I want to be just like this kid when I grow up.
Perfect for you if:
- You can’t remember the last time you picked up a book.
- You want to read more, but life just keeps getting in the way.
- You’re a certified bookworm looking to get even more books in and around your face.
We all know we should read more.
Reading makes us smart, it lowers stress, it improves memory, focus and concentration. Reading teaches us, it entertains us, it improves imagination, empathy and sleep. Readers are leaders. Show me someone successful and I will show you someone who reads.
And yet reading more can be hard. “We hate reading. We find it difficult. We can’t afford it. We don’t have the time. We don’t have the energy. We’re overwhelmed by choice. We can’t find what excites us. We don’t retain what we read…” The list of excuses goes on.
But not this year.
This is the year you read more. This is the year you take responsibility for your future. The year you don’t settle for being too ignorant, too arrogant or too busy to master your less well-read self. This is the year you get smarter, be it with 5 books, with 50 or 100.
Let’s take the “I” from illiteracy and get hustling…
1. GIVE READING A (SECOND) CHANCE.
Our early experiences with books can haunt us the rest of our lives. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Outside of class, no-one forces you to read. No-one tests you. No-one makes you read aloud. No-one cares if you read slowly or mispronounce words.
Perhaps you’re dyslexic. Perhaps your parents had book gremlins. Perhaps a teacher made you feel stupid. Or maybe text-books ruined your love of language.
Whatever the reason you gave up on books – please give them a second chance. I can’t overstate the benefits even limited reading will have on your life.
Reading makes you happier, smarter, and wiser. Fact. And a world of happier, smarter and wiser people is a better world for us all.
2. LOOK AFTER YOUR EYES.
If your eyes hurt, you get a headache or your brain swims when you read – get your eyes tested.
Perhaps you need glasses. Perhaps your eyes are sensitive to light. In any case, you can solve a surprising number of problems quickly and cheaply.
If you wear glasses, don’t be lazy. Book visits every one to two years (or as needed) to update your prescription.
A world of missed opportunities is avoidable in as few as 15 painless minutes in an optometrist’s office.
3. GO EASY ON YOURSELF.
If you’re just back to reading, take it easy:
- Make sure there’s plenty of light;
- Read with an embarrassingly large font; and
- Warm up with Harry Potter, The Hunger Games or The Alchemist.
I love paper books as much as the next bibliophile but there’s something to be said here for e-readers.
Download Ready Player One, get on the bus, set the backlight to full, crank the font up to large and tuck in.
4. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.
Reading is a learned skill. Like any learned skill, it takes practice.
Don’t be discouraged with slow progress. One thing adults forget is just how much free-time and help children get.
You are smarter than you know. You can catch up from behind. You will read faster and it will get easier.
Repetition is the mother of learning.
5. PRIORITISE READING.
You already have more on your plate than you can handle. That’s why reading more is not about finding time – it’s about making it.
Eliminate the unimportant:
Ask: What things would improve, or have zero impact on my life if I stopped doing them?
Now stop doing them.
Meanwhile, make books and reading a focal point in your life:
- Organise your home around your bookshelf;
- Fill your home with books you’d like to read;
- Create silent space and time in your day;
- Move or work close to a library if you’re able.
Create structures that kill distraction and promote reading.
Do this and you’ve already conquered the worst foes of willpower and habit.
6. PAY WHAT YOU LIKE.
Reading books can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be.
Here are 7 ways to stay incurably curious on a budget:
- Get your books free – Download thousands of public domain books, free from Gutenberg.org
- Join a library – Libraries are wonderful places to work and a great way to enjoy limitless reading for next to nothing.
- Find a Bookmobile – These rolling libraries are a boon to areas underserved by their conventional cousins.
- Swap till you drop – Use a service like PaperBackSwap or post your swaps on e.g., CraigsList or Gumtree or a local, physical noticeboard.
- Start a private library – Split book costs with friends by starting a private library you can all access at one of your homes.
