Let’s tackle five practical tips for reading more books. These are the exact tactics that I used to read 125 books in 2020. And regardless of whether your goal is higher than that, or lower than that, I’m very confident that these tips can help you not only read more books but also retain more of what you read.
1. Take full advantage of audiobooks
I’m a big believer in taking the time to sit down and physically read a really great book. It’s the best way to really study the information and to maximize our long-term retention of the key ideas and insights that are covered in the book.
But it’s also a very time-consuming process and not every book deserves this level of study. The very first time I explore a new topic or a new book, I pick up the audio edition, I listened to that because I find it’s far more convenient.
As just a simple tool or a simpler approach to explore more books, I highly recommend that you take advantage of audiobooks. Now I know that some people struggle with the audio format. And so I have two very important tips when it comes to using audiobooks.
- Make sure that you have something physical to do when you’re listening to an audiobook. You don’t wanna just sit down on the couch with a pair of headphones in and try to listen to a book because it’s very easy to get distracted or to have our minds wander when we’re trying to listen to a book and the rest of our body is not physically engaged in some way.
- Find the ideal playback speed for the book. So in some cases, depending on the complexity of the topic or the default speed of narration, I like to either speed up, playback or slow down playback to make sure that I can lock in with the content and really fall into a state of flow because if the book is too slow, then, of course, the mind begins to wander and we can get distracted and if the book is too fast, well, then we can’t keep up and really absorb the information.
2. re-read the most impactful books
When I was younger, the idea of re-reading a book that I had already completed seemed a little bit crazy to me. Why would I go back through an entire book that I’d already read when instead I might consider reading a new book and exploring a new topic.
As I mentioned, I start by going through every new book in audio format, but then once I’ve identified a book as being truly impactful in some meaningful way for me, then I like to pick up either the physical or more often the digital edition so I can go through it a second time.
Generally, I’ll wait at least three months before I take a second pass and the reason behind this is it has to do with our long-term retention and how the mind works.
I can take a break from that and continue to explore new audiobooks because the formats are so different with digital and reading the text and audio and listening to the content. It’s very easy to separate out these two experiences so when I’m ready for a break from reading the physical copy of the digital copy, I can continue to explore new and interesting books using the audio format.
3. mix in some entertaining books
Let’s continue on to tip number three, mix in some entertaining books. Sometimes it’s important to take a break from just reading purely educational books. This is very important because our brains can only process so much new information.
And once we reach that point, there really is no good reason to continue taking in more and more new information that we’re simply going to forget. But at the same time, it’s important to note that we do wanna maintain our reading habit, and we do wanna maintain momentum because if we take a long break, then of course it can be difficult to get back into reading and to get that momentum moving again.
So what I recommend is that you be very proactive about mixing in entertainment books so that you can kind of separate out one educational book from the next or every few books you can mix in something different to give your brain a break from just taking in new information. So for me personally, I like to read some fiction, investigative journalism, and documentary books.
The key here is really making sure that you’re choosing books that you consider to be an escape. So you’re not just taking in more information that you’re gonna have to process just like you would with an educational book, you wanna choose books that for you serve as a mental escape. There is time away from productive reading while still continuing to maintain your habits.
So very important that whenever you choose a book, even something like a documentary or investigative journalism, if for you that style of the book still is a form of education or an attempt to take in new and interesting information that might pertain to your job or your career or something like that, well, then you’re gonna wanna focus more on fiction books for this purpose, because again it’s all about finding an escape.
And for me personally, just to give you a rough sense of how I manage this, this tends to take up about 25% of my overall reading. Sometimes it’ll climb a little higher than that, but when I reviewed the books that I’ve read this past year, that is the percentage. It was right around a quarter of my overall reading and I like to be very proactive with us. I don’t wait for burnout or something like that, I’m proactive in mixing in the odd fiction book.
4. read multiple books on the same topic
Let’s continue on to tip number four, read multiple books on the same topic. In addition to rereading books that are highly impactful, I find a lot of value in reading books on a similar theme or a similar topic. And the idea here is it’s an opportunity to fill in potential knowledge gaps and to revisit key insights from an alternative perspective.
Now, in my experience, one of the very best ways to improve retention is to build a mental scaffolding around an idea. To lay a rock-solid foundation for how different ideas and insights related to each other and how they’re all connected. And so reading multiple books on the same topic allows you to lay a solid foundation, fill in more of the details, and have a much better context for any new information you might add into the mix.
It’s the difference between trying to memorize directions to a single location in a brand new city that you’ve never been to before versus trying to get directions to a very similar location in a city that you’re very familiar with, where you understand the landmarks, you understand how the city operates and because of this, because you’re holding a mental map of how the city works, whenever you’re given directions to a specific location, we’ll, of course, it’s much much easier for you to store and retrieve that information because instead of thinking about a hard defined route, you’re actually thinking about how that specific location relates to many other locations that you’re already familiar with.
So this is the idea and just as with getting directions in this kind of situation, understanding a concept or an idea, or a category of knowledge in this way makes it significantly easier to both store and retain information. Also reading multiple books on the same topic is a great way to avoid the overwhelm that we just talked about when it comes to taking on too much new information all at the same time.
By reading a second or a third or even a fourth book on a subject that you’re already familiar with. Well, this is an opportunity to reinforce what you’ve learned and to get a fresh perspective while at the same time, not taking on a lot of new information all at once that can lead to that kind of overwhelm. So if you’re just looking for a little bit more of a light approach to reading where you’re still learning something new and getting an alternative perspective, well reading multiple books on the same subject is a great way to achieve that.
5. start a competitive reading challenge
Let’s continue on to tip number five, start a competitive reading challenge. Often the most difficult aspect of taking on a big commitment is just getting started. And that’s because it can be very difficult to establish the habits and the routines that are necessary to make that goal happen. So whenever you’re setting an ambitious goal like this, to read more books over the next year, I highly recommend that you leverage the power of accountability and competition.
So two options that you have are number one, to find somebody else that like yourself is interesting did in reading significantly more books over the next year or number two, to find somebody else that has an unrelated, but equally ambitious goal of their own. And then that way you can work together with that person with a friendly competition designed to keep each other accountable. Now, if you’re gonna use this strategy, I highly recommend that number one, you get very clear on exactly what it is that you’re setting out to accomplish. You wanna have a clear way to measure whether or not you achieved your intended outcome.
And then number two, you want a simple way to break that goal down into manageable milestones over time. So for example, if your goal was to read 60 books over the next year, while you could divide that goal by 12 months and end up with a more manageable goal of reading five books per month, and not only does this make it easier for you to stay on track, but it also makes it easier for whoever you’re working with to tell whether or not you’re on track to reach your goal so they can keep you more accountable.