How To Build a Reading Habit (Especially If You Get Distracted Easily)

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Rick Carabba
Learn how to create a reading habit even if you have a low attention span.
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Oct 15, 2020
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This is for people who have struggled to create a reading habit.

You want to be successful. You know that successful people read. You don’t.

This is where I was. I had ambitions of being successful, making lots of money, starting awesome companies etc. I still do.

But there was one thing I KNEW successful people did. They read.

I made a few prior attempts at creating a reading habit but they didn’t stick. I would read a page or two then think to myself “what did I just read?”. Then I had to reread multiple times just to comprehend it.

I never read a book cover to cover in my life. I “sparknotes’d” my way through school and I had a low attention span. I struggled to sit down, focus, and read.

On top of this I was going to school full time and starting a company in a business accelerator, I didn’t think I had time to read.

Now, 1 year and 49 books later, I’m outlining the process that worked for me and how I built a reading habit.

Where You’re Going to Find the Time

Before I dive into the actual reading, we need to carve out time to read in your schedule. This will be crucial for making it a habit.

The best way is to audit your time and build a weekly framework. The framework is made up of your time “constants”, then each week you fill in the free space with your varying “to-do”’s.

Your reading time will be a constant.

A framework example looks like this: (pic below)

This is the same template I use, you can download it for free here.

Make a box for reading, define what time, before and after what? Be specific. 30 minutes every week day to start.

Note: It’s O.K. if you don’t get the full 30 minutes. As long as you read for even 5 minutes it’s still a win. Something is better than nothing.

Track each day you read to gain momentum (that’s what the checkboxes are for). What gets measured gets done. Reward yourself for successes and hold yourself accountable for failures.

Keep a book accessible at all times. Carry a book in your bag, put a book in the bathroom, next to your bed, in the kitchen, the office. Wherever you spend time, make sure there’s a book.

Struggling to find time? Check your screen time. Check your social media usage. How often do you watch tv? Play video games? You might need to cut out an existing habit to make room for reading. I recommend making it a habit early in the morning because that is when we have the most will power.

Is there underutilized time you could leverage for reading? Commute? Travel? Waiting time? Taking a shit? You may need to get crafty here folks.

“Read 500 pages…everyday. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will.” — Warren Buffet

Action Steps:

  1. Build your weekly framework
  2. Block out your reading time

2 Birds, 1…Book?

Golden Rule: Align your reading with what you’re CURRENTLY doing or what you’re ASPIRING to do or be.

Two Words: Relevance and Application.

If it isn’t relevant to what you’re doing or you can’t apply it to where you’re going, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

When I first started reading I read Atomic Habits, The Power of Habit, and The Lean Startup.

They were relevant to what I was doing and helped me apply the methods to my venture. That’s what fueled my comprehension and made the habit of reading stick.

*I recommend starting with Atomic Habits as your first book. Use it to build your reading habit.

Know What NOT to Read

Recently I was looking for a book that gave me the best financial investment strategy. I first picked up The Intelligent Investor by Ben Graham.

This is considered one of the best books on investing principles ever written.

The book was almost worthless to me. Neither relevant or applicable.

I had no desire to learn principles or pursue a career in investing. A relevant and applicable “why” for me should’ve been:

  • to find the best investment strategy for my lifetime while putting in the least amount of time possible.

After redefining I found the book Common Sense Investing by Jack Bogle. I got my “why” answered and applied the strategy to my portfolio quickly.

(Spoiler: Hold mix of zero cost S&P 500/Global index funds for your entire life)

Action Steps:

3. Define a relevant and applicable “why” for your reading

4. Align your reading with step 3^

Managing Monkey Mind

Attention span was one of the biggest struggles for me when starting to build a reading habit.

The best ways I found to focus while reading include using noise cancelling headphones, putting my phone in another room so I’m not tempted to check it, using a "timed lockbox" that puts distractions in it for a set period of time while I read, and using a pen to follow along while I read.

The good news is that it’s something that improves everyday you read. Reading a book in itself is a focusing exercise.

Improving Comprehension

Using a pen while you read can skyrocket your retention and focus. Here are the steps for using a pen to improve comprehension:

  1. Follow each line with your pen while reading to stay focused
  2. Underline important phrases and sentences for comprehension
  3. Annotate your thoughts in the margins or a summary note of what you’re underlining and why it’s important, this improve retention

*I often take pictures of things I feel are important and uploaded them to Evernote/Notion to recall quickly later. Example below:

Example ft. my thumb

Using a pen and actively note taking on the page will drive your engagement and improve retention/comprehension.

Reading speed, attention, and comprehension are like a muscle. The more you practice the stronger you will get.

Action Step:

6. Read with a pen!

Start Today.

Building a reading habit is a commitment, finding time everyday can be difficult.

Focus on showing up 1 day at a time, everyday.

There’s no better way to say this, but at the end of the day, you gotta want to acquire the knowledge.

Mark Cuban says it best.

“Everything I read was public. Anybody could buy the same books and magazines. The same information was available to anyone who wanted it. Turns out most people didn’t want it. Most people won’t put in the time to get a knowledge advantage.” — Mark Cuban

Follow the action steps and you’ll have a great foundation.

Reading is not the end all be all to success, but I would argue it is one of the most valuable tools in the success seekers toolbox.

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers” — Harry Truman
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Rick Carabba is the Author.