get free wifi on airplanes.
Make it part of your job.
I was in my book agent’s office two weeks ago showing her an early version of a proposal for a book I’m working on. She looked at me and said “Wow, you’ve already done a lot of research!”
I nodded so it looked like I was humbly accepting that I had been working hard. But on the inside I was thinking, “What do you mean research? I’ve been reading a bunch of books. Does that count as ‘doing research?’ This job is awesome!”
Do you need to hire someone? Read a book on hiring first. Want to start a new marketing campaign? Might be worth brushing up on marketing.
Get a Kindle and an Audible Subscription.
The biggest increase in my reading rate was five years ago when I got my first Kindle. My reading rate doubled almost overnight, just out of the sheer convenience. I have three hundred books in my backpack right now and they weigh a combined 7.6 ounces.
Since Amazon released, web, desktop and mobile versions for the Kindle, the platform gotten even more convenient. I can read a book in the morning on my kindle, on the subway on my phone, and reference the notes on my computer while I work.
Audible adds another layer of convenience. If you have any sort of commute, you can instantly add at least a book a month to your current reading rate by getting an Audible subscription.
Between Kindle and Audible you can read or listen to any book any time you want – welcome to frictionless reading.
Write regularly .
The more I write, the more I need to read. Last year I got really busy and stopped reading for a month. When I sat down to write an article, I couldn’t think of anything to say.
When I’m reading consistently, my ideas for new articles to write, new approaches to consulting engagements, or new things to do in my personal life turn into a torrent. (James Altucher has a particularly appealing term for the phenomenon: idea sex.)
Track it and Use Social Pressure.
Peter Drucker’s imperative “Anything measured gets managed” is as true for reading as it is anything else. As soon as I start to track, I get competitive about it, and try to read more.
Getting a GoodReads account creates the same social pressure around reading that Facebook creates around living like a rock star. Instead of seeing selfies of some dude you knew in college on vacation in the Bahamas, you see how many books everyone is reading and feel driven to match them. If I’m going to feel inadequate, I might as well make it about something productive.
Following prolific readers also makes me feel the pressure and means I keep a giant to read list. Whenever I hear someone mention a good book, I add it to my to-read list which creates both a sense of abundance (I’ll never run out of books to read!) and a sense of pressure to get going (I’ve got a lot of books to read!).
Only read books that get you physically excited.
I tend to read six to ten books at the same time and only pick up each one when I’m excited about it. If I get halfway through a book and it starts to drag, I’ll put it down and pick up another one. If I get interested in it again later, I’ll pick it back up. If not, I’ll quit. Regardless, I’m only reading a book if I’m excited about it.
The other element to this is you shouldn’t feel obligated to read something. If you’re in business, don’t just read business books. The most successful business people seem to read more in other domains than they do in business. They read philosophy, history, physics and travel memoirs. Great ideas come from what you’re most interested in, not what you feel obligated to read.
Seek a transformational reading experience.
I think part of the reason most people don’t reading a lot is that they’ve never had a transformative book reading experience. The reality is that most books suck, but a really good book at just the right time can change your life. Once you have that experience with a book, you turn into an addict, always looking for your next fix.
A good filter is old books (at least a decade) that people still recommend. I remember where I was when I read Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals, Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel and Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile. If you’re looking for somewhere to get started, On the Shortness of Life by Seneca is an extremely short, extremely good and will make you stop saying “I don’t have enough time” forever.
8. Realize It’s Really High Leverage
For all the tricks I’ve developed to, the real reason I think I read so much is that I see it as a career competitive advantage. If I have to cut something out of my schedule, reading books is one of the last things to go.
In an AMA on Product Hunt, the prolific Tyler Cowen had this to say when asked “How do you think your career and life would have been different if blogging, twitter, and digital media had be ubiquitous in your teens and 20’s?”
“I am glad I was forced to live in “book culture” and “meat space’ for my first forty years. Or maybe thirty-five years would have been enough. People these days have lost the sense of information being scarce, and counterintuitively that makes it harder for them to develop profound thoughts. It’s like practicing chess by asking the computer right away, all the time, what the right move it.”
As less and less people read books, it’s getting even more valuable. As more and more people are focused on USA today articles on their phones, the more profound the benefits from older books.
I have almost no friends my age or younger (the few exceptions are prolific readers as well). I think it’s in part because reading a lot has let me bat a little bit above my age group. I don’t think there’s a substitute for life experience to acquire wisdom, but reading deeply along the way does seem to accelerate the process.
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