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17 Jan 2017 Austin Belcak

How I Read 80+ Books Every Year (& You Can Too)

When I was just starting out in the professional world, I read a TON of newsletters. I talk a lot about only taking advice from people who already have what you want, I guess you could say that I got sucked in because it seemed like almost everyone in the online business space had what I wanted.

Over time, I discovered which people were worthwhile to follow and which weren't. Now these people covered all sorts of topics from careers advice, to starting side businesses, to health & fitness, all the way to fashion & style.

Interestingly enough, every single one – despite being in totally different industries – talked about the importance of reading.

Yea? Like Who?

Tim Ferris reads anywhere from 2-4 books every week. He's quoted as saying “I made a pact with myself. If there was a book that I wanted to read, I wouldn't let anything – price, time, etc. – stop me from finishing it.”

Ryan Holiday, the 26 year old author of 3 best sellers, is known to read ~250 books every year (that's around 21 books every month).

How To Read More – A Lot More

When I first saw that these guys were reading 15-20 books per month, I figured they had some sort of speed reading deal going on paired with a ton of extra time. Turns out that couldn't be further from the truth.

While Tim does advocate for a process that will increase your reading speed, he specifically mentions that there are some books he flies through and others that he savors.

Ryan claims to read at a slightly above average speed. His secret is that he made time for reading non-negotiable, like eating a meal or spending time with a significant other.

I thought about this for a while and decided to see if I could come up with a formula that would allow me to increase the # of books I read. Here are a few of the tactics I used to help me jump from 1 book every other month to 1-2 books a week:

Picture of My Bookshelf

Just a few of the books I keep on my desk for inspiration.

Choose Your Titles Carefully & Don't Be Afraid To Put A Book Down (Even If Everyone Else Loves It)

When it comes to reading, there's this stigma that says you have to finish the book once you start it. It's especially true when the book comes highly recommended by friends, celebrities or role models.

That's a sure fire way to miss out on a ton of great information. It takes 2-3x as long to slog through a book we don't enjoy, time that could be better spent starting up a new book.

I sent you The Tail End a while back. In it, Tim Urban talks about how he reads 5 books per year. If that's on par with the amount you read, you only have ~300 books left in your lifetime. Far less if you continue to read books you don't enjoy because you feel like you “have to.”

I personally use the 100 page rule. If I'm not enthralled after 100 pages, I move on to the next book. If I find that I'm forcing myself to push from 75-100, I just stop right there. I recently did that with The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. That book is a staple of “10 Best Business Books” articles, but I thought it was boring as hell.

Build Reading Time Into Your Schedule

If you want to have some fun this weekend, you're probably going to “block off” some time with your friends to grab drinks. Same thing goes for getting in shape – you set up a specific time to get your butt to the gym.

Reading is no different than any other priority in life. If you want more time to read, make more time to read. It's that simple.

The real key is finding time that doesn't conflict with other high priority items. For example, if you set up your reading time for 6-7pm, you're going to ditch it as soon as you get that happy hour invite. This will happen a few times before you just give up on your reading time because it's stressing you out.

After struggling to fit reading into my schedule, I found two times that work best for me:

The first is during lunch. Most people eat lunch at their desks or while they're doing work – a terrible habit. Instead, bring your food and your book somewhere quiet, away from your desk and away from the kitchen. Set a timer for 30 minutes and start reading.

The second is right before bed. I find that 45 minutes is plenty of time to unwind. Not only will you get additional reading in, but it will also help your sleep quality by not being on your phone or watching TV.

If you do this on weekdays, you'll add ~6 hours of reading time into your week. The average reading speed is about 1 page per minute so, if we do the math, you'll be able to squeeze in an extra 375 pages each week! That bumps you up to ~4 books per month (48 each year!).

Read A Mix Of Fiction & Non Fiction

I was chatting with someone the other day and they told me that they don't read fiction because “it's a waste of time.” Their argument was that you're not going to learn anything valuable from a fictional book so why bother.

In my experience, that couldn't be further from the truth.

I actually believed the same thing when I first started out in the business world. My rationale was, I want to be successful, I'm not successful yet, so I'm going to read all of these non-fiction, self-help, success story books until I am. Then, once I'm rolling in it, I can take time to read what I want.

I burned out after the 5th book in a row and stopped reading altogether.

See, reading is supposed to be fun. If you hate exercising, you're probably not going to make it to the gym very often. If you hate a specific type of cuisine, you're probably not going to eat it very often. If you're not enjoying the books you're reading, you're not going to read at all.

I personally love fiction and I've found that alternating books (one fiction, one non-fiction) has helped me triple the amount of non-fiction books I end up reading.

Again, if you're not enjoying the book you're reading, put it down and find another one!

Increase Your Reading Speed

I mentioned that you don't need to be a “fast” reader to hit the 50 book mark in a calendar year. That said, you will read more books if you're able to read faster.

I want to preface this section by saying that you should not start here. Working setting aside time to read and making it a habit. Once you're on pace for 1-2 books per week, then you can experiment here.

The average person reads around 330 words (or one page) per minute. Let's say the average book is ~200 pages. If you're an average reader and you stick to the schedule we outlined above, you're going to put away ~90 books per year. Inevitably there will be weeks where things come up and you miss days, or maybe you take a hiatus. Even if you take 12 weeks off, you should still be able to get through 70 books.

One of the most fascinating articles I've read was on a technique called the PX Project. It consisted of a single 3 hour cognitive experiment that produced an increased reading speed of 386% on average.

It was tested across five different languages and participants were conditioned to read technical material at more than 3,000 words-per-minute (wpm), or 10 pages per minute. That's roughly a 10x jump over the average person.

The protocol consists of a single 20 minute exercise and comprehension improves with every session. You can read about the step-by-step process here.

When I first read the article, I thought it was complete BS. However, after doing some research, it appears that the results were consistently replicated multiple times:

I haven't tried this myself, and the reason I'd caution you to try, is because of the point Samantha makes in her article. Sure, I may be able to zoom through a book at 10x the speed of someone else but did they enjoy it 10x more than I did?

To me, reading is about the experience. Savoring each word when the authors is painting you a mental picture. Racing through the anticipated buildup of a climactic point. I love that stuff and I don't want to blaze through it so that I can check another book off of the list.

However, your motives might be different and that is totally fine!

Any Suggestions?

As of right now, we're 17 days into 2017 and I have finished up:

  • Tools of Titans – Tim Ferriss
  • Home – Harlan Coben (great fictional read for anyone living in the NY/NJ area)
  • Vagabonding – Rolf Potts
  • Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson
  • The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing – Al Ries & Jack Trout

I'm going to work on keeping this list up to date as we move through the year. I'm also always open to recommendations. If you have a book that changed your life, feel free to leave it in a comment below. I'd love to check it out.

Austin Belcak

Austin is the founder of Cultivated Culture where he helps people land jobs without connections, without traditional experience, and without applying online. His strategies have been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, & Fast Company and has helped people just like you land jobs at Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, & more.

One thought on How I Read 80+ Books Every Year (& You Can Too)
  1. Yinka Adegbenle says:

    Great article as always Austin. As a new mom, it’s hard to carve out specific reading periods. Not impossible but hard. One of the things I do to get around that is to listen to audio versions of books. I can do the dishes and listen to the book or even listen while making dinner. It’s not the same as thumbing through a book but it is still better than not reading at all .



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