I used to work for a job that is famous for ~80 hour weeks. Now that I’m working at a startup and doing side hustle consulting, I’m probably working even more hours.
However, reading is something I’ll never compromise on and will always prioritize. I actually have an interesting story about this.
I know of a billionaire. He had a new employee in his company that was absolutely crushing it. Let’s call him Joe. Everyone kept raving that Joe was a fantastic employee and was really going places. The billionaire asked to meet Joe for that reason.
During the meeting, the billionaire congratulated Joe. During the course of the conversation, he asked Joe what books he has been reading. Joe said he hadn’t read anything in a long time because he was solely focused on work.
Can you guess what happened?
The billionaire fired him on the spot, job performance be damned.
The message is this: reading and continuous growth matters above everything. You might be doing great at the office now, but if you don’t focus on it now, then you’ll eventually fall behind as someone else will be reading and learning more than you are.
It’s certainly not an easy balance to manage: demanding work schedules and an overly ambitious reading schedule. After a ton of trial and error, I’ve landed on a system that works really well for me.
My hope is that this system will work for you too.
Why I’ll never compromise on reading due to work
I believe all of this evidence and will probably write about them at some point.
Since we are talking about reading in a work context though, it’s important to talk about why it’s important to prioritize reading as equal to work. It’s an interesting trade off, as work always seems to have a deadline of ‘tomorrow’, while reading never has that deadline.
This is the exact reason why New Year’s Resolutions that involve reading fail. Reading is something that can always be done ‘later’ because there is no immediate payoff from reading. The payoff from reading is something that may not come for months.
^^^What I’m reading now.
So why prioritize reading?
The answer here is that reading makes us all better people. Look at reading as an investment. The material you read this week may not be immediately useful.
However, it’s a fair bet that it’s only a matter of time before the things you read today will pay off in the long run. The more you read, the more it will pay off. If that requires investing time in reading now, it’s an investment successful people happily make. It’s also why successful people make a point of talking with Uber drivers.
Reading 75 books a year requires a tracking system
To read this many books, you need a system. My system is pretty basic, but works really well for me. The secret weapon here is Google Sheets.
I have a Google sheet to track a lot of different things in my life, reading among them. As you can see below, the goal is to log each bit of reading I do and see the impact it has on my yearly target.
If you look at this tracker, you can immediately see the key information necessary to keep tabs on how your reading is going. For example, I can see at a glance:
- How much reading I’ve done total
- How many pages a day I average
- Total number of books read
- How many days it takes to read a book
- How many books I’m on pace to read each year
All of this summary information is super interesting and helps me optimize my reading.
For example, you can see that I’m actually a bit below my target pace of 75 books a year. I’m actually on pace for only 67 books this year. In fact, I was actually feeling good about my reading until I just checked the tracker this morning.
This is the exact reason to have a tracker. Without knowing that I am behind schedule, I won’t be able to know that I need to start reading more in order to pick up the pace. I don’t know about you, but 8 more books sounds like a lot to make up.
As a result, I’m going to devote a few more minutes to reading this weekend than I normally do. This should help me catch up, and is super exciting as well. There are several really interesting books I want to read, and I might be able to get to them this weekend.
I can use the tracker to figure out how much more reading I should do in order to catch up to my target yearly pace of 75 books.
The standard book I’ve read has 275 pages. If I read 75 books a year, the total number of pages to read is:
275 X 75 = 20,625 pages to read
That means my target number of pages to read each day is 20,625 / 365 = 56 pages on average.
If you look at the tracker, I’m averaging 51 pages a day right now. Suddenly, 8 more books to hit my target of 75 a year doesn’t sound so bad. All I need to do is increase my average of 51 pages to 56 pages. A measly five pages doesn’t sound so bad at all.
The tracker is a lifesaver, and necessary to help you hit your reading targets.
How do I make a tracker?
The tracker looks daunting, but it’s actually not too hard to make. I’ll walk you through how to do it below.
For starters, you can make this tracker within Excel or Google Sheets. I personally prefer Google Sheets so I can have access to this tracker anywhere.
To build the tracker, first, fill out the first four columns (A-E) with Date, Name of Book, Page Started, Page Finished, Pages Read. Just type these header names into the first row in your Google Sheet.
Next, navigate over to the first blank cell directly underneath ‘Pages Read.’ This should be cell E2. Write a formula here exactly as you seen in the screenshot. It should be “=D2-C2” Then press enter.
Once that formula is written, copy that cell, then paste that value to every cell in the E column. Another way to do this is to double click that little blue box at the bottom right of the cell.
