Reading a Book a Week and Other ‘One Things’ in 2016
One of my favorite books on productivity is The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results.
If you haven’t read it, the premise is simple: to accomplish any goal, do the next thing makes all other tasks else easier or irrelevant.
That ‘one thing’ is the lead domino in a sequence that will take you where you want to go. All you have to do is stay focused on the next piece.
These ‘one things’ can be individual tasks or projects, or they can be routines, habits, major life upheavals, and so on. The hardest part is being clear-headed enough and doing the work to find the key next step.
And sometimes I just stumble into them. They’re usually incredibly simple and have been right in front of me the whole time.
Here are the things I’ve done in 2016 that changed the game:
#1 – Reading a book every 2 weeks
Wait, but you said ‘a book a week’! Yes, but things have to start somewhere-
Right after college I decided to read one non-fiction book a week for the rest of my life. It was clear to me from an early age that the faster I learned the faster I got what I wanted, and reading widely was the key. I started rising early and reading from 6:30-8:30 AM. With the time hard-scheduled I was tearing through books at a furious pace.
The only problem was: it wasn’t sustainable. I lasted 10 weeks, life intervened, and I resumed normal reading habits.
Over the next decade I tried a half-dozen times to pick the habit back up. This usually coincided with the start of the year and new aspirations, but like many new year’s resolutions it never stuck. I usually burned out after about 10 books and only managed to read a handful the rest of the year.
Then about a year ago I started seeing Facebook posts from friends who had made the same goal and actually accomplished it: 50+ books in a year. My first thought was “No way. They must not have work to do or lives.”
But they obviously did, and I started thinking it over. What if, I thought, instead of trying to read a book a week I tried to read one every 2 weeks. 2 books in a month is no big deal. All you have to do is read about 10% a day on the Kindle and even if you miss a few days you’ll still make it.
I started out on this in early 2016, and here’s the surprising thing that happened: I finished a few books. I got smarter. I started seeing immediate effects on my life and business. I had some massive shifts in my mindset and the framework I live my life in. Decisions in life and business that seemed difficult before became easier or irrelevant with the new information at my disposal.
And a powerful positive feedback loop was created. This led me to having intense motivation to read more, so I did. I carved out more time to read, and started to default to reading instead of doing other things to fill time.
So while my pace started out at a book every 2 weeks, I tricked myself into reading more than that. I’m now reading a book a week, which on a Kindle is 15% a day (14% and some change, but there’s always a day you won’t get through 15%).
And now we’re back to the Power of Habit. Start small, with something you can handle, and build from there. Don’t throw something out because it’s not perfect at the beginning. This is a manifestation of the well-known ‘floss one tooth’ strategy of habit formation (I’ve always called it the ‘let’s go a little further and see how we feel’ strategy, after my dad tricked both of us into climbing a 9,000’ peak one day. 9.5 hours later we were astounded at what we’d done). Since everything depends forming new good habits and breaking bad habits, learning how to make them stick is really important.
Instead of starting furiously and burning out, I’ve eased into a new schedule, which gradually gets more aggressive: reading is now my #1 priority first thing in the morning (it’s hard-scheduled on the calendar).
And what’s the upshot here? I’ve gotten a lot smarter, which translates into better decision-making, which means I’m getting more of what I want and less of what I don’t want, but I’m also more centered as a human since I have a few more 1/10% of the big picture. And so on.
Some practical advice on reading a book a week:
First of all, only read highly recommended books.
For the same reason I never watch a movie rated under 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, I rarely pull a book off the shelf that hasn’t be labelled ‘Best…’ or ‘One of the best books I read all year’ by a friend or believable person.
Start with friends in person or poll them on Facebook. From there, you can move onto a few of my favorite lists:
- Tim Ferris Book Club and this list from the podcast.
- Tim Ferris List of Fiction
- Derek Sivers Book List
- Ryan Holiday’s Book List
- And if I can add my 2 cents, they will be going on spartantraveler.com/books. So far I’ve posted all the books I’ve read in 2016.
Second, hard schedule time to read.
My next ‘one thing’ underneath trying to read a book every 2 weeks was to start reading for the first hour of the day. This was my original habit, and it sets a powerful precedent for the day. It’s also less likely your reading time will get thrown under the bus if it’s the first thing you do.
I also appreciate that learning from smart people for the first hour brings my thinking to a higher level before I dive into work.
My second One Thing for the year
Besides inhaling new information and perspectives, there’s another change in routine that had a profound effect on my life this year, mainly because it’s given me more time to ponder what I’ve learned and reflect on where I’m going.
Incredibly challenging to implement but another game changer.
Stay tuned, I’ll outline it in my next post.
[Photo: My original dog-eared copy of the 4-Hour Workweek]