How I read 37 books in 2019

Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash

Happy 2020!

Reading more is one of the most popular new year’s resolutions, and rightfully so. The benefits of reading are countless and impressive.

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At the beginning of 2019, I decided to do the 52 books in 52 weeks challenge as part of my new year’s resolution. By December 30th of that year, I read 37 books, which I tracked in an excel sheet.

The year before, I did the same challenge and read 21 books.

I have always loved books and reading.

My earliest and fondest memories of my childhood include reading books, magazines, and newspapers endlessly.

Unfortunately, with the spread of social media and smartphones, reading for fun became a rare activity.

Although I would still read a few books here and there, the distraction of the digital world proved to be too powerful. I often found myself inching through a book for months on end. At times, I didn’t read any book for long stretches of time.

When I became serious about digital wellness, I decided to implement reading for pleasure as an alternative to digital entertainment. Although having a measurable goal, the 52 weeks challenge, motivated me to read more than I would otherwise, it wasn’t until I discovered the following three practical tips that reading became an immensely enjoyable leisure activity— quit reading books you don’t like, cut out distractions, and remove friction.

1. Quit reading books you don’t like.

This is by far the most important tip that significantly improved my reading habit.

Prior to discovering this simple idea, I used to feel guilty about not finishing a book. I’d especially feel guilty if the book was considered a classic. I would blame myself for not being smart enough, or interesting enough, to enjoy something regarded so highly. I would blame it on laziness or distractions.

In one of her brilliant posts, The Ultimate Guide To Reading More, my favourite writer/blogger Rosie Leizrowice advises us to choose the books we read wisely,

opt for books on topics you are passionate about… read books by people you admire… read the favourite books of your heroes.

How many times have you picked up a book because it’s a bestseller or a classic only to find it tedious to get through a chapter, let alone the whole thing?

How often do you feel obliged to finish a book you’re not enjoying at all?

Reading, specifically reading for leisure, should be a delightful activity.

The truth is, when you find a book you truly enjoy reading, you will know because you won’t be able to put it down. You look forward to reading it to find out more about the characters and the storyline. You don’t find yourself zoning out constantly and not remembering what happened in the past couple of paragraphs you just read. You long to find out what happened to the characters long after the story ends on the last page.

Since realizing this, I have been ruthless when it comes to choosing the books I read. I could be half-way through a book and if it starts to feel tedious, I quit it. If a book doesn’t grab my attention in the first couple of pages, I don’t bother with it. I only read books written in the first-person perspective, with very few exceptions, because that’s what I enjoy the most.

Here is another perspective.

Tim is a 34-year-old man who reads about 5 books a year. If Tim lived to be 90, he only got 300 more books left to read, out of the millions of books available, in his lifetime.

According to Tim,

even though it feels like I’ll read an endless number of books in the future, I actually have to choose only 300 of all the books out there to read and accept that I’ll sign off for eternity without knowing what goes on in all the rest.

In other words, don’t waste your time reading books you don’t enjoy. Your time is limited, so dedicate it to books you truly find pleasurable.

As Austin Kleon puts it very eloquently,

every hour you spend inching through a boring book is an hour you could’ve spent plowing through a brilliant one.

Choose books that excite you, and discard the ones that feel like a chore to read.

2. Cut out distractions.

This is a no-brainer.

After you choose a book you enjoy, the next step is removing distractions that get in the way. Sometimes, even the best book you find is no match for digital distractions.

I read the most books this year during the times I killed my phone.

By removing the Safari app from my phone, my e-book streaming app became the most entertaining app on my phone. As a result, I read books instead of scrolling through distracting websites. Reading a page here, a chapter there added up over time.

I also read a lot more when I put my phone away and read a physical book to fall asleep. The additional benefit of this is, of course, better quality sleep.

I could have read double the amount of books I read in 2019 if I worked on removing distractions more diligently.

Find out what your distractions are, and minimize them.

3. Remove frictions.

I recently listened to a podcast episode from Hidden Brain on creating good habits, titled Creatures Of Habit: How Habits Shape Who We Are — And Who We Become.

It was a very educational and enjoyable conversation between the host, Shankar Vedantam, and the guest, psychology Professor Wendy Wood.

According to Professor Wood, an important ingredient for habit change is to remove friction. Friction is the amount of effort required to perform an action. When it comes to implementing a habit, it is important to remove or minimize friction by reducing the amount of effort required to perform the action.

Professor Wood wears her workout clothes to sleep so when she wakes up, she is ready to go for a run. In doing so, she has minimized the effort required to go for a run.

I keep an e-book or two going at all times so I always have something to read even if I don’t have a physical book available. I maintain a to-read list so when I’m done with a book and don’t know what to read next, I can always refer to the list and choose a book. I have signed up to receive weekly book recommendations from my local library to add to my book list.

Life is full of excuses not to do the things we would like to do and are good for us. Prepare for your future self’s excuses by putting a plan in place to remove frictions.

I’m doing the 52 books in 52 weeks challenge this year again.

Currently, I’m reading That Time I Loved You, a book by a Canadian author, Carrianne Leung, that is set in Toronto. It is a delightful read so far and I have been reading it obsessively.

I’m also looking forward to reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. It has amazing reviews and I finally got it as a Christmas gift (❤️). It looks very promising from the few pages I have read so far.

I’ve also removed my Safari app to minimize distractions and read books instead.

Here’s to finishing 52 books in 2020. Happy reading!

Until next time… 🙂

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