July 31, 2013

How To Read 20 Books A Year

Sounds daunting, doesn't it: One year/20 entire books read.  For some of you, it's a piece of cake and for others, "It had better be Harry Potter or 50 Shades!" Here's the reality: Readers are leaders of society. They earn more, deliver more value, lead more people and respond to adversity better than the average. 

Reading expands your capacities to think, feel and problem solve.  However, based on research we've done at Deeper Media, the average professional reads less than 2 non-fiction books a year, cover-to-cover.  On the flip side, the average CxO reads about six.  Readers are leaders. 

This is not a matter of will.  It's a matter of having a knowledge-acquisition strategy. If I had to point to one system that's changed my business life, it's my personal system for reading 20 (great) books a year to double my value.  Here's the skinny: 

Buy Books That Are Interesting To Your Outcome - Not just interesting or intriguing books, mind you.  Books that might change your situation, solve a big problem, give you a winning perspective.  I think of business book shopping as looking for brain-food for my issues at hand.  Start an Evernote and enter any books you read or hear about that might serve your current mission. 

Buy 50 Books a Year and read 200 Samples - Face it: You invest five to ten hours of your life in a book...don't let bad ones ruin your POV about reading.  The key to being a voracious reader is being judicious about where you invest your time.  While most samples don't give you the entire picture, frequently, you'll get right away whether the book is worth finishing (buying).  Go to bookstore, invest an hour every other week, and buy a few every visit.  If you aren't taking notes and racing your mind by page 100, you likely need to quit the book and move on to the next.  (PS - I don't read reader reviews.  They are usually not helpful, accurate or aligned with my perspective on reading.) 

Make It Convenient To Read - Benjamin Franklin was a voracious reader because he carried books with him everywhere he went.  He stashed them in carriages, guest rooms and inns and when a slice of time presented itself, he cracked open a book.  You can carry books with you easily due to eReaders.  The next time you are stuck waiting on service or in transit, instead of using your smartphone to check social media, read a book instead.

Share What You Are Learning - Like gratitude, reading becomes more valuable when you share the experience. Inject ideas or surprising findings from books you are reading into conversations at work. Give books as gifts to colleagues or customers, and deliver a succint description of what the book will do for them. Share your recent reads (and recommendations) on social media. 

This will create a positive feedback loop in several ways.  First, people will reciprocate with their own recommendations or personal experiences.  Share enough, and soon, you'll be swimming in trusted book recommendations.  Second, by sharing the knowledge, you'll feel rewarded for the time you've invested in reading.  This will only stoke your desire to read more! 

What are you reading?  Why should I read it?  Post it in comments.  If we get more than 10, I'll pick out someone and give him or her ... a book! 

Posted at 6:35 AM in Business Effectiveness  |  Permalink  |  Comments (14)  |  TrackBack (0)



Osman - the trick is to reduce other media formats in your life OR make reading more of a habit than an activity. Instead of checking my smart phone during down time, I crack open the book or listen to to Audible.


Hi Tim,
You seem to talk about 20 books per year as a good number. I've heard of the president of the United States reading 40 books per year, and I've even heard about people reading 50 books a year.

Is this really possible to do? I'm struggling to read 12 books and listening to 12 audiobooks per year, and can't see how to increase this number.

I loved this post by the way!


I've always been a bookworm, and being in a city with a great public library has only made it worse. ;) I remember reading in your "Love is the Killer App" that books were a great way to add value to conversations, so I guiltlessly spend weekends and evenings reading through the latest crop of business books from the library. Sharing what I'm learning certainly helps me remember things! People really like the visual book reviews I make, and the comments and links nudge me to review what I'd learned. Thanks again for having that tip in your book!


Tim, thank you for posting this. It was good to be reminded that you don't have to finish every book that you begin. Somewhere along the way I developed the habit of finishing every book even if it wasn't delivering much value. I suppose my Type-A personality thought that I was actually quitting something. Being more judicious about what I read and how much of it is an area of improvement as I too am swimming in book recommendations and the number of them continues to climb.


I average about three books a week, but sometimes finding excellent business books can be a challenge. The best one I ever read was by Jeffrey Gittomer called Customer Satisfaction is Worthless. Applying the insights from that book took me from a mediocre salesperson to the top of the Fortune 500 company where I worked. Amazing stuff, and I still use it with clients now that I am self employed.
Fiction wise, any list should start with the great John Steinbeck, especially East of Eden or Grapes of Wrath, two of the best books ever written.


Hi Tim, thanks for the suggestion, I will try to go for the 20 books, I just read the power of habit by Charles Duhigg.


Thanks Tim for great insights. I have just finished an inspirational book by Lewis Pugh called 21 Yaks which encouraged me to keep heading towards my dream. I am now re-reading a favorite - Leadership and Self-deception. A great and challenging read.


Fellow Tim - Will check out "Manage Your Day-To-Day" ... hadn't heard of that one!



Thanks for the challenge. Used to read like crazy and have let it slip. Currently reading Manage Your Day-to-Day, edited by Jocelyn Glei. Some great tips in our always connected world. Keep up the good work.


Scott - I will read this book! Thanks for that unique recommendation...helpful for everyone.

Jeannie - I loved that book (Brand From the Inside).

Matt - You make a good point about audiobooks...especially general non-fiction, where taking notes isn't required.

Erich - Nice to connect again...I remember Catalyst like it was yesterday!


You've likely already read this one, but Todd Henry's, "The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment's Notice" is a book I can really relate to as a creative type - and shouldn't we all be creative types these days?


I am reading "Brand From the Inside: Eight Essentials to Emotionally Connect Your Employees to Your Business" for the second time. I have read 5 books on branding over the last year, and this one is hands down the best. Great case studies that really hit home the fact the employees are our greatest asset!


Hi -- I'd also recommend listening to *unabridged* audio books - especially for non-fiction. Perfect for when driving, running or even walking the dog. The unabridged versions are word perfect with the written versions and so you will get the same information. Personally, I user Audible.com which also has a great mobile app that makes it even easier.


Tim, great article. I totally agree. Leaders are learners. That's part of the reason I recently started my blog... to share resources with others from things I've learned.

By the way, I met you several years ago at the first Catalyst event you spoke at in Atlanta. It was the first time I've ever seen someone get so much applause that they had to come back on stage for an encore talk.

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