For years, you’ve wanted to read more books.
You want to devour the thriller they’re adapting into a summer blockbuster.
You want to discover for yourself the nuggets in that bestselling business book everyone recommends.
But no matter how hard you try, reading eludes you.
Your bookshelf is littered with volumes you’ve never touched. You haven’t checked a title off your reading list in months.
While high achievers ascribe their success to reading, you pine away.
But the truth is that just about anyone can read a book a week—or even more.
Sound like a dream? It’s not.
Why I Wrote This
I’m Stephen Roe.
Like a lot of folks, I stopped reading when I finished school.
For longer than I’d like to admit, the last book I had read was a textbook.
Then I decided to get serious about my reading list. Even with a demanding full-time job, side projects, and a busy schedule, I started reading at least book a week—often more.
Today, I’m pulling back the curtain on the whole operation. This guide has every strategy I know to become a freakishly productive reader.
Whether that’s reading 52 books in 52 weeks or just finishing that stack of paperbacks on your nightstand, you’re covered.
Just read on.
Chapter 1:Finding Time to Read
I've talked to a lot of people who wish they read more books. The #1 barrier holding them back is that they can't find the time. No other problem even comes close.
Of course, you know as well as I do that we don't find time to read, we make time.
What you might not know? Making time is actually pretty easy.
Even with a busy schedule, you probably have mountains of untapped opportunities. With a few minor tweaks, you can find hundreds of hours each year for reading. The secret is knowing where to look.
This chapter will teach you how.
The four best (and only) ways to become a prolific reader
If you struggle to find time for reading, it's probably because your strategy isn't very clear.
If you're like a lot of people, you grab a book and keep it on your nightstand. You might carry it with you to read during spare moments, and you probably intend on reading it at different times during the day.
But at the end of a month, you've barely made progress. What's going on?
The problem is that you have to understand there are four types of reading. If you don't recognize that and plan for it, you'll probably fail.
Those four types of reading can fit in lots of ways, but each is distinct. If you don't analyze which strategy you're using, it will be hard to stay on target.
You schedule time to read.
- Predictable and consistent
- Allows for tremendous focus
- Provides lots of reading time
- Requires building a new schedule
- Diverts time from non-reading activities
- Strains willpower until it becomes a habit
This is a great strategy if:
- You have a consistent schedule, at least during part of the day
- During reading time, you have few or no interruptions.
This might not work if:
- You travel frequently or have a daily schedule that changes frequently
- You can’t remove or replace 10 minutes of activities in your schedule
Where to make time:
- Morning routine
- Before bed
- After a regular event, like getting home from work
You read while doing another activity.
- Requires little “extra time”
- Consistent and predictable
- Requires little willpower
- Lacks focus
- Might be lower in comprehension
- Usually shorter reading segments
This is a great strategy if:
- You spend a portion of the week at a scheduled activity by yourself
- You work a job with scheduled breaks
This might not work if:
- You are with other people during reading time
- You lack a consistent activity
Where to make time:
- Work breaks
- Lunch breaks
- Exercise routines
You read during unexpected spare moments of the day.
- Doesn’t require changing your schedule at all
- Easy to start implementing
- Incredibly flexible
- Not a lot of time or consistency
- Must remember to bring reading material with you at all times
- Can be hard to focus
This is a great strategy if:
- You have a lot of spare moments to take advantage of, especially if those moments are 5+ minutes each
- Your schedule is unpredictable
- You find switching between tasks easy to do
This might not work if:
- You’re in charge of other people (e.g., children) during wait times
- You struggle to quickly change between tasks
Where to make time:
- Waiting for an event/appointment/meeting/class
- In line at a store, restaurant, etc.
- During commercial breaks or on hold on the phone
Reading for pleasure during free time.
- Can provide massive amounts of time
- Makes reading enjoyable and fun
- Reliable source of reading
- Difficult to maintain
- Can be difficult to always choose reading
- Can get distracted during free time
This is a great strategy if:
- You love reading, and regularly choose it over other activities
- You have chunks of discretionary time
This might not work if:
- You prefer other activities over reading (I love reading, but if friends want to hang out, I’ll always choose that)
- You don't have free time without responsibilities
Where to make time:
- Replace Netflix watching with reading
- Set aside time on the weekends
- Bring books on vacation
Using formats to your advantage
Depending on the situation, different formats work best.
1 Print books
There’s nothing fancy here. Print books have the benefit of making you look smart and educated, but are also frustrating to carry around everywhere. They also have all the pesky problems of non-digital content: they can get lost or damaged, and they take up space.
The biggest advantage of ebooks is that you can take them anywhere on any device—though “reading” might look like you’re just browsing Facebook. If you’re doing a lot of late-night reading, backlit e-readers can mess with your melatonin levels, so beware.
Let’s put this question to rest once and for all: yes, audiobooks totally count for reading. Unlike the variable reading time of books, you can predict to the second how long it will take to listen to an audiobook. They require special equipment (audio player, headphones), but allow you to direct your eyes to other tasks while you read.
Read a variety of books at the same time
Each technique has its own strengths and weaknesses, but you’ll reach the most success using multiple strategies together.
I'd recommend reading multiple books at the same time. The main reason is the Funnel Model, which I'll explain later, but one of the side benefits of reading multiple books at once means you can take advantage of each reading opportunity.
If you only read hardcover business books, for example, you have to carry that book with you wherever you go. This means you'll have to give up some opportunities to read so you can stick with the same book
If that's what you prefer, that's fine! But if you really want to maximize your reading time, I'd recommend keeping multiple formats going at once.
At any given time, I might be reading some or all of these formats:
- Print (for business) – During meals on weekdays (3-4 hours per week)
- Print (just for fun) – Before bed, plus on the weekends (2-3 hours per week)
- Audiobook – While driving (4-5 hours per week)
- eBook – Between sets at the gym, waiting for guitar lessons (1 hour per week)
Here are some easy ways to keep books around you for whenever you need to.
