10 Little Things I Do to Read More

10 Little Things I Do to Read More post image

I’d love to hear how you manage to read so much…and still run a business. I often feel like there many things to do but too little time… is this a constant challenge for the ambitious? – John McIntyre

I’ll tell you a secret. When I was thrust into a management position at a small company, I would close my door during lunch break (and often a few hours after) to read books. It might have looked like I was on an important call– and in a way I was. I was dialing Chet Holmes asking for a new sales strategy.

It gave me different ideas than those around me. I could summon lifelines to break our deadlocks and slowdowns– I just read a book about the problem and tried to apply a lesson. In a company of over 20 people, I was the only one researching the challenges we were facing.

Because of this, people with a lot more experience than me would want to talk about their business ideas. I could hang. And it got me ahead.

I discovered that reading a ton of business books can be a great career strategy.

I was pumped to find that, at least when it came to small business, my favorite hobby was turning out to be pretty damn useful.

What’s your “nature state?” Could you imagine a world in which you maximized your lifestyle so you could do mostly that? Would that be interesting to others or your business?

Luckily for me, reading books like a maniac wasn’t a line item I had to squeeze in. It wasn’t something that I recommended to myself. It’s what I wanted to do in the first place.

That said, there are plenty of things you can do to spend more time at the alter of knowledge. :) Here’s 10…

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10 Little Things I Do to Read More

I find books, and the perspectives and ideas therein, valuable in and of themselves (even if they have nice side benefits). I must admit I find it mildly unpleasant when people say “are there any takeaways in that book?” The most useful thing about reading a book is getting inside somebody’s brain for an afternoon. It’s not the outline of their argument. I don’t read a book to get the to-do executable list, instead I’m looking to get a fresh perspective. That’s valuable even if I can’t see it in the bottom line.

I have a giant book budget. And because I do, I don’t mind ditching a book, or only reading one chapter.  Many books only have 20 good pages. Or 10. Or none. I’m pretty ruthless about cutting the crap and finding them. That’s the dirty business of reading a lot of books. Most books don’t need to be read. And that’s okay. Read a ton and you’ll often find yourself shelling out $12 on a book that is effectively 20 pages long. This okay too– it’s a low downside, high upside investment.

Keep buying them. Your book budget is a finder’s fee. You are seeking the one or two books every year that have the potential to change everything and set you free (and the many that will entertain and delight your imagination). Deploy this budget with abandon.

I don’t watch video content. Last year I watched less than 10 movies. Why? Because I read books. I have not seen Breaking Bad, and all the other great shows that have come out over the last few years, although I’m sure I would enjoy watching them. For me, I get the dual benefit of having more reading time and not feeling the post binge depression even the smartest of television shows makes me feel.

I don’t run a business. We work together as a team. We have SOPs like crazy, because they work, and it frees us all to do our best work. We have only a few scheduled calls a week.

Remember that episode we did called the “drama denominator?” We attract what we are. We see what we look for. It’s possible to run a big company without running around like a chipmunk. Just ask the bossman— that guy is slow and steady. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard him raise his voice.

I got an Audible.com account. Almost half of my reading is listening. Getting an account at Audible.com has had a profound impact on my life.

Hypothetically, if Audible.com cost me $700 a month (and it was the only way to get quality audio books), I’d pay it.

I have developed a nasty walking habit. I walk everywhere. Everyday. Walking is for cool people. With walking comes my best thinking. And on most walks I take an audio book.

I translate my reading into my work. Reading and listening to great books inspires me. It helps me to make connections I didn’t see before. I’ve added systems into my life— things like a Kindle, and Evernote, and Scrivener– that help me to translate the connections that I’m making into my work. That inspiration comes out in proposals, strategy documents, emails, policies, blog posts, and podcasts.

I block off time to read. Every afternoon, I have reading time scheduled outside of my daily walk and run. Often I can’t help but to remember how lucky I am to have this (Recall I used to lock the door to my office and pretend I was on a conference call).

I tend to follow authors I love over topics I love. A college mentor once said it’s better to choose great professors than great subjects. His point was that the way people approach information is more important than what information they are approaching. Great authors make a habit of finding gold everywhere– check out David Foster Wallace on watching Roger Federer play tennis.

I hit the road. Even if you budget time everyday for reading and writing, those scheduled walls, even for the most disciplined, can start to collapse. Life gets busy. That’s part of the reason I love to pack up my stuff and head to the airport. There’s something about being in transit that brings out my reflective side. Moving gives me a chance to step back, crack open that Kindle, and jump into somebody else’s perspective for an afternoon.

For those of you looking for some fun books to dive into, here’s some that I’ve read recently and enjoyed:

David and Goliath, In the Plex : How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives, Liar’s Poker, Boomerang, Stalingrad, The Writing Life, A Short History of Nearly Everything, Benjamin Franklin : An American Life, Vietnam : A History, Be Slightly Evil, The Gervais Principle, Escape From Camp 14, Cockpit Confidential, The Checklist ManifestoCatching Fire : How Cooking Made Us Human, The Gate, Finding Ultra, The One Thing, Paris in the 50’s, Down and Out in Paris and London

Would love your suggestions as always.


