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11 Feb 2019

Will Reading “a Lot” Make Me More Effective?

Rebecca Cole - Blog - 0 comments

I’ll admit it, when I saw that reading was the first habit on the list, I felt a bit smug about it. I’m a life-long book-worm; one entire wall of my living room is taken up by floor to ceiling bookcases and the books on them are ALL mine. Those of you who know my husband won’t find that hard to believe, he’s hardly a voracious reader. Unless vintage copies of AutoTrader count. Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll say “Becs? Oh yeah, she reads loads”- so I thought I was in for an easy ride with month 1.

But then I sat down and thought about how much reading I manage to fit in these days – and it turns out not as much as I used to, not by a long stretch. A lot of factors contribute to this, but the main culprits are:

  • Having children. Obviously! Gone are the Sunday afternoons spent reading on the sofa/in the garden/in the park. Not that I’m complaining. Sunday afternoons spent at kid’s soft play parties with thirty screaming 6-year old’s are equally relaxing…
  • Installing a TV in the bedroom. My main reading time was normally before going to sleep, as a way of winding down, but now I find myself watching TV instead. I’m not saying which shows, this blog is revealing enough as it is thank you.
  • I’m just not a fan. I have one, and the ease of being able to instantly download books is of course attractive. But I can’t seem to get as excited about a kindle book as I can about one in print. I look at a screen all day at work – I’m not in a rush to spend yet more time with one when I get home.
  • All those train journeys that used to be spent book in hand are now spent phone in hand, checking work emails/LinkedIn/Twitter…

Taking all this into account, it became apparent that I would need to make some changes if I was going to be able to fit reading into my current lifestyle – and that other habits might need to go to make room for this one. To help myself along I set some rules, namely; always read on the train (rather than checking email/social media), to read before going to sleep (rather than watching TV/checking my phone) and to try and find at least an hour every weekend day to read. This already sounded completely unrealistic! What could possibly go wrong!

The next thing I did was some research into the theory behind this habit, and I quickly found that my usual diet of crime and sci-fi/fantasy (go ahead, nerds are cool I don’t care) wasn’t going to cut it. Apparently, the reading material in question would ideally be a bit more cerebral than that, pfft. According to Tom Corley, author of “Rich habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals”, rich people read for self-improvement whereas poor people read primarily to be entertained. The wisdom on this seems to be that biographies of “successful” people are a good place to start. I also wasn’t sure how much reading constituted “a lot”? Warren Buffet is said to read 500 pages a day (you WHAT mate?). Bill Gates used to read a book a week, and Zuckerberg reportedly reads one every 2 weeks. I used this information to set a target of reading 1 non-fiction book a week, 1 full length article a day, and 1 fiction book a month (just to keep the fun).

So how did it go? 3 weeks later, I am pleased to announce that I’ve managed to read (and in the main, enjoy) the following: ‘Thrive’ by Ariana Huffington, ‘Mythos’ by Stephen Fry, ‘The Snowball’ by Warren Buffet, The Autobiography of Malcolm X and ‘Our House’ by Louise Candlish. I also started (and quickly discarded I’m afraid) ‘Pour Your Heart into it’ by Howard Schultz.

light reading

Hurrah! Well, maybe. As with most tests, some things worked, and some didn’t. For example, I was scrupulous in my rule about only reading in bed and not having any tv/iPad/smartphones on during this time. Which would have been great, apart from the fact that it turns out, reading a book is so much more conducive to falling asleep than “screen time” that I was asleep about 10 minutes after hitting the pillow, only managing about 4 pages before conking out… And it’s fair to say that to begin with, I found myself being so worried about finishing a book by a self-imposed deadline that I was trying to cram in reading literally whenever I could, and that really wasn’t working. I managed a page and a half whilst feeding my daughter. I managed 4 pages whilst waiting for my chicken at Nando’s (judge not – it’s my sons ‘post swimming lesson’ choice, honest). Snippets of reading just wasn’t really working, there’s no time to get ‘into’ the book and I found myself more mechanically reading words than grasping the messages. But once I settled into it, I found that reading (like exercise) is self-sustaining. The more I read, the more I want to read. This habit is habit forming – the more you do it the easier it becomes, and that’s a huge advantage.

reading with child

There’s also a significant difference between reading non-fiction and fiction, and whilst I know that sounds obvious, I was surprised by the level of difference. Whilst fiction is escapist, with non-fiction I found myself carrying around the pages that I’d just read in my head and spotting practical applications for the insights I’d gained. I started with a book (Thrive) with a large focus on well-being, and the value of sleep, meditation and general wellness. During the week I was reading that I was much more aware of my own sense of well-being, and more attuned to the importance of prioritizing it for our staff. Obviously that sort of applicability isn’t something you normally get with serial killer crime novels.

I was also surprised by how vehemently I disliked one of the autobiographies that I tried to read (I was also a bit underwhelmed with another). It was ‘Pour Your Heart into it’ by Howard Schultz and I pretty much instantly hated the “sound of his voice” (and that was before all this presidential rubbish). I suppose it makes sense, autobiographies are a very personal read and if you don’t like the person who is both the author and the sole subject matter than you’re not going to enjoy spending 5+ hours in their company.

There were some things that I failed dismally at. I didn’t manage to read a single article. I imagined myself reading long and fascinating thought pieces in broadsheet newspapers (even though I think newspapers of that size are ridiculous in this day and age – we’re not extras in Downton Abbey people). But unfortunately, I somehow forgot the fact that I don’t ever buy or read newspapers, which was probably something that I should have considered relevant. All the news content I get is online, so it was a bit of a stretch that I was going to manage that goal.

To try and draw some conclusions: At the end of the first road test, I can confidently confirm that reading is good. You’re welcome.

Seriously though, here are my main takeaways:

  • Non-fiction is a much better source of learning and development, and if you pick the right books then you will be able to gain practical and usable applications for your day to day life
  • Autobiographies are a very personal read, so start with people you like!
  • Don’t try and shoehorn this habit in or make it a chore. Rather than snatching 5 or 10 minutes of reading here and there try and find 30 minutes or more. You wouldn’t go for a 4-minute run, and this is the same.
  • Find a way of getting reading to fit into your current lifestyle. You can stretch your routine or amend it in some places – but the overall shape of your life exists for a reason, and this habit is much more likely to stick if it’s integrated into the life you already live.

Habit 1 certainly gets a thumbs up from me, so that’s a good start. If you happen to have read any of the books in this blog (or if you want to champion why I should give Howard Schultz another go!) then let me know. Next month is “Organise lessons learned for future application” which sounds a bit cryptic, but we’ll give it a go!

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