1 Keep a book in the car
Designate a book your "waiting book," and keep it in your car. If you don't use a car, keep it in a purse or backpack you carry with you when you're going somewhere.
Whenever you're headed to a place that might have waiting time built in, you'll already have your reading material. You'll make slow progress on the book, but since it's always there, you'll read more overall than you would by continually forgetting to bring your book with you.
2 Keep reading material on your phone
I'd recommend downloading an eReader app on your phone and keeping a title or two there. Whenever you're hit with the urge to check your phone, read a page or two from the book.
3 Keep headphones with you
If you like listening to audiobooks, consider keeping a set of headphones with you at all times. Like the "waiting book" concept, consider buying a set of cheap headphones and keeping them in the car or backpack.
That way, you're never without a method to listen to some of your books.
Putting it all together
With those methods in mind, you can easily calculate how much time you have hidden each week. We'll be using this number for your reading goal later on, so it's a good idea to find it now (no need to memorize—you can import the number automatically).
Calculate Your Reading Time
Number of minutes per day you’ve set aside just for reading.
Number of minutes per day you can read during another activity, like exercising or eating.
Number of minutes per day you can read during spare moments, like waiting in line.
Number of minutes per day you can read for fun, like in the evening or on weekends.
Your total reading time is a solid step towards creating an amazing reading goal. But before we get to that, let's look at some scientific principles you'll need to build that goal.
Chapter 2:The Scientific Method of Reading
You can spin your wheels for months or years if you don't have a solid system in place.
At its most basic, the scientific method is a cycle of measurement, experimentation, and improvement. To level up your reading, implement the scientific method.
Strategy #1: Create a Reading Analysis worksheet
At its most basic, our system revolves around a spreadsheet. This will be our method of tracking your reading and maintaining a consistent reading habit for you.
The important step is just to start. At first, it will be clunky, but you'll adjust the system until it's a well-oiled machine that helps you conquer your reading list in record time.
We'll start with the basics. You'll create a row for each book, and include title and author.
I also like keeping track of the reason behind the books I read, so I'd recommend including a "reason for reading" column. I also like knowing how I read the book, so we'll include a "format" column.
We're also going to put a word count column in, which I'll explain in the next section.
This is actually going to be two separate documents—one for books I've read, and one for books I want to read.
We'll use two separate tabs for this. For years, I've called my reading list a "hitlist," but you can title it however you want.
On the hitlist document, the format represents the format you're planning on reading it. With the already read document, it represents the format you already read it in.
When we start a book, we'll move it from the hitlist and note the date we start it. When we're finished, we'll record that too.
We'll also write our impressions of the book when we're finished with it, so include this column. Depending on your tastes, this can be a short line or a multi-paragraph essay. Size it accordingly.
This will form the basis of our reading framework. Using this tracking system, we can keep tabs on our goal, how well we're doing, and where we have to go.
Strategy #2: Measure your reading in word count
If you’ve ever been stuck on a book for too long, you’ve probably been measuring incorrectly.
Most people measure their reading by one of two measurements: pages or books.
Using this measurement is fine for casual conversation, but wildly inaccurate for actual reading goals.
The problem is that measuring by books or pages is just unpredictable.
Imagine you’ve written a report for work or school.
After hours of grueling labor, you hit the minimum requirement of 30 pages. You’re ready to submit—then you notice the guidelines: single-spaced, with a ½-inch margin.
Your 30-page beauty crumples to a paltry 19 pages.
The same concept applies when you track reading in pages. The amount of reading on a “page” depends on variables like typeset, font size, margin, and blank space—factors that change with every book.
Also, a 150-page book and a 200-page book look about the same, even though one takes 33% longer to read than the other.
As a result, a simple reading goal will lack consistency. Accidentally choosing a longer-than-expected book slows us down, we fall behind, and the plan is derailed before it builds momentum.
The problem is that we don’t read books or pages, we read words.
The publishing industry knows this. That’s why editors don’t judge the length of a manuscript on its pages, but its word count.
Want to read more? Start counting words, not pages or books.
If you like, you can calculate word count right before you starting reading a book.
A smarter strategy, however, is to frontload the process. When you add a book to your reading list, record the word count alongside it.
That gives you the ability to choose books based (in part) on their word count. Instead of exhausting yourself with back-to-back doorstops, alternate between quick reads and monstrous tomes. You'll see progress faster, you'll stay motivated, and you'll probably read more books as a result.
We'll record our word count in the book tracking sheet.
Estimate word count
In a perfect world, books would prominently list their word count inside the cover and on Amazon’s description page.
The reality is a bit trickier than that. There are ways to get the word count of individual books (more on that in a minute), but the fastest way is estimating based on the book's genre.
“Average word count” is a rather mythical term, because book-length varies tremendously—even across identical genres and topics. That being said, I’ve done some research and come to these general guidelines.
Use the calculator below to estimate the total number of words you want to read.
Estimate Word Count by Genre
|Genre||Word count||How many will you read?|
|Mystery, crime, thrillers||80,000|
Despite its speed, estimating word count based on genre has a major downside: it can be wildly off.
Many books—especially classics—are notorious for their length, and your numbers can quickly go awry.
While I recommend reading quality titles, you should know up front that War and Peace will take six times as long as your average novel.
How to find word count
So, how can you get the precise word count of a particular book?
There are three ways to find it.
1 Use Amazon
Back in the day, Amazon had a "Text Stats" feature that showed the word count of every book in its catalog. The company disabled the feature and made its data unlisted in 2012, but you can still get stats on previous titles—if you know how.
Like an unlisted video on YouTube, you can't find Text Stats on Amazon or even through a Google search. Instead, you need to type in the exact URL. The formula is:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/sitb-next/ + ASIN
ASIN stands for Amazon Standard Identification Number, a unique code that's often (but not always) a book's ISBN.
