This is the short version of the post if you, like me, are a lazy fucker and are just looking for the quick trick:
- Read between 20 and 30 pages every day.
- Split your reading into two or more sessions so that each session takes 15 to 30 minutes tops.
- Build up the habit of reading every day by pairing it up with other activities, such as commuting on the train or whilst you are having breakfast.
- If everything goes well you will read between 24 to 36 books in a year.
Yep, it is really that simple.
Now, if you want to know EXACTLY how to do it, keep reading...
When I meet new people they are often impressed to know that I read, on average, 20 to 30 books a year.
Inevitably, they all ask me the same question: "Where do you find the time to read so much?"
My answer is also inevitably the same: "I actually don't read much, just a couple dozen pages a day, but I do it every day."
The compound effect
A couple dozen pages a day might not seem much, but it compounds pretty quickly.
If you read 27 pages a day, every day, then in one year you will read 10,000 pages. If the average book is 300 pages long, then that big number translates into 33 books in a year.
33 books in a year. All from a couple dozen pages a day.
So if time is your biggest concern, you are fooling yourself: you probably already read the same amount (if not more) every day, but in the form of tweets, facebooks updates, endless Whatsapp messages, and other useless crap.
So, if it is THAT simple, why isn't everyone doing it?
And here comes the really difficult part.
If life was as easy as simply setting goals, we would all go to the gym regularly, play two or three instruments and retire at 55.
One thing I've learned is that the big difference between successful people (whatever successful means for you) and everyone else, is that the former group identify habits that enable them to be better and are disciplined to stick to them. Everything else is mostly irrelevant.
Let me explain this point.
If we exclude extreme examples (eg: people with incredible natural talents or weird genetics), given any set of skills, the average difference between two random individuals is usually pretty small. In other words, there is no substantial genetic or otherwise difference between you and Warren Buffet when it comes to investing acumen. Both you and Warren Buffet have the potential to understand extremely complicated financial modelling and esoteric acronyms (unless you are a banker, in which case your intelligence might actually be under average).
Yet, Buffet is the one who gets up every day and reads a couple of tons of financial reports and investment books. He's been doing it every day, for the last 50 years. He understood how to play the long game. He knew that small but consistent commitment over a long period of time would result in disproportionate outcomes. His discipline has been his weapon. Warren Buffet wasn't born a finance genius. He became one.
For most people reading books is a binary activity: they are either in a reading phase (that is, usually, the holidays) or they simply don't read any book at all (that is, usually, the rest of the year). If you want to read 30 books a year you must become disciplined, get out of this way of thinking and do it every day.
How to build a habit
Everyone wants to know the silver bullet to build good habits. The answer, I'm afraid, is that there isn't one. However, the "experts" in this field agree that a new habit is much more likely to stick if you associate it with an existing activity.
Normally, I split my reading time into two sessions: one in the morning and one in the late afternoon/evening.
I tend to read 10 to 15 pages per session. For most people in the world that takes 15 to 20 minutes.
The morning session is deeply ingrained in my morning routine: I wake up, I have breakfast and then I read my book while sipping my black coffee. It's become such a therapeutic and relaxing activity that I genuinely feel bad if I don't do it.
The second session usually happens when I stop working at 6 PM or, in the worst case, in bed before going to sleep. This has also the extra benefit of discouraging the unhealthy habit of using electronic devices in bed.
On top of these two sessions, I read pretty much every time I'm waiting (eg: for the dentist, the doctor, for Vicky to be ready, in airport lounges, etc) or commuting.
Granted, I don't ACTUALLY read every day. Also, 27 pages is an average. Sometimes I read more, other times I read only a few pages. But it doesn't matter: if you remember only one thing from this article it should be that consistency always trumps perfection. A system that allows you to achieve ok results 80% of the time is better than one that allows you to achieve great results 20% of the time.
Conclusions and a blueprint for perpetual incremental improvement
A very interesting side effect of building up this habit is that it has given me a blueprint (and the confidence) to build many more habits. When you truly grasp the concepts of compound effect and incremental improvement, you suddenly realise that you don't need to go all-in with your time (and resources) to create a new habit. Simply start, do little-by-little, develop consistency and discipline first. The results might be slower to start with, but one day you will look back and you won't believe the progress you have made.
Ask yourself: how would my life be different if I read 10X more books?