“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” ― Lemony Snicket
I wasn’t much of a book lover in my teenage and college years, but in my early twenties I became a voracious reader. As my writing and film career began to grow, I found myself busier than ever, but I’ve continued to read ~50 books per year for nearly a decade. And I’m not a fast reader: the average American reads 250–400 words per minute (WPM) and I’m on the low end.
Thankfully, reading 50 books per year really isn’t that difficult, even if you’re a slow reader like myself. All it takes is a little discipline and a few quick environmental tweaks.
But first, a math equation:
50 books x 50,000 words/book = 2.5 million words2.5 million words / 250 WPM = 10,000 minutes10,000 minutes / 60 each hour = 167 hours167 hours / 365 days = 27.5 minutes per day
So that’s it. You need to invest just 27.5 minutes per day in order to read 50 books per year. For those who read 400 WPM, you could read 80 books per year without breaking a sweat. Here’s how I do it:
1. FIND the Time
Non-fiction books are the perfect fit for “Found Time,” because they’re typically broken down into independent sections. I’ve found that you can easily reclaim 27.5 minutes per day from lost time alone.
Yes, we went right there. Imagine for a moment you had two full weeks to go on a reading holiday. Just imagine how many books you’d get through. Well, your bathroom invites you to do just that — the typical American male spends 14 days per year on the can. While you definitely don’t want to sit on the toilet for any longer than necessary — Brits spend an average of 3 hours and 9 minutes on the loo each week —there’s really no point to staring at your shower curtain when you could, say, meditate on the shortness of life with Seneca or discover the absolutely epic escapee slave Josiah Henson. (I often read while brushing my teeth, too— not only do a learn something interesting, but I typically spend far more time brushing.)
PLEASE: Only engage in bathroom reading with books you own. Your fellow library patrons thank you.
Whoever invented the audiobook should be knighted and sainted immediately. Billions of hours of commuting are now potentially being less-wasted as people consume something deeper than talk radio. For long trips and book tours I stock up on novels, but when I’m home I tend to pick out non-fiction books that I can enjoy in between meetings and groceries runs, or even simply when I’m stuck at a traffic light.
Working out? Audiobooks
Walking the dog? Audiobooks
Cooking dinner? Audiobooks
Vacuuming/dusting/sweeping/mopping/doing dishes? Audiobooks
NOTE: Ignore this section if you can spend that time building a relationship with a friend or family member over these activities. Alternately, you can use this time to listen to a book together and discuss it afterward.
Teddy Roosevelt wrote 47 books, hundreds of articles, and more than 150,000 letters in his lifetime, despite spending the majority of his adult life in elected office. How? He picked up the fragments of time — little minute gaps in his packed schedule — to pen a few words here and a sentence or two there. Over the decades, it led to a world-improving body of work.
I keep two physical books in my car and never go into a store without one. While everyone else is texting in the grocery line, I’m reading the Analects by Confucius or The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides (a personal favorite of Roosevelt’s.)
I also keep several books within arm’s reach in my office, too. Waiting for that file to upload on email? Read a few stanzas of the man considered to be Machiavelli’s superior. Waiting for everyone else to join that conference call? Meditate on an anecdote from Mastery.
2. MAKE the Time
I find that fiction is far more difficult to dip in and out of, so you’ll need to carve a slice of dedicated reading time if you want to fully engage with the characters and plot. Thankfully, you likely have lots of time to spare: The average single American spends 600+ hours on social media and 1600+ hours watching TV/Netflix/etc per year — enough to over 600 books per year. (Or just, you know, Montaigne’s colossal Essays.) Ditch the screen and re-invest the time:
- Substitute one show for one fiction book series
- Substitute an hour on social media for the lessons of history. (possibly the best one-hour swap you’ll make in your entire life.)
- Substitute a weekly movie for a two-hour biography session
- The most important habit: read in bed every single night. It’s really good for you, and it’s a huge part of how I take in 20,000+ pages each year.
HACK: Don’t like craning your neck? Buy a pair of periscope glasses. (It’s the best $12 I’ve ever spent.)
3. Change the Environment
So: Leave books EVERYWHERE, like an Easter egg hunt. I keep multiple books in all sorts of places:
- in the bathroom
- in the car
- by my bedside
- by my clothes drawers
- in my backpack
- on my desk
- in every other room of the house
PRO TIP: Leave multiple books in each location. At least one fiction and two non-fiction in different genres. This way way you leave no room for excuses, and can grab whichever suits your current mood.
Go crazy with this idea. Friends who visit should find books in the most random of places. The garage, the laundry room, your dining tent, your apartment balcony.
Be intentional. Books are the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning. Books are always within arm’s reach of my desk and car. Books are the last thing I see before I turn out the light. It’s created a culture of reading in our home. Do the same and you’ll find it nearly impossible not to read 50+ books each year.
Thanks for Reading… Want More?
So now you know how to consume more books… want to big-up the creative side of your life? Download The Effectiveness Equation, my free, short, highly-actionable eBook on how to consistently create your best work. (I’ll also send you 50+ book recommendations.)