Learning to Read

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Over the last few years I’ve read maybe 2-3 books per year and a good chunk of those were audiobooks so I’m not sure they even qualify as reading. Part of that is that reading hasn’t been a priority for me: given a choice between working on side projects, spending time with my family, watching Game of Thrones and other shows, or reading, I normally don’t choose to read. Another part of it is that I’ve found it harder and harder to sit and read for more than a few minutes; years of Facebook and Twitter have taken their toll on my attention span.

That all changed recently when I made a few modifications to my reading habits. Many of these changes were inspired by discussions on Seeking Wisdom, a fantastic new podcast by David Cancel and Dave Gerhardt about a wide variety of topics including building great products, marketing, personal growth, work-life balance, and more.

Here are the key changes I made:

  • Reading physical books, not ebooks. Many people love the convenience of ebooks, but I’ve always preferred physical books. Rather than try to force myself to read on a Kindle or a tablet, I’ve switched back to reading physical books. There’s just something about the texture and smell of physical books that I really enjoy. Also, by not reading on the Kindle app on my iPad I can avoid notifications and other distractions like checking my email, Facebook, etc.
  • Reading multiple books at once. In the past, I’ve always focused on reading one book at a time but by having multiple books to choose from I can select one depending on the mood I’m in which makes it more likely that I’ll actually do it. If I’m not in the mood to read a business book, for example, I have plenty of others to choose from. I no longer have to tell myself “I’ll read that book after I finish this one.” It does take longer to finish a book, but that’s fine; the goal of reading isn’t to finish books.
  • Allowing myself to stop reading books that don’t interest me. In the past I would try to force myself to get through any book I started. Problem is that I’d inevitably wind up starting a book that didn’t grab me, then I’d just quit reading all together because I hadn’t finished that book.
  • Skipping parts that don’t hold my attention. Years ago I started reading Poor Charlie’s Almanac, a treasure trove of wisdom from Berkshire Hathaway’s Charlie Munger. The first chapter is about Charlie’s life and for whatever reason I struggled to get through it so stopped reading the book completely. This time around, I skipped that chapter and dove straight into the later chapters which I’ve found a lot more engaging.
  • Making it a habit. Every night before I go to sleep, I try to read for 20 to 30 minutes. I do wind up watching less Netflix/HBO to make time for it, but that’s a tradeoff that I’m happy to make. As an added benefit, I’ve been finding it much easier to fall asleep after reading vs working on a side project or watching TV.

A lot of these seem obvious in retrospect, but it took a while for their importance to really click for me. I’d encourage anyone who wants to get back into reading to experiment and see what works for you.

If you have any other suggestions on how to read more effectively, don’t hesitate to drop me an email or leave a comment below.

2 thoughts on “Learning to Read

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