Warren Buffett, the man commonly referred to as the greatest investor of the 20th century, was standing in front of 165 wide-eyed students from Columbia University.
One of the students raised his hand and asked Buffett for his thoughts on the best way to prepare for an investing career. After thinking for a moment, Buffett pulled out a stack of papers and trade reports he had brought with him and said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That's how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.” 1
Buffett estimates that 80 percent of his working hours are spent reading or thinking. It's enough to make you ask, “Am I reading enough books?”
When I asked myself that question recently, I realized that there were some simple reasons I wasn't reading as much as I would like to, and I developed a reasonable system that is helping me read more than 30 books per year.
Let me explain…
How to Read More Books
If you know how to read, then reading books is relatively easy. You simply have to make time to read. Easier said than done, of course.
When I looked at my own reading habits, I realized that my reading habits were mostly reactive, not proactive. If an interesting link flashed across my screen on Facebook or Twitter, then I would read it as a reaction. I wasn't proactively making time to read books each day. I was simply reading interesting ideas that were pushed in front of me.
As a result, most of my reading was done online. Now, there are plenty of excellent articles on the web, but generally speaking, the quality of good books is better. Books typically have better writing (more tightly edited) and higher quality information (better fact-checking and more extensive research). From a learning perspective, it's probably a better use of my time to read books than to read online content.
So, I had to figure out a strategy that would allow me to read more books without letting typical distractions get in the way.
How do you that?
20 Pages Per Day
Here's the only pattern I've been able to stick with consistently:
Read 20 pages to start the day.
I usually wake up, drink a glass of water, write down 3 things I'm grateful for, and read 20 pages of a book. For the last 10 weeks, I have followed this new habit. As of today, I'm 100 pages into my 7th book. At that pace (7 books per 10 weeks) I'll read about 36 books in the next year. Not bad.
Here's why I think this pattern works: 20 pages is small enough that it's not intimidating. Most people can finish reading 20 pages within 30 minutes. And if you do it first thing in the morning, then the urgencies of the day don't get in the way.
Finally, 20 pages seems small but adds up fast. It's a great average speed.
If time allows, I'll read more at other times as well. After the research I did for my article on how to get better sleep, I have added reading to my “prepare for bed” routine as well. But regardless of what happens during the rest of the day, I still get my 20 pages in each morning.
The First Hour
How do you spend the first hour of your day?
Most people spend it getting dressed, getting ready, and rushing out the door. What if that time was spent making yourself a better person? What if you woke up an hour before you needed to each day and worked on yourself? How much better would you be at work, in your relationships, and as a person?
That's essentially what this reading strategy is asking you to do. Before you move on to the normal bustle of the day, invest in yourself. Before your life turns into a whirlwind of activity, read a book that will make you better. As with most habits that can greatly impact your life, this will never feel urgent, but it is important. 20 pages per day. That's all you need.
Looking for good books to read? I created a public reading list where you can see all of my book recommendations across a wide range of categories. Here are a few of the best books to start with…
If you want practical ideas for creating more good habits (like reading!), check out my book Atomic Habits, which will show you how small changes in habits can lead to remarkable results.