The ASIN can be found after the /dp/ in a book’s URL, or in a book’s Product Details.
To save time, I made this little tool. Paste any Amazon link in the box, and it'll redirect to the stats page automatically.
Find Amazon’s Wordcount Stats
Type or paste link to see stats
You'll have the best luck finding stats with books listed pre-2012. Often a title will have a newer ebook version with a different ASIN, so use the URL from the paperback or hardcover version whenever possible.
There's reading difficulty, comparisons to other titles—even a word cloud with the most common words in the book.
You can waste hours nerding out over this. Don't say I didn't warn you.
2 Use AR bookfinder
If books on your reading list could be found in the library of your local high school, have I got a tool for you.
Renaissance Learning’s Accelerated Reader (AR) database contains the word count of thousands of titles. Since it's designed for schools, most of the titles are children's books, but you can also find adult reads like Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train.
To start, go to the AR Bookfinder and search for a title.
Many books have children's versions, so look for a title that says "unabridged" or is written by the original author.
On the Book Details page, you'll find the word count.
For good measure, there are ratings given by students after reading the book. You can safely ignore them. Today's youngsters are still refining their taste.
3 Use Reading Length
Amazon and AR excel in accuracy but are constrained by their limited selection.
Reading Length, on the other hand, is a nice catch-all for any book you can't find in another database. What it lacks in precision it makes up for in sheer quantity. Want the word count of any publication, old or new? It's here.
If the book is in the database, Reading Length will bring up its page automatically.
The tool is incredibly useful, and offers almost every title imaginable.
The only downside is that, based on my research, the word counts appears to be broad estimates.
Because the word counts are not exact, they can be pretty far off from more reliable sources.
Strategy #3: Your reading list is a funnel, not a tunnel
A funnel is a common term in marketing, but not so common in terms of achieving a goal.
I think it’s a shame because the same principles apply.
The marketing funnel describes the process of building customers, readers, or clients. A large number of people see your ad, a few click, and even fewer buy the product or sign up for the program.
On the other hand, most people think of the reading process like this: books go into our reading tunnel, and we read them.
But that’s the wrong model. The books you read should actually be viewed as a funnel. A lot of books go in—often at the same time—but you don’t finish all of them.
Viewing your reading as a funnel offers three advantages:
- You’ll never get stuck. Have you ever stalled because you got bored with the book? The funnel model gives you the freedom to stop reading a book and turn to something new.
- You’ll expand your tastes. There are dozens of genres you’ve never explored. Funnel reading expands your horizons and introduces you to new favorites.
- You’ll get better at choosing books. If you view reading as a tunnel, it’s hard to recognize which titles stick and which don’t. The larger sample size in the funnel model forces you to notice patterns.
True, you’ll finish a lower percentage of the books you start. But because it demands variety and lets you refine your tastes as you read, the funnel model actually ensures you’ll read more overall.
Strategies for using the tunnel model
Once you have the tunnel model in mind, there are a few strategies that will help you read more interesting titles. Keep these in mind for a better reading experience.
1 Don't be afraid of small books
I used to teach elementary school. When it came time for reading, my first graders would often find the shortest book possible.
Their favorite loophole: if it's on the bookshelf, it counts for reading time.
Even if the book clearly says “200 connect-the-dot puzzles.”
Or is only one page long.
Or is actually a rock.
While I don’t recommend you read the back panel of a rocks and minerals science kit, you should absolutely read shorter books when you feel like it. I don’t recommend reading pamphlets for the whole year, but don't be afraid of something short.
Some of the most influential books of all time have been tiny reads.
2 Add variety to your reading list
Have you been slugging through the same reading list for a while, never making a lot of really good progress?
I’ll bet a Kindle Unlimited membership you’ve been avoiding your list because it’s insanely boring.
You’ve got the same kinds of titles over and over again, all preaching the same lessons and telling the same types of stories.
The same is true with books, too. A reading list full of marketing books or psychological thrillers is like having a stale jar full of brown M&Ms.
It’s not exciting anymore.
The funnel model creates an environment of exploration and excitement.
You should spice up your reading list with unique titles that grab your attention.
When we talk about building a reading list, I'll discuss specific strategies for injecting variety into your reading list. For now, just remember: science has proven you'll read more when there's variety.
3 Don't shy away from unfinished books
One of the biggest concerns I have with the funnel model (and yes, I still have it on occasion) is that it is pure sacrilege to leave a book unfinished.
I've since seen the light and shunned this outdated dogma. Instead, I view the freedom to leave a book enlightening.
If I don't enjoy the book, I just leave it be and don’t pick it up again. Remember the funnel? This one just didn’t make it through. No harm done.
On many titles, however, I'll come back later with renewed interest. On those books, it's like finding a $20 bill in my jeans pocket.
The money, like the half-finished book, isn't free. But it's still a nice bonus.
I’ll often round off the year finishing up any half-read books I'm still interested in. It’s a quick way to rack up a number of titles in a weekend or two.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's talk about exactly how to build a reading goal.
Chapter 3:Building a Reading Goal
If you want to make incredible progress in your reading aspirations, you're going to need to have an incredible goal in place.
This chapter gives you the specific and step-by-step details for crafting your own reading plan. Whether you want to build a reading goal based on the books you want to read or the time you have to dedicate, we'll cover it all in this chapter.
Once you've implemented these strategies, you'll be able to create an incredible goal and long-term plan that will all but guarantee your reading success.
Calculate your reading speed
Before we can figure out what type of goal works best for you, there's a missing component we need to calculate: your reading speed.
Reading speed is calculated in words per minute (wpm), and varies quite a bit between individuals.
If you're a native English speaker, you probably read in the range of 200-400 words per minute.
For a more exact measure, use the tool below.
