3 Ways to Read More Books

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.

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.

Additional Readings:

How to read fast – Marginal REVOLUTION

How To Read More – A Lot More

I highly recommend Ryan Holiday’s month reading newsletter.

How I Choose What To Read – David Perell

 

Why Choose Spotify? Podcasts Are the Answer of the Future

Spotify announced they are spending $200 million+ to purchase both Gimlet Media and Anchor. This is the most real investment in podcasting by an established company I can think of. Why spend so much money on podcast production? Spotify spends next to nothing on music production, the main focus of their company. Podcasting is not known for its ability to monetize. Most podcasts are passion projects. For professionals, they are used to supplement content, monetization in another way and build a relationship with their fans. Gimlet is one of the few podcast producers who can support more than their hosts. Spotify could increase potential revenues from both Gimlet and Anchor by integrating them into the platform, but that isn’t the main reason Spotify purchased them. Spotify is creating necessary differentiation for survival.

Differentiation in music is difficult. Apple required physical devices, such as the iPod, in order to differentiate and still didn’t win. Once smartphones took over, it was anyone’s game again. Both Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and Google Play Music try a variety of tactics in order to differentiate from one another. Both Apple and Google can bundle music streaming with their other products and services. Spotify is stuck with only music subscriptions. No matter what platform you choose, the music you want is likely there. You will probably pay the same wherever you get it. No platforms (other than maybe Soundcloud or Bandcamp) are able to differentiate via content. Music labels always own the content. They are large and powerful. Labels are willing to put music wherever it pays. They are not loyal to any specific platform. Often, labels are actively hostile towards platforms.

Podcasts similar and different than music. Both are audio mediums which don’t require your full attention. Both are also created by individuals or small groups of individuals. The difference is podcasts are control by the creators rather than music labels. Individual podcast creators control their content publishing. Platforms cannot encroach on music labels by signing artists because labels will take their music off the platform. People can always find music somewhere else. Platforms can encroach on podcasting. Podcasts are published into an RSS feed and are accessible by anyone. They are given away for free. The landscape is scattered, with no “network” owning enough content to have power over publishers. Spotify is able to buy a podcast network with no repercussions.

By buying assets in the podcasting space, Spotify can create real content differentiation. They create a reason for someone to choose one platform over another: content. Content is king, as the streaming video wars show. Spotify now controls Gimlet Media which is responsible for some of the most popular ongoing podcasts. They also control new content created by the talented team at Gimlet Media. On Anchor’s side, Spotify can help Anchor better monetize. It links Spotify with many small and medium sized podcast creators reliant on Anchor for podcast creation and management. The ability for Spotify to build a relationship with up and coming podcasters using Anchor will help them develop the content of the future. It is likely Spotify will begin to close the podcasting industry off, begin to produce exclusive podcasts for their platform. These exclusive podcasts, if done correctly, will draw subscribers.

Podcasting benefits from Spotify as well. Production and listening have never been linked to the same platform. It is difficult for creators and advertisers to truly understand who is listening, what they are listening to, and other analytics. The better analytics come from a first party platform help Spotify native podcasts. Spotify can also use it’s proven ability for recommendation to increase the listenership of small and medium podcasts. They better match podcasts with listeners. Both these unique benefits of Spotify help the podcasting industry grow and improve as a whole.

Spotify making aggressive moves into the podcasting space is important for them to survive as a company. Google and Apple are able to use music and podcasting to make money indirectly by bundling subscriptions to their other platforms or attracting customers to their overall ecosystem. Spotify is entirely reliant on music subscriptions. Podcasts are the key area Spotify can differentiate from its competitors. They need to succeed in podcasting to keep subscribers from the ever-growing competition from music streaming competition from Apple and Google.

Let me know what you think on Twitter: @IanVanagas

Mars Or Bust: Why Humans Must Become A Multi-Planetary Species

Throughout human history, the stages of settlement have been: discover, explore, settle. Humans have followed these three stages to settle on every continent. Can we translate these rules into space? We have completed the first two stages. Many believe we can complete the final one. Believers include the richest man in the world and the most famous entrepreneur in the world: Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Both stated in order for the human race to survive in the long run, we need to become a multi-planetary species. They believe it can be done. Musk even detailed how SpaceX will make humans a multi-planetary species in a paper aptly titled “Making Humans a Multi-Planetary Species.” In this paper, he provided only a brief paragraph as to why: we can either stay on Earth forever and risk an extinction event or go to space and become a multi-planetary species. His choice was obvious. There has always been a driving force behind humans urge to explore. We are curious and always looking for something new, but there are reasons for becoming a multi-planetary species beyond curiosity. I agree with Elon that becoming a multi-planetary species is necessary for the survival of the human race.