- Buy and sell used books – Amazon and eBay both have quick and easy tools to buy and sell used books online.
- Pay for unlimited access – For heavy readers, services like Kindle Unlimited can save you hundreds of dollars.
For more resources than linked to above; check out this great list from Leo Babauta.
Remember: it’s the books in your head, not the books on your shelf, that make you smart.
Getting them in there will change your world, but it needn’t cost it.
7. READ WHAT YOU WANT.
Perhaps you want to be entertained. Perhaps you want to be informed. Guess what? No-one cares. No-one is going to judge you.
When it comes to reading, read what excites you and remember, it’s OK to quit.
Sometimes you won’t like an author’s style. Sometimes you’re just not ready for a book. And that’s fine!
The moment a book feels like a chore, the moment you dread opening it – that’s when you pick up another.
You can always come back to a book at a different time, in a different place and as a different person.
The most important part of reading is that you enjoy it. And there are always plenty more books on the shelf.
8. READ HOW YOU WANT.
I love the smell of a book, the riffle of paper on thumb, the scrawl of a note in the margin.
But I also love having almost every book in existence at my fingertips in 161g of E Ink.
And I’m thrilled by the ability to use audiobooks when my hands or eyes are kept busy.
Purists will argue endlessly for one medium or another. Pragmatists care more about reading than rightness.
Be a pragmatist. Let others have their preferences. In the meantime, use whatever mix of mediums makes reading a pleasure for you.
9. READ MULTIPLE BOOKS AT ONCE.
Polyamory isn’t frowned on in book world, it’s encouraged.
Flirt with fiction and non-fiction at the same time. Lead on challenging and easier reads back-to-back.
I usually have at least one book on the go that I’m crunching and another few I can read when I’m empty.
That way, no matter what mood or energy level I’m at, I always have something I’m excited for.
10. BUT, STAY FOCUSED.
That said, try to keep your licentious ways under control.
Following a narrative and a sense of progress keep reading enjoyable, informative and engaging.
If you read 30-minutes a day, 2 books (plus an audiobook) is probably your max before losing the plot. If you read 5 or 6 hours a day you might manage a few more.
Try to get away with as few books as possible. You want to make sure you always have something to read, without spreading yourself too thin.
N.B., Monogamy is also totally fine! If you’re absorbed in an unputdownable page-turner, then 1 book is more than enough.
11. MAKE READING A HABIT.
Our habits are the most powerful forces that shape our lives.
Making reading a habit can be easy. To do so, try to read:
- At ~the same time;
- In ~the same place;
- For ~the same duration; and
- For at least 21 days.
You usually have more control over the start and end of your day. That makes them the easiest times to carve out new habits.
If you read for just 10 minutes at the bookends of each day you’ll read for 3.5 hours a week – that’s ~15 books a year! (For the science, see these posts on how long it takes to read 100, 200 and 300 pages.)
Add 30 minutes after lunch to get through another 25 books, making 40 in total. Wow. Those are crazy numbers.
Building new habits is tough. But stick with it and you’ll be amazed at the person you become.
12. READ WITH OTHERS.
One of the best ways to foster new habits is with the support of others.
Read a book with family members and friends. Discuss it with them. See the content with fresh eyes. Learn something new about them.
If your family and friends are busy, get Googling and join a local book club. You’ll read more, learn more and meet heaps of new, interesting and open-minded people.
Reading is like having a fascinating and personal conversation with an author. Little makes it more rewarding than sharing that conversation with others.
13. READ ALL THE TIME.
Moments become minutes become mountains of books. That’s why the best habit you can develop is to read all the time.
- Waiting for the bus? Read.
- Waiting for the movie to start? Read.
- In line for coffee? Read.
- Trying to keep your kids busy? Read to them.
The secret to reading at all times? Keep at least one book with you, wherever you are and remember, no moment is too short.
If you spend 6 minutes waiting for buses, 220 days of the year that’s 1320 minutes of reading – or ~3.5 books!