PS, if you’d like to get on my mailing list you can sign up below:

Published on 10.08.13
  • Have you read Ready Fire Aim? It’s older, but a great book. I’m guessing you did back in the locked office door days.

    Marc Ecko’s latest book, Unlabel is great as well. I’m 3/4 of the way through and it’s a good story of his struggles, what worked, how he became what he is today.

  • jurgendhaese

    Great post. People always talk about what they read, but never about how they read.

    Three questions:

    1. When cutting the crap, how do you make sure you don’t skip over nuggets of gold? How certain are you that those 20 pages you do read actually are the meat and potatoes of the book?
    2. How does Audible work out for notetaking and reviewing?
    3. What are your processes for taking notes, highlights and summaries of books?

    I’m reading this bad boy right now: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004PYDAPE/

    Lots of fluff, but it does help you think differently about how and why you read in the first place.

  • Rob Hanly.

    “I translate my reading into my work.”

    Andy Fossett put it nicely a week or two ago, too — “Learning a lot today. Applying as I go. That’s why I said “learning” instead of “reading.”

    If nothing else, this.

  • Dan

    Thanks for the great post!

  • Melissa AuClair

    Great post. I really like what you said about reading isn’t a burden or obligation, “it’s something I wanted to do.”
    Life gets better when we want to activities such as reading.
    p.s. thanks for the book ideas

  • Sonya Forrest

    Great post! I have put together a 365 Project for next year based on a reading list – all the books I’ve wanted to read previously but havn’t had time due to work or Uni. 2014 will be the year! I am already a big reader but now you have given me ways to read even more – thank you! Would love feedback on my list if you can spare a few moments; http://greenapplemagazine.com/2013/10/08/365-project-a-year-of-adventure-the-reading-list/

  • Dan

    Sandpaper of the soul…

  • Dan

    Hey Sonya thanks for stopping by: I’ve only read Influence and Start with the Why, the latter is a contemporary classic in my mind. I”m curious to see if after reading you suggest these books…

  • Dan

    sure thing ! :D

  • Dan

    you got it, it’s a good job! :)

  • Dan

    I have not / can’t remember. I’ll pick it up.

    Also on Ecko, thank you sir.

  • Dan

    1) I guess there is no way to know, but generally it’s less about one “golden” page and more about the perspective of the author. So by reading 20 pages you kind of feel like you “get it” — i’m sure you’ve felt this– that’s basically what I”m trying to describe there. It’s rare to read a page that “changes everything” it’s more about getting into their head, and if there isn’t much there (except creating a book to expand their platform, for example), than you can pick it up in a few pages.
    2) IT SUCKS. Audible app is okay for usability but the chapters on many books tend to be messed up, the syncing is messed up, and note taking sucks. Generally I don’t take so many notes right away and I see what “sticks” and use that as a heuristic, but it sure would be cool if there were more functionality here.
    3) I don’t take many notes. I used to and I found that I didn’t use them. Instead I wait to see what sticks. I do, however, highlight the shit out of stuff on my kindle (this is what I wish I could do on Audible) which I find extremely useful (and fun!). Occasionally I pull this file into my Scivener and it becomes inspiration for writing and further research.

  • jurgendhaese


    Guess I’ll have to check out Audible for biographies/history books.

  • Dan

    I like all types, but I find audio format really excels with epic history / bio stuff.

  • Kindle is the greatest invention ever…at least for me.

  • Dan

    100%. Can’t believe power readers who haven’t gone digital yet. Original draft of this article included 2 paragraph rant about it, figured people who haven’t made the switch yet got their reasons, and they have nothing to do with reading great books while traveling! :)

  • This is great (and now I don’t feel bad about having not watched Breaking Bad as well).

  • Dan

    haha, can’t believe you ever did !

  • Steve Wyman

    Hi, love what you wrote.

    I do watch tv series :-( even lost (sorry @garyvee) but I watch them in a complete series… I take a day off every so often. Or in winter time here in uk?

    Kindle… Awesome no doubt… But is it so much better than using an iPhone or ipad? Often wondered about investing in one?


  • JoshFrets

    The Audible app does indeed suck for note taking, especially while walking or running. But there’s another, off-label use for audiobooks.

    I took a course on improving my reading speed, and I learned that you should CHOOSE how fast to read something based on what you’re trying to accomplish.

    There were many exercises he had us do, but one was a high-speed scan before reading it again more slowly. It greatly improved understanding and retention.

    So for a heavy book that I want to absorb deeply, I listen to the audiobook first (sometimes at a faster speed), then read it on kindle or paper (underlining the parts I want to review). Then I go back and transcribe the highlights of the highlights into a “commonplace book.”

    I’m doing this now with Antifragile. I listened to it at regular speed, then again at 1.25x or 1.5x speed. Now I’m reading it in hardcover and underlining. I’ll schedule a time about two weeks after I finish the hardcover and move the best of the underlined bits into my commonplace book.

