You’ve probably read at least one book that has changed your life. For many UX designers, there are certain books that helped them decide to enter this industry. Reading books has made my life better – it has helped me transition into UX, become a better communicator, improve my health, and countless other benefits I don’t have room to list here.
So that’s my short love letter to reading. Reading is awesome and makes everyone better. What can reading more do for you?
So here’s the million dollar question: how can we read with less effort, less guilt, and more joy? This article represents my relationship and thinking about reading, split into 3 parts:
- Part 1 – Your Relationship to Reading (the mental part)
- Part 2 – Strategies for Reading More Effectively (the fun part)
- Part 3 – Using Technology to Read Better (the practical part)
A heads up before we dive in – this guide is not about speed reading, for which plenty of resources exist. Though speed is a factor, we explore a systematic way to extract more joy and utility from the reading process. And all this with books that actually matter to you. That’s actually a good segue into our Part 1…
Part 1 – Your Relationship to Reading
Your relationship with reading affects how much you read. Some people associate reading with work, maybe because they were forced to read material they didn’t like as a kid. Other people associate reading as a potentially life-changing, mind expanding activity.
Personally, I had to identify that 95% of my reading goes towards non-fiction material. Specifically, books oriented around self-help and learning. I barely read fiction. Some part of my mind associated fiction books as a waste of time, because I could be learning more useful things with non-fiction books.
Finally, I picked up Ready Player One at a friend’s recommendation. I gave it a shot and it was wondrous. It made me think about the world we live in. It tickled my brain and made me more imaginative.
This book opened up my mind to fiction and changed my relationship to an entire genre. I became more appreciative and a more avid reader of fiction (especially science fiction) works. Even though I still predominantly read non-fiction, I now associate fiction books with fun, relaxation and entertainment.
Here are questions that can help you identify your relationship to reading:
- What’s the last thing you that that you’ve enjoyed – and why?
- On which platforms do you spend most of your time reading? Online, Kindle, Twitter, Buzzfeed?
- What type of content do you tend to read the most? Fiction, thrillers, news, etc?
- Do you tend to read at certain times of the day, or as a reaction to other events?
- When do I get in the mood to read, and when do I not want to read anything?
- Do I read for different purposes? What are they?
That last question was a revelation to me. I tend to save my serious reading for evenings after most of my important work is done. Behaviorally speaking, I’ve been associating reading as play – an activity that is both enjoyment that requires some mental energy but is in itself a fun, relaxing activity.
Being aware of these factors can also help you understand yourself as a reader, a foundation that enables.
Part 2 – Reading Strategies
Here comes the list of mental reading strategies I’ve used to blast through books. The core message across these strategies is to assume power over our reading experience, and in the process negate any feelings of guilt. How does guilt relate to reading?
For many of us, we feel like we have to read books in a certain way, whether that’s reading in a certain order or feeling like we have to finish a completely finish a book to have “read it.” That’s not always productive. Sometimes books are extremely boring, and we should take liberties to read what we want. This brings us to the first strategy for reading more effectively…
Strategy 1: Don’t Read the Whole Damn Thing
I remember in school how big of a relief it was when a teacher told us we don’t have to finish reading the entire textbook. “We only need to read chapters 1 – 10. Don’t worry about 11-20.” Whew!
This made me realize that we can flip our relationship with books. Instead of making ourselves feel like we have to read every single page, we are in control of what to read and how much to read. This strategy works especially well for non-fiction reading such as UX books. I believe that even if you learn 1 useful thing from a book, you’ve already gotten good “use” out it.
It’s easy to associate feelings of guilt with not finishing books. A book “unfinished” leaves many of us feeling like we might have missed something. But a book doesn’t have to be read end-to-end to be enjoyed or useful, just as you don’t have to eat everything on your dinner plate to be full.
Give yourself permission to quit books whenever you like and not feel guilty in the process.
Strategy 2: Read the Table of Contents & Intro
Here’s a quick hack to identify whether non-fiction books are worth reading: scan the Table of Contents and the first chapter. These sections not only give you a sense of how a book is structured, but also allow you the flexibility to jump to other areas you’re interested in (more on that in the next strategy).
