In 2020, I read 80 books. The year before, I read 97. In fact, since the beginning of 2017, I’ve read 323 books in their entirety.
It’s changed my life.
Prior to 2016, I was very undisciplined and unfocused in my reading. I would read bits and pieces of books, but would rarely finish them. Of course, I would read articles in magazines or newspapers or on the Internet, and I still do. But my reading was reactive and completely inconsistent.
A colleague of mine challenged me on this, and I decided to do better. And starting in 2017, I made it a goal and priority to be more disciplined and intentional in my reading habits.
And in this article, I’m going to share what I’ve learned in this journey. If you will follow these tips, you too can become a much more prolific reader.
Decide your purpose for reading.
Do you want to read more? If so, why? For what purpose?
In my case, there were four reasons driving my decision in early 2017 to make reading a renewed priority in my life. They were:
- Professional & Leadership Development — I wanted to give the organization I serve my very best, and I didn’t want my “best” to be a static ceiling that never moved upward. And as the old saying goes: “Leaders are readers.”
- Better Thinking — I wanted to improve my creativity and critical thinking skills.
- Improved Writing — I enjoy writing, and knew that reading more books would help me become a better writer.
- Self-Discipline — I wanted to prove to myself that I’m a “finisher.” I had become lazy in my reading habits. No more. If the book was helpful to my life and goals, I would read it in its entirety.
Your purpose for reading should determine which books you read as well as how many. Without such a clear purpose, you’ll never be fully invested in reading more and you’ll likely have little focus in your reading itself.
Set clear goals for your reading.
At the beginning of 2017, I decided on a goal of 50 books. There are 52 weeks in a year, and I figured one book a week (with two weeks off) was doable.
I decided I would only count books in which I read or listened to 100% of the contents — cover to cover, word for word. (Though I admit that I skimmed the Acknowledgments and Endorsements sections).
This would be in addition to my general or miscellaneous reading. I would still read articles in newspapers, magazines, blogs, and on various websites. I would still do my Bible reading. And I would still read bits and pieces of various books — including books that I may start to read, but decide “This isn’t for me” and put them aside. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t count any of this reading toward my goal.
The only books that would count toward my 50 books per year were books that I read in their entirety (other than the Index, Appendices, Acknowledgments, and/or Endorsements sections).
I would read short books and long books. It wasn’t my goal to cheat with short books, but I found mixing in books of various lengths helped keep me going. Besides, there are some worthwhile short books out there such as The Right to Lead by John Maxwell (103 pages) or The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson (97 pages).
I also made the decision to read both fiction and non-fiction. In the course of my life, I’ve preferred non-fiction. You learn more by reading non-fiction, after all. But reading fiction carries some important benefits too. Besides, reading novels helped give my brain some “breaks” in between the non-fiction books.
Most importantly, the “why” behind my reading goals gave me focus, especially with non-fiction. I chose the books I was going to read based on what I wanted to learn and how I wanted to grow as a person.
In your case, consider what areas of your life you wish to improve or what skills you wish to learn. Select books based on that.
Carve out 30–60 minutes each day
While I’ve missed a few days, I generally carve out at least 30–60 minutes each day to focus 100% on reading. It’s an appointment I make with myself and I do my best not to let anything interfere with that appointment.
Obviously, we are all running our own race and each person has their own unique situation. To the best extent you can, make an appointment with yourself for reading.
If you do this consistently every day, this adds up. On the low end, the average person can read 200 words per minute. That’s 6000 words every 30 minutes. And, again, this is on the lower end of the scale.
If you read for 30 minutes each day for 300 days (that allows you “miss” 65 days), then in a year’s time, you will have read at least 1,800,000 words!
Depending on the size of the books you read, you could easily finish 25–40 books per year just by carving out 30 minutes a day for a mere 300 days out of the year!
Carry a book (or have your reading app) with you at all times.
