How To Read More Books
“Reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.”
- Bill Gates
In High School hated reading. This was a problem, I was studying English Literature. I remember one assignment on King Lear. I especially hated reading Shakespeare. I still do. I watched the VHS instead. This strategy worked. I achieved an A grade.
At the start of my professional career, my relationship with reading changed.
I was gifted the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I learned that reading supported personal development. I started to learn how to read more books.
“There's no better way to inform and expand your mind on a regular basis than to get into the habit of reading good literature.”
― Stephen R. Covey,
Since then I've read thousands of non-fiction books.
Nearly everyone wants to learn how to read more books. Everyone has their reason. I've reflected often about why I read. Here are three reasons:
If I'm honest FOMO is a big factor. When someone shares a book they've read a few seconds later it's in my amazon basket.
At a deeper level, learning is a core value. Beyond reading I'm always learning new skills and interests.
Finally, it's relaxing. the time when I'm reading is time for myself. It's quiet, reflective time that helps me relax.
Reading is an identity-based habit. I want to be seen as someone who learns and continuously improves.
What identity do you want in the world?
Once you connect your identity and behaviour you will read more.
I now read around 40 books a year. Almost one a week.
How do you read so many books?
Many people struggle to read 1 book in a year, let alone 40. It's much easier to buy books than read them. This is known as Tsundoku. It's the habit of acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one's home without reading them.
How to read more books
In 2018 I read Atomic Habits. It's definitely in my top 5 best books of all time.
Atomic Habits talks about the importance of systems vs goals. The key to reading more is not to aim for 40 books a year. The key is developing a system that makes reading easier. When you improve the system, your reading volume will increase.
I'm always experimenting with how to read more books. Each year the number of books I read has been increasing. I'm on track to read almost 100 books in 2021.
Here are some tips to show you how to read more books:
Read in small and frequent reading blocks.
To read more books requires behaviour change.
There are three ways to change behaviour:
....have an epiphany, change the environment, change habits in tiny ways.
It's unlikely a book will fall from the sky, hit you on the head and suddenly you'll read 100 books a year.
Instead, the answer is to change your environment and adopt tiny habits.
When people look at a book it fills them with dread. They look at those 300 pages and think "I'll never finish it."
The secret, you don't need to finish it. You just need to start.
Find ways to make starting easy.
Here are a few ideas:
Buy a Kindle. Create the tiny habit of taking it with you when you travel. Read anywhere, anytime.
To read more you don't even need to buy a book. Instead, download kindle samples. This way you'll always have something to read.
Read one page and celebrate. I often read one or two pages when I'm in a queue.
Decide how to decide.
It's easy to FOMO into a new book. Several hours later you'll be wondering "why am I reading this". Even worse, you'll find it difficult to implement the ideas.
To avoid FOMO build a reading system.
Firstly, when someone recommends a book, instead of buying it on amazon, add it to Goodreads. This simple habit will stop you from buying books you'll never read. When you want to buy a new book, review your Goodreads list. I usually sort by reviews/recommendations so the best books filter to the top.
Secondly, align reading to your development goals. Don't read a book because someone else has read it. Read for an outcome. This might be a skill I want to develop, a problem I'm tackling or could be I want to read a book that will help me relax.
At the start of 2021, I created a list of goals and researched books aligned with them.
You don't need to read every word on every page...
As children, we are taught to read cover-to-cover. We carry this behaviour through to adulthood. When we pick up a book we'll the first page and start. This is suboptimal for learning.
In most books, you can skip to any page and start.
To find the optimal starting point: always read the table of contents.
The table of contents acts as a compass. If you have a goal in mind you can often jump straight to that section. When you do this, you'll get value from reading within the first 10 minutes.
...you don't even need to read a book....
Books hold authority in the world of reading. If you don't read a book it can feel like cheating.
The format is less important than the outcome: learning.
When a new book is released, authors will do podcast interviews. They'll share the big ideas. Sometimes this is enough. You learn without reading the book.
Book summaries are also a great way to learn. This is especially true if they work in a similar industry to you. Learn specific insights on how they have used the book.
Experiment with different formats. Don't feel bad if you skip the book and listen to the podcast instead. Learning is the outcome. Not reading.
...and you don't need to finish
How many unfinished books do you have?
There are three categories of people:
Never leave a book unfinished
Have at least 6 unfinished books. The thought of this brings anxiety and stress.
Doesn't judge progress by the start and end but by the value extracted.
An activity mindset traps you into thinking success is the number of books you read. You feel great if you read 100 books a year. But if someone asks how you used the learning you find it hard to answer. You feel bad if you haven't read as many books, even if the one book you did read led to a real breakthrough at work.
The better approach, adopt an outcome mindset. The outcome of the reading is learning. It's being able to tackle that problem you couldn't previously. It's connecting the dots and seeing things in a new way. It's learning to behave in new ways.
Don't judge your progress on the number of books. Judge progress on the outcome.
Take notes and share them
There are two levels of note-taking:
Level 1 - Taking notes for personal value.
Level 2 - Taking notes to help others.
Taking notes for personal value is better than none. When you take notes and share them this amplifies your learning. Your notes are challenged. You learn new insights from others. It also makes you feel good. The reward is an important aspect of habit formation.
Writing book summaries is a good way to do this.
I started writing summaries in 2019. I started with a one-sentence summary. From this tiny habit, I've now written 50 detailed book summaries.
We underestimate the influence environment has on behaviour.
Shaping your context can help you read more books. As a professional chef, Jörin says, “My first thought is mise en place: ‘What do I need to make this?’” He prepares the kitchen for cooking so that it’s easy to complete the recipe. “Once I know that I have all the ingredients and all the equipment to make a new dessert, then I mentally figure out in which order I need to do it. I have it scaled out in the way that logically I am going to use it. When I start working, I didn’t forget anything. It is lined up in front of me so that I don’t have to think about it. So, here is my crunchy layer on the bottom. Then this is my filling that goes on top of it, and then here is whatever glaze that goes over it.” When cues at your station are organized, “you can concentrate on the methods that it takes to make the dessert rather than have to worry about if you have the right ingredients on the right tray.”
Professional kitchens run on a model of automaticity. They repeatedly and quickly turn out the same quality dishes to keep a restaurant full of customers happy. To do this, chefs harness the external forces in their kitchens by creating stable contexts that automatically cue the right response.
You can read more books by designing your environment for automatic reading. A really simple way to do this is to ensure there is always a book within reach. I have books placed around the house. The living room, the kitchen, the toilet. This way when the soup is simmering you can read a couple of pages.
How will you start?
Habits are the key to learning how to read more books. Think about one action you can take that is small and easy.
This Tiny Habits Canvas can help you design a tiny reading habit.