Use this strategy to consume books based on how interesting and useful the knowledge is, rather than the compulsion to finish the entire book.
Strategy 3: Read Nonlinearly
Most people consume books with this pressure that they have to read from beginning to end. How a book is written is only an arbitrary structure that you can choose to obey or break at any time.
Try another way to start your reading adventure – start a book at a point that interests you. Some people flip through books quickly to see if there’s anything interesting that sticks out to them. Personally, I tend to skip to the end of a book. Usually I find a reference to something at the beginning or middle of the book so that I’m compelled to go back and read those sections.
Instead of reading in a linear fashion, try reading in a zigzag fashion. This style of consuming knowledge “a la carte” can give you a sense of power and freedom when reading. After all, you’re the customer and books exists to serve you.
Using this method of reading, I’ve finished at least 80% of the books I started with. This helps me read out of genuine interest, instead of guilt.
Part 3 – How to Build Reading Habits
Developing the habit of reading is more useful over the long term than the ability to read quickly. Lucky for us, we live in an age with tools that make habit building easier than ever. Let’s start from the low tech and work up to digital solutions.
Strategy 1: Create a Reading Budget
Carving out a small “monthly” reading budget will elevate the importance of reading by associating it with a dollar value. Consider it an investment in yourself. Fortunately, creating a reading budget doesn’t have to be expensive. From $0-20 a month you can read more books than most people do.
There are ways to get books for free or at a huge discount:
- Local libraries offer free book rentals, but also often have partnerships with Overdrive to lends digital books for free.
- Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited offers unlimited access to a huge library of books for just $10/month
- Scribd is another huge site that offers thousands of books, sheet music and other content
- Ebook repositories – just Google “free ebooks” and you’ll find sites that offer free ebooks.
- Borrow & share books with friends (the “duh” option)
Strategy 2: Track Your Reading
Any worthwhile goal is worth tracking – especially if it’s a new habit you want to develop. As Peter Drucker famously said, “What gets measured gets managed.”
One method is to track the amount of time you spend reading. You can easily set aside 15-30 minutes a day to start a reading habit with low investment.
Another method is to track the # of pages you read.
James Clear has set a habit of reading at least 20 pages a day. This quickly adds up. 20 pages/day is 600 pages/month, and that can easily be 1 – 3 books. This pace will easily help you finish 20+ books in a year!
How do you track this? Any way to record down your numbers will do, whether that’s in a notebook, an excel spreadsheet, or productivity apps like Coach.me.
Strategy 3: Take Notes and Share Your Learnings
The act of taking notes, highlighting and engaging with what you read helps you store information in long-term memory. And remembering what you read improves the habit and utility of reading – double win!
Here’s my preferred reading system:
- Acquire all books in EPUB form
- Upload EPUB books to Google Books, which will let you store 1000 books for free
- Download the Google Play Books app, then turn on note + highlight + bookmark sync
- As I read on my mobile device or laptop, I take notes & highlight interesting passages
- After reading, Google Play automagically generates a Google Docs file with your notes, highlights and bookmarks
I love this reading system because of the note syncing – after reading a book, I read the autogenerated Google Docs to remember quotes and relevant information I found interesting. Super useful.
I believe the same features can be found on Kindle and other reading platforms.
Other people prefer a more manual approach. Share your learnings with friends in conversation, in a tweet, Facebook post, or write a blog. As long as you’re engaging with books beyond simple reading it, you will remember far more from your readings.
Read More This Year
The smartest people I know read a ton of books. I’m always impressed by my friends who, in between hangouts, have seemingly expanded their minds and lives by reading interesting books. Not only does reading make you more interesting, but it can help you upgrade your skillset, advance your career and give you a more well-rounded worldview.
To me, reading is the easiest way to get ahead – less and less people read books nowadays. Bombarded by quick articles and shallow information, we are now a distracted bunch. According to the Pew Research Center, American adults read a median of 5 books a year. Following the strategies in this post, you can easily read twice as much as every other person you meet on the street.
How would your life change if you could read 2x, 10x, or even 20x more than your peers?