Why I Started Reading Fewer Books

I love reading books. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. I love the thought of reading. Reading, on the other hand, I find taxing.

I know many people who love reading. I’m not one of them. What I do love is learning. Since reading provides me the best and, perhaps, the most effective way to learn, I read. While I don’t necessarily find reading enjoyable, I read anyway.

Did you know over 300,000 books are published every year in the US? Yes, every year. That seems a tad excessive.

Thanks, Gutenberg!

If it wasn’t for his amazing printing press, there would be fewer books in the world. I would also have far fewer books on my bookshelf and in my Kindle.

I suffer from a buying books addiction. I can’t stop! I buy book after book, but I don’t always read them. Every time I look at my bookshelf, or look at my Kindle library and see all the unread books, I feel guilty.

Last year I decided to alleviate my guilt. I would make more time for reading. My reading would be intentional and focused. I would have a plan!

My plan revolved around creating two lists; Books I want to read and books I have read. I would choose a book from the “want to read” list and read that book and only that. Instead of having multiple half-read books, I would focus on one book and read it from beginning to end.

I would also keep track of the books that I read. Tracking would help me stay motivated, give me a plan to address my unread books, and provide feedback on my progress.

I am happy to report that my plan worked!

I read more books! I read a lot more books. I started my plan in April and by October I had read 53 books. I estimate, if I would have tracked the whole year, I would have read somewhere around 70 or 80 books.

I would read anywhere from one to three books a week. I was tearing through my unread books with ease. It was great. I felt good about myself and was proud of my accomplishment.

And then I stopped.

I didn’t stop reading. I stopped following my plan. I stopped tracking. I didn’t stop because I got lazy, I stopped with intention and purpose.

Why stop tracking when my approach seemed so effective? Basically, there were two problems with my plan that I didn’t anticipate.

For one, I was after the wrong goal.

If you looked at my list, you would see the books A Curious Mind (9 days), New to 5 (1 day), and Emotional Agility (5 days). Were they good books? I think so. To be honest, I can’t remember too much about them. Did I read them? Well, I saw all the words. I underlined things that seemed important. I can go back to Kindle and look at my highlights. Yet, I’m not sure the experience of “reading” those books was really what I wanted.

My stated goal was to read more books, which I was. But my real goal was to learn, which I wasn’t doing. I’m not sure I learned too much from any of those books. The fault wasn’t with the author, the fault was with me!

The second problem with my plan was the books I was choosing to read.

While I was reading a lot of books, I found I was gravitating toward books that seemed easier to read. If a book covered a difficult topic or seemed like it might take a long time to read, I wouldn’t pick it from my “to read” list. I started looking at the “average reading time” that Kindle lists and used that to pick the next book on my hit list.

In October, I decided to stop keeping track. Instead, I would focus on learning and choose books that could take longer to read, but offered a deeper insight and understanding of the subject matter.

Here are some key takeaways from my new approach:

  1. Passive reading isn’t the same as active reading.

  2. It’s okay to have unread books.

  3. Interacting with the book means I need a physical copy.

  4. Reading may not come naturally.

I am also learning that I don’t really know how to read a book. Not for deep learning anyway. So, I brushed off my copy of How to Read a Book that, I, ironically, listened to on Audible a few years back, and so I might find a process that helps me learn.

I assume I will be reading fewer books, but I am convinced I will gain a deeper understanding of the subject, read more challenging books, and, who knows, might just enjoy reading!

I may write another post outlining the process that I land on for reading. Right now, my process is too new to share. I have to live with a process for a while tweaking it through trial and error.

If you have a process or technique you use to read, share in the comments!

How 4 Tips Help Me to Read, Remember, and Learn

4 Tips that Help You Remember what You Read

Are you Sure that Leaders are Readers?

I used to think that leaders were readers because I kept reading that they were and the belief just seemed right. Many leaders do read, sometimes quite a bit. If you want an example, just check out Bill Gate’s book list. Some leaders believe reading is so vital, they put reading on their calendar. What do they read? Just about anything and everything.
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I now believe the “leaders are readers” sentiment misses the point. Effective leadership requires more than reading. Leaders must not just be readers, they really need to be learners. I know from experience that reading many, many, books, doesn’t necessarily lead to learning. While focusing on reading seems productive, if we do not learn from what we read, then we certainly are not maximizing the potential of the book.

If learning becomes our focus, rather than reading, a new world of possibilities open for us. I hope to focus on other ways leaders might learn, but this post outlines four tips that have helped me to read better, remember more, and learn from what I read:

1) Take Notes

I can almost hear the groans! Yes, taking notes is my number one tip. I feel your pain. I hate to take notes, but I find when I do, I retain more of what I’m reading. Research confirms that I’m not alone, as this Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching Paper reports.

I suggest handwriting your notes as well. Michael Hyatt has written about the lost art of note-taking and some of his comments relate to hand-writing book notes too. Getting a notebook so you can keep a journal of your reading and learnings can help you as you read, but also becomes an archive of important discoveries. This LifeHacker article about perfecting note taking techniques gives great suggestions.

2) Review Your Notes

Why take notes if you don’t review them from time to time? When you take time to review your notes, the information has a chance to go from short-term memory, to long-term memory.

I have a tendency to forget what I read. There have been times I start reading a book only to realize I have already read it. At one time, I almost purchased a book that I not only had on my shelf, but I had made copious highlights and underlines in the text.

Perhaps you aren’t like me, but I find simply highlighting, underlining, and dog-earing pages, doesn’t help me to remember what I’ve read or learn much from the book, but reviewing my notes does.

3) Find “Actionable Items”

This tip requires more work than the others. I don’t always find actionable items as I read, but when I don’t, I wonder why did I even read the book? Why read a 150 or 200 page book if I’m just going to continue doing the same things over and over again? One goal of reading can be change and transformation. If I’m not changed by a book, then I probably haven’t fully engaged it.

Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to spend more time with one book than reading many books. Being more selective would help me focus on quality works with actionable items leading to new skills. Knowledge doesn’t necessarily equate to wisdom, but applied knowledge does.

4) Get Help

We live in a great era for those who want to “get to the point” and forgo all the extra “fluff” that many books contain. Services like blinklist and MinistryLibrary distill pertinent information from books leaving the stories and antidotes for those with more time and desire to read.

Blinklist is like Cliff Notes, but shorter. They compress each book into multiple “Blinks,” each usually less than a page long. A book may have seven Blinks or up to around fifteen.

MinistryLibrary creates 5 – 10 minute videos summaries for each book and also transcribes the video just in case you don’t have 10 minutes, or you want to pass the information along to a staff person. MinistryLibrary also has “Workshops” which lists action items from the book, designed for staff to hold each other accountable to applying the lessons from the book.

Reading is one of many ways to become a learner. In future posts, I will explore some of the other ways to learn.

Yes, leaders are readers, but if we never learn from what we read, we forfeit the full potential of our books and reading time. If you have other tips, please share them in the comments!

Peace!

Dr. David.