You can definitely make this work with physical books but, once again, ebooks have a small advantage in this space. With my Kindle, I can fit hundreds of books in my pocket wherever I am. That means I always have something that feels right for the moment at hand.
14. BE PREPARED.
Avoid gaps in your reading by always having a book or two to hand.
For lovers of physical books, be a book squirrel. Stockpiles your to-reads in advance:
- By your bed;
- In the bathroom;
- In the kitchen;
- In the car;
- At work;
- At your partner’s house;
- At your parent’s house; or
- In your hand, gym and travel bags.
Wherever you spend time, make sure there are books.
For eBooks and audiobooks:
- Charge your devices before you leave home;
- Bring external batteries, adapters, plugs and cables with you; and
- Download books ahead of your reading plan.
Don’t count on a charge point, reception or WiFi when you’re out and about.
Remember: moments become minutes become mountains.
Look after the moments and the mountains will look after themselves.
15. KEEP A LIST.
One of the most daunting questions in reading is: what should I read next?
To simplify: create a personal list. Popular solutions include:
- Goodreads Bookshelves;
- Amazon Wish Lists;
- Google Sheets;
- Post It notes;
- A simple text file; or
- Good old-fashioned paper.
It doesn’t much matter what you use, as long as it works for you.
For now, note the titles and authors of any books on your mind that excite you.
(If the book is a recommendation, I also like to add the name of the recommender. That way I can say thank you when I’ve read their suggestion. This tip alone will forge life-altering discussions and friendships.)
Do feel free to organise your list by excitement, genre, author, date of publication or whatever you find useful.
Don’t make organising your list a chore. When you come across a new book just add it to the top or the bottom. You can worry about placing it later.
16. FILL YOUR LIST.
When it comes to stocking your list one of two things might happen:
- You’ll draw a total blank (that won’t be a problem for long); or
- You’ll experience strong excitement or anxiety at the huge range of choices you face.
Both are fine. To solve the first, let others inspire you. Some good places to start include:
- Award Winners – National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Nobel Prize
- Curated Collections – Great Books of the Western World, Harvard Classics
- Best Seller Lists – New York Times, Amazon, Of All Time
- Reading Lists – Gates, Buffett, Ferriss, Holiday, King, Oakley, etc..
- Bibliographies – The best place to find great books is often inside other great books.
- Recommendations – They either loved it, or they want you to think they read it, in either case, it’s probably good.
As you read and add more and more books to your list you may start to feel overwhelmed. If that happens:
- Don’t panic: Breathe in to a count of 4 and out to a count of 6.
- Accept that you’ll only ever read a tiny fraction of what’s out there.
(N.B., That’s still a lot more than most people will get to)
- Resolve to fill your limited reading slots with only the very best books.
- Pick the one book on your list that most excites you or interests you.
- Optionally, double-check the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
- Forget everything else and just read it.
There are millions of works out there but the real cream of the crop number just a few thousand.
So enjoy yourself and remember: a journey of a thousand tomes begins with a single book.
17. READ FROM YOUR LIST.
When you need a new book two tempting targets will present themselves:
- The latest bestseller that everyone is reading; or
- The last great book you were recommended.
Resist the urge to dive into these books. Instead:
- Add any titles you’re thinking of to your list.
- Take a moment to read through everything you still want to read.
- Pick the book your most excited about from your entire selection.
Your choice may well be one of the targets above. But there’s a good chance it won’t be.
Why? Because reading from your list gives you perspective. It saves you from the endless churn of the new and the popular.
When you reflect on the last 50 books you’ve read you’ll be grateful for taking a moment to stop, pause and think.
18. READ ACCORDING TO YOUR OBJECTIVES.
Read in a way that matches your experience, energy, mood and materials with your objectives.
Sometimes I’m just skimming for facts, or enjoying the pith of a plot. In these cases I may race through a book in just hours.