I read most of my books digitally these days. I have my iPad or iPhone with me at all times. And I have the Kindle app on both. Amazon has made a lot of money over the years thanks to my Kindle purchases. I have hundreds of books available to read on Kindle alone. I have a few dozen on NOOK and I’m also a Scribd subscriber.
What this means is that, wherever I am, I can pull out my smartphone or iPad and start reading. Give me a chunk of downtime, and I’m often reading.
If you prefer a physical book over a digital book, that’s fine too. Just make sure you have a book with you. Have it in your car, your purse, or in your jacket pocket.
You’ll be surprised how many opportunities you’ll have throughout the week to read if you have the means available to do so when those opportunities arise.
You can listen to books too.
Not only did I read It really helped me to rotate between reading and listening. Variety for the brain is good.
Listening to books also helps make the drive time beneficial. Since my commute to work averages 45–60 minutes each way, I was able to get sometimes up to 2 hours of listening time (with the speed at 1.5x or even 2.0x).
Something I’m working on is walking more. And I enjoy putting in the headphones and exercising my brain at the same time I exercise my heart and my legs.
Not only can I listen to quite a few books a year while I walk or drive, but I also find that listening to books helps me sometimes read when I need a little extra “push.”
When my brain was feeling tired and it was hard to make myself read or concentrate, I would sometimes read the words while listening to them at the same time. This helped get me in the “zone” and it also helped with retention.
Be willing to abandon or temporarily set aside books you’re not enjoying.
Let’s face it. Some books just aren’t going to grab you or hold your attention. If this is the case, it’s okay to set them aside — maybe temporarily, perhaps permanently.
Unless you’re reading for a school or work assignment, this is all about you. There are no rules. And if you force yourself to read a book that you really don’t like or that’s not working for you, it will make the experience painful for you and will probably diminish any benefit you’re receiving anyway.
Read books that help you and/or that you enjoy.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
This is a big one. I have a few friends and several acquaintances who put my reading to shame. While I average between 60 to 100 books a year (having never topped 100), I know people who read hundreds of books a year.
And I say “Good for them!”
It’s not about comparing yourself to others. It’s about your life and your journey.
If you want to read 20 books a year, read 20 books. If you want to read just 10, then read those 10. And make them count. If you set a goal to read 60, and you end up reading only 40, that’s great. That’s a success. You read 40 books!
Don’t put any unnecessary pressure on yourself with comparisons to others or unrealistic expectations on yourself.
This is about you.
It’s okay to read a few books at the same time.
I’ve not been formally diagnosed with ADD or anything, but sometimes I have a difficult time just focusing on one book — and only that one book — until it’s completed. Rather than fight that, I embrace it.
That means I’m sometimes working my way through six or seven books at the same time. In a few instances, I’ve had a dozen books going at the same time. And you know what? That’s okay.
There is no one grading me. There is no law I’m breaking or some kind of objective standard of knowledge acquisition that I’m violating. I roll with it.
So if you’re reading one book and you feel drawn to start another, go ahead. Giving your brain the option to jump back and forth between books takes the pressure off. And at least helps me to keep going.
It keeps it all fun and relaxing.
Track your reading.
It’s good to track your progress. When you finish a book, mark that down. This lets you know how you’re doing with respect to your goals. It helps keep you on track.
It also gives you a little dopamine encouragement each time you finish a book.
I track my reading on Goodreads. You can use whatever works for you. If I weren’t using Goodreads, I’d probably use an Excel spreadsheet or maybe even just a Word file. Whatever works for you is fine.
Reading more will change your life.
Reading over 300 books has helped me in many ways. The novels give me a mini-vacation and help relieve stress. They also improve my vocabulary and help me empathize with various character types.
Of course, the non-fiction books have helped me acquire more knowledge. They’ve also strengthened my thinking skills and given me a boost to my confidence. I don’t just feel wiser. I know I’m wiser than I was four years ago.
If you choose to read more, I believe you’ll find similar benefits in your life. Nevertheless, reading must be about you. And whatever you decide, I wish you the best in your reading journey.