How to Read More: Finish 100+ Books This Year

By Nat Eliason in Learning

Published or Updated on Jan 16, 2015

Intuitively, everyone realizes that they should read to some extent.

I’ve never heard someone say “I don’t think I should read more,” but I’ve heard “I should read more” a lot more than I’ve heard “I read a lot.”

But so few people take the time to read more.

Last year, I read somewhere north of 100 books. This isn’t because I have nothing to do or because I’m a fast reader, but simply because I follow a few simple strategies that let me read a ton.

Allocating Time vs Finding Time

The most common reason people will give for not reading more is that they don’t have time, or that they can’t find time for it. Just as they can’t find time for exercise, meditation, writing their book, whatever their big goals are.

Yet, without fail, they find time for television, movies, drinking, video games, and other creature comforts. I’m not advocating for removal of creature comforts—that would be inhuman. But I’m certainly advocating for not lying to ourselves.

If you actually want to read more (and not, as I suspect is the case with many people, just want to give off the impression of wanting to read more as some self-aggrandizing statement to make at a cocktail party) you first have to stop lying to yourself. You have plenty of time to read. You simply choose to spend it on other things. This is economics 101, you have to give up one thing to have another. So, yes, you’ll have to give up watching 2 hours of TV a night if you want to read.

Which necessarily leads to a philosophical shift in your perception of time. There’s nothing you don’t have time for. There are only things you don’t allocate time for. Elon Musk is CEO of two companies at once. He has the same 24 hours in his day. He just allocates them differently.

You can never find time. You can only allocate time. And your allocation of time will determine how close you come to hitting any big goal you have.

And you need to allocate time to reading.

How to Re-Allocate Time to Reading

Allocating time to reading is easy. Despite working on marketing for a major startup, running a course on programming for marketers, taking classes, and running a campus professional education program, I still manage to have a social life and read ~2 books a week.

And yes I go out drinking too. You don’t have to sacrifice that part of life.

It’s less about what you spend time on, and more about what you deliberately do not spend time on.

Here are some things to cut out to get started.

1. Stop Reading (and especially watching) the News. Read books instead. Remember Lindy’s rule, what has been talked about for 1000 years will likely be talked about for another 1000 years. Kim Kardashian’s ass will not be. I talk more about this here.

2. Stop Watching Mindless TV. An hour a day is fine, you need to de-compress. But marathoning Netflix over a jar of ice cream because you don’t know what to do with your time is a sign you need to change something in your life.

If your life is so stressful that you have to watch 3 hours of the food network or CSI each night, that’s a sign you need to change what you’re doing with your life or learn better time / stress management.

3. Stop Reading Buzzfeed and other Blogspam. Popularity != Importance. Facebook’s algorithms are designed to put stupid shit in your feed.

These articles are extremely hard to resist. I find myself clicking on them from time to time. I finally figured out the solution. Install F.B. Purity in your browser so you can block the “trending” section (nothing in there is important) and then unfollow people who repeatedly post useless articles.

4. Don’t Mix Work and Socializing. You should either be working, or socializing. You can’t do both at the same time. If you’re a student, don’t go to the library with a group of friends to “study together.” What you’re actually going to do is goof off until 2 am when you realize you don’t know the material and thus have to pull an all-nighter. But don’t worry, you’ll get to brag about how little sleep you’re getting.

If you’re working for a company with Slack, Hipchat, Email, whatever, turn it off while you’re working. People can call you if it’s truly urgent. Don’t let yourself be interruptible. If you’re constantly responding to things, your work will take 2-10x as long. That extra work time is less reading time.

5. Cut Back Email. Not entirely cut it out, obviously, but stop checking it every 2 seconds and DEFINITELY turn off the phone notifications.

I found a great trick for this that allows me to only check my email once a day. You can set up a pushbullet alert for the two or three people you WANT to respond to immediately (for me that’s my partner on Programming for Marketers, as well as a couple other work colleagues) and then respond to everything else once a day when you’re already in a bad mood. I find email rarely cheers people up.

6. Facebook / Social Media. I have bad news. There’s very little new stuff on Facebook from 20 minutes ago. And if you’re a normal human being you probably only REALLY care about 5-10 people. Maybe 20 if you’re very extroverted. You certainly don’t care about 800. And Facebook tends to make us depressed. Read a book instead.

7. Read in Transit. If you drive to work, listen to audiobooks. If you ride a bus, read on it. Stop playing candy crush. If you’re walking around campus, listen to audiobooks, or if you’re feeling bold you can read while walking. People might give you weird looks. Don’t worry about it. They probably don’t read much.

8. Binge Read. When I say I read 2 books a week, that’s an average. I usually read half a book a week, or 5 books a week. Sometimes you fall out of it, which is fine, but then you make it up with bingeing. I’ll sometimes discover an author (as I recently did with Robert Greene) and proceed to devour all of their works in a very short time span.

9. Speed Reading. It’s a joke. Stop trying to cheat the system. I once tried to speed read Walden. That defeats the entire point of reading the book. Speed reading is useful in only two situations:

  1. When you’re reading something like the news which isn’t important enough to read carefully (in which case, why the hell are you reading it?)
  2. When you’re just speeding through a book to create your own spark notes. This second version has some justification, and it’s what I’ll do if I can’t get in to a book but believe it might have some useful info. But when you do this you lose the details and only get the high level picture. That’s fine sometimes, but if you read For Whom the Bell Tolls and all you get from it is that they blew up a bridge you’re doing it wrong.

10. Quit Books. I quit books all the time. My best friend insisted that Flags of Our Fathers was amazing. I couldn’t stand it and quit 20% in. Do more of this. You have no obligation to finish a book. If an author sounds like a charlatan, if it doesn’t hold your attention, if there’s something else you should be reading, quit.

This is one of the biggest reasons people don’t read more. They start a book that someone else said they should read, they don’t like it, then they don’t want to quit it so they simply stop reading at all. If a book doesn’t make you want to ditch your 2nd tier friends to read it then you shouldn’t read it at all.

11. “I’m supposed to read the classics.” No you aren’t, not if you don’t like them. Read what you want.

12. Build a System. Systems make things as easy as possible. If you can create rules for yourself that make sure you get your reading in, then you’ll have no problem finishing books. Here’s mine.

  1. All the tech goes off at 11pm. I get in bed (or sit on a cushion) and read until I can’t keep my eyes open.
  2. When I eat alone, I read.
  3. When I walk, I listen to audiobooks, podcasts, or I read
  4. When I workout, I listen to audiobooks
  5. When I wake up, I read while I make tea, unless I have a huge inspiration to write.

Alright, you’ve got 12 easy steps. Go do it. I believe in you. Be a reading machine. You’ll feel great about it. And shoot me a message to tell me what you’re reading. I always want new recommendations.


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