Calculate Your Reading Speed
Want to discover your reading speed? Click the button below and read the text it reveals (it randomly selects between a few excerpts from classic books). When you’re finished, click the “stop” button.
If you can't take the test right now (though it should only take 30-60 seconds), use an average reading speed of 300 wpm on the calculations.
Once you have your reading speed, awesome! You're ready to begin crafting your reading goals.
Like a lot of things, there are two ways to go about this reading goal. I'll cover each method separately, and provide a calculator so you can quickly figure out what each one entails.
The Bookshelf Method
If you have a shelf of books you want to plow through, then this is the strategy for you.
The Bookshelf Method is great if you have a final yearly goal (like reading 52 books in a year), or want to read a specific set of books (like finishing the Harry Potter series over the summer).
We'll go about it like this.
1 Choose your reading list
The first step of the Bookshelf Method is choosing exactly which books you want to read. This method works best if you know the exact books you want to read. If not, a general feel for the type and number of books you want to read will work.
2 Find the word count of the books you’re going to read
Once you know what you'll be reading, you'll need to get a word count on these books. The more precise, the better. With the word count you get, add it all up into one final number.
Once you've built a reading list on your tracking spreadsheet, this will be simple. In the meantime, just use this calculator to make a quick estimate.
3 Calculate how much time you’ll need each week
Once you know the total amount of words you're going to read, calculate how long that will take you based on your reading speed, then figure out what that means for each day.
This calculator should help you put it all together:
The Stopwatch Method
If you're counting down the seconds you have to read, then you need to use the Stopwatch Method.
Where the Bookshelf Method puts its priority on what you want to read, the Stopwatch Method does the opposite—it figures out what you can read based on the time you can dedicate.
Here's how it works.
1 Figure out how much time you have to read each week
You can figure this up in any way you see fit, but probably the easiest method is just using this calculator. This needs to be a consistent time you have each week, so it's better to go small and reliable than big and more hit-and-miss.
2 Calculate the total amount of words you could read each week
Using the time you have and your reading speed, it's pretty easy to figure out how much you can read each week.
3 Figure out how many total books you can read over a period of time
For this step, you'll need to figure out what the average word count is of books you enjoy reading. This can be complicated if you don't have a big history saved in your Reading Hitlist spreadsheet, but you can figure out a good average with this calculator.
You can put it all together with this calculator.
Calculate Method B
Minutes to read per week(calculate this)
Your reading speed (in wpm)(calculate this)
Plan for unpredictability
Even if you have a killer plan in place, you'll encounter barriers to reaching a reading goal, especially if it's a long-term one.
If you set a goal to read one book a week, you’re going to have interruptions. Things are going to come up that will derail your previous ambitions.
Since that's just a fact of life, it's better to plan for it than to pretend it won't happen. To that end, you should work on averages as your focus.
Instead of setting a goal of reading a book a week, set a goal of reading an average of a book a week. It makes a major difference.
Here are two tips to help you.
1 Let yourself fall behind
It may surprise you to learn that during a good chunk of the year, I'm actually behind on my reading goals. At the start of December 2016, for example, I was a full eight books behind my goal of 52 that year.
But here’s the key. I don’t beat myself up over it. I celebrate the stuff I’ve read, and stay excited to keep going. As my friend Jeremy Kochis has reminded me on more than one occasion, "guilt is the worst motivator."
I have tons of friends who have told me they, too, want to read a book a week. But their plan was to try harder, and it didn’t work.
If there are times when I'm busy and have to set aside reading for whatever reason (like October and November were for me), I give myself a period of time off until reading fits into my life better (like December, when I got completely caught up).
The way I see it, every goal requires willpower and dedication. Some goals require work (building strength), and some are basically on autopilot (saving with automatic deposits).
Until a goal's action steps become habits, they require tons of work. I try to only have one of those goals at a time.
If I force myself to make “read a book a week” my one goal, then I’m sacrificing all other goals. I’m not going to dedicate a full year of my life to stagnation so I can read more books. Reading is important, but not at the cost of everything else.
So I slack off from time to time, but keep the ultimate goal in mind.
2 Get a head start on your reading for the year
I’ve mentioned before that to be consistent, you almost always need to get a head start. It’s the same with reading, but it doesn’t have to be a “head” start necessarily.
Instead, just take advantage of periods of time when you can read a lot.
On a long day of traveling, I can usually knock out a good chunk of a book between sitting at the airport and flying.
During a holiday break, I’ll plow through books in my spare time, often making up a month (or more) in just one week.
But the secret is not to burn yourself out. During those times, pick books you really want to read.
Pick the most interesting “fluff” so you have the momentum to keep going. It’s the momentum we’re after.
Reading a book a week isn’t a linear equation. Instead, it’s a collection of starts and stops that average out to a stellar conclusion.
We’re going after that average, not the individual books.
So if you’re going to the beach, bring a stack of paperbacks to finish, and dedicate yourself to them whenever possible.
Set a time to review your progress
I got this idea from Benyamin Elias in his excellent analysis on exercise consistency. You'll need to set a time to review progress towards your goal.
During this time, you'll see how much progress you've made towards your goal, and adjust accordingly. If you haven't read as much as you wanted to, you'll adjust. If you've done well, you'll try to figure out why and write it down so you can replicate your progress later.
Ideally, you'd do this about every month or every other month. Once a week is a little bit too frequent, and much more than every two months and you'll have lost too much time in between.
If you do a monthly review anyways, I'd recommend doing it during that time. If you don't do a monthly review (or find it hard to do consistently), set an alert on your calendar. Even better, block off 10 minutes on your calendar now to do the review.
To review, open up a simple text editor or old-fashioned notebook and ask yourself these questions.
- Did I meet my goal last month?
- What barriers or boons did I face that made it harder or easier than expected?
- What changes will I make going forward?
