How to be a Better Reader

[I] often get asked about my thoughts on reading. So for the benefits of disciplining myself to write this out, and to have as a resource to direct others to in the future, here is my advice if you’d like to improve your reading habits.

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Understand that successful reading, like much of life, is about creating and sustaining momentum. It all boils down to this in my opinion. In his book titled Rework, Jason Fried puts it this way: “Momentum fuels motivations. It keeps you going. It drives you. Without it, you can’t go anywhere.” So how do you create and maintain momentum in reading? Here are 5 ideas that have made all the difference for me:

  1. Focus Focus Focus – As a general rule I try to only read one book at a time (excluding the fact that I’m always reading through the Bible). When you start 3 different books because they all interest you, you quickly lose momentum when you don’t make much progress in any of them. The quickest way to establish reading momentum is finishing a book, not starting a book. Tackle one of the three first, and you’ll have speed going into number 2 and then number 3. (Coincidentally, this is also the best way to tackle debt).
  2. Pick the right books – Buy a book called The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership and start by reading chapter 4. It will completely change the way you pick what you read. The author lays out something called the 50 year rule that has totally changed how I pick my next books, and I’ve seen this advice pay dividends upon itself over the last few years of practicing it. This is probably the single most profound chapter of any book I can remember reading.
  3. Don’t let books become bullies – We’ve all experienced the feeling of adrenaline that comes from tackling that difficult book, and then the subsequent shame of defeat when it derails us and stops us from reading for months at a time. There are three solutions to this: 1) don’t read any difficult books; 2) discipline yourself more and push through it; or 3) find a way to keep your momentum. That’s the problem with books like this, they halt your reading speed. When I feel myself slowing down because of the difficulty of a book, I break rule number 1 (focus) and add a second book that I know will be an easy read. By supplementing this book, I get my momentum back and it gives me the confidence to push through the difficult book without relying on superhuman discipline.
  4. Baby steps – Make a goal of reading at least a chapter of a book a day. I aim to do this right before I go to sleep for the night, but it may be a different time for you. If you do this when you are motivated to read, and especially when you are not motivated to read, you’ll never lose momentum. Unless of course, you stop doing this. For some reason, we usually try to take out big chunks of a book at once, and this can be overwhelming and ultimately momentum-draining.
  5. Finish what you start – Like I said in #1, the quickest way to establish reading momentum is finishing a book, not starting a book. Conversely, the quickest way to lose momentum is to give up on a book. Yet I’m amazed how many people do not finish books. Every one of those failed books sits on your shelf, mocking you the next time you consider which book to read. Shut them up by finishing them, even if they are bad. If they are so bad that they are slowing you down, practice rule #3. If the book is a complete waste of time, then, and only then, abandon it. The last time I did this with a book was in 2005.

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Jeremy Jernigan

This is the personal blog of Jeremy Jernigan husband, father, executive pastor, and student of truth

2 Comments

Donna

about 3 years ago

This post is almost exactly a year old, and I think I read it last year, but your "top eleven list" brought me back to it. My question is how often you break rule #5 and give up on a book? My feeling is if a book is really bogging you down, and you're trying to finish it just to say you finished it (or just to keep your momentum going), it might be the wrong book or maybe the wrong time to read it.

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jeremy

about 3 years ago

That's hard to say Donna. Since I wrote that a year ago I haven't given up on any books. (Although one of them really tempted me...) Maybe part of it is being more selective in what books you decide to start (you could certainly skim through them a bit to get an overall feel before you commit to it). Or maybe I just have issues in this regard! I'm more curious as to how could you define a book as the "wrong book?" Shouldn't we be able to learn or gather something from just about any book? Obviously, some are better than others but I've never finished a book and regretted the time spent on it. Usually, I feel good about flexing my muscles of discipline and pushing through it. Overall, it might be something that each person has to find their own balance with and make sure that whatever they decide doesn't derail them from reading further but instead encourages it.

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