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How to Read More: The Simple System I’m Using to Read 30+ Books Per Year

How to Read More: The Simple System I’m Using to Read 30+ Books Per Year
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Warren Buffett, the man commonly referred to as the greatest investor of the 20th century, was standing in front of 165 wide-eyed students from Columbia University.

One of the students raised his hand and asked Buffett for his thoughts on the best way to prepare for an investing career. After thinking for a moment, Buffett pulled out a stack of papers and trade reports he had brought with him and said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.” [1]

Buffett estimates that 80 percent of his working hours are spent reading or thinking. It’s enough to make you ask, “Am I reading enough books?”

When I asked myself that question recently, I realized that there were some simple reasons I wasn’t reading as much as I would like to, and I developed a reasonable system that is helping me read more than 30 books per year.

Let me explain…

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How to Read More Books

If you know how to read, then reading books is relatively easy. You simply have to make time to read. Easier said than done, of course.

When I looked at my own reading habits, I realized that my reading habits were mostly reactive, not proactive. If an interesting link flashed across my screen on Facebook or Twitter, then I would read it as a reaction. I wasn’t proactively making time to read books each day. I was simply reading interesting ideas that were pushed in front of me.

As a result, most of my reading was done online. Now, there are plenty of excellent articles on the web, but generally speaking, the quality of good books is better. Books typically have better writing (more tightly edited) and higher quality information (better fact-checking and more extensive research). From a learning perspective, it’s probably a better use of my time to read books than to read online content.

So, I had to figure out a strategy that would allow me to read more books without letting typical distractions get in the way.

How do you that?

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20 Pages Per Day

Here’s the only pattern I’ve been able to stick with consistently:

Read 20 pages to start the day.

I usually wake up, drink a glass of water, write down 3 things I’m grateful for, and read 20 pages of a book. For the last 10 weeks, I have followed this new habit. As of today, I’m 100 pages into my 7th book. At that pace (7 books per 10 weeks) I’ll read about 36 books in the next year. Not bad.

Here’s why I think this pattern works: 20 pages is small enough that it’s not intimidating. Most people can finish reading 20 pages within 30 minutes. And if you do it first thing in the morning, then the urgencies of the day don’t get in the way.

Finally, 20 pages seems small but adds up fast. It’s a great average speed.

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If time allows, I’ll read at other times as well. After the research I did for my article on how to get better sleep, I have added reading to my “prepare for bed” routine as well. But regardless of what happens during the rest of the day, I still get my 20 pages in each morning.

The First Hour

How do you spend the first hour of your day?

Most people spend it getting dressed, getting ready, and rushing out the door. What if that time was spent making yourself a better person? What if you woke up an hourbefore you needed to each day and worked on yourself? How much better would you be at work, in your relationships, and as a person?

That’s essentially what this reading strategy is asking you to do. Before you move on to the normal bustle of the day, invest in yourself. Before your life turns into a whirlwind of activity, read a book that will make you better. As with most habits that can greatly impact your life, this will never feel urgent, but it is important.

20 pages per day. That’s all you need.

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P.S.

Looking for good books to read?

Click here to see my book recommendations, which includes a full reading list of more than 100 great books to read, organized by category.

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

Sources 
  1. Investors earn handsome paychecks by handling Buffett’s business by Steve Jordon, Omaha World-Herald

Featured photo credit: Germán Poo-Caamaño via flickr.com

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James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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