How I picked up a reading habit in 2017, and you can too.

When you look at people who are tremendously successful, there is often one characteristic that they tend to share — they read a lot. They also point it as one of the best ways to learn and grow as a person — which is one of the main reasons why I wanted to make reading a more common activity in my life.

These last couple of years, I’ve been rather underwhelmed with the amount of reading I’ve been able to do. I’ve always enjoyed reading, but as the years went by, it kept taking a backseat to other things, even things that I would on hindsight consider a large waste of time.

I’d buy a book that I wanted to read, and it would just sit there on my shelf, looking at me — and I’d mean to read it, but I just wouldn’t get around to do it. Whenever I took a trip, I’d always make it a point to pack a book in my backpack with the certainty that I would get lots of reading done, and on the return trip it would still be there, left untouched and unread.

So what changed?

I decided that in 2017 I would make reading a priority, so I set an objective to go out and read 24 books until the year was over, and I tried many things to make that a reality: Audiobooks, Speed Reading Courses, E-Books, you name it, I tried it.

Some of those things worked out well, others…not so much. But as the dust settled at the end of the year, I’d read a total of 49 books, and I’m pretty happy about that. I still think that I can do better, but it’s been a great journey, filled with learnings and growth, and definitely a habit that I want to continue to nurture and grow in the years to come.

You might say: “I’m a very busy person and don’t have that kind of time!”
Keep in mind that this was in a year when I worked an average of around 80 hours per week split between a day job and weekend gigs, helped organise a TEDx Event (@TEDxIstAlameda) and had a newborn baby. If I could do it — I’m sure you can too!

In case you’d like to try and get some more reading done for 2018 as well, I thought I’d share some of the things that worked for me:

Make reading a priority and eliminate distractions.

I always ended up reading less than I planned to before, because other things would just “get in the way”. Many times, those things would be endlessly scrolling through Instagram or Facebook (they do have some of the world’s best Product people working to get you to do that I suppose). One of the first things I did was take stock of what habits and actions led me to waste time, and try to minimise or replace them with reading.

So I deleted most of the social networking and “time wasting” apps from my phone so I wouldn’t “just open up Facebook” and then spend 3 hours scrolling through my feed.

Streaks for iOS

I also decided to set a daily reading goal for myself of at least 30 minutes, and tracked it on a daily basis (This was also something that I picked up from one of the books I read — #25). No matter what was happening, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss my daily goal.

I would usually try to get my reading done first thing in the morning as I woke up (Something that I also picked up from a book I read — #28), and in case I couldn’t, I would find some way to make up for it later in the day.

I also made sure that I kept my phone out of my bedroom (I left it in the living room at night) and left a book on my bedside instead, which meant I made it easier for myself to read before sleeping as well as when I woke up, rather than waste time browsing my phone.

Set a goal and measure your progress on a regular basis.

Setting a goal and regularly measuring my results on a regular basis helped me ensure that I remained focused on hitting my objectives. And I honestly got a kick out of seeing my progress bar increase as I read more and more books.

I personally used Goodreads (It’s free) to track my reading, check ratings and keep a list of books that I’d like to read in the future. It has a great Reading Challenge feature as well.

Always have a book at hand.

If you always have a book on you to read, you can make the most out of your time and get some reading time in. Waiting for the Subway? No problem. Stuck waiting in line? No worries. Got some dead time? No sweat.

Author Stephen King famously takes a book wherever he goes and tries to get 5 hours of reading done every day. Maybe we can’t all be like Mr. King, but we can certainly try!

At any one time, I’d be reading 2–3 different books at the same time. One on Audiobook (I use Audible) which I would listen to whenever I was commuting to work, walking my dog or washing the dishes. One paper book that I would keep at home, and one paper book that I would keep at the office. This meant that whenever I had some time, I would have a book available to get some reading done.

Other things that worked and didn’t:

  • Complex books tend to not work well in audiobook form. For instance, on a recommendation (Thanks Marc Sieberger!) I picked up Scale (#43 on my list) as an audiobook. It was very tough to keep up.
    Biographies tend to work amazingly — you can even up the reading speed to 1,25x or 1,5x if you feel comfortable.
  • I took a speed reading course, but found that it really didn’t do much for me.
  • As a way to keep passages that I’d like to revisit, or to share them with colleagues or friends — I’d take a photo with my phone and keep it in a separate folder, or use the iPhone’s markup photo edit feature to add highlights to a specific part.

My next goal? I’d like to read 60 books in 2018.

