Up until two years ago, if you suggested that I read in my spare time, I’d probably unfriend you on Facebook.
Why would anyone choose to spend their precious free-time reading when we have so little of it? Why would I supplement all my compulsory textbook reading with more, voluntary reading?…
Two years ago, I tried my hand at starting a business. I quickly ran into some logistical issues and began to ask some friends for possible solutions. A few of them regurgitated nuggets of wisdom that, in the nicest possible way, didn’t seem to originate from their own minds.
It was clear that they had been learning from someone, somewhere.
Luckily for me, they were incredibly transparent that their advice had almost entirely come from books or podcasts, advising me to follow suit.
Being the idiot that I am, I decided that I’d first pursue “smarter” alternatives to reading, before actually reading.
So, I tried listening to audio summaries of books using apps such as Blinkist and InstaRead. They were useless.
These apps create audio summaries on entire (non-fiction) books using superficial one-liners and ‘key insights’. What they may as well have done is read out the chapter titles.
I was this (🤏) close to calling it a day before I tried audiobooks, the missing piece to my puzzle.
We all want to read more, but reading takes up time. Here’s some useful advice for even the laziest among us:
The beauty of an audiobook is, it gets books into your head when you have no means to be physically reading.
Take driving, for example. You’re commuting to work with the radio playing, or, you're listening to the same 5 songs that you played yesterday and the day before that. Dedicating this time to an audiobook, to and from work (or otherwise), is a simple change that yields huge returns.
Using 1.25x playback speed (Audible narrators often speak slower than normal to accommodate for everyone), a 5-hour book becomes 4 hours and a 10-hour book becomes 7.5 hours.
If you commute for an hour a day, total, you can finish an average-sized book in just under a week! That’s not to mention all the small, daily trips you might take with your headphones on, but that’d be asking a bit more of you.
It’s a small change to your daily routine that most people can commit to, without adding or removing anything from your existing schedule. Make this a habit and you’ll be reading 52 books a year, 2 more than Bill Gates.
The smaller, lesser-known secret is that reading 52 books a year shouldn’t be your end-goal.
Your aim should be to read, retain and apply the knowledge from those books.
Although I’d like to think I can retain a good proportion of these audiobooks and implement what I’ve learnt along the way, there came a point where all the audiobooks I’d read seemed to merge into one disorganised pool of ideas.
On reflection, I couldn’t distinguish which lessons were coming from where; heaps of information were seemingly being sieved out from my memory.
Audiobooks were great for so many reasons besides one: Information retention.
My solution? A Kindle.
The brain has a simple rule when it comes to information, if you don’t revisit it or apply it, you’re less likely to retain it.
Kindles have an inbuilt ‘highlight’ feature, making your clippings readily accessible online, separated and easy to sift through.
Additionally, the kindle has given me a healthier bedtime routine. As I get into bed, I read my Kindle until I struggle to keep my eyes open. At that point, I put it to the side and instantaneously fall asleep.
My brain now associates sleeping with reading and the kindle with getting a quick and comfortable sleep. It’s a great positive feedback loop; seeing as I only really use the kindle at night, I sometimes get into a bed a little earlier just to read a bit more, a helpful self-hack that gives me extra sleep.
Kindles are super light and can be palmed in one hand, unlike books which require a strenuous claw grip. They also have a backlit display which keeps them easy on the eyes, so no need to keep the bedroom lights on.
These days, if my next read is something I should be taking notes for, I might just skip the audiobook and go straight for the kindle version.
Or, I’ll consider using Audible to rapidly devour a new book. If I enjoy it and wish to commit certain bits to memory, I’ll reread it again at a later stage using the kindle, highlighting as I go along.
Revisiting books incorporates spaced repetition into my reading routine, a popular evidence-based technique to improve retention!
It’s easy to get into a reading slump. There’ve been times where I haven’t read my kindle or listened to an audiobook for months at a time.
I’ve put this down to two things:
My solution to the first point is to read something you want or need. If you want to read something, you can do it without resistance. If you need to read something, the desire to fulfil that need is usually the primary motivator. When you need to know something, you’re more attentive and focussed on finding the answers. It’s also in my opinion, the situation in which I best retain information.
Things become problematic once you’ve finished a title and start a new one simply to continue the habit.
In other words, you read for the sake of reading.
Those who read can all too often relate to reading a book they’ve lost interest in. We don’t want to skip to the next book and at the same time, we subconsciously don’t want to get back to reading it.
The result? We don’t read.
Don’t be afraid to put down a book if you’ve lost interest. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to leave a book unfinished but you should cut your losses. Nobody enjoys every book they read; the seasoned reader knows when not to let a bad book interrupt their flow of reading.
My solution to point #2 is, oddly enough, not to read.
If you’re comfortable with reading in some form or another and you’ve found what works for you, there’s no harm in taking a break. Habitual reading is great, but if you have something more interesting to do, choosing to read, instead, becomes a chore.
On Fridays, I spend my commutes listening to new music from Spotify. If it’s good, I might even pause my audiobook and listen to it exclusively over the weekend.
And, if there’s no book that I immediately feel I want or need to read, I don’t read.
Reading often is great; just remember not to let a bad book slow you down.
There’s plenty more books in the library.