Reading is something everyone should be doing — but at what frequency?
A quick Google search yields a thousand and one articles about how to read 52 books in a year, or one per week. I’m not sure I agree with this approach.
Don’t get me wrong — I love reading. It’s an easy, low-pressure way to learn something new. But, especially in the world of self-help writing, is there a benefit to inundating ourselves with tips, strategies, and ways of doing things?
The power of self-help
The power of self help is in its name: information that we can use on our own in order to better ourselves personally or professionally, learn something new, find a solution to a problem, etc.
Interestingly enough, the first documented “self-help” book dates back to 1859 when Samuel Smiles published Self Help; with Illustrations of Character and Conduct.
Several decades later, the self-help movement started. While it initially revolved around finding a group of people who shared common problems and then working together to fix them, time (and the internet) would lead to the emergence of a metric ton’s worth of self-help literature.
Today, it’s easier than ever to find self-help books about starting a business, mastering interpersonal communication, selling like a pro, baking cakes…you get it. Ironically, this can also sometimes complicate the decision making process — if there are seventeen different books about starting a business (there’s much more), which to choose?
And therein lies the problem with reading too much too fast; when we do find a self-help book that we want to read, what do we do in order to make sure we retain the information?
Is a book per week the right strategy?
Speaking of self-help — there’s an endless supply of tips available for how to be a better reader and retain what you read.
In a binge-driven world, we consume content like it’s part of our lifeblood. But the unfortunate truth is that we retain far less information than you might think. Which warrants the question — if you’re reading a book per week, how much of this information are you actually retaining?
Better yet, if you’re hoping to implement what you learn into your own personal or professional life, shouldn’t you give yourself time to focus on doing so before you introduce a wealth of entirely new information?
A healthy alternative to the ‘one book per week’ mentality
Read more by reading less. If I spend two weeks reading a book about transformational leadership, I want to allot myself enough time to put what I’ve learned into practice. I may even want to read the book a second time. Or third.
We all have that handful of books that are worth returning to, no matter how many times you’ve read them.
And apologies to any completionists reading this article; but, given our content-saturated society, if you find yourself reading something and don’t enjoy it, then it’s okay to stop. There’s simply too much content out there to waste your time slogging through someone you know you won’t retain because you have no connection to it.
1. Read thoroughly
When you do find a book that’s worth your investment, invest in it fully. Read slowly and thoroughly from cover-to-cover, and try to read in a place where you won’t encounter distractions.
If time is a challenge, block out at least 30 minutes each day to read. Whether that’s in the morning, afternoon, or evening is up to you. Just give yourself that time to read without interruption.
2. Annotate and take notes
Harken back to your school days of old and annotate as you read. Kindles and tablets come equipped with notation tools too, so no need to worry about not being able to do this if you’re reading a digital copy of something.
Take high-level notes chapter-to-chapter and/or write down action items to take after you finish the book. Some self-help authors even do a bit of this for you, so that you know exactly how to use the information provided.
3. Apply learnings in the real world
Next, take the information you’ve absorbed and apply it to your life! Whether personal or professional, the best way to benefit from self-help is to actively seek out ways to practice what you’ve learned.
If what you’ve learned involves other people, gather feedback so that you can self-evaluate, finetune how you do something, and continue to grow.
4. Revisit as needed
Lastly, you always have the option to reread a book if you want. Or even just a section of a book. If something has resonated with you, why not maximize its impact? Reread for clarity, remembrance, or fresh perspective.
At the end of the day, reading is a personal journey. Removed from the confines of schooling where our books were often chosen for us, we’re able to decide what to read, as well as when/how to read it.
Whatever your choice of text and frequency in reading, make sure it’s worth your time and you’re able to glean something from it. That’s the beauty of a good book.