How to read more, today

Successful people read a lot. Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey, Elon Musk: they all read. This is not surprising. Picking up a book allows you to connect directly with a great mind (assuming you’re reading a good book, that is).

But most of us don’t read all that many books. Depending on how you count, the number of books most Americans reporting reading per year is four. And, from personal anecdotal evidence, most working professionals only really read during their vacation. In the bustle of day-to-day life, reading that does get done sadly consists of only email and text messages.

I’m not suggesting you should aim for Warren Buffett’s incredibile reading rate of 500 pages per day. But doing at least some reading per day is better than none. Here are some tips to increase your reading starting today.

Why you should read more

economist-learning-coverThe Economist recently led with the following cover: “Lifelong learning is becoming an economic imperative.” In a world that’s constantly changing, in which robots and algorithms are set to take at least half our current jobs, we’ll have to constantly develop ourselves. We can’t expect that our formal educations in colleges or universities alone will allow us to “ride it out.”

So what’s the easiest and best way to do that? You guessed it, reading.

“Whenever anybody asks Elon how he learned to build rockets, he says, ‘I read books.’”Esquire interview with Elon Musk

Where to begin?

Farnam Street, a blog for lifelong learners, has a simple suggestion: aim for reading 25 pages per day. At that speed, they calculate, you can read 8,500 pages per year! Think about it: if the average book is around 250 pages (very rough estimate), that equals 34 books per year.

While this is a useful goal to aim for, it’s still rather abstract. Just saying you’re going to read 25 pages per day doesn’t make it happen. To make this a reality, you need two things:

  • Make reading a habit.
  • Learn to focus.

Make reading a habit
Going into the details of habit formation is beyond the scope of this article (try “Understanding Your Inner Autopilot: Do You Know These 4 Common Habits of Habits?”). But here’s a simple trick: connect your new reading habit to things you’re already doing every day (a “cue”). For example, instead of wasting time on your phone, you can resolve to read:

  1. …when traveling on public transport.
  2. …for five minutes after lunch.
  3. …before you go to sleep.
  4. …on the toilet (I know, but it works).
  5. …for five minutes when you wake up.
  6. …when you take breaks between your focus sessions (if you’re a Saent user).
  7. …when you’re cooling down after a workout.

If you pick a few of these throughout your day, you’ll hit 25 pages in no time. In fact, don’t obsess over the number of pages, obsess over sticking to these cues consistently, every day.

Reading a book

Learn to focus
Reading a book requires undivided attention. Most of us have forgotten how to find our focus. As this monk explains, concentration is something you train like a muscle, not something you’re born with. Unfortunately, modern technology teaches us to be easily distracted instead.

Reading a book by itself is good training for your focus muscle, but there are other ways to practice. Those in turn will make reading the book easier and train your concentration further. It’s a positive reinforcement loop.

To train yourself for better focus, you need to practice doing only one thing at a time. Whatever that thing is, keep your full attention on it. This can be a task at work like writing a report or fixing a bug in some code, but also something mundane like talking to a friend or your spouse. As long as you practice putting all of your attention on the activity at hand, you’ll be exercising your focus muscle. Most importantly, put your phone to Do Not Disturb as often as possible!

Reading à gogo!

Voila, that’s it! 25 pages per day are within your reach and you can start today. All you need is a book to read: here’s what I read in 2016, and here are some tips on picking the right book (see The Three T’s section). So really, there are no more excuses. Go read!

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