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How I Read

I was at coffee with a close friend on Friday, and the subject of reading came up.

He, like most people, reads a few books a year, but I tend to read a lot more than most people—last year, I read about 40 books, but in the two years prior I broke 80. As with most habits, I tend to read less when I'm overwhelmed, and 2023 was a particularly stressful year for me, but 40 books is still no small feat compared to most people.

The thing is, I am by no means a fast reader. In fact, I am often frustrated by how little progress I tend to make in a single session. So, how can I still knock out between one and two books a week (on average)?

When I really put some thought into that question, the answer ultimately comes down to a few things: commitment, variety, and availability.

First, Commit...

When something is important to you, you tend to make time for it. I'm not a gym rat—more like a pizza rat—so I don't think I'll ever wake up at the ass crack of dawn for the sole purpose of sweating my ass off; but I will absolutely wake up early to read.

My kids wake up to get ready for school at 6:15 in the morning in order to catch the bus at 7:15. I start work at around 8:45, which means I need to be dressed, ready, and walking out the door by 7:45 if I want to have time to commute, purchase an overpriced Americano, and do a mindfulness meditation in my car before the ritualistic torture that is "my job" begins.

As you can imagine, my mornings can be chaotic, overwhelming, and (often) shitty; but reading helps. So I wake up at 5am, make some tea, and retire to my office where I turn on some lo-fi beats, flip the heater and essential oils diffuser on, and cozy up in the recliner to read for the next hour.

If it sounds a little ritualistic, it's because it is. I need to start my day off right, and this has been the best way for me to at least reach a healthy baseline.

...But Not Too Much

If you visit my library page, you'll see that I almost always have more than one book in progress. There are a few reasons for this, but the main one is that I like to have different books to meet different moods.

Sometimes I want to read a graphic novel (which is absolutely still reading), or a philosophy book, or a biography, or a technical book, or a fucking self help book; which means that having a few different books in progress gives me some variety to choose from.

If you only read one book at a time, then you are at the whims of just that one book. If you don't feel like reading about leadership principles or how awesome Tim Ferriss's life is, then something that should be enjoyable becomes a slog.

Give yourself options and let your reading follow your moods in order to make a dent in your massive book backlog.

I'd also like to call out that another side benefit to reading multiple books at the same time is synchronicities. I experienced this a lot in college, where the materials from one course overlapped in weird and unexpected ways with other ones I was taking, resulting in a kind of feedback loop that helped the subjects sink in better.

Reading is no different.

You'd be surprised how seemingly different books complement each other, allowing you to create connections that you might not have otherwise noticed if you single-threaded your reading.

Make It Easy

One of the key components to habit building, as per James Clear, is making it easy.

To repeat myself from about 4 sentences ago: reading is no different.

While I read multiple books at the same time, I am careful to deliberately read multiple books on multiple mediums at the same time.

WTF does that mean?

It means that I almost always have a physical book in progress (you know, the kind printed on dead trees), a Kindle book in progress, an eBook in progress (Moon+ Reader Pro for Android is a must-have), and sometimes even an audiobook in progress.

By having access to a book at all times, I'm more likely to read that when I have a moment than scroll social media (although I also don't have social media or news apps on any of my devices, and relegate entertainment apps like Netflix to my tablet only).

You may be wondering why I maintain a distinction between Kindle books and eBooks; in short, it's because they are read on two different types of devices. Sure, I can read a Kindle book on both my phone and Kindle device, but that convenience doesn't apply so readily to eBooks acquired outside of the Amazon ecosystem (and, while I know that you can upload external eBooks to the Kindle, the highlights don't automatically sync to Readwise, which is how I backup and reinforce what I read and learn).

So I keep them separate, and it works for me.

Finding Your Zen

There's a common refrain about time management that it's not that we don't have the time to do the things we want to do, it's that we don't make time.

While that is technically true, the reality is more complicated.

It's not that we don't make the time, it's that we don't have the energy to do what we want with that time.

If you want to read more—or do anything more, for that matter—it's not just about prioritizing it. It has to fill your cup. You have to work it into your life in a way that doesn't feel like a chore, but instead like a gift.

I not only love to read, I need to read. It's how I keep cool when the world feels like it is falling apart around me. It's what slows me down and brings me to my center.

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This is post 030 of #100DaysToOffload