Once upon a time in a bathtub…
January last year I set myself the goal of reading a book a week. Now one year later I’m happy to report back that not only did I achieve this, but it was one of the most satisfying & rewarding new habits I’ve adopted in years.
I achieved this without any speed reading tricks, a very busy life and having a reading speed almost 1/3 slower than the national average.
How did I do this?
Prior to this I was just like many of you. I wanted to read more, but every book I read would end up taking 2 – 3 months to complete…sitting on my bedside table gathering dust rather than giving inspiration.
Why was this happening? I enjoyed reading but with work / life balance commonly leaning too far on the ‘work’ side of the seesaw. My ‘wishlist’ was bulging with recommended reading from friends & mentors, so if I was to get through them..I was going to have to take action.
In this post I’ll share my method how I went from reading one book every two months to a book a week.
But first, why would you want to go to the effort of reading a book a week?
There’s a few reasons why I decided this:
1) Constant source of inspiration and Ideas
Some of the most impactful messages that have lead to catalyst changes in my life have come from books.
Take when I was studying for my PhD a few years back. I had fallen into it as it seemed ‘the next thing to do’ after I finished college. 6 months in I was bored.
My sister bought me a copy of The Four Hour Workweek on her honeymoon the previous year. I hadn’t thought much of it and it sat on my shelf for a few months, but during my PhD I read it and it opened up a new world of possibilities and opportunities that I had never heard of (they don’t teach Lifestyle Design on a Dairy Farm in Ireland 😉 ). It inspired me to quit my PhD, travel the world and start a business.
I can list numerous other books that have also had massive impacts on me in similar ways, but the point I make is that when you’re focused on growing as a person, it’s these kind of catalyst lessons that you crave, and the more books I read the more I open myself up to them.
2) Satisfaction of accomplishment
Hustling to be successful is hard work. Sometimes shit hits the fan, things don’t go according to plan and you have a bad week. It happens.
The feeling of accomplishment of finishing a book every week gives you a ‘mini-fist pump moment’, as if you’ve experienced a personal ‘win’.
For example if I’ve had a tough week at the office, perhaps I lost a big deal that I was hoping to close, it sucks. However that Saturday I finish the book that I’ve been meaning to read for 6 months = Mini-win! Doesn’t make losing the deal ok, but the extra accomplishment really helps when pushing hard in other areas of life, resulting in, I believe, increased happiness and balance.
This also means that instead of an insurmountable wish list of books to read, I know with certainty that I can get through them. My friend Michael sent me his new book ‘Do Breathe’ 3 weeks ago. I was able to feedback two weeks later on how much I liked it.
3) Something new every week
I love starting new things: a project, training regime or book. It’s the feeling of accompanying excitement. I always feel that there could be information in the next book that could impact my business or life in a positive way. That’s worth turning the page for.
Every Sunday I choose a new book, and I get that buzz. For the new cover, content and the words of wisdom within.
So hopefully that’s convinced you that reading regularly is a wise move, now let’s jump into how to get going
My 5 step guide to Reading a Book a Week:
1) ‘Finding’ the Time
The main question I get when I say to people that I read a book a week is ‘How do you find the time?’
You work long hours, you have a girlfriend/boyfriend that you want to spend lots of quality time with, you exercise, you go to networking events, you want to hang with friends. You’re busy?
I know…believe me I get it. I do all of the above.
When it comes down to finding in the time to read a book a week, it comes down to one thing:
This means preplanning and pre-prioritising the time you will spend reading (I’ve written in the past how I plan the time in my week here).
When reading your first few books, keep track of the amount of time it takes you to read a book. For me, I’ve found that it takes me (on ave) 6 hours to read a 250/300 page book (which is a general average length of a book).
For the Nerds out there (yep that’s me too), a 250 page book is approx. 75,000 words. This makes my reading speed to be approx. 208 words per minute (based on 6 hours reading),
That’s almost one third slower than the national average reading speed. So no Speed Reading here!
So armed with the information that
- A) I don’t need to read that fast, and
- B) A book takes me approx 6 hours to read
All I need to do next is schedule in 6 hours during my week for reading.
For me the solution is simple and relaxing… I take one-hour long baths, about 4 times a week between 10pm and 11pm each evening before I go to bed. I find this is quiet time that is free from distraction and feels a bit of a treat at the end of a long day. It also has the added benefit of helping me to sleep like a baby after (and only sometimes during) the bath.
I combine this with an hour’s reading at the weekend and another hour on the London Underground when I travel to my girlfriend’s place, on the other side of town.
(4 x 1 hour baths) + 1 hour at weekends + 1 hour travelling to my girlfriend’s = 6 hours reading. 6 hours = length of time it takes me to read one book!
What works for you?
From speaking to various people I’ve learnt that what works for me may not for you. I love reading in baths for long periods of time, however some people tell me that they can’t, because they get too hot etc.
