It’s rumored that between 618 and 907 AD — The period of the Tang Dynasty — the first printing of books started. Although the spoken language is much older, reading has “always” been an important part of how we share knowledge and absorb new information.
In an age of endless digital information, we can feel overwhelmed and actually learn less from the information overload we get on a daily basis. That’s why I personally committed to reading physical books on a daily basis and with the sole purpose of learning.
I have found ways to read more books even during the busiest of days and also learn as much as I can from every chapter I read. Here are some tips from personal experience that will help you build the habit of reading AND learning on a daily basis:
1. Pick a couple of books on different topics that you wish to learn about or read into. Having a diversity of topics decreased the chance of you getting bored of one topic. If you really wish to get into 1 specific topic (say: psychology or marketing) make sure to mix books that cover different angles of the same topic. This will increase the chances of you gaining new insights and linking one book to another.
2. Determine a timeframe for daily reading. I personally recommend one hour. That’s long enough to really get into it, but not too long that you get distracted or that it becomes major stress on your calendar. Find a fixed timeframe in your daily routine to build the habit. I use one hour right after dinner. Dinner get’s me out of “work mode” and a full tummy brings the energy to stay focussed. Find a sweet spot in your day and claim that time slot.
3. Ban all (potential) distractions. Shut down your laptop, mute your smart speaker, leave your phone in another room. Anything that can distract from focused reading should be nowhere near you and your books.
4. Find a place to read comfortably. This may sound like a no-brainer, but it might be harder than you think. Finding a nice, quiet, well-lit place that can support a fairly limited body position for a longer period of time is crucial. If you’re not fully comfortable you’ll get distracted, not to mention the discomfort you’ll be in.
5. Inform your surroundings. Referring back to point 3, make sure you won’t get distracted. Tell people who are most likely to want your attention that reading ought to be done in silence. Let them know why you do it, so they understand and won’t distract you. As a bonus, they might get on your case if you’re slacking and put you back on track.
6. Treat any book like it’s a syllabus. Be ready with a marker or pen and don’t shy away from marking interesting topics or key insights. This will help your brain retain that information just like you remember things better once you’ve written them down.
7. Take notes in the margins. I first heard about this from Bill Gates (not personally, he did an interview in which he said it). If you disagree with what is written, make notes in the margins. Do you see a reference or want to elaborate on something? Take notes in the margins. This will increase how your brain absorbs the information and you’ll start to see a book more as a dialogue in which you have an active part.
8. Before starting a new book, write down in one or two sentences what you expect to gain from the book. This will make sure you pick a book for the right reasons and lets you benchmark if you’re learning what you were hoping to learn.
9. Last but not least: finish it! If you start a book but it gets boring or it’s not an easy read…finish it anyway. This will teach you two things. One: not giving up and finishing what you started. Two: how to recognize the type of books you prefer reading. You will quickly learn to recognize books that have your preferred style of writing which will increase the chances of you actually wanting to finish it and learn something.
The most important thing is still: enjoy it!
Me personally, I enjoy learning new things and seeing new perspectives. I’ve become addicted to reading, taking notes, and finding new books that add to that information. Don’t make reading a habit if you don’t truly want it, no one is judging. But if you DO want it, use the above tips to make the most of it.
Bonus: a few personal recommendations on various topics
1. Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman (Psychology)
2. The Future is Faster Than you Think by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler (Technology, innovations, future of working)
3. Civilization and its discontents by Siegmund Freud (Psychology/creation of civilization)
4. Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim en Renée Mauborgne (Business, startups, marketing)
5. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely (Psychology, Human behavior)
6. Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom (Artificial Intelligence, Algorithms)