How to Reclaim Wasted Time and Read a Book per Week - Book-Talk with Erik Rostad, Books of Titans Founder
Erik Rostad is a web developer based in Nashville, Tennessee. A few years ago, he founded the project Books of Titans, with a reading goal of 52 books per year.
At the end of 2016, “Tools of Titans” came out – a book where author Tim Ferriss compiled the best ideas learned from his podcast guests – people who are among the best in the world at what they do. Erik made a list of all the books recommended by those people and decided to read them all during 2017.
That’s how the idea for the Books of Titans project was born, a reading project of 52 books in 52 weeks, where he discusses the books he’s reading with others. When he told his friend Jason Staples about this project, Jason was into the idea. He also proposed to start a podcast where the two of them discuss each of the books. Since then, they’ve dissected the books they read, sharing their favorite quotes, and covering key takeaways.
Erik’s also a runner. Reading “Living with a SEAL” inspired him to change his routine, and now he starts most of his week days with a run.
From our interview you’ll learn how he became more mindful about how he spends his time and removed the noise, how he chooses what books to read next, his book-notes system, and more. There’s so much we can learn from Erik! Please enjoy (and be prepared to take notes 😛 ).
What books had the biggest impact on you? Perhaps changed the way you see things or dramatically changed your career path.
The Sacred Romance by John Eldredge.
Don’t worry, this is not a steamy romance novel ;). I read this book in 1998 just before I was heading to college. In the book, Eldredge showed how the stories we relate to in novels, movies, and plays are echos of the grand narrative of the Christian story. As a Christian, this was very compelling and led me to literature. I began reading some of the classics in earnest after reading this book. My first book after reading The Sacred Romance was Crime and Punishment and from there I was hooked. My entire library and reading history can be traced to this one book.
The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman.
I read this book in 2003 or 2004. I was out of college and working in my first job. Friedman convincingly showed that the world was rapidly changing and that I would soon be competing for jobs with people from around the world. I decided to go to graduate school as a direct result of being convinced of his argument in this book.
What’s interesting is that I don’t think these two books would have the same impact on me now than they did at the time I read them. Certain books are meant for certain seasons of life. Also, the Friedman one is probably quite outdated by now. In other words, these wouldn’t necessarily be the books I recommend to people now, but they shaped the direction of my life.
I’ve highlighted a few others on my blog that were really impactful in my life: The Nine Books That Changed my Life.
Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell us about it?
Yes, here is something that recently helped me. It comes from the book A Mind at Play by Jimmy Soni & Rob Goodman. I’ll quote the passage directly and then describe how it helped me:
“What does information really measure? It measures the uncertainty we overcome. It measures our chances of learning something we haven’t yet learned. Or, more specifically: when one thing carries information about another–just as a meter reading tells us about a physical quantity, or a book tells us about a life–the amount of information it carries reflects the reduction in uncertainty about the object.”
When I read this, I actually felt as if a lightbulb was going off. One question I get a lot with this reading project is “how do you remember everything you read?” I have never liked that question because I think it is the wrong question. Here, the authors sort of flip that on its head. If you don’t read, or you aren’t learning about a topic, the possibilities of what that could be are endless. By reading, you are “reducing the uncertainty about the object,” so in theory, it should take less space in your mind.
I had begun noticing that the more I read, the more clarity of thought I was having. I did not expect this at all. I had assumed that the more I read, the more confused or inundated I would become. But the opposite happened. One of the main reasons I give for this is that if you begin seeing ideas over and over, in different types of books, that makes that idea stronger. If I’m reading about the importance of time in novels, biographies, business books, and other non-fiction, that is an important topic and one I should focus on.
The quote above helped me figure out the other piece of the information overload puzzle. That the more you read, the more you are narrowing down the possibilities of what could be. If I have yet to read a book about a particular historical figure, then the possibilities are endless in terms of information that could be true in my head about that person. But, if I have read a book or two about the person, it narrows down the possibilities.
What five books would you recommend to someone who’s just starting their career? Why?
For career books, I’ll focus on more overarching themes. You can get books on particular skills you need for a given job, but these books will help having the right mindset for a career and how work should fit into the greater story of your life:
1. For pursuing the right goals – Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
2. For understanding how you think – Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
3. For determining an overarching purpose – Start with Why by Simon Sinek
4. For learning new skills – The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin
5. For focus – The One Thing by Gary Keller
As a bonus, I would want to include at least one book on finance, because if you are at the beginning of your career, it will be the best and most important time to save money. It will be so tempting to show off your great job by purchasing a nice car or other accoutrements, but the more one can save early in their career, the better.
For getting out of debt, I would recommend anything by Dave Ramsey.
For investing, I would recommend any book by Jack Bogle, founder of Vanguard.
You set as target to read 52 books in 2019, a book per week, or 54 pages per day. How do you filter them in the first place and decide what books are worthy of your attention? Do you leave any room for serendipity – impulsive shopping and reading? And what happens if you really dislike a book?
