Tiny habits that make a difference: how to read more ?
All high achievers have one thing in common: they read. A lot.
Elon Musk learned how to build rockets from reading books. Ever since he was a child, he never went anywhere without a book in his hand, he was always reading advanced books about the future and about success.
Bill Gates takes vacations with the explicit purpose of reading and learning, and reviews the best books afterwards on his blog.
Serial tech entrepreneur and investor Fabrice Grinda talked in our interview about why it’s important to him to read 100 books per year.
Do I really need to keep going with the examples? Reading is the one clear link between all of them. And if they’re not too busy to find time for this activity, why can’t you?
Stop lying to yourself and just admit that reading is not your priority. Whatsoever, if you do want to succeed over the long term, you need to make it a priority. You can’t say “I don’t have time for this”, ‘cause that’s just an excuse. What you’re actually saying is “This doesn’t matter”. If it doesn’t matter, your future self will need to be able to face the consequences.
I should know. So far this year I read almost 50 books, but I’m one of those people who didn’t read at all, not even one book per year, until I was in my mid 20s. I taught myself how to read at a young age, but started dreading and rejecting the activity once I entered primary school. The minute it turned into something mandatory, with boring titles, imposed reading logs and book notes, I stopped reading (well, except for the Harry Potter series).
It was only after I graduated from University that I discovered the positive impact of books and was able to enjoy them once again (if you’re wondering how I was able to get through all those school years and also get extraordinary grades without doing any reading: private lessons + a crazy memory).
I also became aware of those people who did read during all those years and tried to catch up with them – which is obviously impossible. No matter how hard I try, I’ll never get back all those years of not-reading, so I regret wasting so much time.
So today I’m sharing a few tips that helped me read more, hoping you’ll find them useful as well (or maybe send them to your friends who want to read more):
1. Read with a purpose.
All those leaders I mentioned before? They all read a lot, but they don’t have a scattershot approach, as most people do. Instead, they’re very specific about their reading.
Don’t read just for the sake of reading. You need to have a purpose, and use books as a specific and measurable outcome over your goals. If you want to read solely based on motivation, motivation will fade away really fast. But if your purpose is to become the best at what you do and rule the industry in 10 years, you’ll push onward.
You need to look at the future and figure out the key skills that you need to develop and master in order to succeed. Be very clear about how you’re going to improve on them now. Always ask yourself: will the book that you’re reading today help you advance your career?
It’s very easy to get distracted and enter a reactive mode, where you just end up reading a book that has good media coverage, or a friend tweets about it a lot, instead of focusing on building skill sets needed for you to succeed.
Oh, and if your purpose is leisure, to distress and disconnect from a hard day’s work, that’s perfectly fine as well, but we can’t really help you with specific book recommendations. 😛
2. Add it to your calendar.
After you identified those skills that you need to develop and figured out the best books that will advance you towards your goals, you need to set up a plan. Yeap, just as you plan the strategy for launching a new work project and add important tasks in your agenda, you need to be just as consistent about your learning.
Set aside daily blocks of time dedicated to reading. For example, you can try waking up half an hour earlier every day and use it to read. If it’s not in your calendar, it doesn’t exist, and it will keep getting postponed, pushed by all sorts of things that keep popping up and seem urgent (they all seem urgent).
3. Quit bad books.
Most people are stuck reading a book that they don’t particularly enjoy, but feel they have to push through it and finish it before moving on to another one… and so they end up reading one book per month (or less). If you don’t enjoy a book that much or feel that it’s not particularly helpful at this moment, f*ck it. Leave it aside and start another one without any feelings of shame or guilt.
Don’t limit yourself this way because of a self-imposed rule that doesn’t work towards your goals. This doesn’t mean that you have less “grit“. Remember: have a purpose, don’t read just for the sake of reading.
Oh, and always have new books waiting for you to start digging into them, so that you never waste time asking yourself what you’re going to read next. Also, if you want to read 7 or 8 books at a time, that’s perfectly fine and nobody will judge you (nobody cares).
4. Don’t limit your spending.
Stop feeling guilty for “wasting so much money” on books. It’s not a waste, it’s an investment in yourself. Is your education less valuable than the price you pay for a specialty coffee or a movie ticket? College is for recognition (through diplomas) and networking. Books are for real education. So don’t even look at how much you’re spending. Of course, don’t forget that there are always more options: you can buy old books, borrow or make a subscription to the public library.
Oh, something else that I noticed among my friends. Escape the mindset of not buying any more books until you read those you already have at home. At the beginning of Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks about Umberto Eco’s “Antilibrary”: those books that we own and haven’t read. A library is a research tool, a way not to forget about all the things that you haven’t studied yet and be humble, not an ego-boosting property that makes you overestimate what you know.
5. Optimize format & timing.
Find out the format that works best for you. Some of the entrepreneurs I know ‘read’ by listening to audiobooks, which allows them to go through more books per month than if they ‘read’ them in the classic paper format. They make time to take daily long walks, or use their commute time for this, or read just before going to bed.
I personally found that physical, paper and ink books work best for me. I love leaving marks on them, highlighting interesting paragraphs, writing notes, folding corners and so on (coffee stains included). The more I enjoyed a book, the more it looks like it survived a herd of elephants. I also noticed I retain more information than on the digital books. Unfortunately, it’s not a very practical format when I’m travelling, nor is it spine-friendly, so I’ll sometimes mix it with Kindle reading. But that’s just me. Experiment and figure out what works best for you.
Carry a book with you wherever you go. During the day, it’s likely that you’ll have a few ‘dead’ moments, when the person you’re meeting is running late, you’re waiting for your doctor appointment or the subway. Don’t waste these minutes mindlessly scrolling through your phone apps (you can also install the Kindle app on your phone, by the way).
Another tip (heard from Tim Ferriss, if I’m not mistaken): Try to read business related books during the day and leave fiction for the moments before going to sleep. Otherwise you might get too excited by all sorts of ideas that you’re reading and your sleep will take a hit. Reading and self improving are important, but sleep should be untouchable. If you score low at the chapter of sleep quality and quantity, you’ll be inefficient, your learning capability will suffer, your tasks will take you longer, and so on. This also means: no reading on any blue light device (phone, tablet, laptop) before going to sleep (here’s a great book on sleep).
6. Don’t be fooled by summaries.
Don’t fall for the summaries trend. A lot of people have asked me why we don’t start a notes section on The CEO Library. The truth is, I don’t believe in this method and I think it’s damaging our abilities to learn and focus. Sure, it can be attractive to busy people and make them feel good about themselves, they might feel like they’re actually doing something (reading bullet lists is still better than not reading, right?), but it has too little effect over their knowledge. Long form is the best way to learn and internalize a book and the ideas from it.
Sure, this doesn’t mean that all books are worth your time. Most are just extended blog posts, built on one idea that’s illustrated through thousands of stories, and it’s enough to read just the first chapters. But you won’t remember almost anything out of those bullets, notes and summaries apps. Use them instead to figure out if a book is right for you at this moment, or to remember the ideas from a book you already read.
Oh. One more thing. Speed reading is bullshit.
And a few extra awesome resources, from my favorite writers – their words (newsletters and blog posts) helped me start reading:
- How To Read More — A Lot More (Ryan Holiday)
- Read to Lead: How to Digest Books Above Your “Level” (Ryan Holiday)
- How to Read More: The Simple System I’m Using to Read 30+ Books Per Year (James Clear)
- The Best Way to Find More Time to Read (Shane Parrish)