It's easier to self-correct on a regular, frequent basis than panic when your time is almost up, and you're nowhere close to being finished.
Now that we've covered the broad plan for your reading goals, let's look at specific strategies you can use on a day-to-day basis to make things easier on yourself.
Chapter 4:Reading Consistently Every Day
Have your bulletproof long-term goal? Excellent.
But to truly succeed, you're going to need to prepare a list of things to do over the course of each day. This guide will help as you create strategies that keep you focused over the course of your day-to-day events.
Build your reading into a habit
If your reading plan includes dedicated reading time, your life will be much easier if you build it into a habit.
To understand, imagine you don't have a reading habit, but want to read every morning. That means your morning will go something like this:
- Wake up
- See a Facebook notification on your phone
- Spend 10 minutes stalking a friend you had forgotten about, whose life has taken a sudden turn for the worse
- Get dressed
- Eat breakfast
- Head out for work
- Remember you were supposed to read for 10 minutes
Instead, schedule reading time into your normal routine so you don't forget. Here's a general system for habits. I go into more detail about habit formation in my complete guide to morning routines.
1 Uncover the Trigger
Find an action you already do on a regular basis. You'll build your reading habit immediately after this. The first action will be your reminder.
2 Follow the Craving
Build a reward into your reading habit. It should be something you can do immediately after reading, like eating a piece of fruit.
3 Craft the Routine
Decide exactly how your routine will work. Where will you read, and for how long? The more details you have, the more consistent your habit will become.
4 Destroy the Barriers
Figure out what issues could hold you back, and work to solve them. If you stop reading because you're hungry, get a snack beforehand. If you get cold, bring a jacket. Even tiny changes can make a habit much easier to follow.
5 Practice the Habit
Run through the habit a few times before implementing it fully. Make sure everything is in the best order and runs smoothly.
Schedule accountability with your reading
If you want to make sure you actually meet your goal, build in some accountability.
I'd recommend you make it fun accountability, not torturous unless this is your One Tough Goal. If that's the case, go crazy.
Here are some low-stress, but effective methods of adding accountability to your reading goal.
1 Tell friends
If you casually mention to a few friends that you're planning on reading a certain number of books this year, you can start a fun discussion.
This is especially helpful if you have friends who enjoy reading.
I have a few friends who enjoy reading as much as I do, and we'll often recommend books to one another. We enjoy the pastime of exchanging good recommendations, but also hold each other accountable to keep reading at the same time.
2 Keep track of books on social media
If you post a lot on social media, you can use it to your advantage and use it as a form of accountability on your reading.
A Facebook friend of mine decided to read for 30 minutes every day, tackling some of the biggest books in existence (like Atlas Shrugged, War and Peace, and Infinite Jest). He continues to post frank reviews on Facebook when he finishes a title.
Since a lot of his Facebook friends also like to read (but haven't ventured into the lengthy tomes on his reading list) his posts usually garner a lot of comments and discussion.
He eventually migrated his reviews to his blog, Reading Classic Books. While you don't need to do that, you can still use some light social pressure to help motivate yourself.
3 Set a goal on GoodReads
One of my favorite apps is GoodReads.
I can easily record which books I'm reading, track when I start and end the books, and write reviews for readers across the globe. It's a great place to record information before you put it in your tracking spreadsheet.
At the beginning of each year, I'll usually set a new reading goal for the year. It's fun to see my goal in comparison with others, and challenge myself to finish a certain amount of reading in the year.
Last year, I hit my goal of 52 books by the end of the year. I've set it for the same this year.
4 Put money on the line
If you want to get really serious about reading, you can put some money on the line. I don't recommend this unless you have no other choice, but it can be incredibly powerful.
Either bet a friend money, or set up an account on StickK. Just understand—if you don't meet the goal, you don't get the money back!
Take a reading sprint
If you want a quick boost in your reading, try a reading sprint. Whereas the previous strategies are closer to a marathon that's ongoing, these techniques can be used a few times a year to really increase your reading count. Sprints are great at helping you push through a slump or get a head start.
1 Do a challenge with a friend
Setting a friendly competition with a friend can be a huge motivator. Try a "who can read the most this month" challenge. For best results, keep each other posted when you finish a new book.
Bonus tip: measure the final score by word count to get a more accurate picture. It's not fair to lose because your friend chose a set of Little Golden Books.
2 Have a "reading week" race
Of all the strategies here, this is the one I use most frequently. When I take a vacation or weekend off, I'll often challenge myself to read as much as possible.
I'll usually hit up the library and check out a book for every day. Then I'll start at the top of the pile and read as far as I can for as long as I can. The ultimate goal is to read a book a day, though I usually don't make the goal. However many books I read, I'm usually proud of my progress.
Sometimes I've used this strategy:
- Taking a trip
- During a long weekend off
- When I'm sick and can't do much else
3 Use existing fuel to increase your reading
Every once in a while, we all hit little fads of interest. In the past six weeks, for example, I've had an intense but eventually passing fascination of:
- 80's pop hits
- Starting Strength workouts
- Big band swing in Spanish
- Vegetable portion sizes
- Folding bicycles
All of these are random, I know, but I can almost guarantee you have little niche topics that catch your eye from time to time. Instead of doing a few Google searches and calling it quits, consider finding a book on the subject and reading it.
Again, this isn't a great long-term strategy for your reading list, but it can help add a little fuel if you're struggling to read more.
Make reading your default
The absolute easiest way to read more each day? Make reading so easy, you have to struggle not to read. This is the holy grail of reading. Once you reach this point, the world is your oyster.
1 Have an audiobook already going
One of the reasons I'm able to read so many books is because I almost always keep an audiobook playing in my car. My ride is of the older variety, and lacks all those fancy new inventions like Bluetooth or an MP3 cable (or power steering, or an automatic transmission—but I'm getting off topic).
