36:30 – How to Read 36 Books a Year in 30 Minutes (or Less) a Day
“Read books that are relevant to what you want to achieve and reading will never seem boring.”– James Clear
About ten years ago, I met Madan Birla, author of Fedex Delivers. We were talking about craft. “A writer’s job is to connect the dots,” he shared. “So if you want to be better, you need to collect more dots than the average writer. You need to read more.” Since then, I’ve set a goal to read 50 books a year and managed to average 45 annually.
The business of real estate is ultra-competitive. I think Birla’s advice holds true for real estate entrepreneurs. Books allow us to tap into the experience of the world’s top performers on demand. We can identify winning strategies we didn’t design, learn from painful mistakes we didn’t commit, and adopt new models we didn’t invent.
Our personal experience isn’t broad enough to scale our businesses through the ups and downs of the market. We need coaches, mentors, and advisors to succeed long term. And books are the lowest cost, most broadly available resource available. No doubt, Harry S. Truman had that in mind when he said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
Because of this, most successful agents buy lots and lots of books. Despite this, most of those books remain unread. Bibliotowers adorn bedside tables. Audiobooks hibernate in our listening queues. And forgotten ebooks lurk in our devices. The Japanese have a word for this: Tsundoku.
The solution is to build a daily reading habit and some rules for reading.
Build a Daily Reading Habit
When I interviewed author Ryan Holiday on reading, he pushed back on the idea we don’t have enough time. He had built the habit not only of daily reading but also of reading in tiny gaps throughout the day. Instead of checking Facebook waiting for dinner to be ready or for your next Zoom appointment, read a couple of pages of your book. As you’ll see, those 5-minute gaps can add up to a lot over time.
After my meeting with Birla, I set out to read 50 books a year. I’ve never quite done it. I’ve actually averaged 45 books a year for the past nine years. What a loser, right? The goal I’m suggesting for you is 36 and it’s absolutely doable.
Start by time-blocking 30-minutes a day. As we wrote in The ONE Thing, the best time to do this is in the morning. Before you get sucked into your inbox or cannonball into social media, grab a cup of coffee, set a timer for 30 minutes, and start reading.
The average business book will run about 240 to 272 pages. But even in the longer ones, there are rarely more than 250 pages of actual content. If you stack all the books you’ll read in 12 months, that’s 9,000 pages to read. Divided by 365 days, you get about 25 pages a day. Most adults read about 238 words per minute. That’s a little slower than a page a minute. So we’ll round up and call it 30 minutes.
Nine thousand pages sounds insurmountable. It’s like reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace eight times. But like most of life’s big challenges, when you break it down it becomes much less intimidating. Twenty-five pages is just a chapter or two. Half an hour isn’t that long.
If you are an audiobook person, you’ll need longer. Reading out loud takes about 25% more time than reading on the page. So maybe go for a 45 minute walk with Fido while you listen.
Five Rules for Reading
Rule #1: Read with Purpose – Each year I pick a few areas I need to work on and read several books on that topic. Finance is one of those topics for me. I keep a stack of unread money books on a special shelf and read four or five annually. Most years, I’m also focused on improving my knowledge around a topic like health, marketing, parenting, or leadership. So I’ll start another pile of recommended books. By reading deeply on a topic, we get multiple perspectives. Each topical book also makes future reads go faster. By the second or third book, you’ll find a lot of common ground. This allows you to skim or skip sections, which is one of the primary reasons I prefer physical books for my purposeful reading.
This first rule should leave more than twenty books on your reading plan for you to fill with popular bestsellers, impulse reads, and recommended reading. Don’t plan out all 36. Don’t make it a chore. Give yourself options so you can pick the next book that speaks to you.
Rule #2: Take Notes – The point of reading is either pleasure or purpose. If you’re reading for pleasure, ignore this rule. If you’re reading with purpose, the point is to learn. There is no better way to ensure learning than to take notes. I write in the margins and underline passages I like. My goal is to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for my future self. If I need to revisit the book, I don’t want to have to read it again. I just want to browse my notes and underscores to refresh my memory.
When I listen to audiobooks, I open a Notes doc on my phone. When my dog, Taco, stops to inspect the fire hydrant, I jot down my ahas.
All this to say, the point of reading a book isn’t just to say you read it.
Rule #3: Reward the Activity – I read for pleasure and purpose. Whenever my favorite novelist publishes a new thriller, I’ve learned to add it after a tougher non-fiction read. As I’m working my way through that book I need to read, I know a reward is waiting for me. It’s amazing how effective this has been for me.
Also, don’t look down on fiction. When your kids were engrossed in Harry Potter, you didn’t bemoan the fact they weren’t reading Good to Great. Reading for pleasure activates the imagination, expands our vocabulary, relaxes the soul, and helps us understand the human condition.
Rule #4: Quit Bad Books – File this under, ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ As I wrote in my September 23 edition, I’m not good at quitting. I’m actually better at not starting. I’ll browse through a prospective title and if it looks like a rehash of old ideas, I stick it on my giveaway pile. If a book doesn’t measure up, give yourself permission to move on. You don’t need to read to the end.
Rule #5: Track Your Progress – I track my reading on my 411. I also empower my coach to hound me if I am falling behind my goal. I know others that stack the books they complete each year. It’s the opposite of a tsundoku. And it can be incredibly gratifying to watch your tower of read books grow.
At the end of the day, you can read 36 books a year by just finding 30 minutes a day for your reading. Every day you do this, the odds you will discover a life-changing idea go up.
One question to ponder in your thinking time: What area of my personal or professional life would most benefit from purposeful reading?
Make an Impact!