How (and Why) Do I Read So Much?

I like to think of myself as prolific reader. I set myself the goal of twenty one books this year (very conservative for me because I’m not getting lunchtimes in the office to crack open a book) however at the time of writing I’m already up to 9 books and am expecting to have another two finished before the end of the week.

If you’ve read my post on Personal KPIs you’ll have seen that I track my goals to provide visual encouragement, but also an early warning if I’m running behind. Here’s my reading graph:

My reading progress for 2021. The green line shows what I need to consume to hit my goal of 21 books this year. The red shows my actually weekly progress.

I believe reading is one of the most important habits any adult can develop. There are millions of books out there with valuable information and contrasting ideas which will stretch you and force you to make a decision. There are books on every conceivable subject and (just in case you needed any more motivation) they’re a fantastic way to unplug and relax.

However, before I go any further let me tell you a joke.

One day a chicken walks into a library, a little surprised the librarian asks how he can help and the chicken replies (perhaps not unexpectedly) "Book!". The librarian passes a widely recommended book which had recently been returned and passes it to the chicken who struts off. The following day the chicken returns and says to the librarian "Book book!" Deciding to humour the chicken the librarian passes the chicken two books. The third day the chicken returned once again and went up to the librarian. Ready this time when the chicken said "Book, book, book..." the librarian hands the chicken three books. Curious now the librarian follows the visitor, determined to find out what was going on and where the chicken was going. As they rounded the corner to a quiet part of the library the chicken strode up to a frog and placed the books on the table. The frog sighed, looked at the books and said "Read it, Read it, Read it..."

Maybe it works better when you read it out loud?

The point of the joke is this. Don’t be a frog! Your job is not simply to read books and say “Read It” over and over again. Reading isn’t about bragging, it’s about expanding your knowledge. Always make notes, scribble some ideas you have while you’re reading the books, non-fiction ones at least. Otherwise you’re simply being a frog. The authors of the books are trying to convey information to you – try to take at least one action from each book you read and use it.

Back to the orginal question. How to absorb so many books, especially given a full time job and a hectic lockdown home time?

The answer is two fold. Audiobooks and Playback speed.

A lot of people have a snobbery around audiobooks. In the same way many people say that reading off an e-reader isn’t as good as a real book. However, I’d ask you – if you had the choice of waiting until you could pick up a paper book or listening to a pre-recorded version while you’re doing the washing up or driving somewhere which would you rather do? I do read physical books and on my kindle too, but the vast majority are audiobooks. There are many providers but personally I’m a huge fan of audible, if you don’t like the book you can simply return it. You can’t ask much fairer than that!

The second way of improving the rate at which you listen. My wife laughs at me because she says I listen to everything at “hamster speed” which I suppose I do. The first time you try to speed up the playback it is really hard to follow what’s going on but, you’ll be surprised at how quickly you catch up. Try adding going to 1.2x and then a few days later 1.4x and so on. You’ll be amazed how quickly you can get up to 2.0x and even 2.5x. For quite a while I resisted this, I didn’t want to rush my absorbtion of the books or my enjoyment of the fiction. However, honestly, if I listen to something now at 1.0x times it sounds like the narrator is drunk, speaking slowly, and slurring.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you use audible or another supplier? What speeds do you listen to and why? Comment below and don’t forget to follow the blog for future updates.

Personal KPIs

I’ve spent a lot time reading about daily habits and routines recently. Both Atomic Habits and Routine Machine strongly advocate spending a small amount of time each day to contribute towards your larger goals. I like the idea, after all as an agile geek I fully support the importance of transparency. Otherwise, how can we expect to inspect and adapt?

I mentioned some of my 2021 goals recently. Some of these are perfect examples where I must display if not daily, then weekly behaviour if I’m going to hit them. Donuts and Dragons isn’t going to write itself, I need to put words on the page day after day. My reading goal isn’t magically going to happen, I need to spend a little time each morning listening to audible or perhaps reading in the evening.

To this end I’m experimenting with a Personal KPI spreadsheet. In this spreadsheet I’m tracking various KPIs such as “Donuts Words Written” and “Time Reading”. I’m also tracking various KPIs around health and daily routine. Am I hitting Inbox Zero every day?

My spreadsheet gives me a daily score, however most beneficial I believe will be the weekly rolling averages. I don’t have to write a blog post every day, however I aim to write at least three a week. I don’t have to listen to my audiobooks every morning but I do want to make sure I’m listening for an appropriate time each week to hit my quarterly targets.

Am I on track to hit my personal goals this year? Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

It may seem like overkill, but I’m hoping that this mechanism will help me stay on track for some of the big goals I’ve set myself this year.

What do you think? Is this overly complex for personal goals? Do you have a similar mechanism and how did it work for you? Let me know in the comments below!

Goals for 2021

As is the time for goals and be years resolutions I’m going to throw out a few of my own.

  • Read 21 Books
  • Write 52 Blog Posts
  • Pass my PSM1
  • Finish my new book
  • Finish painting my Stark and Lannister armies!

21 books isn’t that ambitious for me, although without knowing whether I’ll be commuting will cut into my audible time. The scrum master exam, yeah – I probably should have hit around to that years ago!

The book is top secret, well… unless you’re on Leanpub! But the blogging and painting will take some discipline.

Let’s see how it goes. Happy New Year everyone!

What I Read in 2016

This post is shamelessly inspired by John Sonmez’s blog post Books I Read, seriously 72!? I need to get an audible account! Here’s my list:

IT Related

Always space for some geeky books on my shelf!

The Phoenix Project

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This is possibly the most important book IT managers can have on their bookshelf at the moment. The Phoenix Project illustrates how systems thinking can be applied to IT and shows you how futile software development is without it. If you’re going to read one book in 2017 make it this one!

The Goal

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An oldie but a goodie, I did a book review on The Goal recently and I have to say. Once you’ve read The Phoenix Project if you want to go a little deeper then this book is absolutly essential!

Rolling Rocks Downhill

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This is a book I’ve quoted from several times before, Clarke came to speak to us at Agile Yorkshire and I made a point of picking up his book. What I love about this book is how Agile ideas are developed as solutions for problems the team is having, rather using methodologies and presenting them as solutions to your problems.

5 Disfunctions of a Team

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This one was recommended to me via a colleague, it’s a great quick read and essential reading for anyone works in a team (therefore pretty much anyone). I’ll do a review of it sometime soon, recommended reading!

 

Personal

Although my wife doesn’t believe it I do occasionally read books which are not work related!

The Mermaid Singing

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My wife reads dozens of books where people are brutally murdered and has always encouraged me to do the same. While we were on holiday she talked me into reading a the first of Val McDermid’s Tony Hill series and I have to admit I loved it. I’m reading The Wire in the Blood already!

Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant

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I actually really enjoyed these, I’ve seen the Shailene Woodley films on the shelf at the supermarket and have held off on buying them until I’d read the series. I’d expected another Hunger Games or Twilight Saga and while I wasn’t too wrong I loved the idea of the factions system. A good read, loved the twists and thought the big series twist was inspired.

 

8 books, nowhere near John’s 72 but still a good list. What have you read this year? Anything to add to my list for 2017?