The reading habits of the successful

Christmas is just around the corner and this brings with it the chance to curl up with a book that might have been sitting on your ‘to be read’ pile since the start of the year. While I usually manage to read daily, it’s often just before I go to bed which I’m sure is the case for many; opportunities to read during the daytime are few and far between. This makes me wonder how some of the world’s busiest and most successful business people find the time to read so voraciously and plough through several books a month. Surely they’re not sat in bed every night reading until 3am? Or are they?

According to Thomas Corley, author of “Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits Of Wealthy Individuals, 86% of the wealthy love to read, with 88% claiming that they read for self-improvement, education and success for 30 minutes or more per day.

American business magnate Warren Buffett, who is said to be one of the most successful investors in the world, claims he read between 600 and 1,000 pages a day at the start of his career, and he still devotes around 80% of each day to reading. He’s not alone; some of the world’s best known business leaders make reading a central part of their daily lives, and often attribute the profound impact of books to their career success.

“Read 500 pages like this every day. 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 do it,” Buffett is reported to have once said.

The prospect of reading 500 pages a day sounds wonderful to me, but hopelessly unachievable around work and family commitments. So how do they do it?

1. Bedtime routine

Bill Gates reads for an hour every day as part of his bedtime routine, and consumes around 50 books a year. Some books, he claims, keep him reading till the early hours. Most of what he reads is non-fiction, and he particularly enjoys books that delve into some aspect of how the world works. Speaking to the New York Times, Gates said: “Reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding…Each book opens up new avenues of knowledge to explore.” One of his favourite authors is historian Vaclav Smil, who has written more than 30 books tackling topics such as energy or transportation, and Gates has read them all. If you are interested in keeping track of Gates’ reading, you can view the books he has recently read and reviewed here.

2. Goal setting

In 2015, Mark Zuckerberg, announced that his resolution for the year was to read a new book every other week, and not just books about business. His first selection was The End of Power by Moises Naim, and his progress he shared publicly on the Facebook page, A Year of Books. If you’re interested in goal setting when it comes to reading next year, it’s well worth setting up a Goodreads account which allows you to set up a reading challenge for the year. I’m currently six books behind in my 2016 challenge!

3. Early morning routine

CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, has followed the same early morning reading routine for 25 years. He gets up around 5am, makes coffee, and then picks up three newspapers: the Seattle Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. Similarly, Steve Reinemund, former PepsiCo CEO gets up at 5:30 am every day to digest a stack of newspapers including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and the Dallas Morning News. Only a true bibliophile would get up that early each day in the name of reading!

4. Focus on self improvement

There is much research to show that the rich and successful read for self improvement and education, and less for enjoyment. According to Tom Corley’s book ‘Rich Habits’ (which is referenced above), 85% of rich people read two or more education, career-related, or self-improvement books per month, compared to 15% of poor. Additionally, 94% of rich people read news publications including newspapers and blogs, compared to 11% of poor people (Corley defines ‘rich people’ as having an annual income of $160,000 or more and a liquid net worth of $3.2 million-plus, and ‘poor people’ as those having an annual income of $35,000 or less and a liquid net worth of $5,000 or less). “The rich are voracious readers on how to improve themselves. They’re reading self-improvement books, biographies, books about successful people, things like that,” states Corley.

5. Don’t ignore fiction

To counteract Corley’s argument, management guru and business book author Tom Peters claims that although it’s important to read about real-world case studies, it’s important not to discount fiction, which still has an important role to play.

“I think that our friends who we want to encourage to read ought to spend 40% of their reading time on fiction,” he said. “I don’t usually make it through 1,000-page novels, but I finished Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. It’s about people; it’s about relationships; it’s about the non-linearity of life. I think if you understand that kind of stuff, you can navigate the world a whole lot better.”

Finally, a tip of my own is to master the art of tandem reading, whereby you read two books at a time, generally a non-fiction piece of work alongside a novel. It can be particularly effective when the two complement one another, so for example you could be reading ‘All the light we cannot see’ by Anthony Doerr, an epic war story set during World War II in France and Germany which scooped the Pulitzer Prize in 2015; alongside ‘The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45’ by historian Stephen E. Ambrose which focuses on the courageous young men who flew the massive B-24 bombers over Germany during the last two years of World War II. The dialogue between two complimentary books can be really thought-provoking, and it can also help to make reading more productive.

If you have any reading tips to add, we would love to hear below…

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  • I usually read more than two or three books at a time. Once I read 12 books at the same time. It’s like seating before a banquet and tasting different kind of food, enjoying different styles, points of view, stories, etc. Reading is one of the major pleasures in life.


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