Continuous learning, and learning something new every day is one of the most important things for not only remaining productive, but for growing ourselves as human beings as well. And part of this is getting into the habit of reading – regularly, consistently, and every single day.
Why is this important?
When we read, we’re practicing the idea of having a growth mindset. We’re learning new ideas. We’re connecting old ideas with new ideas, and updating our ability and interpretation of what goes on in the world. This translates into our ability to do things better, to form more solid connections between concepts and knowledge. The evidence for this is around us – if knowledge and learning weren’t important, then there wouldn’t be so much of it available in the world around us.
Reading consistently and every day is a little more difficult than it sounds. It’s something I’ve personally struggled with for a while, but after much trial-and-error I’ve found a way (a system if you will) to make it consistent, which I want to share in this article.
I personally found that I only read books when I really needed to get something done – for example, if I had to learn about a new business topic for Asian Efficiency. The rest of the time, I discovered that I preferred the actual act of getting things done compared to reading. And any spare time leftover, I typically used for downtime or social times.
Here are the various components of this system:
- Lock down a time daily.
- Read whenever and wherever you can.
- One book at a time (sort of).
- Good reading management.
- Supplement with audiobooks.
- Be OK with alternative mediums.
Lock down a time daily
One thing that I noticed is that whenever I traveled for work, I would read a lot more than I did if I was “at home”. I would read on planes, in taxis, and in my hotel room in-between meetings and events.
When I got home to Bangkok however, this time disappeared.
At first I couldn’t figure out where this time was going – after all, shouldn’t I be busier when traveling?
To work it out, I did some short-term time tracking to gather some data. What I discovered was that my time was disappearing to a combination of social and alternative downtime activities. When I’m in Bangkok, it seems I spend more time eating out, more time meeting people, more time with my girlfriend, and more time on downtime activities like sports, boardgames and video games. When I’m traveling, I watch almost no television, don’t play video games and I don’t regularly catch up with my friends in-person.
Now this was a bit of a problem – as I did want to read as a regular part of my routine and want to work out a way to do it.
So I turned the question over to both the AE team and some friends and mentors.
One suggestion from Charles Ngo stuck out – lock down a time every day, and just do it.
And so I started experimenting with times:
- First thing in the morning.
- First thing after my most important task.
- After lunch.
- After dinner.
- The last thing in my work day.
- The last thing before going to sleep.
Here’s what I found out:
First thing in the morning.
Reading as the first thing in the morning absolutely guarantees that you will get it done… but there is a massive opportunity cost.
You see, you want to be working on your most important task as the first thing in the morning, because this is when your willpower and other mental resources are at their highest, and your brain hasn’t been “contaminated” with different ideas and thoughts yet.
A really obvious example of this is if you do creative work – if you read first, it really does interrupt your focus, the freshness of ideas in your mind and sidetracks your train of thought immediately after – making it almost impossible to do creative work afterwards.
I discovered that while you can read as the first thing in the morning, I didn’t really like it because it interrupted the flow of my first/most important task daily. For this reason, I don’t advise people to read as the first thing in their day.
First thing after my most important task.
Given the above, what if we moved the reading period until after our first/most important task of the day?
In theory, that way we could bring our full resources to bear on that MIT, and then still get the benefit of reading early on during the day (plus we would be getting a short break from work).
After some experimentation I found out that while this can work for some people, it didn’t work for me.
Because if you have good energy management strategies (like those we teach in the Productivity Blueprint), then you’ll usually be able to squeeze in a second “most important task”… and a third… and sometimes a fourth, before lunch time. In fact, if you have really good energy management you’ll play your entire morning from the time you wake up to the time to break for lunch in Hero Mode – and you don’t want to use that prime “in the zone” time for something like reading, even if it is important.
A couple of people I talked to read regularly after eating lunch.
After trying it, and found that after lunch I’m usually a little sleepy/tired and end up taking a nap or 30-40 minutes of non-thinking downtime before working again.
Reading a hard-hitting business book didn’t really cut it for me during this time.
I found this to be similar to trying to read after lunch, but with the added disadvantage of wanting to wind down my day and get to sleep as well.
The last thing in my work day.
This is where you end your work day at a predetermined time and just read for 30-60 minutes.
I personally found this to be my ideal time for reading every day. What it meant is that at 5:30pm-6:30pm every day, I would stop working, read for an hour, and then go off to dinner and my evening ritual and sleep afterwards.
The biggest challenge in adopting this was having the discipline to “end” my work day at 5:30pm – because the temptation is always there to work more… it’s hard to stop working when you really enjoy what you do!
The last thing before going to sleep.
I found that reading in bed before going to sleep is pretty awesome, but that it was better suited for fiction reading, to help quiet the mind and get to sleep. Business/non-fiction reading tended do stir up new ideas and made it hard to fall asleep.
The Best Time
I personally ended up with 2 reading times:
- At 5:30pm-6:30pm at the end of my work day, where I would read business books/non-fiction for an hour.
- Before going to sleep where I would read fiction for 15 minutes or so.
Read whenever and wherever you can
The more we do something, the more it becomes an unconscious habit. This also applies to reading.
So, one of the habits I adopted to support this system of reading consistently is to read whenever and wherever I could.
