It’s a line you hear often, yet few people seem to really put it into practice: leaders are readers (or: today a reader, tomorrow a leader). So maybe I should say: leaders should be readers, are supposed to be readers. Most of us agree on the necessity of reading, but few actually make reading an essential part of their lives.
If you’re one of them, I’ll share in this post how I manage to read a 100+ books a year (I’m usually around 150 a year I think, I don’t keep track though)…and still have time for a lot of other things I’m passionate about.
What does it take to read 100+ books a year? Here’s my advice.
1. Make reading easy
The first thing you have to do, is making reading easy. I’ve bought myself a Kindle and an iPad so I always have something to read with me. When I go to the doctor’s, the dentist, when I’m traveling, where ever I go, I always have something to read with me and I use the smallest amounts of time to read a few pages. I’ve read whole books this way!
2. Learn to read faster
I admit it: I’m an exceptionally fast reader. It’s something that grew over the years as I kept reading and reading more books. But I’ve also invested some time in learning how to read faster and so should you. There are proven tips and tricks that help you to read faster. Learn these, practice them and invest some time in improving your reading skills and techniques.
Addition: after I wrote this post, a couple of people asked me for tips on speed reading so I thought I’d include them here. It’s here as with many things: you have to find what works for you. A well known method is The Evelyn Wood Seven-Day Speed Reading and Learning Program. Also well known is Howard Berg with his Super Reading Secrets. Personally, I like Tony Buzan (who also happens to have written a great book on mindmaps called The Mind Map Book: How to Use Radiant Thinking to Maximize Your Brain’s Untapped Potential, which is how I got around to using these more) who wrote Speed Reading. Try a few methods and see what works for you!
3. Read fiction
It seems to me most leaders are very focused on reading non-fiction, like books on leadership or in my field youth-ministry. That’s fine, but allow yourself to read fiction as well. It will not only help you to improve your reading tempo, there’s a lot you can learn from fiction. I’d say about half of the books I read each year is fiction and I love it.
4. Quit when you want
I’m someone with a lot of discipline, so for a long tome I made myself finish books that weren’t all that good, interesting or that contained little new information. If you force yourself to finish books you’re not really motivated to read however, you’ll waste your time and even grow a dislike to reading. If a book is not worth reading for whatever reason, put it aside and start a new one. It’ll keep you motivated a lot more than making yourself finish a book just for the sake of finishing it.
5. Read multiple books at once
This is another thing you can do to keep yourself motivated to read: allow yourself to read multiple books at once. There’s no rule that says you have to finish one book before starting in the next one. If you just bought a book that you can’t wait to read, start right away! It’ll keep you motivated to read and you can always finish the other book(s) later. I’m usually reading four to six books at the same time, sometimes even more.
6. Read what you like
I love romances, especially Christian historical ones. A lot of people may not consider these to be a good time investment, but I do. I love reading them, it completely relaxes me and I even learn a thing or two along the way. Allow yourself to read what you like, not just the books you feel you have to read. I do read a lot of youth ministry, leadership and theology, but I also read stuff that’s less practical and doesn’t have immediate applications, like biographies of US presidents and books about the second world war. If you have to force yourself to read the books you buy, you may want to consider buying different books.
7. Don’t sweat the retention
When I started reading non fiction, I wanted to remember the things I’d read. So I forced myself to make summaries of each book so I could remember the information I’d learned. I stopped doing that because it’s not about retention. There’s no test, except maybe a test in life itself. When something is really revolutionary and new, your brain will remember it, even if it doesn’t remember the exact words and points. You can look it up if you have to. Also, I do still highlight important sentences on my Kindle and iPad (I use the Kindle app here as well) and I can easily make these into a sort of summary if I want to.
I do want to add one thing: it’s not about the number of books you read. It’s not a contest to see who can read the most books. Ultimately, it’s about personal growth, about allowing what you read to help you improve your skills and knowledge as a leader. So don’t sweat the numbers, if you read three great books a year and allow these to really transform you, you’re all set. And there are also other ways of feeding yourself with new info, like audio-books (which I also consider reading by the way) and conferences.
How many books a year do you read and are you satisfied with that number? Do you see ‘results’ in your live of what you’ve read?