I think there are really two fundamental paths. History is going to bifurcate along two directions. One path is we stay on Earth forever, and then there will be some eventual extinction event. I do not have an immediate doomsday prophecy, but eventually, history suggests, there will be some doomsday event. The alternative is to become a space-bearing civilization and a multi-planetary species, which I hope you would agree is the right way to go. – Elon Musk

Earth is fragile and one of a kind. Actions which harm Earth now will cause ongoing harm for the human race into the future. Climate change is the main long-term problem and many don’t fully grasp the future consequences. Climate change is a collective action problem. Humans believe that the actions of many are causing climate change while simultaneously believing their actions have no effect. We need collective action to slow climate change but lack the structures to do so. National governments must cooperate on this problem. Intergovernmental organizations exist which have put in place policy to curb climate change, but they have lacked the ability to enforce the policy. Democracies have reelection periods of 2-10 years, so it is reasonable that politicians lack the foresight to make changes affecting far into the future. Their constituents are the people of today, not the people of the future. Any radical climate change policies would be unpopular with a majority of the population. We don’t know how our current consumption will affect the future. The worst case scenario is Earth becoming uninhabitable and we must leave in order to survive. Being a multi-planetary species will allow us to leave and survive.

Nuclear weapons are the greatest risk to humankind today. The impact of nuclear weapons on Earth cannot fully be understood, but we know it would be bad. Again, intergovernmental cooperation is the only way to prevent usage or an increase in nuclear weapons. This problem is more difficult than climate change. Governments are even less likely to destroy nuclear weapons than implement climate change policy. Nuclear weapons are a prisoner’s dilemma. Everyone would be better off if we didn’t have them, but since the threat of only one country having them and using them is so high, countries instead opt for mutual deterrence. With the potential for smaller, less stable nations getting their hands on nuclear weapons and larger nations with nuclear weapons potentially becoming unstable, the risk of nuclear strikes is rising. Any weapon, controlled by a small number of people with the ability to impact the whole world is dangerous. It would provide a small number of people, with a relatively small amount of resources, the ability to destroy the planet. For the good of the human race, we must be able to survive a global nuclear war. The best way to do this is to become a multi-planetary species.

Governments have a monopoly on nuclear weapons and climate change policy, two areas with the greatest risk of decimating the human race. They do not have a monopoly on space. Investment into aerospace and the eventual colonization of other planets is a hedge against nuclear weapons and climate change. It is the only possible hedge against the ability to destroy the whole world. Governments can support becoming a multi-planetary species, but they cannot be the only ones. If the government are the only party invested in becoming a multi-planetary species then we run into the same short-term thinking and collective action problems we face on Earth.

Problems arise from the fact a Martian colony is unlikely to be self-sustaining anytime soon. Ships can only realistically be launched from Earth to Mars every 26 months. This means colonies will have to stock up and wait. Production of their own vital resources such as food, water, and construction materials is the only way a colony can realistically survive on its own. Specialized equipment, medical supplies and other non-producible yet important resources will have to imported in massive quantities and varieties. A colony on Mars must become self-sustaining before Earth evitability causes its own downfall.

Critics argue against the creation of a colony on Mars because of expenses. The expenses of having a colony on Mars are high because it needs support from Earth until it becomes self-sustaining. From what we know now, Mars is unlikely to have resources valued enough to be sent back to Earth. Unless colonists discover valuable resources or create an industry Earth deems valuable (tourism), the colony must be subsidized. Travel costs are the largest costs to subsidizing a Martian colony. Elon Musk detailed his proposals to make a flight to Mars cheaper. The plan relies on the reusability of rockets and creating refueling stations on Mars. He predicts this will allow the price of a ticket to Mars to be the same as the median house price in the US. This would open the pool of potential colonizers. A Martian colony can be self-sustaining because of the ability to grow food, create shelter and find or create water. Having this potential means, in the long run, the colony is likely to become self-sustaining.

