Everyone should read more books. Books are good for you. People do not read enough books; the world would be a better place if they did. Selfishly, I would like the people around me to read more, and I hope this helps. When I talk with my friends about reading, they often say “I’d like to read more books.” This is my response.
Underlying these tactics is a desire to read. You must want to read more. Many wise people have shared their thoughts on the value of reading: Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, Ryan Holiday, Naval Ravikant, Paul Graham, Jason Zweig.
When I decided I wanted to read more, this is the most effective way I found of doing it:
1. Set Habit-Based Goals and Track Them
I set a goal in 2018 to read two hours per day. I realized two hours is longer than I thought, but also realized how much spare time I had. Two hours of video games or Netflix feels like nothing. We overestimate the time spent on “hard” tasks and underestimate the time spent on easy tasks. Replacing unproductive time with productive reading time was easy for me after I made it a habit.
Before setting the goal and creating the habit of reading two hours per day, I had the vague goal of “reading more.” This isn’t helpful. A vague goal does not commit you to achieve it. You cannot track a vague goal; they are worthless.
Farnam Street recommends people read 25 pages per day. I prefer time tracking to page goals because I am unsure how long a page goal takes. Books differ in length and difficulty. Sometimes reading 25 pages takes three hours. Sometimes reading 25 pages takes 30 minutes. I would rather have a consistent time amount than a consistent completion amount. This is a personal preference.
Setting a daily time goal worked best for me. I use Toggl to track my time (inspired by the podcast, Cortex). Every time I sit down to read, I start the entry in the app. This encourages me to read for longer periods and holds me responsible.
The bus is a great place to get some reading done. Every day on my commute, I get an hour of reading in. The extra minutes add up over the year.
Carry a book with you at all times. Every time you get a second, crack it open. Don’t install games on your phone–that’s time you could be reading. When you’re eating, read. When you’re on the train, in the waiting room, at the office–read. It’s work, really important work. Don’t let anyone ever let you feel like it’s not.
— Ryan Holiday
Setting a habit-based reading goal is the most pragmatic way of reading more.
2. Read Multiple Books and Have A Backlog
When I started reading, I believed reading one book at a time was the best strategy. This is a common strategy. The idea I could (and it was beneficial to) read more than one book at a time was a game-changer for me. I felt less stuck on individual books. Voracious readers do not read one book at a time. If you want to be someone who reads more, you should not read one book at a time.
At one time, I am usually reading an informational non-fiction book, a biography, and a narrative (fiction or non-fiction). Reading multiple books allows you to sample a variety of books. It allows for the comparison of books and the creation of unique connections. By sampling a range of views and opinions, you can gain depth in an individual area or gain insights from a breadth of fields.
Reading multiple books creates a backlog. By reading multiple books, you always have something else to read. You aren’t forced to slog through a book you don’t like. It is good to expand your backlog beyond the books you are currently reading and have them physically or digitally available.
I take a bunch of books out from the library at a time, too many to read before they are due. I read the most interesting or relevant one first. If I don’t like it, I have plenty of other material to read and can always return to it. Having an artificial due date focuses me on the books I am interested in and incentivizes me to complete them.
eBooks allow for a similar strategy. They are cheap, easy to switch between, and you can carry many of them at the same time.
When you know good books are waiting to be read, you realize the value of your time. I always enjoy going to bookstores, even if I don’t buy a book, because it allows me to visualize all the books I haven’t read. Having a backlog makes you prioritize your reading time and allows you to read the books you’ll enjoy.
3. Abandon More Books
Abandoning books is difficult but necessary.
Another way to read quickly is to cut bait on the losers. I start ten or so books for every one I finish. I don’t mind disliking a book, and I never regret having picked it up and started it. I am ruthless in my discards.
— Tyler Cowen
The idea you must finish something is ingrained the human mind. It is solidified in school, you always have to finish a book to write a report on it. This isn’t school, this is real life. You do not have to finish books. You should want to continue reading. Books should be interesting and enjoyable.
We’re taught from a young age that books are something you finish. Books are sacred. When you go to school and you’re assigned to read a book, you have to finish the book. So…we get this contradiction where everyone I know is stuck on some book. So what do you do? You give up on reading books for a while.
— Naval Ravikant
I noticed I would begin reading a book, not like it, but feel forced to finish it. I would slow my reading because I didn’t want to read that book. I would read less. I also didn’t start a new book because I felt I had to finish the old one. I felt trapped into not reading.
I now have a good sense of when to abandon a book. Here are my rules for when it is time to move on:
How To Know When To Abandon A Book
1. When You Aren’t Reading It Anymore
When I lose interest in a book, I stop reading. I find myself “reading” two pages and instantly forgetting what was on them. I can’t summarize the chapter I just finished. My thoughts drift away from the book and I find it hard to concentrate. This is a good time to skip ahead and see if there are other interesting parts of the book. If there is, you should skip ahead. If there isn’t, it is time to move on to the next book.
2. Dreading Reading
Reading should not be a chore. There are enough books in the universe that there is always a book for you. You shouldn’t see a book and think “I am not looking forward to this.” No one forces you to read or tells you what you must read. Just because someone else says a book is good or bad doesn’t mean it is. Take control of your reading, it should not cause dread.
Something I didn’t realize when I was a kid: most books are bad. I used to think “This author must be an expert on x. After all, he wrote a book on it.” That is not how it works at all. Some books are much better than others, and it takes a conscious effort to find them.
— Paul Graham (@paulg) August 12, 2019
3. When You Get the Point
Many business books follow this structure: Introduction, what the book is about, key concepts, and then anecdotes, stories, application of the concepts. All the insights are often at the beginning and the author only adds new examples. Other times, the latter chapters are unimportant variations of the key concept. When I say “I get the point,” that is a good time to abandon.
The way to read more is a change in mindset: set goals, track them, read multiple books, have a backlog, and abandon more books. These actions increase the number of books you read. It is up to you to make the effort to take these actions. The payoffs from reading compound and are realized over the long term. It is not an overnight process, but it should be an enjoyable one.
I hope this post encourages one person to read one more book. Start small.
I highly recommend Ryan Holiday’s month reading newsletter.