I keep track of the books I read because I’m a nerd and because I read a lot so I don’t want to end up reading the same book by accident and not realizing until I’m a few chapters in, unless of course I want to re-read a book. I just want it to be on purpose.
I’ve learned a lot about reading and found some things that work for me to read and retain more.
It’s possible to read more books in a year than most people read in their entire life. Most people in the US read less than six books a year.1 We all know that many people don’t read after they leave school.
I’ve read over 400 books in my life and I read 50 books a year on average. I’ve read closer to 80 books a year in the last couple years. One of my co-workers referred to me as a walking encyclopedia. And I’m sure I know just as much useless information as useful, but that’s part of it. Everything you read isn’t pure gold, but the more you read, the better the chances of finding the gold.
So here are some techniques to read more books and to read more often. Even though some of these may seem like every other article on reading goals, I tried to pack as much information as possible in here to give you some unique insight in addition to the basics.
1. Schedule Reading Time
This may seem simple, but we don’t do it. We can keep appointments and meetings, but not regular reading time. It’s all because of how we treat it.
If we treated our reading time like we treat our medical appointments, we’d all read more. And it’s just as important in many ways. Our minds need to stay active and engaged. That’s what reading does.
Schedule a reading time and stick to it like you stick to your regular meal times.
But be honest with yourself. If you’re not a morning person, don’t schedule your reading time in the format. If you can’t read in bed and stay awake at the same time, don’t read right before bed.
2. Know How to Find and Read a Book
There’s actually a book by Mortimer Adler called, How to Read a Book, and I recommend it. It’s worth the read so you can get more out of everything else you read.
Every book isn’t meant to be read the same way. Some books are written to be more like reference manuals, while others are written to be read all the way through.
And there’s no need to read every page of every book. If you only find value in half the chapters, read half the chapters. It’s ok to stop reading a book if you’re not interested in the content. You won’t get much out of it if you’re not engaged. It’s perfectly fine to be a non-finisher when it comes to books. And some books just aren’t full of quality content.
We feel like we have to finish what we start when it comes to reading, which is funny because we all have an easy time giving up on other things, but when it comes to books, we just muddle through it like a task we must complete.
3. Find Your Format
Most of the books I intake are done through audio. I have a 30-minute commute to work each way. I’ve slowly increased the speed of the books I listen to so it’s natural and I’m still able to comprehend what I’m listening to. I typically listen at 2x the speed, which means in one hour a day, I can get through two hours of a book. That means I can listen to most books in three or four days.
I suggest increasing the speed incrementally. Audible makes this easy, because it allows you to listen at anywhere from 0.5x the speed up to 3.5x, increasing by .1 each speed. So you can start by listening at 1.1, and then after a few minutes go to 1.2, and so on. After a few days or weeks, you’ll get to 2x or higher and it won’t sound much faster. If you go straight to 2x or 3x the speed, it’s going to be hard to keep up and you risk an anxiety attack (I’m only slightly joking).
I have an Audible account, but I also use my resource from the local library and get access to free audio and digital books. Tools like Hoopla and RB Digital are likely available at your local library for free. So you don’t even have to pay to read or listen.
If you prefer print books or ebooks, use that format. It’s not cheating to listen to books as opposed to reading them. It’s productive if that’s the format you prefer.
Don’t force it. Find the format your prefer and read naturally.
If you can’t do print books, try audiobooks. Or you may prefer ebooks on your Kindle. Whatever the case, there is a format out there that works for you.
4. Match Your Format to Your Time
You actually have plenty of time to read, but you may not know it
We all know about “Automobile University,” as Zig Ziglar calls it — basically just listening to books while you’re driving. That’s not the only time to listen to books. When I’m doing tedious tasks around the house, I listen to a book. If you go grocery shopping alone, that’s a great time to listen to a book.
You may like to listen to books while you walk, run, or workout, or you may not. Again, don’t force it, but that may be the time you need to get through some books.
If you want to read, you’ll find the time. It could even be as simple as waking up 30 minutes earlier and reading before work. Or reading right before you go to bed. There’s no right or wrong, only personal preference.
5. Set Reading Goals
Every article on reading more is going to tell you to set goals. Most productivity articles in general will say the same. They may even refer to all the studies on goals that didn’t actually happen. 2 Regardless of whether they happened or not, there are benefits to goals.
In general, I’m a bigger fan of systems and habits than goals, but when it comes to reading, I set goals. And then my systems and habits make the goals happen.
It’s not about meticulously tracking my goals; it’s more about the motivation that comes. If I’m trying to decide whether to listen to music or a book and I am one book behind on my goal, I pick the book. If I don’t set goals, I don’t have the motivation to read the book. It’s that simple.
You can track the books you read with Goodreads. You can set a yearly reading challenge, which makes it fun and easy to see your progress.
6. Focus on Retention Rate, Not Quota
Most of these tips are to help you read more books, but reaching a certain quota shouldn’t be the goal. The goal is to retain as much information as possible, so it’s important to pick the right books in the first place and get as much as you can out of them.
Some books are deep and may require weeks to read, even if they’re short. Some books are simpler and can be read quickly. Know the difference before you start reading a new book so you can gauge whether it’s a quick read or a deep read.
Further Book Reading
- A, Watson. 2019, October 14. Average Number of Books by Consumers in the US in 2018. Statista.
- R, Kanaat. 2016, April 18. The Harvard MBA Business School Study on Goal Setting. Wanderlust Worker.