I'm often asked "how do you find the time to read so much?" Everyone looks at my reading list and assumes that I either have no life or speed read. When I tell people I do have a life and I don't speed read, the question becomes: What's your secret?
Well, there is no secret.
On a good week, I can read 3-5 books. Sometimes fewer. I'm an average reader, likely within one standard deviation in terms of speed and retention. In short, I'm likely no different than you when it comes to how fast I read. I just make the choice to read as much as possible.
Here's how I do it:
Where do I find the time?
Let's look at this another way. Rather than saying what I do, I'll tell you what I don't do:
- I don't spend a lot of time watching TV. (The lone exception to this is during football season when I watch one game a week.)
- I watch very few movies.
- I don't spend a lot of time commuting.
- I don't spend a lot of time shopping.
These choices are deliberate. I don't even have cable TV (I watch NFL games through Game Pass). I live downtown, and thus can walk to the grocery store, purchase a bagful of groceries, and return home all within 15 minutes.
If you presume that the average person spends two to three hours a day watching TV, an hour or more commuting, and another two to three hours a week shopping, that's about 25 hours a week. Or about 1,500 minutes, which is huge. If you read a page a minute, that's 1,500 pages a week.
I read whenever possible.
If you're a 'knowledge worker,' you're paid to use your brain, so it's in your best interest to make that brain as big as possible. Finding time to read is easier than you might think. Waiting for a bus? Stop staring down the street and read. Waiting for a taxi? Read. On the train? Read. On the plane? Read. Waiting for your flight? Read.
What I read depends on the situation.
If I know I only have a few minutes, I'm not going to read something that requires a lot of mental context switching to get back into. I'll keep it simple and read something like Phil Jackson's Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success or Joe Mechlinski's Grow Regardless. Waiting around is also a great time to read magazines and printed copies of articles from the web. These tend to be short, rather disposable, and easily digested.
Early in the evening, say around 8 or 9 p.m., I'll grab a glass of wine and sink into something serious. Some nights I'll read well past midnight, other nights I'll stop reading around 10 or 11 p.m. I'll then do a little bit of blogging before plopping myself into bed and reading till I fall asleep.
When I'm not reading, I'm trying to think about what I've just read. I don't pull out a book while I'm in the checkout line at the grocery store, but while everyone else is playing the 'which line is longer game', I'm toying with something I've read recently.
I invest in reading.
Books are expensive, but I made a choice after I graduated from university that I've rarely deviated from: I don't worry about any money spent on books. I'm not alone. Ryan Holiday has basically the same rule (he was also the inspiration for this post).
The first thing I did when I started making money was to call my younger brothers to tell them I'd buy them whatever books they wanted until they graduated high school, as long as they promised to read them.
I don't use the library.
When I get into detailed discussions with people on my book buying habits, they often ask why I never use the library. Think of all the money you'd save, they say.
The truth is I keep most of the books I read and I go back to them. "If you are OK giving the books back after two weeks," writes Ryan Holiday, "you might want to examine what you are reading." I take that one step further: If you're not keeping what you read, you probably want to think about what you're reading and how.
While not impossible, it's harder to have conversations with library books. You can't pull out a pen and write in the margin. You can't highlight something. Conversations with books are one of the ways that I learn.
If you wanted to look something up again in a library book, you'd have to get in your car and drive back to the library. But how much time have you spent now driving back and forth? As Warren Buffett said, "The rich invest in time, the poor invest in money."
Reading more isn't a secret. It comes down to choices.
Warning: Side effects of reading more may include (1) increased intelligence; (2) uncomfortable silence when someone asks you what happened on Breaking Bad last night; (3) better ideas; (4) increased understanding of yourself and others.
More from Farnam Street...
- Elmore Leonard: 10 rules of writing
- Lessons from Machiavelli's The Prince
- Conversations with David Foster Wallace