Science says reading books makes you smarter. Improves your decision-making skills. Makes you more empathetic and emotionally intelligent.

There are plenty of reasons to read more books. But since most people average 1 page a minute, the trick is finding around 5 hours a week to spend on reading. 

Which means finding ways to make cracking a book feel automatic, rather than forced.

Here's how.

1. Always have at least three books waiting.

Decisions are willpower killers. If you're deciding between watching TV or reading a book, and you have to dig around to find a book to read... it's a lot easier to just turn on the TV.

But if you have a book you want to read, the choice is easy. Especially if you keep a book beside your TV remote. (Because choice architecture works.)

But don't just have one un-read book; always keep at least three in your to-read pile to account for your mood.

One should be a professional or personal how-to, like Adam Grant's Give an Take. Another should be of broader application; like Ryan Holiday's Ego Is the Enemy. out And in case you're feeling a little burned-out, one should be fun. Lee Child, John Sanford, Robert B. Parker are go-to choices (with huge back catalogs) for me.

And there's an added bonus to having un-read books around: As Jessica Stillman writes, an ever-growing collection of books you haven't read yet will keep you "intellectually hungry and perpetually curious." Think of un-read books as a powerful reminder of your limitations: Things you don't know, can't do, and haven't been inspired by -- yet.

So how will you find enough good books to read to ensure you can stay at least three ahead?

2. Let people you trust curate your reading list.

Just like with music, the fact technology makes it possible for more books than ever to be published actually makes finding books you want to read even harder.

You could just use bestseller lists as a guide, but also as with music, what sells best may not what is best, especially for you.

A better option is to lean on the recommendations of smart people. Two I've already mentioned. Adam Grant, publishes regularly publishes a list of upcoming books he recommends on LinkedIn. (Here's his most recent list.) Another is Ryan Holiday, whose monthly reading recommendation newsletter invariably includes at least one book I add to my pile. Or you could try a service like the Next Big Idea club with books curated by Gladwell, Cain, Pink, and Grant.

Find a few sources that work for you, and then don't be too critical about evaluating choices. The more you think about it, the more you weigh and evaluate and consider... the less likely you are to choose a book -- or, in fact, any book.

Instead, if a book seems interesting, go for it. 

3. Be quick to pick up a book... and even quicker to put it down.

If you start a book and don't like it, put it down. Don't feel bad if you don't like what you're supposed to like. Your opinion about a book's value to you is the only opinion that matters.

But still: Give a book a chance. Cal Newport's So Good They Can't Ignore You didn't grab me at first; fortunately, I decided to give it another ten pages. Years later, it's still one of the books I most often recommend.

And then if it doesn't grab you, let it go. Time reading a book you don't like is time you could spend reading a book you do.

So be patiently ruthless.

4. Don't think only in terms of "productive" reading.

Reading doesn't have to be improvement focused to be productive.

A number of studies show that imagining stories helps activate the regions of your brain responsible for better understanding others and seeing the world from a new perspective. MRIs show a substantial overlap in the brain networks used to understand stories and the networks used to navigate interactions with other individuals.

So don't feel like you can only read what you're "supposed" to read.

Read what you enjoy, and then if you do decide you need to read something... you'll be a lot more likely to actually finish it.

5. Start reaching for your book, not your phone.

Most people use their phones to fill their spare minutes. Waiting at the doctor's office. Waiting at the airport. Waiting for... well, anything. Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat, calls that edge time, because filling that time properly can be a competitive edge.

Or at the very least, help you read a lot more books.

I don't go anywhere without a book. (Okay, my Nook reader on my iPad, but still.) Keep whatever you're reading in your bag and when dead time pops up, don't reach for your phone. Open your book. Over the course of a week you're bound to read at least 50 pages.

6. Always read a few pages before you turn out the light. 

Tons of studies show that engaging with screens (of any kind) before you go to bed makes it harder to fall asleep.

But for me, a book is like a ringing bell for Pavlov's dogs: Within 10 minutes I'm ready to fall asleep regardless of how early I go to bed. (Behavior modification works.)

Keep a book on your nightstand. Or -- just like you surely do with your phone -- make sure you bring it to bed with you.

Not only will that help you read more books, you'll also fall asleep faster when you decide to turn out the light.

Win-win.

Published on: Sep 3, 2019
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