This follows on from "On Getting More Done – Top-down, or bottom up?" - the basic idea behind that post is you can get a lot more done by either taking on a lot more responsibilities, which forces you to adjust and use your time better - this is the "top down" strategy. Alternatively, you can slowly build and reclaim time from your life, moving your time from less meaningful areas into more meaningful areas.
But let's get more specific. I read a lot of books. Most smart people want to read a lot of books, but don't find the time to do it. So, how to read more?
This is where the bottom-up approach shines. You slowly move time from less meaningful areas to more meaningful areas.
"Sebastian, I just want to read more. I don't care about this tracking stuff."
What does it take to read? Well, you need a book or some sort of words or something. Some light. And - time.
You need time to read.
Now, here's the thing about time. You can't get any more of it. You're already living 24 hours per day. That's 1440 minutes.
If you sleep 6 hours, you've got 18 hours to live the rest of your life. 1080 minutes.
If you sleep 8 hours, you've got 16 hours to live the rest of your life. 960 minutes.
If you sleep 10 hours, you've got 14 hours to live the rest of your life. 840 minutes.
To spend more time reading, you've got to redeploy some of your 1440 minutes from something else into reading. I think it would be helpful to understand where those 1440 minutes are going.
I mean, 1440 minutes. That's a hell of a lot of time, when you look at it like that. You can do a lot of stuff in 1440 minutes. I mean, I think you can produce some decent maintenance work in 20 minutes, and you can produce a small highly polished work in 300 minutes. "Defecting by Accident - A Flaw Common to Analytical People" - writing and editing that took around 300 minutes.
But you want to read more, yes? Well, me too. I love reading, and I think it offers one of the highest values per time of anything you could do.
But in order to read more, you need to do less of something else. I know, I know. Nobody likes loss, cutting. That's why I recommend you start tracking your time a little bit. See where your time is going. If you spend 7 hours in a particular day reading the news, then I almost guarantee you're re-reading some of the same stories and similar opinions. I think you could cut that 7 hours down to 2 hours, get 80% of the news still, and then redeploy five hours - perhaps into reading books, if that's what you want to do.
Or, is that too big of a cut? Why not cut from 7 hours of news time down to 6? I bet you'll still get 98% of the content in 6 hours, and then you have an hour for reading.
So the first point I have for you, the biggest point - you're currently spending your time somewhere. To spend more time reading, by definition you're going to be spending less time doing something else. I think it's worth tracking your time to see where it's going - if you're currently spending time staring off into space without even explicitly relaxing, then that'd be a good place to cut in order to read more. (I label staring off into space "Dead Time", and one of my missions in life is cut my dead time to almost zero. Explicitly relaxing, meditating, recharging, or resting isn't dead time - dead time doesn't even relax, focus, recharge, or rest you. It's just pure suck. If you catch some dead time, that'd be a damn fine place to start cutting in order to read more.)
Some Tips, Tricks, Etc.
So, above I outlined that in order to spend more time reading, you're going to need to spend less time doing something else. I encourage you to analyze how you spend your time in order to find the best places to make some cuts and substitutions.
Now, as promised, here's some quick tips, tricks, and strategies.
-Have a lot of books on-hand. I try to keep books on five to ten different topics for reading at the same time, so I'll always have something that suits me. In general, I try to keep one or more business books, one other nonfiction, some history, some fiction, some digestable-in-pieces books that are short stories or quotes, and maybe a biography and some philosophy. This means there'll always be something I want to read.
-The Kindle is fantastic for this. I love the Kindle. I like paper, but I like having 160 books with me all the time even better. Recommended.
-I keep a "Current Targets" list. This has been *magnificent* for me. Here's my current Current Targets:
*GW, or something else
*Body for Life, page 37
*Get more Schelling, read it
*Rise and Fall
*How to Live 24 Hours Per Day
*Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky
*Mao Tse-Tsung, On Guerilla Warfare
*Body For Life
*A reminder to get more content by Thomas Schelling, the game-theorist
*Yamamoto Tsunemoto's 17th century samurai philosophy Hagakure
*World War II history - The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
*"More Mailchimp" means the free guides Mailchimp publishes on running a newsletter. I was impressed by the first one I read, so I'd like to read the rest of them.
*I've been meaning to re-read "How to Live 24 Hours Per Day"
You'll note there's no fiction on there. That's because I recently finished the three pieces of fiction that were on the list - Devil's Guard, Paolo Cuehlo's The Alchemist (excellent) and Eliezer Yudkowsky's fanfiction "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality" (also excellent).