    If you haven’t read Ryan Holiday’s article about commonplace books, you should: http://thoughtcatalog.com/2013/how-and-why-to-keep-a-commonplace-book/

  • Dan

    cheers Josh thanks for the link!

    Agree about the “choose” technique, I do that but haven’t ever articulated it to myself. Very cool. I love the experience of listening to a book so much I can rarely stand to speed it up!

  • JoshFrets

    I don’t know if it’s the whole Taleb-mumbling-so-audiences-will-listen-more-deeply or just the pace of city life, but some narrators move too slowly for me.

    The best part is that the bumper music is hilariously sped up too, and the bleeped out swear words are a higher pitch than I’m accustomed to.

  • Yup, Book budget is a must. I would post a pic of my shelf from just this year right here if I could.

    If you have never had a book budget, then you truly have never been alive!

  • Dan

    I think so… first, it’s cheap. It’s light, doesn’t hurt your eyes, and doesn’t temp to you check email. So yeah, totally worth it.

  • Dan


  • Agota Bialobzeskyte

    Talking about Taleb, I loved the part where he mentioned how he made a point to read 20-40 hours a week, it’s something to aspire to for all of us book obsessed people!

  • Agota Bialobzeskyte

    I wasn’t too interested in getting Kindle because I like paper books, but living on a farm in the mountains in La Palma made me realize that I should probably get one, otherwise getting books to a remote location is too expensive and takes too long. Plus Kindle is useful if you want to travel light and have several books with you. I don’t think I will ever switch to reading books mainly on Kindle as opposed to reading mainly paper books, though.

  • Dan

    sounds baller to me !

  • Clayton B. Cornell

    I love this Dan. Taking notes from both you and Jurgen on how to get through a book a week (habit breaks after 3 weeks every time). But I’ve known for a while that my key to long-term success = information in.

  • Dan

    Sum of the books you read and people you meet :) see ya soon!

  • Carl

    Very good post. Thanks.
    Some questions.
    1. When you listen to books to you do anything else or just that? I find it very hard to do anything productive at the same time.
    2. I guess you cant be bothered with abridged audio books?
    3. What are your thoughts on reading speed. Do you try to pump pump pump or are you more slow & contemplating type?
    4. You take notes at all? How?
    Thanks again. Reminded me I need to start reading more again…

  • Dan

    Thanks Carl. No I cannot be productive while I’m listening to books, nor do I want to b/c I’d miss the story! 2. depends how good the book is 3. i don’t have any thoughts on it as i never really wanted to read that much faster. the 80/20 of reading speed is skipping junk; if it’s worth reading, it’s worth reading flow 4. i don’t take notes generally ! :)

  • Julio Andrade

    A colleague of mine turned me on to you guys. Definitely one of the best suggestions of 2013!!! I love this “…have the potential to change everything and set you free”. I’ve been reading more and more this year, walking away from the TV. This is another great post! Love all the comments too!

  • Dan

    :D Cheers thanks for reading !

  • Dana Lindahl

    Hey Dan,

    Was curious to know if you employ any speed reading techniques to help you devour so much content? I don’t struggle too much with my own reading speed, although I could certainly benefit from it being 1.5 – 2 times faster. My main problem is finding a state of continued focus, as my mind tends to wander.

    Have been reading up on Tim Ferris’s speed reading method, which seems simple enough, but I worry about the level of retention I’d have whizzing through books that fast.

    Any thoughts?

  • Dan

    My view on speed reading is that the 80/20 of it is skimming/skipping. Words you feel like speed reading you shouldn’t probably be reading.

  • You really speak like a devoted reader, Dan.

    I was just finishing a post about my new book strategy (it will be just a quick update for my readers).

    I basically say that information overload is real, the great books that cover a lot of topics at the same time are already out there and famous, and (the good thing!) that reading is not dead.

    But there’s too much unnecessary info in them. Like you said – many books have 20 good pages in them.
    Well, I say why not start publishing only these 20 pages?

    It’s about prioritizing, not wasting time on stuff you don’t really want to be reading or even getting bored before the interesting part comes.

    I’m writing posts all the time, but want to keep publishing eBooks every now and then.
    So I’ll just start coming up with mini eBooks (4-8K words) that cover just one tiny part of a whole niche (self-improvement in our case), and that contain only practical advice, tips and tricks.

    In a world of optimization and life hacks like this, not only do readers have to change their reading habits to save time, learn more and actually put the knowledge into practice, but it’s also writers who should write in a new way (for people that don’t read but skim, that don’t have much time to spend, are easily bored, and have a question that needs to be answered and a problem that needs a solution).

    PS, Just saw the comment below. While reading the questions the guy had for you, I though I’d also love to know whether you highlight what you read in some way.
    And seeing ” I do, however, highlight the shit out of stuff on my kindle.” made me laugh.
    We may be writers and readers here, but we’re still cool. :)


  • :D cheers, i find really great books are worth it for every page and for me I’ve had luck finding them through reviews and friend’s recommendations.

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