How To Read Way More Books (And, Thus, Know Way More Stuff)

Humanity has learned a lot of stuff. Most of it is in books. So we should read more of them. Here's how.

While many problems are new to 2013—what, exactly, is twerking?—most are quite old, like having a meaningful career or being able to do your best work. So if we want to be able to address our various ignorances, we need to hack our days to get more knowledge—which is another way of saying read a ton of books.

Ryan Holiday, the Fast Company contributor, best-selling author, controversial cat, and thoroughly well-read dude, sees this as a major motivator for unadulterated bookworming:

Human beings have been recording their knowledge in book form for more than 5,000 years. That means that whatever you’re working on right now, whatever problem you're struggling with, is probably addressed in some book somewhere by someone a lot smarter than you. Save yourself the trouble of learning from trial and error. Find that point. Benefit from that perspective.

Yet it's easy to feel as though we never have time to read. So here are a few ways to sculpt that time into our days.

1) Always have a book.

Reading is work, "really important work," says Farnham Street blogger Shane Parrish. Why? Because if we profess to be knowledge workers, we need to always be expanding our knowledge. Which requires having always having a knowledge-expanding read readily available.

How? Parrish gets religious about it:

Carry a book with you at all times. Every time you get a second, crack it open. Don’t install games on your phone–that’s time you could be reading. When you’re eating, read. When you’re on the train, in the waiting room, at the office, read. It’s work, really important work. Don’t let anyone ever let you feel like it’s not.

2) Make it easy: Have it handy on your device.

Research into user experience shows us that if people are going to use an app, their initial interaction with it has so be easy, intuitive, and gratifying or they won't come back. So let's make reading just as handy—apps like Pocket and Readability are only a couple that let you keep a knapsack of brainfood ready on your phone.

3) Make it tactile.

But doing your reading on a screen can cause eye strain (especially if you already have it from toiling at your computer all day).

This is a good argument for keeping a paperback in your bag: Your eyes can alight with delight upon the printed page—and research shows that your brain maps the topography of the book as your read it, which is why you can remember the content of physical books more readily than on a screen.

4) Make it easy: light stuff for light times.

Parrish, the Farnham Street blogger, knows that if he only has a few minutes to spare, he avoids reading anything that requires a lot of "context switching" to return to—like hyperrealistic novels or cranium-opening nonfiction.

5) Make it hard: Know when to let it sink in.

But the harder reads—like harder jobs—can be more fulfilling. As in: Try reading Brené Brown's Daring Greatly without being absolutely overwhelmed. So to avoid crying on the subway, maybe save that one for before bed.

6) Make it a habit.

Changing our default behavior is super hard—ask anyone who's tried to permanently lose weight. Research into the way that habits become a part of people's lives gives us a goal to start with: a task starts to feel automatic after you've done it for 66 days.

7) Keep your schedule clear.

Warren Buffett promotes the hard-to-do practice of keeping your schedule clear—relatedly, he's a major reader. So if we're spending all day in unnecessary meetings we don't need to be in then we can't get our work done, which includes getting those pages in.

8) Cut away time-sucks.

Reading is a by-product of lifestyle, and lifestyle can be designed. Parrish talks about how since he lives downtown, walking to the grocery store only takes a few minutes—so he's not under the rule of an unruly commute, making for more reading time. Plus, he doesn't trifle with television. And he doesn't spend much time shopping.

So getting more time to read is like getting more time to think: We need only to get rigorous about organizing our days for success.

Hat tip: Farnham Street

[Image: Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski]

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  • fjfish

    I used to do this but stopped. Mainly because you need to get your head out of itself and look at what's going on around you. If you're buried in a book you're not participating in the world. To understand something you need to try to explain it so someone else - which requires you interacting with others and being human.

    I do read all the time, but not in this manic way any more. It's good for you to stop and relax your mind, it's like any other muscle and needs to recover.

  • Laura M.

    Great post. For some reason I used to only read 1 book at a time, and wouldn't start a new one until I finished it. This limited my reading. Now I have 3 or 4 books going at a time, and get much more reading done - as I can pick up the book that best matches my current mood, mental acuity level, energy level, etc.

  • Chim Aaron

    I'm the same. I tend to lose interest in one book and get drawn to another. I always feel that I must force myself to finish one before I start reading the other. But of course as you say this usually results in me not reading at all. 

  • IDriveMyTractorInPearls

    We live out in the middle of nowhere and so we do spend quite a bit of time in the car.   We listen to a TON of audiobooks.   The kids' vocabulary, ability to grasp difficult concepts, as well as grasp nuances in language and subtext (Mark Twain for instance) has greatly improved, as has their ability to read aloud, inflect and process unknown words.    If the idea is to ingest the information, do it in any way necessary - old school paper, ereader, audio.

  • Adam Shields

    That study about needing physical book to help memory was based on research from 1971.  I am not sure that is really relevant to today's ereaders.  And eink ereaders have virtually the same eyestrain as a paperback.  

  • aegrant71

    I read whatever I can (magazines, novels, newspapers even comic books), whenever I can (at lunch, on the elliptical and most definitely in my home library (the bathroom))