Since I can't connect it to my iPhone, I'm forced to listen to audiobooks on CD that I check out from the library. I'll keep a CD playing in my car all the time.
The second I put my key in the ignition, it starts playing. I have to manually stop the CD player if I don't want to read for that day.
Even though I don't do a ton of driving, I can usually finish a book or two each month without trying. In the countless audiobooks I've listened to over the years, here are some pointers:
- Let Google Maps help. Track your daily driving to work, events, errands, and/or the gym on Google Maps. Use this to determine how much audiobook listening you can do each week. You might be surprised how quickly it adds up.
- Choose audiobooks you like. Don't force yourself to finish a book you don't enjoy. If you feel guilty abandoning an audiobook you paid for on Audible, check out LibriVox. It's like the Wikipedia of audiobooks. LibriVox is a volunteer-run site with free audio version of books in the public domain. The books are of surprisingly good quality.
- Limit hard-to-understand books. Some books require tremendous focus. Titles like A Clockwork Orange (in the pseudo-language Nadsat) and Their Eyes Were Watching God (in a thick Southern dialect) took me a few hours to get used to. They’re really great listens, but they take a few hours before you’re used to them. The payoff is worth it, but understand it may take more focus than you're prepared for.
2 Keep a book open
This is one of my crazier techniques for reading more, but it's a rock-solid way to read more. I'd estimate that 99.9% of the people reading this won't ever try it, but those who do can testify to its success.
Put a book somewhere in your house (see the next tip for suggestions as to where), and keep the book open. Actually leave it open on a page.
If you're like me, the open page will catch your eye, and you'll have to pull yourself away from reading. This is exactly what you want.
3 Keep books in an unexpected place
It’s easy to disregard a book in a place where you usually relax. I’ve kept one by the couch, on my nightstand, and in a myriad of other places. The problem was I already had patterns and routines for those places, and never pulled it out.
The problem is that if you put a book in a place you like spending time in, you’ll never read it. You’ll just follow old patterns. If you put it in an unusual place where you don’t usually spend time, however, you’ll notice it and probably read more. Not just more than you would have without a book there—more total, more than if you had put it in a comfortable place.
How many books do you already have on a shelf that you’ve never read? One of the reasons it’s still unread is because you don’t notice books on a shelf. That’s where they’re supposed to be.
Same with your nightstand or other obvious location. You’ll grow blind to it.
There have been times when I’ve read an entire chapter because I left the book in the kitchen. While I’m cooking dinner, I notice the book and finish an extra chapter.
Unless you want to create a habit to read whenever you're in a particular location, it’s a waste of your time to put a book there.
Only put a book in a surprising place. Otherwise, you won’t read it.
Chapter 5:Improving Comprehension
It’s worthless to read if it doesn’t change anything about you—comprehension and application are important.
Understanding an appropriate framework for improving comprehension is critical.
Let's jump in there first.
Scheduling your reading for best comprehension
Not all books are created equal, and not all can be read equally. It's a great idea to carefully plan when you're going to read a book to get the most from it.
While the terms fiction and nonfiction are easily understood, they really only tell part of the story. To truly improve your comprehension, you'll need to divide your reading into two categories.
- Narrative writing tells a story. It's most commonly fiction, but can be other writing, like history or biography. Reading a narrative is usually a passive process. Because of the linear progression of themes, stories and characters, it's like knit blanket—each component only makes sense in the context of the larger narrative.
- Explanatory writing explains something. It's almost exclusively nonfiction. Explanatory writing usually has an application, and thus requires active reading. Explanatory writing has a non-linear, segmented format, and is similar to a block tower—every block by itself has value, but also makes up a larger structure.
From the reading I've done, I've learned these general pointers.
1 Read the right kind of books based on the time you have
The type of book you chose should depend in part on how much time you have to read it.
If your reading time is mostly segmented in blocks of 10 minutes or less, you'll receive significantly more value from reading explanatory works. The reason is simple—you can usually read a segment, absorb a chunk of information, and remember it for the next time you pick up the title.
Narrative writing requires longer periods of reading—at least 10 minutes at a time. If you read a narrative book during a short period of time, you'll likely lose your place and have to back up next time you read the same book.
Explanatory reading is your best option for segmented moments.
2 Relax with the right kind of reading
My general guideline is that when I'm reading for relaxation—especially before going to bed—I'll choose a fiction narrative.
Explanatory reading tends to get me thinking about my to-do list, how I'll apply what I've read, and generally makes me less relaxed afterward. If I force myself to relax, I'll do less analysis and my comprehension will decrease.
Instead, it's better to read stories to fall asleep, since narrative writing will keep your mind occupied without too much distraction (hat tip to Greg Faxon for this suggestion).
Shy away from any type of reading that's critical or important, and focus on reading that's light and easy when you're trying to relax.
3 Choose the right medium at the right time
If you aren't careful about which medium you choose to read in, you can easily lose focus merely by choosing the wrong way to read.
Different types of reading have different strengths and weaknesses:
- Print books are perfect for both active and passive reading, but have a special strength in a relaxing read.
- eBooks are easy to annotate, search and bookmark. This can be very powerful if you need to learn from what you're reading, making them the top choice for active reading.
- Audiobooks are perfect for listening while otherwise occupied, but lack the focus that comes when you can devote all your attention to them. Use audiobooks for narrative reading.
Improving comprehension while you read
For maximum impact, make good use of your comprehension while you read. To do so, employ a few tactics to make sure your reading is of the most value for you.
1 Journal an application or change in perspective
Keep a reading journal, or use pages from a journal you normally keep to record your thoughts, applications and changes that might happen as you read.
This ensures that you can look back on your notes when you're finished reading. This is different from a final review or concluding note on the book you finish as you write it while you read. Oftentimes your perspective changes as you read, so this preserves your earlier thoughts while you progress through the book.
Alternatively, just include your thoughts in your evening journal entry. The biggest risk with this is just that you'll neglect to include smaller changes in perspective.
