Entrepreneurs are often curious, passionate workaholics. Yes, that’s a generalization – but often true.
We want to learn more about things – our business, our world, our customers, our industry, our marketplace, our technology and other stuff.
And we each have our preferred ways of staying up to date. Watching TV. Listening to the radio. Reading books. Subscribing to magazines. Surfing the Web. Even getting an assistant or professional service to summarize the most relevant information for you.
One thing you cannot afford to do is fall behind. Information is indeed power, especially in today’s “knowledge economy”. And that’s why the staggering fact that the average American reads ONE book per year is so shocking. (I don’t know how different this figure is for other countries, but it’s probably representative).
I average between 2 and 5 books every week, and my bookshelf is loaded with reading material, both professional and entertainment. Indeed, my taste in books ranges widely, with spiritual guides and business reviews rubbing covers with medical texts, the latest pulp fiction or copywriting tutorials in my bookshelf.
And this isn’t all that I read. Online, I browse forums, blogs, news sources, article collections and social networks to stay on top of things. Studying so much material has given me a serious competitive edge over others in my market. And many entrepreneurs would agree that “applied information” is one of the secrets of their success too.
Why Does Reading Matter?
There are many benefits to studying new material regularly:
Course correction – Learning something new helps you measure your progress against benchmarks and allows you to make changes that will power you ahead more surely and steadily.
Keeping up with trends – Shifts and changes have devastated some industries. The unwary and uninformed were those crushed in those turbulent times. Being aware of trends helps your business adapt and stay competitive.
In-depth knowledge – Expertise takes time to acquire. Study any subject for 10,000 hours and you’ll become one of the world’s leading experts. And there are some areas where detailed knowledge sets you apart from competition.
1. Read Longer
I recently polled my contacts on social networks to ask how much time they spend reading every week. Not surprisingly, the answers were all over the place. The most frequent response was 2 hours a day.
Maybe you’re surprised at that. Maybe you think there’s no way you can find two hours every day to read. Well, if you are serious about keeping up with your business world and remaining competitive, it’s time you started trying.
Despite a hectic schedule, I manage to squeeze in 3 to 4 hours of reading every day, often early in the morning or late at night. It may not always be ‘easy’ and you might have to make small sacrifices – but the pay-off is rich and well worth the struggle. Here are some ideas to find reading time:
- Give up (or cut down) watching TV
- Wake up a half hour earlier
- Go to bed a half hour later
- Carry around a book and make use of ‘down time’ (waiting for a meeting, flight or client)
2. Read Faster
I’ve been an avid and voracious reader since childhood. And a key factor in reading so much has been my reading speed. As I wrote this, I tested my reading speed using an online test and it says my speed is “504 words per minute”. For material that I enjoy reading, my actual speed could be double.
When you consider that the average full-length book is between 50,000 and 300,000 words, I can zoom through it in 1.6 to 10 hours of reading time. And by reading faster, I’ll save 10 hours in comparison to another reader who can only read half as fast!
When it comes to speed reading, practice indeed makes perfect. Concentration impacts your reading speed, as does the absence of external distractions. If you’re serious about improving your reading speed, you can try:
- Attending a speed reading seminar or course
- Buying a speed reading book and studying the techniques
- Using speed reading software to train yourself to go faster
No matter which learning method you follow, the improvement in your reading speed will benefit you massively – for the rest of your life.
3. Read Smart
What type of books (or other material) you read impacts your overall benefit from reading in a very significant way.
A powerful mental image that I use frequently to highlight similar concepts is one that I first read in a book by Stephen Covey called “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. It was about a man who scrambled quickly up a very tall tree, reached the top, and looked around… only to discover that he was in the wrong jungle!
Doing things fast is not always more effective. Doing them right matters more. And that applies to reading as well.
When you focus on the right kind of things to read, you get greater advantage from every minute invested into the activity than if the greater part of your reading time is spent weeding through junk. That’s what makes ‘Top 10′ lists and ‘expert recommendations’ so powerful and valuable.
Some tips that may help you read smart:
- Look at ‘best-seller’ or ‘recommended’ lists (if many others thought it was good, it probably is)
- Seek peer group suggestions about the best sources of reading material
- Keep a critical watch on what you read, and be quick to abandon wasteful drivel (How often have you plugged on with a book just because you started reading it? Stop doing that – it’s not worthwhile!)
- Skim the highlights and dig deeper only where you feel you need more detail
- Make it convenient to access quality material (buy or borrow books to keep by you for whenever you are free to read, bookmark favorite online resources, subscribe to great blogs in your RSS feed). If you click here you’ll see one of my 4 bookshelves – with titles I’ve bought so that I’ll be able to refer to them quickly whenever needed!
4. Read More
Everything else being equal, the entrepreneur who reads more (and applies the information effectively) will steal a march over another who doesn’t.
As the reading habit grows on you, keep exercising it like a muscle. You’ll be amazed at how much more information you’re able to consume, process and apply in a relatively short time.
In biographies of business icons like Donald Trump, Bill Gates, Richard Branson and many others, one common theme is the prodigious volume of information they have access to, and stay updated about, on a regular basis. At his busiest, Gates is said to have personally overseen the progress of almost 900 different projects – on a weekly basis! (And you thought it was EASY being the world’s richest man, huh?!)
That sounds impossible – until you start pushing yourself as you gain facility at consuming and applying new information in your business and life.
When you find a helpful resource, you’ll often come across references in it to other related information and material that will enhance your understanding about the topic that it covers. Following these links to explore new content sources will broaden and deepen your level of expertise. Before you know it, you’ll be a widely regarded subject specialist – and it all comes from reading more.
5. Read With Purpose
Simply reading more books without doing anything purposeful with the knowledge you have acquired is as wasteful as not reading at all!
Knowing what you hope to get from reading is the best way to maximize your time. In very broad terms, you may be reading for:
Information - This comes from studying how-to guides, news updates, technical manuals, polls, surveys, research reports and similar content.
Inspiration - When you study success stories, case reports, biographies and histories of famous companies, you feel energized and excited about replicating their models and successes.
Insight - Editorial commentary, opinion pieces, guest columns and special reports or whitepapers can sometimes spark a breakthrough idea, fuel innovation or provide a flash of illumination that creates revolutionary impact.
No matter what you’re reading for, be sure that you get value from your time and effort – by having a plan.
- Record the big (or small) lessons you gained from what you read
- Jot down ideas you intend trying out in your business or life
- Highlight passages that you liked very much – and scrapbook them for later
- Share relevant books and magazines with others in your team or mastermind group for discussion and debate
- Set deadlines and targets for any actionable steps you plan to implement based on whatever you read
All of this will enhance the value you get from reading – and act as a positive feedback loop to encourage you to read even more. Then apply that learning towards further growth.
So get passionate about reading more. Start today. Find some time to read. Learn and practice reading faster. Read as much as you can. Do it the smart way. And have a purpose to your reading.
Oh, and let me know if you read any great books that I should look at too!