No one would disagree with the idea that ongoing learning is linked to constant improvement and overall success. But with all the urgent and important tasks and projects across all areas of life, reading books often falls to the bottom of the list. Well, I know it does for me. So this year I decided to do something about it and come up with a plan for reading more books - but not just any books, the sort of books that shape and impact your life and your work significantly.
As I started making my plan, I remembered some things I read in John Maxwell's brilliant book - The 15 Invaluable Laws of Personal Growth. So this plan is primarily inspired by that book plus a little of my own personal input.
1. Start a list of books to read. This sounds painfully obvious. But the key here is to use other people's experiences to inform your choices. What is the most life-changing book you've read in the last five years? For me, that would be Essentialism by Greg Mckeown and The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni (I couldn't pick one). Now go and google something along the lines of 'books to read + (insert your most recent life-changing book) + (insert author's name)'.
So I might go and google 'books to read + Essentialism + Greg Mckeown + The Advantage + Patrick Lencioni'. Try a few different combinations and chances are you'll find an article listing books to read that includes your most life-changing book/s of the last five years. Based on my Google search, this article came up: My Five Favourite Leadership Books. Here are three other books that someone loves who happens to also love Essentialism and The Advantage. There's a good chance one of those would be something I would enjoy. In fact, I'm putting 'The One Thing' by Gary Keller on my list right now.
So hopefully google helps you find a few potential books to add to your list. Only caveat here is that your results will be as helpful as how well-known your favourite book is. So you're best to pick a life-changing book you've read that is well known. Other options to find books to add to your list is to chat with people with similar interests to find out what they're loving to go looking online for lists of recommended books to read by someone you really respect. I might go looking for what John Maxwell or Patrick Lencioni are currently reading or would recommend to read.
2. Schedule one hour a fortnight to watch interviews with authors. As mentioned above, it's one thing to read more books, but I am focused on reading more life-changing books. Where is the 'Authoritative Guide to Finding Life-Changing Books' when you need it? The other variable with finding and reading life-changing books is that a book you love, adore and read 10 times might not connect with me, or where I'm at, at all.
So once you have some books on your list, it's time to find out whether they're likely to be life-changing books for you with as little investment of time or money as possible. One way to do this is to go online and look up interviews with the author. If you're like me and want to find the most efficient and productive way to go through this process, find interviews that are 30-60 minutes long and watch them at 2x speed. If it sounds interesting to you but it's not really resonating, then skip through it or even make the call to write it off. If you keep it to 15-20 minutes of interviews per book (at the 2x speed), you can get a good idea about 3-4 books from just one hour of interviews.
3. Schedule another one hour a fortnight to do further research about the book/s that's resonating with you. Now it's time to go a bit deeper with a book or two that are really resonating with you. Try looking up more interviews with the author, TED talks by the author, summaries of the book on Youtube or in people's blogs or even animated videos that explain the core ideas of the book. There's lots out there and after half an hour of searching, reading and listening, you'll once again have an idea of whether you've heard as much as you need from the book or whether it's really piqued your interest.
4. Buy the book/s that resonate most with where you're at. At this point, if you're sticking with your schedule, you're on track to do an initial review of 150-200 books a year and to do further research on 25-50 books a year. I can't say enough about how valuable this process is on its own. Truth be told, some books only need 15 minutes of sped-up interview with the author to glean everything that's helpful for you in your circumstances. But every now and then you'll watch an interview, do some more research, read some summaries and watch a TED talk and feel like you're only hitting the tip of the iceberg with a particular book. That means it's time to invest some money and buy it.
5. Open the contents page, find the chapter that most appeals to you, and read it. Chances are that if you've gotten to the stage of buying a book, it's probably going to be a good read for you. But there's one more step before you really get into it. Jump over to the contents page and skim through the chapters. There's usually one aspect to a book that is most relevant to your circumstances. Find that chapter and read through it as a starting point. If you find that it's ok but not really rich or deep in its application, then you can always skim through the entire book by reading the first paragraph of each chapter and flicking through pages. Then you can make a note of any big ideas that stand out and put it back on the shelf.
6. Slowly and deeply read the books that make the cut. For me, there are two things that usually happen when I find a truly life-changing book. First, I am constantly opening up Evernote and taking down notes because there's so much richness and depth in the content. Second, I finish the book and almost immediately feel like I need to go back to the start and re-read it because it's so significant for me. I am happy to read any book quickly if I have to, but when it comes to a life-changing book, I think it has to be read slowly and then re-read once, twice or even more. Don't rush it. Savour it. Apply it. Live it. Then re-read it. After all, life-changing books aren't meant to be just read, they're meant to be lived.
So once again, when was the last time you read a life-changing book? Was it two months ago? Three years ago? 20 years ago? I wish my experiences reading life-changing books were closer together. That's why I've come up with a plan, done some scheduling in my calendar, and I'm making it happen. Why don't you join me? Then we'll both be that much closer to another moment where you look up from a book, shake your head, smile to yourself, and say, 'life. changed.'
So what's one book to get you started?
Well, when people ask me what book I gift the most to other people, it's my book Step Up or Step Out!
That's because I believe dealing well with difficult people is the biggest challenge I hear from leaders, CEOs, entrepreneurs, managers and heads of schools.
If you're not sure how to have effective difficult conversations or you hate conflict and you're losing sleep at the prospect of a massive confrontation that blows up in your face, then check out my book Step Up or Step Out today.