How to Build a Reading Habit That Makes You Smarter and Faster Every Week
I was never much of a reader (at best, I read blogs) before last year, but now that I’ve seen how much a reading habit has upgraded me, I’m never going back. I try to devour a book a week if I can. Even when that’s not possible (I try not to go below 2 per month), I’m learning and applying techniques from the best on a weekly basis. The application is going to be a focus here because it’s going to make a huge difference.
I wouldn’t call my habit a typical one. I worked hard to create my process to benefit as much as possible from using my time for reading. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.
Building the List
First thing’s first, you need to build a list that will make a difference for you. I chose personally to go with the big books in my niche. Fortunately, there were people out there writing for my present day needs. They gave me things I could use now. I learned a lot from titles like The Effective Executive and The 4-Hour Workweek. Here’s what will work for you no matter which industry you’re in: Talk to the people who have what you want.
Go to your friends and mentors and get started with their recommendations first. I’m talking the smartest, most successful people you know. Take about five recommendations from them, then start working on a list that’s all about YOUR needs. If you have a problem, try to pick books that allow you to read towards a solution by reading about people who are facing problems like yours.
Don’t be afraid of fiction. Fiction has been life-changing for a lot of people. Check interviews of your most respected people, because book recommendations come up pretty often.
For this habit to mean something, it needs action. Take notes on the things that are most important to your struggles. Writing notes on what you’ve learned will reinforce your memory and understanding of what you’ve learned. Highlight the sections that are most important to you, and mark them with tabs so that you can find the information you need when you need it.
Go farther than that, even. I’ve developed my own set of rituals that are designed to help me hammer something into my memory and then act on it immediately. Things like…
- Tag every page with a good passage with a sticky note
- Write down how a passage is relevant to me on some paper, and stick it in the pages
- Take pictures of passages that teach me something, and keep a gallery of them on my phone to run across when scrolling my pics
- Check every tab after I’m done reading the book so that I reinforce every point (if it’s not as relevant as I thought the first time, I take the tab out)
- Highlight every tab that deserves it for permanent reference
This works pretty well for me, and you can reinforce things with you own set of rituals.
Teaching is a huge phase of really understanding something. There is no better way to learn. Summarize the things you learn for advice for your friends, or work it into a blog or newsletter. Social media is fine, too. Just get it out there. Now, in addition to learning more, you’re turning it into value for others and positioning yourself as an expert.
I do it like this: The day before I post all this, I go back through everything I’ve highlighted. I turn the best points into a summary. Putting it into my own words in an important part of the process; it forces me to really think about how well I understand what I’m trying to explain. Additionally, I do some readings of the best parts on my weekly Facebook live. Speaking is another great way to test knowledge of the information and it gives me the chance to explain the idea and share it with other people.
I also like to pass things I learn directly to my team to help the organization as a whole.
Putting What You Learn into Practice
The final step is taking those notes you wrote and turning them all into action items. If a lesson is important to you, find a way to turn it into a goal and put it into practice as soon as possible. If you have access to Trello, you can do what I do and create a new card for your goal with a hard deadline. Paste the passage that you’re putting into action in the card, so you’ll remember what inspired you to try something different. I try to wait no longer than 2-4 weeks after finishing a book to assign myself a new technique or practice.
This is a great way to make sure you don’t lose sight of important changes you can make. As an additional benefit, putting something into practice and understanding why is a very rewarding feeling.
The biggest obstacle to a plan like this one is finding the nerve to get started. Trust me; it doesn’t take much discipline to keep going once you’ve started, especially once you’ve seen how much it can do for you. You don’t have to start big. You can start as low as one hour a week, and work your way up. Don’t even start with a big book if you don’t want to, just something you can finish. I wrote some ideas on how to kickstart this habit, here. If you’re looking some book ideas, I’ve got a few great suggestions if you want to get started.
If you want to see my habit in action, join me on my Facebook page for live readings every Wednesday at 8 PM EST.