Okay, now let’s create the summary statics section. These formulas are a bit more involved, but totally doable.
First, let’s just name each of the cells we want to use for our tracker. Copy the names written out in the screenshot below until your sheet looks like this one.
Awesome, now let’s fill in the formulas.
Total pages read is an easy one. The formula here is =sum(E2:E1000). This just adds up all the pages you have read thus far.
Total books read is also easy. The formula here is =countunique(B2:B1000). This formula counts the names of books you have read, but is smart enough to give you credit only once for each book.
For example, I read this massive biography of Napoleon last year. Due to its size (800 damn pages), it appears on the tracker several times.
By using the count unique formula above, the tracker only gives me credit for reading one book here, rather than three. This is as it should be, because I only read one Napoleon book. It will also be the only Napoleon book I ever read; that thing was so slow.
Okay, let’s now do the most complicated formula here, which is ‘days since started.’ As we’ll see in a second, this formula is necessary for most of the remaining values. Make sure to copy the formula in exactly as you see it below: there are parenthesis and subtraction signs in there for a reason.
I started this version of the tracker on 9/10/17. When you fill in your tracker, make sure to put today’s date in by writing DATE(YEAR, M, DD)
Okay, once that formula is in, we’re in the home stretch.
Average pages per day is simply Total Pages Read divided by Days Since Started.
Days per book is similar: Total Books Read divided by Days Since Started.
Yearly pace is slightly different. This formula is 365 divided by Days per book.
And with that, you have a fantastic tracker built to track all of your reading.
How do I use the tracker?
Okay, now that the tracker is built, how do I use it?
All you need to do is navigate over to columns A-D. In this case, there’s four pieces of information to put in:
- Date in Column A
- Name of book in Column B
- Page I started reading at in Column C
- Page I stopped reading at in Column D
Column E automatically calculates how many pages you read in this entry, while all of our summary statistics will calculate what this means for my yearly goals and targets.
How do I read 75 books a year while working 80 hours a week?
When I started this article, I talked about how reading is incredibly important to me because it is an investment in ourselves. It’s why my reading goal for the year is an ambitious 75 books a year. It’s also the same reason why successful people minimize their time on email, build confidence, and talk with Uber drivers.
So how do I actually hit the goal of 75 books a year? The tracker breaks things down for me.
75 books a year is a great goal. But it’s also really hard to know if I’m on pace for that or not. Maybe I read for an hour today: is that good? Am I ahead of schedule? Behind schedule?
With the tracker and the math we did earlier, I know that my actual goal is ~55 pages a day. With that in mind, it’s much easier to know how I am doing on a daily basis.
As a result, I make sure to do whatever necessary to get to 55 pages a day.
For me, I try to read ~10–20 pages before I leave for work in the morning. This starts the day off strong, and also puts me in a good mood before work.
Then, I try for 10–20 pages during lunch as well. That way, I’m halfway through the day and hopefully halfway through my reading target.
When I do when I don’t hit the reading target
That’s, of course, the optimal. To be totally honest, I probably hit the optimal in ~10% of all days.
Most days, the demands of work simply prevent me from being able to read before work or during lunch. Other days, I’m so tired when I get home that I simply just go to sleep.
In these days, I try to look for random time to knock out a page or two. The mental model I use here is: would I normally pull out my phone and scroll Instagram?
In those situations, on busy days, I bring my book with me instead and knock out a few pages. There have certainly been a ton of pages I’ve read while waiting in security at the airport, for an Uber to arrive, or for lunch.
The other huge benefit here is the weekend. Even if you are below on your target reading most days during the work week, you still have the weekend to catch up.
Some students have pushed back here, saying that they are too busy on the weekend to devote time to reading. But think of it this way: you are almost definitely busier during the work week due to this funny thing called work. If you can devote time during the work week to reading, you can absolutely find the time to do so during the weekend.
Use your tracker to hit your daily page target
You can absolutely do it. This system took me years to figure out, leading me to miss out on so much learning from incredible books. My hope is that talking about it here today can help you skip the years it took me to figure this out.
All you need to do is build the tracker we talked about above, then aim for your goal number of pages each day. For me, I want to read 75 books a year so I need to read 55 pages a day.
If you want to read 50 books a year, that’s 38 pages a day
If you want to read 20 books a year, that’s 15 pages a day
If you want to read 10 books a year, that’s 7.5 pages a day
No matter your target, all you need to do is track how much you’re reading each day and shoot for your daily target each day. All it takes is a few pages a day, and you can do that