I've got a few more pieces I'm reading that I haven't added to the list yet. Lenin's "What Shall Be Done?" and Casanova's Memoirs. I've also got two copies of Lim Cheng Soon's excellent Hacker Monthly magazine to go through, and I was given some Malaysian and Islamic history info at tourist sites - it looks pretty thorough and higher quality information than normally in brochures, so I'll spend an hour going through that.
So you can see - I've got three books on organizing people and guerilla warfare, one on nutrition/fitness, one on samurai philosophy, one on history, one on time management, some business/newsletter guides, an autobiography, and some history/theology.
I'll look to add some new fiction soon. I love good fiction. But the main point is, having a lot of different books onhand makes it easier to read, because you're more likely to have something you want to read.
-Current Targets has helped me a lot. Now, you might already know that I have a little tracking sheet that I fill out each day. At the end of the day, I fill out the challenges section. It looks like this -
Did I start the day in my planner instead of online?
Did I only check email when I was ready to write back immediately?
Did I only check a site once, then done with it?
Did I check "Current Targets" if I caught myself wasting time?
Did I prioritize books/good learning instead of mindless surfing?
Did I make war on procrastination?
You'll see two things related directly to reading on there. First is,
"Did I check "Current Targets" if I caught myself wasting time?"
This is because surfing the internet is literally instant gratification. I click the icon to open my browser, and then it's another one click to be on Hacker News, LessWrong, or get into a game of chess. Whereas it's a slightly more effort to open up Current Targets, look at the books I'm reading, and then open the pdf, Kindle, or paper copy that I've got of it.
Thing is, it's not much more effort. It's only about 30 seconds more. But even that little 30 seconds can sink you. So at the end of the day, I'm forced to write "No" if I didn't check current targets and instead surfed the net. I *want* to open Current Targets instead of surfing the net. (There's also things in current targets related to writing articles, projects, researching things... just general good stuff I can do that's not urgent and doesn't need to be scheduled)
The second item is, "Did I prioritize books/good learning instead of mindless surfing?"
It's funny, being forced to look at your failures helps a lot. It's hard for me to go a whole week without reading, because I'm forced to write "Did I prioritize books/good learning instead of mindless surfing? No." at the end of the day if so.
Also, my start of the day routine - before even getting online - includes "Check Current Targets" for me to see if there's anything in particular on there that suits my fancy that I'd like to do that day.
-Kindle: The Kindle, or some other ebook reader, helps a lot. I've always got dozens of books with me. I like paper, but having an entire bookshelf in my bag that weighs less than a kilo is a winner. Highly recommended.
-Free books: Everything out of copyright is free and usually easily accessible. I like Gutenberg.org - there's many great works there. This is an easy way to fill up on classic fiction, history, science, and philosophy.
-Some books are readable in the browser and some aren't. I'd recommend you find a few books that read well in the browser, so that you could incorporate them in your surfing. If you're having a game of chess online, or chatting with someone in a slow paced chat, or otherwise have to be online, then you can still get some reading in on the screen. For instance, "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones" has some short stories related to Zen Buddhism, some of which are really, really insightful. Hagakure is readable in short bursts in the browser. There's pdf copies of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, and I prefer reading it on the Kindle, but it's okay to read in the browser at fanfiction.
-Turn your commuting time into reading time. Bring a book, Kindle, or other device with you as much as you can. Even if I don't have my laptop, I'll carry a shoulder bag with a couple notebooks, my Kindle, maybe another paper book, and chargers for my iPhone and Kindle. I probably pick up 10+ hours a week of reading time just filling in the blanks and dead time. I read on the train or bus, while I'm waiting for an appointment, while I'm waiting for food, etc.
-I read while eating. While this might sound like sacriledge to people that are into really immersive food experiences, it's perfect for me. It makes me eat slower, which is good (I'm naturally a very fast eater). I read, which is good. It's a good combination.
-I'm not shy about reading in other places people would be shy about it. I read in the customs line at the airport, or while waiting to board the plane. At first I was shy about this - it kinda doesn't feel proper, y'know? - but as I traveled more, I got more comfortable with it. I'll always read while waiting for a doctor's appointment, dentist's appointment, or for anyone I'm paying (accountant, lawyer, etc). I'll frequently, but not always read while waiting for a business meeting. Sometimes you need to have high awareness and focus right before a meeting, and reading won't be appropriate. But generally speaking, people tend to be curious about what I'm reading and it goes over well. There's some situations where it wouldn't be appropriate, but not too many.
*To spend more time reading, you need to cut time somewhere else.