I want to overtake Bill Gates who reads 50 books per year, and get to learn even more about things that interest me this year. Wish me luck!

My reading list during 2017:

  1. The Entrepreneurial Bible to Venture Capital: Inside Secrets from the Leaders in the Startup Game
  2. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
  3. You — According to Them: Uncovering the blind spots that impact your reputation and career
  4. The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future
  5. Do Humankind’s Best Days Lie Ahead?: The Munk Debates
  6. Behavioural Economics Saved My Dog
  7. Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood
  8. Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations
  9. The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips and Advice for Dads-to-Be
  10. The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil
  11. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise
  12. The Business Blockchain: Promise, Practice, and Application of the Next Internet Technology
  13. The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds
  14. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE
  15. Term Sheets and Valuations: An inside Look at the Intricacies of Term Sheets and Valuations
  16. something to food about: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs
  17. Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business
  18. Founder’s Pocket Guide: Cap Tables
  19. The Ducks in the Bathroom Are Not Mine: A Decade of Irreverence and Procrastination
  20. Infographica: The World As You Have Never Seen It Before
  21. Rich Dad, Poor Dad
  22. Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction
  23. The Boy Who Followed Ripley (Ripley, #4)
  24. Founder’s Pocket Guide: Startup Valuation
  25. Superhuman by Habit: A Guide to Becoming the Best Possible Version of Yourself, One Tiny Habit at a Time
  26. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
  27. Leaders Eat Last
  28. The Miracle Morning for Entrepreneurs
  29. Thinking, Fast and Slow
  30. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
  31. The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids
  32. A Field Guide to Lies and Statistics: A Neuroscientist on How to Make Sense of a Complex World
  33. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen
  34. Riding Shotgun: The Role of the COO
  35. Os Bebés Também Querem Dormir
  36. Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It
  37. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
  38. Intercom on Starting Up
  39. Mastering the VC Game: A Venture Capital Insider Reveals How to Get from Start-up to IPO on Your Terms
  40. How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less
  41. Venture Deals
  42. Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter
  43. Scale: The Search for Simplicity and Unity in the Complexity of Life, from Cells to Cities, Companies to Ecosystems, Milliseconds to Millennia
  44. Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive
  45. ZMOT: Winning the Zero Moment of Truth
  46. Way of the Wolf: Become a Master Closer with Straight Line Selling
  47. Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five
  48. Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead
  49. You Need a Budget: The Proven System for Breaking the Paycheck to Paycheck Cycle, Getting Out of Debt, and Living the Life You Want

Average Books Read per Month: 4,1 
Average Pages per Book Read: 269
Average Pages Read per Month: 1095
Average Pages Read per Day: 36

My 5 Favourite Books from 2017 (In no particular order):

Born a Crime

An enthralling story of Trevor’s upbringing in post-apartheid South Africa.

It will make you laugh, and it will nearly make you cry at times, sprinkled with doses of bewilderment as to what things human beings are capable of in a racially divided society.

Listened to it as an audiobook, which is narrated by Trevor himself with an amazing performance.

The Undoing Project

Tells the amazing story of Economics Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman and Mathematical Psychologist Amos Tversky.

Michael Lewis really does a great job of bringing us into their story and into their friendship.

Starting with the tale of their arduous childhoods — to their collaboration that resulted in some incredibly notable findings for the fields of Economics and Psychology.

Thinking, Fast and Slow

A book that details much of the work that helped earn Kahneman his Nobel Prize, and that tells the story of a non-rational economic agent, that is filled with irrationalities and quirks. Humans rather than Econs.

It helps see the traditional discipline of economics in an entirely different light, and it is definitely an extremely interesting read.

Shoe Dog

“Shoe Dog” tells the incredible story of the life of Phil Knight, along with the creation and growth of NIKE.

It’s an incredible read for anyone who is an entrepreneur, to see how what is such a huge business today started the way it did, and just how close it all came to crumbling along the way — several times.

Never Split the Difference

Whilst not being a “Sales Guy”, I’ve read at least a dozen sales books, yet none of them were close to being as influential as this one.

Written by an ex Lead FBI hostage negotiator, it is chock full of readily applicable advice, that is both simple to understand and incredibly powerful.

I immediately ordered 4 extra copies for our office when I was done reading it. It’s THAT good.

Got any great recommendations for books that I should read next? Please let me know in the notes below.

If you’d like to follow my reading journey — add me as a friend on Goodreads.

Happy reading.