Cool, well find something that does work.
Do you commute? Maybe you can either read on the bus, or listen to an Audiobook while driving? I cycle to my office & I like to plan my day in my mind while I do, so this time doesn’t work for me.
Can you escape to your room? Can you pop out for a cup of tea straight after work?
Evenings work for me, but I know others that like to read in the morning first thing.
Try a few things and see how your brain ticks. When you find your golden hour, schedule it in each week, stick to it and see those books fly off the shelf
Which leads me nicely to my next point
2) Chose your mediums
There’s only one-way to read right? Not so….
I read my books a number of ways, via Kindle (approx. 30%), hardcopy (10%) & Audiobooks (60%)…and I’ve found Audiobooks to be vital for me achieving my year goal.
A few years ago, a friend of mine tipped me off about Audiobooks. I was a bit skeptical at first but after trialing my first book on Audible, I was sold.
I now find audiobooks my preferred way.
There are a couple of reasons for this.
Firstly, it seems to fit my learning style and I retain information best when I consume via audio.
When I was in University; a company came in and assessed our learning styles. After answering what seemed like a never-ending list of questions, they broke us up into corners of the room based on the results of our learning styles: Visual, Kinesthetic, Auditory.
Most were in Visual, some in Kinesthetic …….I was alone in the auditory corner.
Side note: If anyone knows the name of this learning style test I’d love to know as I’ve completely forgotten – it involved learning styles and then dividing us into different color types based on personalities)
This is probably a reason why I like audiobooks, but there are other reasons:
– I can read while doing something else (cycling, running, driving etc)
– If you have the Audible app on your phone you always have a ‘book’ with you if you’re waiting around for that cancelled train etc
– Reduces the risk of dropping a book into the bath if you fall asleep 😉
Here’s a link to Audible offer where you can download the first book of your choice for free:
Another positive to audiobooks is that the timer tells you exactly how much you have to read on the book in hours (something that’s harder to estimate on a real book or Kindle) . Very handy when estimating how many hours you need to put in that week.
A word of warning on Audiobooks: Not every text is best suited for them. I’ve found that books that are narrative-styles work great in Audio,whereas reference books don’t work so well. Best to check the reviews page of the book on Audible where this will usually be mentioned (example of this is Blue Ocean Strategy, where the negative Audiobook review led me to buy the Hardback version)
3) Saying No
Creating time in your busy schedule to read a book a week, probably means you need to make space elsewhere.
For me, the main thing I say no to is watching TV. Other than the occasional football match, movie or documentary (e.g. Louis Thoreau’s has made a list of his favorite documentaries which I highly recommend you check out)
Not watching TV alone frees up the time I need.
What will you say no to?
4) Being Accountable
Tim Ferris talks in his books about power of accountability in helping new habits stick. Essentially he says that if you make a promise of something new, you’re more likely to commit to it.
I experimented with this this year in two ways:
1) I made a public promise in a previous blog post that I would donate £500 if I did not read a book a year
2) I said to my girlfriend that I’d do it, and didn’t want to look bad in her eyes
Strangely I found this second point to be more motivating than the first!
Despite everything I’ve just said here, I’m as severely flawed a human as the rest of us, and there were many times over the year where I had a week that the shit hit the fan, or was sick, or [insert hundreds of other excuses] and come Friday evening I’ve realized I hadn’t read a word yet, with just 1 day to hit my deadline.
So what do you do when this happens?
Simply: Expect it
If you follow the first four steps, I predict that 80% of the time you’ll finish your book in the week, but 20% of the time shit might hit the fan.
For those ‘shit hit the fan weeks’ I have a list of short books that might only take 1 – 2 hours to read that I can read in a morning at the weekend and still hit my goal. Two examples of these shorter books include:
Anything you want – Derek Sivers
Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl
Note: these are still incredible books, they’re just shorter than average (1-2 hours vs 6 hours). When you come across these, put them on your list and save them for a ‘shit hit the fan week’, which inevitably happens to us all.
The one thing I could’ve improved on, that I will be doing differently this year, is to write a very short ‘main takeaway’ note from each book I read.
Unfortunately my head is a sieve, I forget a lot of the great stuff I read. Yes I highlight stuff, but I rarely return to those highlights.
It frustrates me massively that I don’t remember more from the books I read (if anyone has any tips on remembering books better I’d love to know it).
To get a bit better this year, I’m going to write even a short ‘main takeaway’ from each book I read.
That’s it! That’s my 5 steps framework I apply to allow myself to read a book a week. I have found that it’s not only possible, but after following this process for a few weeks, you’ll even find it quite easy, and very rewarding.
Your Turn – How to take action
Do you read regularly, or would you like to read more?
If you’re planning to read a book a year this year, please let me know in the comments below, I’ll answer any questions you may have best I can.
Or if you already read a book regularly and have any tips that you think I’ve overlooked, would love to hear from you too