*I recommend you track your time to see where it goes, and look for places to cut and swap in reading.
*Have a variety of books to read, so you have something that appeals to any reading mood you might be in.
*The Kindle is great for this.
*Gutenburg.org has lots of free, out of print books.
*I keep a "Current Targets" list of everything I'm reading or want to read next, with the page or chapter I'm on.
*At the end of the day, I answer the questions "Did I check "Current Targets" if I caught myself wasting time?" and "Did I prioritize books/good learning instead of mindless surfing?" A few days in a row of marking no and you become very aware. Thus, it naturally self-corrects.
*Have a few books that are online bookmarked in your browser when possible. Sometimes you've got to be in a web browser for some reason, having something suitably readable in the browser is good for those cases.
*Read while commuting.
*Read while eating.
*Read while waiting on appointments.
*Don't be shy about it - it's different, but it's not going to give you any hassles. Actually, a calm nonchalance in situations like the customs line might get you through faster.
Your recommendations in the comments?
I use Evernote to write down every quote that I find interesting, and I also tend to read everything (ebooks, blogs, etc) in my browser because it makes this process easier (I use Chrome with the Evernote extension). Its kind of having a virtual mind.
Thanks for the tips!
So... do you have some place that you rate/review the books you list or simple list them? I mean like goodreads and shelfari?
Have a variety of books to read, so you have something that appeals to any reading mood you might be in.
You're totally right about this. I used to feel bad about the fact that I often drop a book which I haven't finished in order to read something that was suddenly more appealing (that must make me undisciplined and unlikely to succeed, right?). I've come to accept it as just part of how I work, and I think it's actually a net positive since I'm building connections between disparate subjects (making the information easier to recall) and getting quite a bit of cross-fertilisation among ideas.
But I still don't want to drop a book and forget to finish it. I came across a method which seems to be working pretty well for me at the moment. You take 5 books you're currenty reading and stick 'em in stack. Read from the top book as much as you feel like reading in one sitting. Put that book on the bottom of the stack. Repeat until you finish one of the books, then insert a new book in it's place.
It's a nice way to inject just enough discipline into my otherwise random reading habits that I feel like I'm getting the benefits of both approaches.
I used to read a LOT in addition to listening to audio books and the (weekly) Economist audio edition (which I highly recommend, comes with the paper edition, which btw is on Groupon today for $51) but after doing that for about two years I found that while I had learned a LOT I had less time to just think, synthesize, and come up with my own ideas. It gave me a great base in a broad range of topics for further learning but I felt that it wasn't the best use of my time and mind in the long run. I also felt that the more I crammed in, the harder it was to focus (See Paul Graham's "The Top Idea in your Mind" http://www.paulgraham.com/top.html)
Nowadays I'm more focused on actively doing and my reading is there to support this. My recommendation is:
*) Have a few things/projects that you care about (self improvement can be one of them).
*) Read mainly things that directly support these or inspire ideas related to them.
*) Make sure to absorb, retain, synthesize the truly important bits.
*) Have one way of consuming general news but don't worry too much about it unless you want to become involved in politics, foreign affairs, etc. If so, awesome! (I recommend the Economist Audio Edition, they have their biases and it's nice to supplement it but most newssites are full of random human interest stories that'll suck up time).
*) Read other things for inspiration/enjoyment - this one is totally up to the individual and whatever you enjoy - I still recommend writing down quotes and ideas that you like and write them down somewhere.
One of the things I've gotten tremendous amounts of mileage out of it is tracking my time, habits, and life each day.
To put it simply - I now realize it's impossible to understand how your life is going without some careful observation. There's a lot of time each day, and knowing where that time goes, what you ate, what you did and didn't do... it's almost impossible to get a good picture of your life without some kind of measuring.
I'm going to you my newest tracking template, and then I'll give some analysis. Before I start though, I'd like to share a quote -
“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.” -John Gall
Thus, if you want to track your time, please do not attempt to track 20 things at once, because it's unlikely to work. I started very simply, as I described in "The Evolution of My Time/Habit/Life Tracking" - I'd recommend you read that post if you want to do something like this.
There are three items I own which I'll always upgrade when a significant upgrade exists: my computer, my camera, and my Kindle. Yesterday I got my new Kindle, the fourth generation one that was just released. Before I talk about this specific Kindle, I want to address some general points about the Kindle.
Some people balk at the $189 price tag of the newest 3G Kindle (which is the only one to buy, by the way). It's expensive, but only if you consider it a drop in replacement for books. I consider it $200 to ensure that I read at least 10X more than I used to.