The arguments to create safeguards on Earth are not viable either because no matter how much time, money or resources you spend on Earth, no one will be able to stop climate change or remove nuclear weapons from existence. The argument of testing our ability to live anywhere on Earth, such as at the bottom of the sea, does not solve the survival problem either. The only way we can learn to survive on another planet is by doing it. We are seeing the impacts of climate change and it is non-reversible. The idea that nuclear weapons exists means we will never be safe from them. As North Korea is showing right now, a small nation with little contact to the outside world can focus on creating nuclear weapons and make progress. Over a long enough time period, someone will be successful.

Other than nuclear weapons and climate change, we face other threats such as biochemical weapons, disease, AI and more. It is easy to list the potential problems on Earth, but making humans a multi-planetary is both prevention and beneficial. It protects against extinction risks and fulfills our species destiny. We have explored and tamed the entire Earth. We have visited space and know we can survive there. The last exploration challenge we have is becoming a multi-planetary species. The added factor is that it is critical for our survival.

Additional Readings and References:

Making Humans a Multi-Planetary Species by Elon Musk

Jeff Bezos on space and becoming a multi-planetary species

How close are we to states giving up their nuclear weapons? Not very

Harvey Is What Climate Change Looks Like

 

Why Write

Writing takes time and forces me to clarify my thoughts. When I am speaking, I can’t review or edit what I said. I don’t think carefully about every word I say, and when I do, I can never be as accurate as writing. Writing takes unconscious thoughts and processes and makes them conscious. It is a representation of thinking, which is valuable because I do a lot of thinking. If an idea is worth thinking about, it is worth the effort to think about it in a constructive and clear way.

When you sit down to write, half the ideas are ideas you thought of while writing. Ideas lead to more ideas. – Paul Graham

Writing is a key skill used in all aspects of life and business. Writing better makes me more persuasive and more influential. It helps me form better arguments and better communicate ideas. This leads to success. I have written throughout my life but rarely take time to analyze my own writing. The only time I critically think about my writing is when I receive feedback from teachers on my papers. This will cease after I graduate, but I have much more writing yet to do. I have written and will continue to write, email, reports, posts, tweets and more. Everyone who is successful writes. If I want success, I also have to write and write well.

At one point in human history, we didn’t have writing. People were forced to memorize knowledge or else it would be lost. Smart people had good memories and trained their memories. With the invention of writing, memory became increasingly unimportant. The downhill trend of memory importance continued to today. The phone can keep all information we ever need, take it out of your pocket, ask it a question and it knows the answer. We don’t have to have knowledge. The problem is if you do want to know something, the odds are against you. It takes work to learn and understand ideas, concepts, and facts. Complex ideas are temporary, both mine or others. Writing helps me to solidify these ideas, better understand them, and reference them in the future.

Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. – Stephen King

I enjoy reading and learning. Writing gives me an excuse to do this more. It provides the ability to put more meaning behind my reading and my notes. Writing creates connections between my life and the books I read. Even if a book doesn’t help my life at all or isn’t relevant to my career, it might help me become a better writer. Reading and writing benefit each other in a loop.

How am I supposed to stand out from the millions of other college graduates across the world? I have roughly the same credentials as other University graduates. Writing may give me a slight edge over others. It proves I think and care about the work I do. It provides content which I can point to and say “I thought about this carefully.” It is a showcase of both thinking and writing skills. Writing creates opportunities that are unavailable without writing. Sometimes you have to create your own luck, writing provides me with an opportunity to do that.

“Writing is the most scalable professional networking activity. Stay home, don’t go to events/conferences, and just put ideas down.” – Andrew Chen

Finally, recognition. Recognition is something that I hope to keep in check. Craving recognition will lead to disappointment. There are millions of people writing and hoping that others will see their work. When nobody does, they give up. They fail to realize that they are competing against everyone else who wants your time. Facebook, Netflix, the news, other writers. There are many people who are paid large amounts of money to try to get and keep your attention, making it difficult to compete with them. Anyone who does anything publicly is looking for recognition, or at the very least, acknowledgment. I won’t pretend writing is purely an internally beneficial process. Having people read your work is rewarding, but it will not guide me.

Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter: @IanVanagas