2 Write your reaction in the book itself
If you own the book and aren't afraid of marking in it, one of the most powerful ways to record your spur-of-the-moment reactions is to make brief notes in the margins of the books.
Underlining, noting, and drawing emojis and small anecdotes and connections can be the most powerful way to draw your previous connections into the book. As an added bonus, reading the old title will take you through a replay of the journey you experienced the first time you read the book.
Solidifying comprehension after you read
When you're finished with a book, you still have a tremendous opportunity to increase your understanding of what you just read.
1 Write your impression of the book
Remember when we created an impressions section in our tracking spreadsheet? This is our chance to do it.
I'd recommend making your reviews pithy and memorable. This is just for your own use, so feel free to be as creative as you like, and don't worry about spoilers.
If you want to, you can rework your impression into a full-fledged review and publish it online. Some of the best places to publish it are:
- Personal website
2 Teach the concept to someone else
Science has shown that one of the absolute best ways to remember something is to teach it to someone else.
After I finish a book—or even after finishing a section—I'll usually take some time to discuss it with a family member or friend. I do it usually just to share with others, but I also know the benefits I'll get from sharing it with people.
When you teach it to someone else, you'll be surprised at how differently your brain works, trying to remember the facts that seemed so clear just a short while ago.
3 Summarize the basic content
To really understand what you read, it's a great idea to summarize the main points of the book in a simple format.
Avid reader and thought leader Derek Sivers does an excellent job of this with his reading list. At a minimum, write down your overall summary in a notebook (digital or print).
For a little bit higher standards, consider sharing your summary with a friend or even publishing it on a personal website or blog.
4 Apply one thing immediately
After reading a book with an application (usually nonfiction, but sometimes you'll find a fiction book with a piece you can apply to your own life), you should apply it immediately.
While there's a nice thought that you'll make a ton of changes and completely revolutionize your life from reading a single book, the harsh truth is that you probably won't be able to make many changes.
Instead, choose one significant thing—the one most important thing that you can change—and do it immediately.
You'll remember the principles of the book better, and you'll actually have something in place immediately as well.
Chapter 6:Building a Fascinating Reading List
Chances are, you already have a solid reading list, but you aren't making enough progress on it yet. So, why build a bigger list? Simple.
The success of your reading challenge depends in large part on how motivated you are to read. If you grow bored—even for one chapter—it will be hard to focus and you’ll probably lose momentum.
I'd recommend following the principles of the funnel model, to read more diverse books.
Here’s how to do that once and for all.
Get suggestions from friends
My top strategy is also the simplest—get recommendations from people you trust. There are a few ways to go about it, depending on what you're most comfortable with.
1 Just go up and ask them
My favorite strategy is to ask friends what books they've been reading. Whenever it comes up in conversation, I'll record it on my reading list along with their name.
When I'm finished, I'll let them know that I finished the book they recommended, and share my thoughts on it.
2 Look at their GoodReads account
If you use GoodReads, you can follow your friends on Facebook and track the books they're reading.
I'll usually put them on my reading list from there. Whether you inform them of your stalking posthoc or not is up to you.
Follow a curated list
A curated list can be a great starting place for quality books. No matter what your interest, there’s a list for it.
1 The greatest books of all time
Of course, a list of “the greatest” is subjective, but it’s a great starting point.
TIME Magazine started in 1923, so these are the best titles since they began. Arbitrary date, but a great collection nonetheless.
This comprehensive collection of the world's best factual writing includes two top-100 lists, one by readers and one by the Modern Library board.
Even if you've spent a lot of time reading the classics, there's a good chance you've missed a few titles from this sweeping compilation.
Chances are, you mostly read books written by authors of one gender. I’d recommend finding the list that best describes you, and reading books from the other lists first.
This sprawling compilation of books provides a glimpse into the lives and stories of some of history's most celebrated female authors.
A collection of books on classical manliness, ranging from tales of courage to how to skin a bear.
Art of Manliness
This collection of award-winning titles spans a variety of topics, and is divided up into fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and youth literature.
National Book Foundation
If you aren’t careful, your reading list can easily skew towards books written by, for and about white Americans and Europeans. Solve that with these lists.
This authoritative list is filled with legendary titles that have lasting impact to this day.
First Nations' exhaustive list contains documents on nearly every topic, from novels and histories to academic journals and reference books.
This list highlights world-renowned classics as well as shines the spotlight on lesser-known works by great Latinx authors.
Representing the true diversity of Asian writing, this list paints a portrait of the variety present in what many consider a single style.
Each title on this list was chosen by a jury from more than 1,500 nominated titles, and represents a quality and significant part of a culture in Africa.
African Studies Center Leiden
4 Guides curated by thought leaders
If you like, follow a thought leader’s list of recommended books. Best part? Many of these are updated regularly with the most recent titles.
The Best Books: Recommended Reading List by James Clear
Courtney’s Reading List by Courtney Carver
Books to Base Your Life On by Ryan Holiday
Asian Efficiency’s Recommended Reading by Thanh Pham and Asian Efficiency
Books I’ve Read by Derek Sivers
30 Books I’m Glad I Read Before 30 by Marc and Angel Chernoff
Force yourself to branch out
If you're not adding enough variety, stick with a regulated system to add diversity to what you'll be reading.
1 Read a book from every genre
If you really want to expand your reading sampling, try reading a book from every genre. This doesn't have to be done all in one large movement, but can instead be parsed out over the course of multiple reads.
If you're stuck in a rut with your current reading list, choose a title that's different than anything you've read before, based on the genre.
Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of writing genres to get you started.
2 Go to the library before closing
Okay, so this is a little extreme. But it works.
Show up late, and grab the most interesting book you see on the shelf right before closing.