Sometimes I’m digesting tricky concepts, or luxuriating in an author’s particular style. In these cases digesting a book may take weeks.
Sometimes I’ll read silently. Sometimes I’ll read aloud to track the turn of a phrase on my tongue. Sometimes I’ll use a pen to follow my eyes down a page.
Guess what? None of those preferences matter! Don’t compare the way you read to other people. Don’t even compare yourself to yourself.
If you’re reading for entertainment, read in a way that makes reading enjoyable for you.
If you’re reading for information, read in a way that helps you learn.
There are no right or wrong answers, only preferences. If you’re finding the process rewarding you’re doing it right.
19. TAKE A PEAK AT THE FUTURE.
That said, steps 19 – 21 cover some tips that may help if you’re reading to learn.
First up: If you’re reading for information, it’s ok to skip to the spoilers.
How? Before you even get to page one – scan the book:
- Read the front and back covers.
- Skim its Wikipedia, Amazon and Goodreads pages.
- Scan the contents, appendices and indexes.
- Flick through it, stopping at titles, quotes, figures and any bulleted lists.
Within 15 minutes you should have an excellent picture of the book’s structure and contents.
This will drastically speed up your reading and learning. It will also help you to…
20. INTERACT WITH YOUR BOOKS.
The value you get from a book will vary to the extent you interact with it.
Before you start reading, grab a pen and a piece of paper. Take 15 – 30 minutes to:
- Map your knowledge – What do you know about this topic already?
- Ask questions – What are you hoping to learn? How will this book fill the blanks?
Now, as you read:
- Re-scan each chapter – Remind yourself of the upcoming titles, quotes, figures and lists as you start each new chapter.
- Highlight liberally – Underline passages or quotes that resonate strongly with you.
- Make notes – Ask: What is the main message in this chapter? How does it link to my knowledge? Or answer my questions?
- Challenge – Ask: What would I say to the author if they were here? Are they right? What have they missed?
Finally, at the end of each page, each chapter and the entire book take some time to:
- Recall information – Cover your notes. Now try to recall the main message and points as best you can from memory. This should feel difficult. Don’t give up quickly or use your notes. Active recall is a powerful way to boost understanding and memory.
- Set next actions – Ask: What questions do I still have? What further information do I need? What points would I still struggle to explain? How can I implement what I’ve learned in my life?
- Now act – Make a plan to tackle your next actions. Get started right away. A person who does not act has no advantage over a person who does not know.
These steps need effort and willpower. They won’t feel easy and you will be tempted to skip them.
Don’t. You will get far more from your reading as a result.
21. REST, THEN REVIEW.
It’s oft forgotten that a book’s most valuable lessons come after its last page, not before it.
To make the most of the time and energy you invest in a book, first set it aside. Let the dust settle in your head. Give its ideas time to percolate in your mind. A few days to a week should be perfect.
Next, with fresh eyes and some distance:
- Crystallise its wisdom – Revisit or export your highlights with fresh eyes. Transcribe the best and preserve them in a “Common Place Book”.
- Summarise your notes – Review your notes and reflections. Try to summarise their essence in a sentence, a paragraph and a page.
- Discuss it with someone who’s read it – What did you both get from the book? How are your takeaways different? What actions or criticisms do you share?
- Teach it to someone who hasn’t – Try to explain the essence of the book to a friend. What ideas do you most struggle to explain clearly? You may wish to revisit them.
- Codify facts for flashcards – The human mind is a sieve. Make a list of the frameworks, lists and facts you don’t want to forget. Now make a plan to remember them.
Remember, wisdom isn’t measured by the number of books you’ve read. It’s measured by your ability to get knowledge into your head and apply it.
You will often get far more from really digesting, understanding and actioning a single book than you will from skimming through 10.
22. REREAD YOUR OLD BOOKS.
Time with old books is like time with old friends.
The longer you’re together, the more you’ll discover, and the more they’ll teach you about yourself. Stranger yet is how the bits you most admire and appreciate in them will change in mysterious ways as you age.
