I meet a lot of people who tell me they would like to read more. Even this weekend I was talking to a friend about our reading habits. In these conversations, we share two common attributes: we both desire to read more, and we both find ourselves reading less than we wish we did. This issue is so prevalent in our world today that the Japanese even have a word for it: “Tsundoku.”
Whenever I notice a gap between a desired goal and an experienced reality, it’s typically a sign that the disconnect is located in my habits. Last year when I noticed the gap in my reading, I decided it was time for a change. Over the last six months, I have revolutionized my reading habits to read more in general, and read more of what I know helps me to grow personally. The result has been some of the most fruitful reading of my life. If you are one of those people like me who desires to read more or read differently, I’d like to share a few of the reading habits I’ve been using over the last several months. Not every idea will work for you, that’s ok. Instead, I hope this list is inspiring to you as you work toward your own goals.
Ten Habits of (at least one) Highly Effective Reader(s)
- I get up every morning at 5:30 to read. This is an idea I got from James Clear in his excellent book, “Atomic Habits.” I get up in the morning, make some excellent coffee, and make sure I have at least 30 minutes of solo time to read and journal. It’s the best regular rhythm I have ever added to my daily routine. (Pro tip: If you struggle to get up, but desire to, it’s because you’re going to bed too late.)
- I make sure my phone is in another room. The work of several prominent behavioral psychologists has shown that your phone can be a distraction even when it’s just sitting upside down on the table in front of you. Leave it in the other room and you’ll read with far less distraction.
- I read multiple books at once. I thought for many years that my penchant for picking up multiple books was a bad thing, but now I’ve realized it’s simply a consequence of my natural desire for variety. Don’t be afraid to switch to a new book and come back to yours later.
- I read want I most want to read right now. Because I read multiple books at once, a simple question you might ask is, which one do you read now? The simple answer is that I read what sounds most interesting at the moment. My interest will drive my desire to read and cause me to read longer and with more focused attention.
- I give myself the grace to skim. A mentor taught me several years ago that you don’t have to make it from cover to cover to say you’ve “read a book.” In the years since I’ve realized that most non-fiction books follow a predictable rhythm: they introduce an idea, they unpack that idea, they address the biggest questions or push back to that idea, and they offer a conclusion or summary. When I pick up a book now, I spend a lot of time exploring the table of contents. I’ll often pre-select the chapters I want to read in-depth, and for the others, I’ll hit the highlights and skim the rest. It’s a liberating way to read.
- I read both fiction and non-fiction. Another way I have introduced variety is to read both fiction and non-fiction at the same time. I meet a lot of people who only read one or the other, and I always feel like they are missing something. There are many genres, and I find that I enjoy my reading more when I switch between them. (Pro tip: My typical balance is two non-fiction books, one fiction, and one biography at any given moment.)
- I have a system for capturing quotes and ideas. Another way I increase the joy I find in reading is by capturing the best of what I am reading in a system that makes it easy to find it again. I use an app called “Readwise.” The app allows me to automatically sync highlights from my Kindle, and use my smartphone to capture the rest. Quotes can be tagged, cataloged, and searched through at any point. I’ve been doing this for about three years and I literally have thousands of quotes. It makes writing easier to have so many ideas to inspire me at any moment.
- I change my reading format to fit the genre. I have found that I enjoy my reading more when the format matches the genre. For me, this means reading non-fiction on my Kindle, where I can easily capture quotes, reading fiction in print so I can be less distracted, and reading biographies and history on audiobooks in the car (because otherwise I will fall asleep). I started mixing this up about three months ago and doubt I will ever return.
- I abandon books I don’t enjoy. This will likely be the most controversial idea I share with you: not all books are great. I’ve written a few, it’s ok to say that. If you start something you don’t enjoy, you don’t have to finish it. Knowing you won’t find yourself stuck in a bad book, removes one of the barriers we often face to reading.
- I set a reading goal and tell a lot of people about it. The best way to make sure I keep reading is a little accountability. This year I have set a goal to read 30 books, which will easily be a record for me. Since setting this goal, I have told dozens of people in my life about it because the more people I tell, the greater chance I will accomplish it. (Now you know too and you can ask me about how I did later this year.)
I encourage you to keep experimenting until you find some practices that work best for you. Remember, if you want to read, but you aren’t doing it, there’s nothing wrong with your willpower — your habits are likely to blame.