November 6, 2022
Last year (2021) I read 35 books. This year I’ve read 25 books so far (November). This was a remarkable outcome considering that before 2021, I read a grand total of 26 books in 6 years. It took about 2 years being stuck at home in the pandemic to make this habit stick.
I tried some tricks to build the discipline for this including habit tracking, to-do apps etc. I only read on my Kindle. The Goodreads challenge helped me kick start this process. I blew past my modest goal of 12 books in 2021 by reading 35.
Before 2020, I read books sporadically. I read The Martian one year, a few Dan Brown novels other years. I didn’t have the patience to read non-fiction books at that point.
So I decided to make some efforts to build this habit. This is that journey.
In January 2020, born out of my yearly resolution, I decided to build this habit of reading books. I was experimenting with Personal OKRs for 2020, which was disastrous. Ambitiously, I set up an "Objective" for reading books.
I started with Rejection Proof by Jia Jiang. I learnt about it on a podcast at the time. The book was about getting comfortable with rejection, chase rejection instead of running away from it. I didn’t have the discipline or the motivation to complete the book. The pandemic, lock-downs and thinking about a general threat to life took up most of my time. I ended up completed 20% of the book in March, then picked this up again to read completely only in September.
It turned out to be the only book I read in 2020 (not counting the graphic novels).
I identified my interests, curiosities and decided to pick books around those topics. I was into Apple and Design early in the year. So I decided to start reading Jony Ive’s biography to learn about the creative processes behind some iconic Apple products. Continuing my obsession with Apple, I read a few more books about the company from different perspectives.
I realised it's better to read books based on my interests rather than force feeding someone else’s recommendations. I also mixed up genres so as not to bore myself – reading sci-fi, biographies, fiction and non-fiction in the process.
I used the Goodreads Reading Challenge to set a goal of reading 12 books. One book a month was pretty doable, I thought. I read at least 25 pages everyday. To build some discipline, I set recurring reminders for reading and used habit-tracking to see how I did over time using an app called Tick Tick. In addition, I only read eBooks either on my Kindle (basic model) or the iPad Kindle app. I don't even have any physical books at my place.
In the end, I ended up surprising myself by reading 35 books once I gained some momentum (including a few clunkers). Some of my favourites from the year include:
Thanks to the efforts in 2021, I was confident that this goldmine of a habit was on solid grounds. I knew I won’t relapse. Now was the time to improve and optimise. My primary goal was to avoid passively consuming books, capturing tons of highlights and dumping them somewhere never to see them again.
To begin with, I started to manage my Kindle highlights in my note-taking system much more efficiently. I have a system in place to capture and review the highlights after reading a book. It's still a work in progress though. I also started publishing some notes I capture from the books on my website, and occasionally sharing across my social accounts.
Now, I am more focused on quality of reading rather than quantity. Compared to last year, I’ve only 25 books so far (November). I am planning to focus my efforts to review and take notes from the books I’ve read the past couple of years. And to re-read some good books from before that (finished re-reading Atomic Habits).
“A habit must be established before it can be improved”.
– James Clear, Atomic Habits
It took me a couple of years stuck at home in the pandemic to make this reading habit stick. I learnt to pick the right books, to quit books, and to enjoy reading. Apart from books, I really like reading short form blogs and articles from some people and companies I admire.
This year has been all about improving that habit to get something productive out of it, create systems to retain knowledge, review the highlights periodically. Next comes writing and publishing more.
Maybe next year.