Sometimes you may grow apart. Other times you’ll rediscover your friendship much later. And, when that happens, it will feel like you caught up just yesterday.
Even when you think you know everything about them, they’ll surprise you. And eventually, they’ll become part of the most important memories and decisions in your life.
So keep your old friends, and reread your old books.
Sure, nothing thrills like a fling with the new and exciting.
But as you grow older, it’s the books and people that have stood by you the longest that you’ll feel most glad to come home to.
23. TAKE BREAKS.
Don’t force yourself to read because you think you should. If that’s how you feel something’s probably not right.
Sometimes a change is as good as a break. If you’ve been reading non-fiction, try fiction. If you’re reading a difficult book, try something easier.
Other times you may just be running on empty. Go for a walk, listen to music, have a nap, grab a snack, meditate, chat with a friend. Take some time out to restore yourself.
If reading still feels like a chore, something deeper’s at play. Perhaps you need to recalibrate your goals and expectations. Maybe something not reading related is stressing you.
In any case, don’t be afraid to take a long break from reading entirely. Try a few days, or a week, or a month. Watch some films. Go to the theatre. Catch up with friends. Experiment by reading a few great articles from one of your favourite blogs.
You won’t always be able to pinpoint and rationalise everything. Sometimes all life needs is space. Let it settle, unravel and reset.
24. CHALLENGE YOURSELF.
If you’re inspired and excited to get reading – it’s time to set yourself a three-step challenge:
- Aim to read one book per month – At ~6h per book that’s ~12 minutes reading per day
- Aim for one book per fortnight – ~30 minutes reading per day.
- Aim for one book per week – ~60 minutes reading per day.
If you dedicate 3 months to stage one, 3 more to stage two and 6 months to stage three you’ll read 35 books this year. That’s awesome!
To help you, why not:
- Commit to the challenge with a friend;
- Stack the books you’ll read where you can see them;
- Make a victory tower of the books that you’ve conquered;
- Keep this year’s reading list somewhere you’ll see it every day; or
- Make a public commitment on social media, Goodreads and to your friends and family.
Set yourself a challenge you’ll be proud of yourself for completing.
Now get to work putting foundations under it.
25. BUT, DON’T LET YOUR GOALS STRESS YOU OUT.
Challenges are a superb way to motivate and inspire us.
But they can also turn into hellish reminders of our failure to live up to our own expectations.
If you fall behind on your goal don’t beat yourself up, instead give yourself permission to fail and try again.
Review your plan. Adjust your expectations for what seems possible based on what you now know. Get to work. Repeat.
And remember: whilst finishing 100 books in a year “sounds” impressive, what really matters here isn’t book count, it’s the quantity and quality of time spent reading.
Switch your focus from outcome to process. That way, you can focus on really enjoying Atlas Shrugged instead of worrying about finishing it as quickly as possible.
26. HAVE FUN!
The most important thing to remember about reading is to have fun!
If you can make reading enjoyable you won’t have to make yourself do it; you’ll probably have to make yourself stop!
Don’t force yourself to grind through books that you’re hating. Don’t set yourself up for failure with outlandish and unrealistic expectations.
Read with your eyes but follow your heart. Make reading fun for yourself, and for others and its rewards and adventures will follow.
27. TAKE ACTION.
Reading more is hard. I’ve been there. I get it. I know changing habits ain’t easy.
But reading expands our minds and enlarges our world. A good book makes us happier, it makes us smarter and it makes us wise. It’s a part of our lives that’s too vital to skip
So if you want to read more, read. Don’t wait for the perfect moment or method. Pick up the nearest book. Start with that. Exchange it for a better one. Improve your reading tools as you go along. Identify the excuses that are holding you back. Pick the one thing in this list that caught your eye and take action. Not tomorrow, not later, do it now.
Make this the year you get started on the reading you know you should do.
Make this the year you stop making excuses.
Make this year the year of the book.