In a tunnel mentality, this is a terrible idea. Framing your reading like a funnel, however, this is an excellent plan. Hit the library with no agenda about ten minutes before closing, and gather 2-3 titles that pique your interest.
I almost always pick up a fascinating book this way.
When doing this once, I picked up an audiobook version of Hallelujah! The Welcome Table, an autobiographical cookbook by Maya Angelou.
Let me say that again: an autobiographical cookbook.
Angelou’s powerful storytelling made it one of my favorite reads for the year.
Watch more movies
A lot of people recommend that you should read instead of watching movies.
I respectfully disagree.
If you do it right, watching movies will give you the motivation to read more books. A number of intriguing movies inspired me to read related books.
Think of a movie as a sample of a book. Before you invest 10 hours in reading a book, you can find out if you’ll like the content in 2 hours. Totally worth it, in my opinion.
Caveat: If there’s a book you already want to read, don’t watch the movie. It’ll probably spoil it.
But by all means, watch the movie first if you don’t care about the book.
The secret is not to stop watching movies, but to choose them strategically.
Each of these books I read because I became intrigued with the film first:
- The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon (inspired by the 1954 Sinatra film of the same name)
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (inspired by the 1979 film Apocalypse Now)
- Turing’s Cathedral by George Dyson (inspired by the 2014 film The Imitation Game)
- I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (inspired by the 2004 film of the same name)
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald (inspired by the 2008 film of the same name)
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (inspired by the 1995 miniseries and 2005 film my sisters made me watch)
- Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers (inspired by the 1964 film of the same name)
Not all movies are created equally. Here’s my formula for predicting whether or not a movie will motivate you to read a book or not.
Ranked in order of preference, watch:
- Films loosely inspired by books
- Films about historical figures or events
- Films based on books
The distinction between #1 and #3 is critical. If the film is just a retelling of the book, the book has lost its excitement. The further the movie plot diverges, however, the more eager you’ll be to see what new surprises the book has in store.
Loosely-adapted films are more common than you might think.
Wikipedia’s comprehensive list of nonfiction book-to-movie adaptations
Wikipedia’s comprehensive list of fiction book-to-movie adaptations
Wikipedia’s list of newer adaptions loosely based on or inspired by older works.
Analyze to find new books you'll love
Once you find a book you really enjoy, take that information to build an even better reading list. Here's how.
To use TasteKid, enter a title you enjoyed.
It will then recommend similar titles.
If any or all of those pique your interest, add it to your reading list.
To use Scribd, enter a title you enjoyed.
It will then recommend similar titles.
If any or all of those pique your interest, add it to your reading list.
Gutenberg only works with titles in the public domain, but it's a helpful resource for classics.
It will then recommend similar titles.
If any or all of those pique your interest, add it to your reading list.
4 Google Books
To use Google Books, enter a title you enjoyed.
It will then recommend similar titles.
If any or all of those pique your interest, add it to your reading list.
Use Amazon to Get tangentially-related titles
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could find books with unrelated topics, but with a pretty strong guarantee you would enjoy it?
Well, a Fortune 500 company has invested millions in software that can give you results, promising interest in popular titles based on what other readers of the same book enjoyed.
Even better, it’s free. Interested?
Introducing Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought.” It’s an algorithm created to provide a list of titles you’re sure to love, based on what other people liked.
(This is not the same as “Sponsored Products Related To This Item.” I’ve found the paid ads to be less relevant.)
The best part? It provides a diverse selection. In other words, you won’t just get a bunch of same-genre stuff.
To use it, just search for a title (the feature works even if you didn’t buy the book through Amazon).
Let’s enter Born For This, Chris Guillebeau’s book on how to find meaningful work (with an unconventional, entrepreneurial bent). Down on the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” we find a selection of similar books.
Many of the suggestions on the first panel are other books by Chris Guillebeau, and all of the titles are closely related to career and entrepreneurship.
But if we scroll through a few of the panels (there are 15 panels with 6 suggestions in each, for a total of 90 suggested books), we find some interesting leads.
Mixed in with the entrepreneurship/career books, there are two nutrition books—specifically, books on how a natural diet boosts health.
If you’re an entrepreneur, this might be your first time reading a book on natural food. But chances are very high you’ll enjoy the recommendations—Amazon has bet thousands (if not millions) that its algorithm’s recommendations will make you happy.
It works for fiction, too. Searching for Margaret Atwood’s dystopian The Handmaid’s Tale brings us some unique suggestions.
While still heavy on dystopian, we have two unrelated suggestions: Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar and the script of Smith’s Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, a “documentary theater” of the LA riots of 1992.
We can take it a step further. If we see the recommended reads for The Bell Jar, we get a completely different set of titles with little genre overlap—yet still closely linked to our original book.
There’s never an end to the variety.
The behind-the-scenes secret of the world’s top readers
Most people whine and complain about not having enough time to read.
And for those people, that’s enough. In their minds, whining and complaining is equivalent to reading.
If they complain about never having time to read, it justifies the fact they never do.
But the world’s top readers? The 1% of readers who master a book a week—or more? Whining isn’t a solution. Complaining is the problem, not the answer.
Instead of making up excuses, they build systems. They analyze how much they’re reading, and adjust things until they reach their goals.
To become a top reader, you must apply your knowledge. Take one piece of this guide and make it happen, now.
Stop hoping you’ll read the books on your list someday.
Stop dreaming about your well-read self.
Stop wishing you had more time.
The time is now.
Start acting like it.
Special thanks to Freepik (funnel, book pages, boy, girl, magnifying glass, open book, reader, watch, beaker, design tools, stack of books and road signs icons), madebyoliver (tunnel, book, speech bubble, timer, cocktail, exercise bike, calendar sand timer icons), Pixel Buddha (masks, headphones icons), and Round Icons (flag on mountain icon) for their work. All icons from Flaticon and licensed by CC 3.0 BY. I would not have been able to design this guide without their icons.