Three Ideas to Improve Your Reading

For several years, as part of my end-of-year review, I take a look at my reading1 and make plans for the year to come. I’ve written down some ideas from my process that you may find useful. Of course, most of the advice is not originally mine: I learned about these ideas by reading about how some giants –call them virtual mentors if you like– do their learning.

1. Have a list of the books you want to read this year

Compiling a list of the books you want to read during the year has several benefits. Taking the time to build a reading list is a signal to yourself of the importance you give to reading and more in general to gaining knowledge.

As soon as you start adding books to your list, you’ll soon realize that the number of books you can read in a year is finite. You will need to prune your list, which at least in my case is a painful process. But it’s absolutely necessary. Not only will it help you make the best use of your time. Sending books to a not-this-year list will also force you to think and gain clarity about what topics you really care about.

The list will also help you avoid falling to the song of the sirens and pick the latest and shiny book you learned about some days ago. When you finish reading a book, you just look at your curated list of books and decide what’s next. Of course this doesn’t mean that your list must be cast in iron. But it should be a clear guide of where are you investing your time (and money).

While in the process of deciding what to read, book recommendations can be of great help. There are a lot of sources for this, you’ll find some ideas at the end of this article.

2. Have a system in place so you read every day

One of the best tactics I’ve found is Shane Parrish’s advice of reading 25 pages every day. If you are reading just for the pleasure of reading, keeping track of the pages you read every day may seem anticlimatic to you. But if you read to gain knowledge, and like most humans are bound to time constraints, then reading 25 pages per day will help you achieve a reasonable pace and read on average three books every two months].

It also helps to block a specific time on for reading in your calendar2. Best if it’s at the same time of the day. This will help you build the habit of reading3, it will help you focus faster on what you are reading. If for whatever reason you break your reading chain and miss reading some days, try to restart your routine as soon as posible.

Few things are as rewarding as making friends with the eminent dead. Reading isn’t something to be done once a week to check a box; it’s something to do every day. —Shane Parrish

3. Connecting the dots

We live in an age where finding information is not a problem. Connecting ideas and coming up with new ones, however, does not happen just by collecting information. Although for 2019 I’ve set a reading goal that is challenging for me, if I have to sacrifice the number of books I read to gain deeper understanding of a topic, so be it. That’s one of the reasons of why I’m not into fast reading techniques, or use executive summaries of books.

Learning how to take better notes, and anything that helps you grow a “second brain” is something you should always be interested in.

In my case, in my reading process I make heavy use of highlights and notes. After finishing a book, I reread the notes and highlights and incorporate them into my knowledge system. This is process is time consuming, but is totally worth it.

4. (Bonus) Where to find books

There are lots of resouces that can help you find good titles to read. Depending on the topics you are interested in, you may find the following list useful.

  • The book review section of The Gates Notes, Bill Gates’ personal page. Bill Gates is a long time avid reader, and writes reviews of the books he finds interesting.
  • Brainpickings. Maria Popova started Brainpickings this living monument to intellectual hunger for cross-disciplinary curiosity and self-directed learning in 2006 as a weekly email that went out to seven friend.
  • Taylor Pearson’s newsletter. Taylor is author of The End of Jobs, and writes about innovation, productivity, and the blockchain. Once a month he sends an email titled_Favorite Books, Articles, and Quotes_to his subscribers. You can also check his book notes.
  • Farnam’s Street Blog, by Shane Parrish.
  • Ryan Holliday’s Reading List and Favorite Read List for every year. Ryan is a writer and media strategist, author of several bestsellers about marketing, culture, and the human condition.
  • Derek Sivers notes to more than 250 books.

You don’t have to agree with me about the importance of reading. People may have different priorities and motivation. However, we live in an age where self-learning becomes more relevant every day. As less people read books, reading becomes a real competitive advantage. It’s a very effective way of standing on the shoulders of giants.

Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash.

  1. The results for 2018 are mixed. On one hand, I read some very good books, three of which stand out: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval N. Harari; Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, by Walter Isaacson; and Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. On the other hand, because I didn’t stick to my reading routine, I read less books than the previous year. Non-fiction reading gets a space in my calendar. It’s a more conscious reading. Novels, I read them on my spare time, like before going to sleep. 
  2. In my case, if something is not in my calendar, it has a 99% percent probability it won’t get done. 
  3. Resolutions or goals without habits to support them are most likely to fail in short time. The exception may be situations where emotions about the resolution are strong enough to amass enough will to cross the dip and begin forming an habit. 
knowledge learning reading reading-list

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