And with technology, this is pretty simple to do nowadays – there’s no need to carry books around with you, just use the Kindle app on your phone and load (and sync) books onto there. Whenever you have a spare moment or are waiting for someone or are at the airport or similar, just open the app and get a few pages.
This is a fantastic habit to adopt in your quest to read consistently and ever day.
One book at a time (sort of)
Here’s how you stop going crazy with books and how to build some consistency into both what you’re reading and the habit of reading itself – only read ONE book and ONE BOOK ONLY at a time.
If you’re like me (or anyone who’s Asian Efficient), you probably have an amazon.com wishlist that is hundreds of books long. The truth is, you can’t read all of them now… even if you buy them now.
So what we have to be is be a little patient, and space them out – one book at a time.
The key here is to NOT start multiple books at the same time, otherwise you won’t progress with any of them.
I really mean this – read only 1 book at time.
Now if you start reading a book and after 30-40 pages it isn’t that great, then do yourself a favor and stop reading it.
Now how do you do stop this one-book-at-a-time rule from getting a little boring?
Well, you cycle your books by classification.
Here’s what I do.
I cycle books in 4 different categories: biographies, business books, non-fiction books and fiction books.
Biographies are any books about a person that I want to learn from. They can be autobiographies, interview-style books, books about companies or memoirs.
Business books are anything that are directly related to a business function – e.g., books about finances, marketing and management. This category also includes business training courses.
Non-fiction are any books that aren’t related to business, and that can expand my view of the world. I personally find myself preferring books about science, economics, geography, history and the arts nowadays. This category can also include personal development books.
Fiction books are, well, stories and fictional.
Typically I will cycle:
- A biography.
- A business book.
- A non-fiction book.
I will read in tandem:
- One of the above (biography, business, non-fiction).
- One fiction book.
As per the section on locking down a time of day above, I’ll ready the biography/business book/non-fiction book during my last-thing-in-the-work-day time slot, and a fiction book before going to sleep.
As an example, right now I am reading:
Next up on my list are:
In short, read one book and one book only at a time (exception: fiction), and cycle your books so that the topics don’t get boring.
Good Reading Management
Wherever possible, we like to use technology to help us better manage our personal systems.
And for reading, technology can be a great help.
Here are some ideas for using apps and tools to help make sure we read consistently, and every day:
- Block out reading times in your calendar and set an alarm for it.
- Use your Amazon.com wish list as your gathering point/inbox for books you have heard of and want to read. You can even sort it into the categories we talked about (biography, business, non-fiction, fiction).
- Have a sorted and ordered reading list in our task manager app (see our section on this in OmniFocus Premium Posts). We suggest 1 project and list for each category, and to keep it in order to show what’s coming up next.
- Use the Amazon Kindle app or iBooks as a place to buy and store your library of books. I personally love reading on a tablet because of the sync/highlight/note options. Tip: Reduce the number of items on your Kindle app by removing books you aren’t reading from the Device view (they’ll still be stored in the cloud).
- Use Pocket/Instapaper/Reading List for clipping web articles for later reading. You can consider a set of 20-25 articles “a book” and categorize them as such.
For other strategies and tips for reading management, see our very popular article on how to read and implement books.
Supplement with Audiobooks
I’ve never been a big user of audiobooks, but they can be incredibly powerful when used properly.
Thanh is a much bigger consumer of these than I am, so I’ll let him tell you about how to best utilize them:
The power of audiobooks really comes from when you supplement them with the book you’re reading. I’ve done tons of experiments but from my own experience, you get the most mileage once you have finished reading a book and then listen to audiobook version of it. Technically, you’re consuming the same information but through a different medium.
I’ve had a lot of “aha” moments when I listened to the audio version of the book. Even though it was the exact same information, just learning it through a different channel made the bigger concepts connect. On top of that, the concepts I already understood from reading were reinforced even better when listening to it.
You don’t have to do this for every book. Only do it for the ones you know are life changing and are giving you huge breakthroughs.
Be OK with alternative mediums
The last thing about reading books consistently and daily, is to learn to be OK with alternative mediums for “reading”.
The truth is, nowadays we have a wider range of choices for media consumption – not just books.
Here are some more modern formats that are just as good as reading books, but often not treated as such.
Training courses like those from Udemy or the Productivity Blueprint are a great way to get in-depth business or skill-based training from an expert in the field. I personally love these, and treat the whole course as a “business book” that I work away at module-by-module.
Web articles are much shorter, but usually full of great and up-to-date ideas that you won’t find in traditional print. You can read them separately from books, or you can tag and save them in a read-later app and batch them together in groups of 20-25 as a “book” of sorts.
TV is a modern-day alternative to reading fiction. Just be wary of anything that gets you overly excited right before going to sleep.
I personally love video games, and think that modern-day games like Deus Ex or The Last of Us are better and more involved stories that most books or TV shows out there. But as with television, just be wary of anything that gets you overly excited before going to sleep.
This has been a lengthy guide, and we’ve covered:
- The importance of fixing a time daily to read.
- Why reading whenever, wherever is an important habit to form.
- How to read one book at a time and cycle categories of books.
- How to use alternative mediums like audiobooks or training courses in place of traditional books.
All these components together form part of a great reading system that will have you reading consistently in no time – and also have you learning and reading daily, pretty much forever!
I hope you enjoyed the guide, and if you have any of your own ideas that you’d like to share, please do so below!