I spend the entire year thinking about my 52-book reading list for the following year. I create a master list of books that I hear about. I hear about these books from friends, podcast episodes, favorite book lists, social media, going to bookstores, reading articles, etc. I then create a list of books that sound interesting from these sources. Throughout the year, if I hear about one of those books more than once, it gives me more confidence about that particular book. So, it’s a constant process of gathering book ideas and then eliminating them and I do that during the entire year. By January 1st, I have my 52 books chosen and I then run them through a randomizer that decides the reading order for me.
There is definitely room for serendipity. In fact, one of the final books I chose for my 2019 reading list was The Art of X-Ray Reading by Roy Peter Clark. I heard about this book in a podcast episode I listened to at the very end of the year. It was the last book I added to my list and I had to remove another book I had in the set of 52. This one sounded so interesting that I couldn’t pass it up (and it was book 4 of my list and I absolutely loved it).
And here are a few other examples of books that made my 2019 list:
- A series of 3 books about Scotland’s history – I travel to the UK each year and love spending time in Scotland. Every time I go to a bookstore in Scotland, I notice these three books. I’ve wanted to read them for many years. They are hard to find in the USA, so during my last trip to the UK, I purchased the set and am really looking forward to reading them this year.
- Finding Franklin by Katie Shands – this is a book by a local author. I met her at a recent bookstore event. I love the city of Franklin and thought it’d be great to read a book by a local author about a city I love.
- The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – my mother-in-law has been telling me about this book for the past 10 years. Then, I started hearing Jordan Peterson refer to it often as one of the most influential books in his life. I figured it was time to finally read it.
If I really dislike a book, I have made a commitment to push my way through so that I complete each of the 52 books. But, there have only been a handful of the 100+ books I’ve read for this project that I wish I could have stopped reading. Sometimes I feel that way and yet when I push through, there are some golden nuggets at the end. And now, with my year-long process of choosing the books, they are pretty well vetted and I’m pretty sure that they will be books that I enjoy.
How do you make sure you retain and apply as much information from what you read? What’s your current note-taking system?
I referenced this question above as being one that I think is the wrong question, but it’s still an important one to address. For my reading project, I review each book on the Books of Titans website and then record a podcast about most of them. Those two things help me to remember the books more than by just reading them. While I read, I underline and make markings for important content. If it’s something really important, I write the quote, idea, or page number in the back of the book, and that becomes my main notes. If it’s a book I want to remember, I’ll then transfer the notes to a notebook. For my reading project, I buy the physical copy of each book. I remember more if I’m taking pen to paper while I read. I don’t remember as much if I listen to a book.
The other thing I try to do is to make one change in my life after reading the book. Not 2 or 3 changes, but one. If I can pull one nugget out of the book and make a change, I’ll always remember that change originating with a particular book, and I’ll be more likely to recall other information from the book.
Tell us more about your decision to reclaim time wasted. How did you become more mindful about how you spend your digital attention? What did you decide to change to take back control?
Reclaiming wasted time is out of necessity. I am married and have two young children. I have my own company and I like to run, a lot. I’m not overloaded with extra time at the moment. So, wasted time is very costly to me – from the sense of losing precious time with my family to losing productive time for my work. That’s why I’ve implemented some controls on my digital usage through the iPhone’s new Screen Time controls. I limit social media to 30 min per day (the apps are unavailable after that) and set Downtime from 6pm to 6am. That keeps me from checking the phone when I’m doing nighttime routine with my children and from checking the phone first thing when I wake up. The other things I do are: no tv, just one email a day of news and nothing more, carry a book with me at all times, and wake up before my family.
What are things that other people spend way too much time doing that you generally stay away from?
I’ve read that the average American watches 4.5 hours of TV a day. That seems like a lot to me. But even if it’s half of that, two and a half hours is a lot of time. I can easily get my 54 pages of reading in in that amount of time.
How did you change your daily routine since you read Tools of Titans? What productivity techniques you experimented with?
The biggest change was starting this Books of Titans reading project. I started the project as a direct result of reading Tools of Titans. I loved all of the book recommendations and thought it would be a great challenge to try to read 52 of those suggested books in a year. I started it in 2017. All of the 52 books from my 2017 reading list were suggested in Tools of Titans. Half of my 2018 reading list came from books suggested by podcast guests of the Tim Ferriss Show podcast. For 2019, there are probably only a handful that were suggested in Ferriss podcast episodes. I take my suggestions from wherever I can find them.
That one change of reading more has set up a number of other changes in my life as a result of the books I’ve read.
Links where you can follow Erik Rostad or learn more about his projects:
- Books of Titans
- Books of Titans Podcast
- ‘The Nine Books That Changed my Life’
- EPR Creations
- Follow Books of Titans on Instagram | Twitter
- Erik Rostad on LinkedIn
All books mentioned by Erik in our interview:
- Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers, by Tim Ferriss
- The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God, by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge
- Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, by Thomas L. Friedman
- A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age, by Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman
- Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl
- Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
- Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, by Simon Sinek
- The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance, by Josh Waitzkin
- The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
- The Art of X-Ray Reading: How the Secrets of 25 Great Works of Literature Will Improve Your Writing, by Roy Peter Clark
- Finding Franklin, by Katie Shands
- The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn