“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss
I read an average of a book per week, but that wasn’t always the case. In the four years after I graduated college I read a total of 7, 9, 4, and 9 books. Last year I was able to read 44, and through 9 months this year I’ve finished 48 (more than 10,000 pages).
The primary reason for the jump was a realization that although I had already graduated from school, my education was just getting started. In the words of Albert Einstein: “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” I realized that learning is not a goal to be achieved, a box to be checked, or skill to be mastered. Instead it’s an ongoing process, a journey of discovery. I resolved to make a more conscious effort to continue learning, starting with the goal of reading more.
Books are an amazing resource for expanding your mind and understanding of the world. They contain the shared wisdom and experience of those who have come before. “Human beings have been recording their knowledge in book form for more than 5,000 years,” writes business and media strategist Ryan Holiday. “That means that whatever you’re working on right now, whatever problem you’re struggling with, is probably addressed in some book somewhere by someone a lot smarter than you. Save yourself the trouble of learning from trial and error–find that point. Benefit from that perspective.”
I’ve used the strategies below to benefit from the perspective of many people. The books I’ve read have helped me personally to:
- Run faster – Chi Running, The 4-Hour Body
- Learn faster – The First 20 Hours, The Art of Learning, Make it Stick, The 4-Hour Chef
- Be happier – Happier, The Art of Happiness, The Happiness Project
- Challenge myself – Uncertainty, AntiFragile, The Obstacle is the Way, The Rise of Superman
- Start meditating – Everyday Zen, Autobiography of a Yogi, Conscious Breathing
- Be more productive – Getting Things Done, Mastery, The Personal MBA, How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci
- Learn about the past – Dying Every Day, I Ching
- Interact with others – The Game, Think Like a Freak, Wooden
- Become a better trader – Market Mind Games, Flash Boys, What I Learned Losing A Million Dollars
- Contemplate my place in the world – Walden, A Brief History of Everything
Interested in increasing the amount you read? Here are some the strategies I use and tips on how to implement them. For some great book recommendations, be sure to check out my reading list for wisdom and growth.
Prioritize: Remove distractions and “make time”
Many people ask “how do you find the time to read so much?” The truth is you don’t ever find time, you make it. Nothing can change the fact that there are twenty four hours in a day: no more, no less. I found that in order to have more time to read I had to reduce the amount of time spent on other activities.
I stopped watching TV, drastically cut back on the amount of time I was spending on social media, limited web browsing, and deleted all of the games from my phone. I found these activities weren’t serving me and eliminating them automatically gave me more time to do things that made me a better person. Take a look at your time. Where is it going? Which of those activities could be reduced or eliminated?
Always have a book with you
I carry a “book” with me at all times. I prefer to read on the kindle app on my phone, and since I almost always have my phone that means I’m never without something to read. I pull it out whenever I’m waiting for the bus, in the elevator, at the airport, waiting on a friend, etc. If digital readers aren’t your thing, carry a paper copy.
Note: During shorter breaks when there really isn’t enough time to get into a book I try to do a quick mindfulness check in: feel my feet firmly planted on the ground, stand tall and lengthen my spine, and focus on a few deep breaths.
Consider time and money spent on books as an investment
Books are an investment, not an expense. A book on business is an investment on your bottom line. A book on productivity can create more time in your day. Even books read for pleasure are an investment in happiness. Every book has the potential to expand your mind, teach you something, or impact your life. Consider time and money spent on books as an investment in yourself.
Financial professionals recommend setting aside money every month into a savings or brokerage account as an investment in the future. Why not do the same for yourself? Set aside a bit money into a self improvement account as well.
Don’t be afraid to quit
If you are reading a book that you aren’t enjoying, don’t be afraid to move on. The time already spent on the book is a lesson on what you don’t like, and there’s nothing you can do to get it back. In economics, this is known as a sunk cost. Don’t make the mistake of continuing to invest time and energy into reading something you don’t enjoy when there are a million other books out there you could be reading instead. If you really can’t get past the idea of leaving something unfinished, try reading the first and last paragraph of the remaining chapters as well as the conclusion.
Read more than one book at a time
No rule says you can only be reading a single book at a time. As my friend Madison suggested while working through the required reading for an English degree at Harvard, “alternation is key.” If you are working on a book that is a bit more technical, take breaks by mixing it up with something a little lighter. This strategy also works if you’ve got a large book that might be too hard to lug around. Pick a lighter travel book that’s easier to carry so you still have something to read.
Take care of your body
Reading is a mental activity. The better shape your brain is in and the more fuel it has to succeed, the easier it will be to read and understand. Make sure you are well rested by getting enough sleep or taking a nap if you feel tired. Try to get some sort of physical activity every day; research shows that active bodies make effective brains. Eat whole foods and healthy fats while avoiding processed and greasy foods which are more difficult to digest and can leave the body tired and brain groggy.
Organize and plan your reading
I keep track of books I’m reading, already read, or want to read on a google spreadsheet. I call it my “Book Shelf”. Anytime I come across a book recommendation it gets added to the list so it doesn’t get forgotten. Books tend to get added far faster than they get read, but it helps me to prioritize what I want to read next. It’s also great for finding themes, looking up references, and offering recommendations. There are currently 906 titles on my Book Shelf, of which I’ve read 129.
To create your own book shelf, save a copy of this template by clicking “file>make a copy”. Otherwise, here’s the information I keep track of:
- Title, Author, Length, and Category
- Order: What book do I want to read next? What about after that? There are usually between 10-20 books I want to be reading at any given time. By ordering the books that are “on deck” my mind seems to be OK with the fact that I can’t read them all at once.
- Read: If the book has been read I note the month and year it was completed. The year comes first (ex 2014/10) so it’s easier to sort later.
- Recommended by: Who suggested the book? A friend, an email, quora, another book, etc. I’ll often read a book by an author and enjoy it so much that I immediately go purchase other works by the same author and read those next. Or I’ll find a recommendation in a book that I really enjoyed, read that book and find another recommendation, etc. It’s helpful to keep track of all of that
- Note status: I store my notes elsewhere (a collection of Google Drive, Dropbox, and Evernote), so it’s handy to have a column to keep track of which notes still need to be collected, which notes need to be edited reviewed, and which notes are ready for the archives.
- Purchase status: Sometimes I buy books before I’m ready to read them, so I added a column to keep track. It also helps prioritize which books I want to read when.
Read more effectively.
One of the easiest ways to read more is to learn how to read faster, commonly referred to as speed reading. Speed reading is often assumed to be a completely different practice than normal reading but in reality it’s simply the result of training yourself to be able to read at a faster rate. It’s no different from being able to run faster, or play faster on an instrument, or solve math problems faster with practice.
My average reading speed used to be around 350 words per minute (WPM) but after training it’s over 1,000 for non-technical material, with no loss in comprehension or retention. Check out this article on How to Speed Read for more information, as well as the speed reading mastery course from Iris Reading. (link below)
Here’s a few simple methods to start increasing your reading speed right now:
- Use a pen, notecard, or finger to mark your place. Sweep your tool of choice across each line and down the page. The human visual system is optimized for following motion, so using a place mark helps your hardware function effectively. It also helps to avoid losing your place and re-reading.
- Avoid speaking words to yourself mentally (sub-vocalization). The average reading speed in the US is 250 WPM, the same as the average speaking speed. This is largely a result of the way reading is taught, with students often reading books aloud, but is also limiting the rate at which you can read. Your brain will still think and process the text as words but at a faster rate because it isn’t limited to the auditory system. If you are moving your lips or mouth when you are reading, it’s a good sign you are sub-vocalizing.
- Don’t focus on every single word. Instead, start your gaze at the 2nd or 3rd word in from the beginning of the line, end with the 2nd or 3rd word from the end, and focus on groups of words in the middle. You will find that you are able to process more than one word at a time, and even though you aren’t focusing on each individual word your brain is still able to understand the information.
- Practice reading at a faster than comfortable rate. Don’t worry about not comprehending the material, the goal is to get your eyes and brain comfortable with higher speeds. Similar to the way that driving on the highway makes driving at city speeds seem slow, practicing reading faster than you are comfortable makes reading at a faster base rate seem easy. This can be done in a book or with the help of online tools that feature rapid serial visual presentation.
Know any other effective reading strategies? Already practicing some of the suggestions above? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi
If you are interested in content related to this topic, I recommend:
Iris Speed Reading