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Reading More Effectively

Entrepreneurs are often curious, passionate workaholics. I know, it is a generalization, but often it is true.

We always want to know more: about our online stores, our world, our customers, our company, our market position, our technology and about many other things.

And we all have our own favourite ways of keeping up-to-date: watching television, listening to the radio, reading books or magazines, surfing the web.

On thing you cannot permit yourself is lagging behind. Information is power, especially in the knowledge economy of today. And exactly for that reason it is so terrifying that the average American citizen reads on average ONE book per year.

I personally read between 2 and 3 books per month, what I still find too few. For that reason I searched the web to find out how I can read more books (both professionaly and for pleasure)

Besides the books I read I am of course active online. I browse forums, blogs, news sources, articles and social networks to keep myself informed. By studying so many materials I stay on top and ahead in my field.

Why is reading important?

There are many advantages to regularly studying new material.

Correcting your course – When you learn something new you can compare your own framework with the newest criteria and if needed make modifications to get on the “right course” again.

Following Trends – Shifts and changes continually shake up the internet. Entrepreneurs who are not paying attention or are not informed quickly lag behind. When you are conscious of trends, you can use them to your advantage and stay competitive.

Deep knowledge – Expertise needs time. Study any subject for 10.000 hours and you will be one of the world’s experts. There are areas in which you really can set yourself apart from the competition with your knowledge.

1. Read longer

A short while ago I posted a poll in which I asked my professional contacts how much time they spend reading per week. The answers of course varied to a great degree, but the most recurring answer was 2 hours a day.

Maybe that surprises you. Maybe you think that there is no way how you can free up yourself to read for two hours per day. But if you are sure you want to stay competitive, I advise you to try and do just that.

Although I have a busy schedule I make room for 2 to 3 hours of reading per day. I often read late in the evening. It will not always be easy and you will have to make small sacrifices, but it pays back many times. Below a few ideas on how to free some time for reading:

  • Stop watching (or watch less) TV
  • Get up half an hour earlier
  • Get up half an hour later
  • Make sure you always bring a book with you and use waiting times (for a meeting, during travelling, etc.)

 2. Read faster

I read books since my youth (like most people). An important factor which can make you read a lot is your reading speed. While I wrote this I tested my reading speed on the internet with an online test. According to this test my reading speed is “400 words per minute”. I can probably improve that. 500 words per minutes should be easily achievable, I think.

The average book has between 50.000 and 300.000 words. Such a book now takes me between 2 and 12.5 hours. By reading faster (500 words per minute) I can read 20% more books per year!

Excercise is central to becoming a fast reader. Concentration is an important factor, just like external distractors. When you seriously want to improve your reading speed you can try the following:

  • Take part in a speed reading course
  • Buy and study a speed reading book (I just purchased one, I am curious about the result!)
  • Using speed reading software.

I don’t think it matters much which method you follow, your reading speed will always significantly improve, for the rest of your life.

3. Read smarter

The type of book (or other reading material) you read also influences what you get from it.

A powerful mental image that I regularly use to clarify similar concepts comes from a book from Stephen Covey, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. It was about a man who quickly climbed a very tall tree, reached the top and looked around him… To only then find out that he was in the wrong jungle!

Speed is not always effective. Doing something Well is more important than doing something quickly. The same goes for reading.

When you make sure you read the right materials, then you profit from that a lot more per invested minute than when a lot of time is wasted by “reading through useless stuff”. For this reason “top 10” and “recommended by experts” lists are always so powerful and valuable.

A few tips that can help you to read smarter:

  • Have a loook at the bestseller and recommendation lists (when many others like it, than it probably IS good)
  • Look for suggestions from people with resembling interests/that work in the same business area and find out what they find important reading material
  • Be critical about what you read and stop with time-wasting nonsense (remember the many times you finished a book only because you already started it – don’t do that, it is a waste of time!)
  • Quickly read through the highlights and only go into more detail when you think the knowledge you will obtain is useful.
  • Make it easy for yourself to have quality reading material around. Buy or borrow books to take with you to read wherever and whenever you have some spare time. Make use of “favourites”/bookmarks for your most important online sources, etc.

4. Read more

When all the rest is is the same, the entrepreneur who reads most (and effectively applies the information) will win from the competitor reading least.

When reading starts to become a habit, keep training it as though it is a muscle. You will be surprised how much more information you will be able to consume and apply in a relatively short timeframe!

In biographies of business icons such as Donald TrumpBill GatesRichard Branson and many others the sheer amount of information they had at their disposal again and again becomes apparent. It is said that Bill Gates personally kept track of 900 different projects at the peak times – weekly! (and you thought it was EASY to be the richest man on the planet?)

It sounds impossible, until you start to master the skill of consuming, processing and applying new information in the company and in your life.

When you found a useful source, you will often find useful references in it to other, related material that will further expand your knowledge about the content. By following these references you will broaden and deepen your knowledge and expertise. Before you know you will be seen as a specialist on the theme – and that is all related to reading more.

5. Read with a target

Just reading more books without plans to apply the new knowledge is just as useful (or just as useless) as not reading!

When you know what you hope to achieve with reading, you can get most out of it. There are a number of possible targets:

Information – You get information from how-to guides, news, technical manuals, polls, questionnaires, research reports and the like

Inspiration – When you study success stories, biographies and the history of famous companies you will feel energetical and excited to apply their models and successes to yourself.

Insight – Redactional comments, opinion pieces, guest columns or special reports sometimes give you a great idea, stimulate innovation or offer insight.

Whatever your reading target, make sure that the investment of your time and effort is rewarded. Use therefore a plan:

  • Record the big and small insights you got by reading
  • Write down the ideas you plan to try out in your company or life
  • Bookmark the pieces you value
  • Share relevant books and magazines with others in your team or with other people for discussion and debate
  • Put deadlines and targets for the steps you read about and want to implement

This all will make sure that you really stand to profit from reading, and will also encourage you to read even more. Apply the knowledge gained and continue to grow.

Become enthusiatic about reading. Start today. Make time for reading. Learn and excercise to become faster at reading. Read as much as you can, but in the smart way. And make sure you have a target.

And let me know when you have a great book that I should read!

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