No matter how you spent the last year, it was a stressful one. Whether you were homeschooling kids, taking care of elderly family members, or simply navigating how to keep yourself safe and healthy, reading was probably low on your priority list.

My advice: make time for it.

I am lucky to have a job managing a public company and it keeps me busy. But between hosting Zoom meetings with customers and helping with homeschooling, I still managed to read close to 30 books this year. While I spent more time at home and indoors this year, reading this many books was a common habit for me long before the world slowed down.

Reading is something I will always prioritize, no matter how jam-packed my life gets. I wouldn't be where I am in my career without the lessons I've learned from books. Making time to read is one of the most important pieces of advice I can give up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

Does the prospect of squeezing 30 books into your yearly routine seem overwhelming? Here is how and why you should still make it a priority.

Gaining new (and old) perspectives

In the world we live in today, it's hard to disconnect from work. I often find myself thinking about customers and deadlines when I should be off the clock. The pandemic certainly hasn't helped with our ability to sign off. A recent report found that over the past year, the average person in the US, UK, Canada, and Austria worked an average of 2.5 hours longer per day than they did before COVID-19.

Reading is a great way to combat this trend. It keeps your brain fresh and lets you think about things outside of what you do all day long. Whether you prefer fiction or nonfiction, reading is a valuable way to understand how we got to where we are today. Books have opened my eyes to new perspectives on society, life, technology, entrepreneurship, culture, and religion. History books, in particular, are a great way to apply lessons of the past to your life in the present. As the philosopher and writer George Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Doing better work

Disconnecting from work is essential for everyone's mental health. But if you love your job, you probably also want to know how reading can help you do it better. The truth is, almost every book I read-- whether it's about the Gold Rush, successful business leaders, or a famous comedian-- teaches me something new that I can apply to work.

For example, my workplace Okta is an enterprise technology company, so I love reading about tech history. The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton Christensen (1997) has been helpful to me as we've built Okta by innovating and disrupting legacy incumbents and is a good reminder to watch that we don't get disrupted in the future ourselves.

There are also tons of books about both famous and infamous entrepreneurs that offer important lessons for founders and managers. Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber by Mike Isaac taught me about some of the mistakes Uber made early on, highlighting the importance of building a healthy work culture and keeping my eye on long-term success.

If reading about business isn't your favorite way to spend your time, you can find great insight in other kinds of books too. I learned a lot from a book about deep-sea treasure hunters called Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea, written by Gary Kinder. The book is about a team searching for the SS Central America, a ship that sank while carrying 21 tons of gold. Even though this one doesn't focus on a traditional startup, it offers many valuable lessons for someone who works at one. Tommy Thompson, the treasure hunting team leader, had to navigate many of the same hurdles we face as entrepreneurs-- finding funding, complying with regulations, overcoming technology limitations, and constantly innovating.

Finding the time

If you choose books that inspire you, you won't feel like you have to "make time" for reading because you'll enjoy it. When I try to read something I'm not that interested in, it becomes a chore. Putting the book down and moving on to something else is essential. There are too many great books out there to spend your time reading one that isn't working for you.

Here are a few tips for making it easy to find time to read:

  1. When someone recommends a book that sounds mildly interesting, buy it and keep a stack of unread books at home. Having a few on hand is key, so when you have time to read, there's always something available.
  2. Keep a few books next to your bed and make it a goal to read for 5-10 minutes before you go to sleep. I do this every night. If you like the book, you'll probably end up reading more. Plus, reading about a different topic than what I spend most of my day thinking about allows my brain to "turn off" more easily when I turn the lights off.
  3. Get the same books your friends are reading. It's always more fun to read when you have someone to talk about it with. Or better yet, send your favorite reads to your friends to discuss next time you meet up.
  4. Always pack a book or two in your suitcase, briefcase, backpack, purse, etc., so you have something to read when on the move-- on the bus, at the airport, waiting for an appointment, and on vacation-- as we will hopefully all be soon! Or bring an easy-to-carry Kindle along, and if you don't have one it's a great idea when family asks for your next birthday or holiday wish list.

No matter what kind of books you like, making time to read is one of the best things you can do to further your career, foster curiosity, and develop as a person. Fiction, biography, memoir, you name it, whatever the genre, books will help you broaden your horizons and think about life and work differently.